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Credo

This I believe:

  • The classroom is about learning, not teaching.
  • Learning happens best when it is directly and explicitly tied to and relevant to a project at hand.
  • Learning happens best when it builds on existing knowledge. This is why getting some sense of where the students are (such as talking to them before launching into a session as Steve does) is so important.
  • Teaching that sets out to be “everything these students will need to know about the library, just in case we never get to teach them again” isn’t teaching — it’s inoculation. Teaching isn’t a vaccine. Also, remember that teaching isn’t as important as learning, so it doesn’t matter how much you hope to convey — it matters how much you think your students can actually learn in a given amount of time. I didn’t quite believe the people at Immersion that 2-3 learning goals is all you can do in an hour, but it’s one of the things that has really stuck with me and fundamentally changed the way I approach the classroom.
  • One-shot instruction is never “just” one-shot instruction. One of the most important but rarely stated learning goals of every instruction session is that the librarian is helpful and knowledgeable and approachable. If I only have time to teach citation mining (which, by the way, gives me a chance to VERY quickly open up our catalog and our Journals list and give a brief overview of how scholars index their own literature and the difference between book and journal citations) I can leave that mini-class knowing that those students will be more likely to seek out my help with other research-related problems now that they’ve met me (particularly since I leave them with hints embedded in their class-specific subversive handout). Each one-shot is therefore more of a launching point than an ending point.
  • Teaching lower level classes is harder than teaching upper-level courses. There’s just so much context to build, and such a diverse audience.
  • Believing all of this doesn’t make it happen. Some classes fail. Many classes are just so-so. Usually it’s my fault for trying to do too much teaching.

These musings brought to you by a very interesting FriendFeed discussion.

I’m not saying some good tutorials might not be useful for the BI part of IL instruction. I just think that teaching how to find stuff isn’t all that I do, that I can’t do it in an hour anyway, and that teaching to evaluate stuff and to approach research as an intellectual process rather than a mechanically linear set of steps (arguably the most important pieces of what I do) is too context specific to each research topic to work well in tutorial form. Is this being a “special snowflake”? Yes. And to the extent that we’re focused on meeting students where they are and building supportive relationships with them, I think that’s a good thing.

Another idea came up during that discussion that I’ve been planning to implement for a few months now. My experiences with sharing within my department and then our local “mini-Immersion” made me think that a repository of ideas for teaching might be really useful. I know there are some other wikis out there, but I thought that a more focused one, and one attached to a vibrant online community (the Library Society of the World) might possibly be more successful. Maybe it’s time to set that up. Maybe next week? What do you think? Would this be useful?

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