Every semester, I teach two sets of information literacy sessions for one of the Speech Communication faculty, one session to work with the students on their informative speeches, and one for their persuasive speeches. These include one marathon day of back-to-back-to-back classes and then one lone class on another day.
Way back in the other lifetime that was pre-COVID, in the fall of 2019, the marathon sessions for the persuasive speech happened to fall on Halloween. Another QCC librarian and I had been talking for weeks about dressing as Tina and Louise Belcher from the animated show Bob’s Burgers and even though this fell through (she had to go to a conference–not sure if she took the bunny ears), I decided to stick with it and dress as Tina.
I was a children’s librarian for a long time so thematic programming is ingrained in me and I knew that if I were dressing as Tina while teaching three SP211 classes, it needed to connect with something. I am a big fan of the show and wracked my brain until I finally rewatched the “Ain’t Miss Debatin'” episode (S07E15) and found the perfect fit. I prepped a clip from the episode where the characters discuss how everything can be debated, laced up my black knock-off Chuck Taylors, fastened my yellow barrette, and went to class.
I’m at the age where I feel completely out of touch with popular culture, so it was immensely gratifying that the students immediately knew I was Tina Belcher. For the rest of the day, walking around the library, I would hear “Oh my God, she’s TINA!” in excited hushed voices and then I’d be called upon to dance (I declined) or groan.
In the SP211 classes, the students laughed at the clip from the show, enjoyed a piece of Halloween candy, and seemed to make the connection that while everything can be debated, it’s important to have good supporting evidence for those debates. I’m not sure that there were any additional impact on their learning (I am the assessment librarian, so I probably should have looked into that) but I am pretty sure they remember the librarian who dressed up like Tina Belcher that time, and that’s not a bad thing to be remembered for.
I have taught a lot of synchronous IL instruction since we went remote a year ago. I did my first ones— a marathon morning of three speech classes in a row—on March 24, 2020 and since then, have taught another 55 session. Fewer sessions than what I would have done in person, but enough that I feel like I could do Blackboard tech support in my next life.
Information literacy in a remote classroom is…weird. Per policy, the faculty cannot require students to have their cameras on, which is fine for me as I don’t really like to have mine on, either. I still feel like I’m talking to myself, especially when I’m sharing my screen and can’t see what’s happening in Blackboard. In fact, last week I did a session one of my teaching faculty partners scheduled during their office hours and no students showed; I did the session with invisible students so that it could be recorded for them to watch later. And in those moments, I realized that this was how teaching online feels all the time, even when the students are (ostensibly) in the room—like performing for an empty auditorium.
This has been a big challenge for me. My teaching and presenting have always included some comedy, some improv—I was a children’s librarian for 20 years so I do ham it up a bit and I know how to play to a crowd. I’m only a little embarrassed to admit that in my synchronous IL, I still make jokes and then laugh at myself because I don’t hear any response from students. Not being able to judge the room, I plow on; there are times I catch myself getting nervous and tongue-tied because I feel like I’m flopping and even with the tips and tricks for online teaching I’ve learned, it seems like there’s no way out.
But the hardest part of this faceless format is the loss of connection. Literally, of course, as many of us experienced last week when Verizon, Microsoft, and Google all had outages and emergency updates simultaneously. But those actual losses of connection are outside of my control, and worries about hacking and cyberattacks aside, are stressful, but mostly in that moment. Much worse is not being able to connect with students in ways that feel meaningful and genuine. I also do a lot of one-on-one sessions with the students I see in IL if they need and request it, and those moments do feel like lifelines to me. My teaching partners have said they see a difference when students meet with me about their research and citations, but even these connections, helpful though they may be, don’t feel exactly real.
The bottom line is, I miss my students. I miss the ones I knew “IRL” who will likely have graduated before we return to campus so I won’t see them again. And a year’s worth of new students who have never stepped foot in the library, never attended a live IL session, Research 101 workshop, or Research Party. I miss having the chance to make those often serendipitous connections with students at the reference desk or computer or during class. I know that once we are all able to be back on campus safely, this will be what I will be most grateful to experience. Until then, I’ll plow along, laughing at my own jokes, and hoping my connections hold.