Part 4: Teaching Staples for Librarians

Last week I took the time to write about instructional design models (IDM) and discuss their usefulness for building library workshops. I then looked at two specific IDMs: ADDIE and Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction. My goal for introducing these IDMs was to demonstrate how librarians can think critically about teaching strategies and use them as guides for creating effective library workshops. In the future, I would love to complete a formal survey of using IDMs in library sessions and compare their effectiveness with current library teaching strategies.

To conclude this series on IDMs and teaching strategies, I feel like it’s important to discuss my own values when it comes to teaching. Below I have listed the staples I abide by when it comes to teaching as a librarian. Please feel free to leave comments if you think there’s anything I’ve missed, or there’s something you would like to add.

Do your research

As with any important task I do as a librarian, I always want to make sure that I’ve done my homework before I go into a teaching session. I do this by looking at current library related research to see what others teacher librarians are doing (especially in medical libraries). A recent article published by MacEachern et al. (2012) provides a great list of topics covered throughout 4 years of Undergraduate Medical Education. This article also provides examples of handouts as well as an overview of how successful their strategies have been. Since I’m still pretty green when it comes to setting up and teaching medical workshops on my own, so doing background research can be extremely helpful.

If I have to work in an online or digital format, doing research on how the software works, and potential snags that may come up is crucial. I always say you can never be too prepared, so getting to know the mediums I’m working with is always important before I start teaching.

Finally, ensuring that I have developed search strategies that will be relevant for your users is an excellent step to take. Although this often takes time, I find that when I have developed a great search example that hits all the points I want to discuss, the audience is more receptive and the workshop runs more smoothly.

Collaborate

The next staple of teaching that I find to be incredibly important is collaboration with faculty as well as your audience. A blog post written yesterday titled I Don’t Have Time to Teach That: The Benefits of Faculty-Librarian Collaborations does an excellent job of explaining that librarians who are incorporated into teaching for research assignments and are paired with embedded librarians  facilitates both student learning and faculty grading of assignments. This is an area I will be discussing at length in future posts, as I think collaborating with our users and their supervisors is absolutely essential. By collaborating with your user groups, you have a better idea of what their needs are and can then tailor your instruction to fit those needs.

Even as a student instructor for undergraduate engineering students, I would always arrange to meet with a faculty member 30 minutes before the session so that I could test search strategies that would be relevant to the topics they were addressing in their course. This simple step makes a tremendous difference in instruction, as I would see the students perk up when I searched for topics they had just discussed the day before or that they were considering for their assignments.

Get feedback

Feedback is important on so many levels, the first being feedback from your peers and fellow librarians. After I’ve set up a strategy for my instructional session, I always run it by a number of people (mentors, friends, and colleagues) to get their opinion on how I could improve. What I also like about this approach is that it promotes a collaborative atmosphere. I find that when I do this more people are willing to come to me for help as well. Since there are many librarians often working in a single library environment I think it makes sense that we use each other’s skills to improve our practice. Keeping in communication with one another and asking for advice with teaching is one step we can take to strengthen bonds at work.

The next stage of feedback that is useful is from the learners you will teach. Using pre-assessment is an excellent way to find out what your audience is interested in learning. Sending along a simple pre-test that asks a few questions about what tools they want to learn, why they are taking the course and in what areas they would like to improve can be invaluable for designing a teaching strategy. Getselman et al. (2011) and Swoger (2011) provide excellent information on how developing pre-assessments can encourage dialogue between a librarian and their audience.

The same can be said for summative evaluations. Using an evaluation after the workshop is over provides me with an opportunity to find out what people liked about my session, what they didn’t like and how I can improve it in the future. 

Practice makes perfect (online too)

This staple goes without saying, but as librarians are faced with more and more teaching duties, practice can start to fall by the wayside. I think practicing live in-person sessions is an excellent way to feel prepared and to deliver information clearly and effectively. The same can be said with online teaching formats. If you are teaching an online curriculum and are using chat software, make sure it works, and that you can prompt learners with questions at the appropriate time throughout the session.

This is also a great time to test the searches you have developed to make sure they will retrieve relevant results. There’s nothing worse than trying a search you have prepped days before only to find it doesn’t work live — this is a nightmare of mine so I always make sure it works immediately before I start a session.

Keep up with trends

I always try to stay in the loop with new and useful tools that can enhance my teaching delivery. There is so much useful information out there that I want to make sure that I’m finding resources that will help me improve. I have found using Prismatic to be excellent for all things librarianship, health and everything else I’m interested in. It has usurped Google Reader as my go to news and information resource. 

In terms of trends in instruction I have found lately, the first concerns user engagement software. After Meebo has gone defunct I wanted to see what else was out there. This site gives an excellent overview of Meebo alternatives:  http://socialcompare.com/en/comparison/meebo-alternatives-1ap51g32

Another important component of teaching that I would like to use more regularly is mobile technology. Recently I just discovered this excellent blog post: The effects of iPads on Teaching and Learning: Annotated Bibliography . It provides a great list of articles I have bookmarked to read about the effectiveness of tablets in classroom instruction.

Always try to improve

This ties into keeping up with trends, but I think it is important not to become stagnant when teaching. The monotony of teaching can weigh on librarians as we often teach the exact same workshop for weeks at a time. Being conscious of this fact and attempting to enhance our teaching abilities through learning new tools, trying instructional design models, and integrating new exercises can serve to re-inspire our approach. 

My goal as a librarian is to never become sloppy with my teaching, and always try to improve a little bit each time. 

Act excited and passionate about the material!

If you ignore everything else I have written in this blog post please do not do the same for my final staple. Teaching is often the only opportunity we have as librarians to reach out to a lot of people at once. A teaching opportunity is often the only chance we have to make a good impression. While I usually don’t have issues with being excited or passionate about the material I’m teaching (because I love it) every so often I have a bad day and don’t feel excited about walking into an hour teaching session. Regardless of how I feel, showing enthusiasm for the material and demonstrating to your learners that you are approachable is so crucial I can’t say it enough. Whenever I walk into a teaching session and have taken a positive and enthusiastic approach, I have found that my audience is more receptive and feels comfortable asking me questions. Encouraging an open approach to teaching at the beginning of a session can do wonders for getting patrons to speak out more. I also notice when I am enthusiastic and a teaching session has gone really well, I am often approached by students or faculty later on during regular library hours.

Sometimes teaching is our only chance to meet with patrons, so making a good impression should be our number one priority! I think that if we do this, we will see positive results in the long run. 

This concludes the 4 part series on instructional design models and teaching. I will return to this topic much more in the future. Please feel free to share your own experiences as a teacher librarian. What staples do you abide by?

References

Carlson, J., & Kneale, R. (2011). Embedded librarianship in the research context: Navigating new waters. College and Research Libraries News, 72(3), 167-170.

Getselman, A., & White, M. S. (2011). Use of a pre-Assessment tool to start a meaningful dialogue: New paradigms in library instruction. Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 30(3), 245-256. doi:10.1080/02763869.2011.590414

MacEachern, M., Townsend, W., Young, K., & Rana, G. (2012). Librarian integration in a four-year medical school curriculum: a timeline. Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 31(1), 105-14. doi:10.1080/02763869.2012.641856

Swoger, B. (2011). Closing the assessment loop using pre- and post-assessment. Reference Services Review, 39(2), 244-259. 

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