Monday, January 30, 2006

Article Note: On Library Instruction and Peer Planning

Article citation:

Finley, Priscilla, et. al. "Enhancing Library Instruction with Peer Planning." Reference Services Review 33.1 (2005): 112-122.

I read the article on Emerald.

Even though this article applies to a larger academic setting than mine, I still found it useful. Some of the teaching ideas presented are things I could try in my practice, and other ideas may be helpful if I find myself doing peer planning.

The article describes a program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where a library enhancement team works with other librarians interested in improving their teaching craft. "Changes in the librarians' classrooms focused more on hands-on, active learning techniques, as well as teaching sessions with colleagues" (113). Participation in this program is voluntary, and it does not factor into the evaluation of teaching that the head of instruction does at the UNLV library. This is different from my situation where we do not have a separate instruction department. You would be looking at it if you met me, and I do "outsource" in the sense our other librarians do share in teaching some classes. What I mean is we do not have four to six librarians dedicated to instruction. However, there are insights from this article that can be useful for all campuses regardless of size.

Some notes from the literature review:
  • "Levene and Frank emphasize that peer coaching is a powerful process available for bibliographic instruction librarians who want to analyze and further develop their teaching skills" (113).
  • "Peer coaching librarians can experiment with new teaching techniques, polish already established skills, offer support where failures occur, and provide opportunities for reflection. The working relationship of the coaching pair offers an opportunity to prevent classroom isolation and build supportive partnerships" (113).
I will say that in some ways I see my teaching as the acts of a lone wolf. On the one hand, I am very demanding with myself, and if a class needs to be done, I'd rather do it myself. On the other hand, I can be surprisingly (to myself) very peer supportive. My classroom is always open if anyone wants to come in and observe. Someone wants a lesson plan or suggestions in and out of the classroom, and I am more than happy to provide. Maybe the wolf has a soft spot. I do think that someday I could make a good library school professor, but that would mean getting a doctorate (if I want something tenure track) and likely leaving library work. These are two things I don't see myself doing anytime soon. Then again, there is always adjunct work. Some of the best teachers I had in library school were adjuncts: practicing librarians who taught a class or two. Some did it for the extra income, but I am sure some did it as their way to give back to the profession. This might make a better scenario for me. But I am disgressing. In the instances when I have experienced peer coaching, it is indeed a powerful experience when it works. As a learner, it's great when you can learn from an experienced practitioner. As a mentor, it can be exciting to see someone blossom and grow.
  • "Daniels and Jurena (1997) found that is advantageous to have two librarians teaching a research course because two different teaching styles have a better chance of matching the varied learning styles of students" (114).
  • "Some general characteristics commonly associated with active learning include the following: students are involved in more than listening; less emphasis is placed on transmitting information and more on developing students' skills; and students are engaged in activities, such as writing or searching databases (Keyser, 200)" (114).
I mostly make note of quotes like these for myself. They are things I think are important that I want to remember. This article has a good share of little reminders about teaching. For example:
"When planning a class session, instructors should attempt to answer the following questions:
  • What are my desired learning outcomes?
  • What do I want my students to learn?
  • How am I going to get the students where they need to go?" (115)
Now, advice like that is found in many teacher education books. Any experienced teacher can give you a version of this. But this is the sort of advice that librarians need, especially if they have limited or no teaching experience. The authors mention this in the context of the opening discussions for their project.

I liked the next line because it is something I always work towards in my classes. The authors place it as part of their guidelines for lesson planning brainstorms, but it applicable to teaching in general. They write, "Encourage a problem solving approach. Keep coming back to the idea that it's not what we need to teach the students but what the students need to learn/do/know that is central. Then think about how we can facilitate this learning" (116). When I schedule a session, one of the things I always ask is "what do you need your students to learn or know?" I get more often than not the usual about showing some databases and mention about evaluating websites. I know that those professors (some at least) likely have some specific goals and ideas, but they need to practice expressing those goals and objectives. Regardless, I aim to teach the students what they will need with a sprinkling of why they will need it.

The article provides a complete presentation of the program from planing to implementation to assessment. Overall, it is a good guide for similar programs.

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