Friday, May 25, 2007

Gypsy Librarian Takes Show on the Road: Blinn College

I had the good fortune to be invited to give a teaching demonstration at Blinn College. One of the librarians there, Julie Menard, is one of my classmates from Immersion (Texas Regional Immersion, 2006). Her colleagues and her have been doing some wonderful things in the way of promoting information literacy and service to their students. So, when my classmate called asking me to come over and give a small talk on teaching, active learning, and a few other things, I knew I had to go. The talk took place last week on Thursday (May 24, 2007), but as things got a bit hectic upon my return, took me a while to blog about it.

Julie asked me to do a teaching demo for what would be a typical ENG 1301, that is the English I (Freshman Composition, first semester) class. The prompt was minimal, and I was given a description of one of the assignments they do over there. For my demonstration, I chose one of my lesson plans for the ENG 1301 classes. For a brief outline of what I might cover in one of those classes, here is a sample. Here is part of what Julie wrote in her e-mail when she invited me to come over (I have taken a liberty to quote from an e-mail, which I hope is ok):

"We are always looking for ways to better engage our students, to add spark to our sessions, to incorporate active learning, and to assess student learning. Since Immersion, we've developed some learning outcomes, worked with a group of English instructors on a preassignment for English 1301, and tried a few different approaches for engaging our students."

I have to admit that for a moment, maybe I was the one who was going to get a lesson. That is a wonderful approach. Here I am always looking for ways to spark up my sessions as well, and incorporating active learning is something I have been working on, more actively so since Immersion.

We kept it informal for the talk. I did my teaching demo, and then I answered some questions. The Q&A was a great moment as not only did they ask me questions about techniques and engaging students, but I was also able to ask them questions. Learning is a two-way process, and I have always believed the teacher can learn from the students, or the professional colleagues in this case. We talked about the use of humor, which is something I use quite a bit in teaching, and we talked a little about risk taking as well. We also got to talking about my uses for blogging. Recently, I started a student resource blog, a small tool that for me answers the question of "how do I get this really cool bit of information or resource to students after they have left?" I also keep this blog, which is the one I label as my professional blog (this goes along with the notion of reflective practice in teaching). We even talked a little about Sesame Street (those who have seen my instructional sessions will know what I mean, but it's that I throw a reference to Sesame Street in my contact information). It's a small detail, but it is another small way to get students engaged.

We did address the questions that Julie sent me, which I am now going to jot down here as a reminder:

  • Do you incorporate group activities?
  • How do you assess student learning?
  • How do you engage the students?
  • Do you give students assignments during the sessions?
  • What are your learning outcomes?
  • Do you ask faculty for learning outcomes regarding the library session?
  • Do you ask faculty and/or students to assess your teaching?
I am willing to bet a few instruction librarians out there will recognize such questions, and they may probably be thinking about how they would answer them. Here are my answers then:
  • Yes, I incorporate group activities, though not as often as I would like. This is due to the dreaded time factor.
  • In the past, I have used pre- and post- tests after sessions. However, and this is something that intrigues me, I do a lot of observation and assessment when students come in for consultation (I am referring to students who had a class with me then came to see me). I am thinking if I can get students to express themselves more about the steps they take in research, for example, as we work together, that one can assess their learning in a significant way.
  • I engage them with humor, with a little bravado, and with the understanding that one has to embrace the chaos. I use active questioning techniques. I will have students demonstrate things to others. No trick in an educator's bag of tricks is off limits for me.
  • My learning outcomes are outlined on my lesson plans. At the most simple level, I want to see that they will be able to do things like: identify an appropriate resource based on their research question or need, and to be able to create a search strategy that will yield a narrow and relevant set of results.
  • Yes, I do ask faculty for outcomes. Whether they provide them is another story (again, something I am sure librarians who teach everywhere can relate to). On the positive, the few that do provide outcomes tend to be very specific and focused.
  • On assessing my teaching, I need to work on that one. While I always ask teachers if I have covered what they needed, a more formal evaluation tool should be developed. I have used such before, but not here at this point in time.
As I wrap up, I wish to thank Julie for inviting me over. I want to thank her director and her colleagues for their hospitality and the opportunity to share my experience as well as learn from their experiences and collective wisdom. Thank you.

Best, and keep on blogging.

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