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Mini-Immersion: A Shameless “How We Done Good” Post

Well, last night ended up being un-fun and not very restful, and today started out with a low-grade fever (now gone, so things are looking up). So while I’m confining myself to laziness for the rest of the day, I thought I’d lay out this Mini-Immersion idea in its more logistical details.

The Two-Fold Inspiration

Many of us in the MnObe libraries have been to Immersion, but not all of us, so we thought it might be nice to spread the benefits a little bit. Think of it as a really intensive conference report where the audience has to recreate the conference for themselves.

Then last year, the instruction librarians at my library got together and shared teaching modules and strategies with each other, and ended up surprising ourselves at the wealth of experiences, approaches, and practicalities that we had to share with each other. Those days still stand out as my favorite days of the entire summer last year even though we’d all gone into it wondering just what the point was, exactly, since we thought we had a pretty good idea of what each of us did. Boy were we wrong! And the only thing better than the librarians of one liberal arts college library teaching each other how to teach? The librarians of five liberal arts colleges teaching each other how to teach, of course!

So the idea this year was to recreate a Good Parts Version of Immersion just for ourselves, emphasizing particularly the parts that are relevant for smallish private schools with similar missions and goals, squeezing it into one day, and acknowledging the wealth of expertise that’s housed among our colleagues, and spending some quality time teaching each other how to teach.

The Logistics

We picked a day (August 6th) and a place (Gustavus Adolphus) and met from 9 to 4. (In retrospect, building in some breaks would have been a good idea, but we were all so gung-ho!) All the presentations ended up being about half and half, lecture and discussion, which worked out really well.

  • 9am: Gather for coffee, conversation, and introductions
  • 9:30-10:15: Presentation — Information Literacy in the Liberal Arts (Barbara Fister)
  • 10:20-11:05: Presentation — Changing Paradigms: Shifting the emphasis from Teaching to Learning (Iris Jastram and Aaron Albertson)
  • 11:10-11:55: Presentation — Best Practices in Effective Instruction (LeAnn Suchy and Ken Johnson)
  • Noon-1pm: Lunch
  • 1-3: Instruction Workshops (small groups of 4–6 people)
  • 3-4: wrap-up discussion

Participants had two assignments:

  1. Plan out a SHORT presentation for the afternoon workshop (5-7 minutes) .
    This should be a snippet from instruction that you do or are planning to do and could either be something that works particularly well or that hasn’t worked as well as you’d like it to work. This could also be a narrative about a portion of a class that you are planning. Remember, you’ll be surrounded by experts who can help you, so take advantage of the opportunity! I strongly encourage you to plan to do these presentations without props of any kind. There will be projection equipment there that you can use if needed, but this exercise works best if the emphasis is on you and your teaching rather than a screen.
  2. Read the two articles below.
    Think of these readings not as prescriptive but as food for thought as you enter a full day of thinking about the kinds of instruction we do at our institutions. How do they work for you? How don’t they work? What aspects of your own instruction style and content do they make you think about (something that they show to be either a strength of yours or a potential weakness)?

    1. “Teaching the Library: Best Practices” by Laura Saunders, published in the Spring 2002 issue of Library Philosophy and Practice, available here: http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/~mbolin/saunders.html
      This is a short overview of best practices in library instruction. Many of these ideas we may have heard before or think about when we plan library instruction, but we want you to read this and think about your own instruction. How do you try to accommodate different learning styles? What supplemental materials do you provide for your class? Do you try to incorporate humor into your instruction? Bring examples of your own instruction, or ideas you come up with as you read this, to share with all of us on Immersion Day.
    2. “So, What’s a Learning Outcome Anyway?” by Mark Battersby, published in 1999 as an ERIC document, available here: http://tinyurl.com/nbkjby
      This article attempts a definition of Learning Outcomes that foregrounds this concept as an approach or set of attitudes rather than as a formula for classroom instruction. How well do concepts such as “generic abilities” fit with liberal arts education in general and library instruction in particular? How do we break down the big picture end result of multiple “generic abilities” to things to be taught in a library instruction session? And, how do we relate them to the library tools we feel students must learn about, like the library catalog?

The articles were chosen by the presenters of the morning sessions and gave us some concrete things to agree or disagree with early in the morning. And there was a lot of disagreeing, but in the most constructive way possible, of course.

The whole day cost $10 per participant to cover lunch, coffee, and snacks.

I should note that the entire day required a grand total of an hour and fifteen minutes of meetings on the part of the organizing committee, and all but about half an hour of that were 15–minute telephone conference calls. So really, this isn’t that hard to set up. The hardest part was finding people to step forward and present, so the steering committee ended up doing two of the three presentations ourselves.

I guess the point is this: it’s really not hard, and though it may look either too serious or too hokey or too whatever, you might enjoy it more than you think.

And now, I think I’ll take a nap.