03 March 2015

Library User Instruction: Course Goals

The textbooks, with their emphasis on integrating activity, writing, and critical thinking into the course, begin to get at what I want to instill in future teachers. And since I have discovered a second listed course in the catalog also focused on information literacy, I can move away from that theme to look at the subject of teaching more broadly. My goals, really, are pretty simple.

First are things I want them to learn. I want them to come to see teaching as an integral aspect of librarianship, regardless of one’s specific role in the library. Reference is teaching. Instruction, obviously, is teaching. But so is cataloging. So is work on the OPAC. Every task in the library is intended to help users fill information needs -- to help them learn something.

Next, I want them to think about what makes instruction effective, considering educational theory, methods, and how these relate to their own teaching. Praxis, the reflective analysis of our own performance, is essential to improving, and a habit best learned early.

The remaining key ideas are about presentation and content, and teachers who plan around these ideas are likely to find success. The concept of learning outcomes is most important: what should the learner be able to do after the lesson? The answer here is essential: it is the entire purpose of the instruction. It guides both choice of material and of presentation methods. If you can’t answer it, just cancel the class. Three ideas that can help determine learning outcomes for a class are 1) what should they remember in ten years? 2) “less is more” --  we can only remember so much new material at once, and 3) that we all learn better when personally interested in the material.

Exposure to this set of ideas would have been a nice start for me, yet none of my education classes bothered to make those simple points.

Then there is what I want them to do, in service of instilling the ideas above. I want them to explore issues that teaching librarians encounter in the workplace, so they will know what sort of problems and controversies they might encounter. I want them to see librarians teaching in various situations and contexts -- not just the one-shot university bibliographic instruction session, but also computer training courses at the public library, historical tours at governmental libraries, reference interactions at special libraries, toddler story-times, and more. Finally, they will practice preparing and delivering material, including lesson planning, course design, and marketing. I want them to walk out of my class feeling ready to walk into their own classrooms.

I want to do all of this in an active-learning environment based on activity and discussion with minimal lecture time, that demonstrates the theories they are studying. These activities should provide realistic scenarios and address components of larger, long-term course assignments.

The assignments, then, are carrying a lot of the instructional value for my class. They require the students to develop practical instruction skills and reflect on their own teaching experiences. The most important of these is to develop an information literacy course, from the ground up, based on The Information Literacy User’s Guide. The assignment is a nod to the inherited emphasis on bibliographic instruction; the exercise is, of course, generalizable. Digesting a text, developing learning goals and instructional plans to deliver the material, evaluating results, and creating an audience are all necessary skills for teachers, no matter their subjects.

Exploring contemporary issues, controversies, and practices in the field, however, requires some sort of research. Previously, this was just an academic research paper, like any other class. That’s pretty boring, though, and of limited real-world use. Next time, we will use a better professional-development assignment: students will prepare a paper (as if) for presentation at the ALA / ACRL conference, following all guidelines for submission. They will then deliver the presentation to the class as a “rehearsal”, and provide one another with performance critiques.

Another part of this exploration is finding, presenting, and discussing relevant research articles for the class -- which also provides more time in front of the class for each student. Another practical exercise, developing a presentation targeting a specific research tool for presentation to a specific course audience (like presenting the JSTOR database to an upper-level humanities class), puts them in front of people yet again.

The final two assignments are intended to further expose the students to practical librarianship responsibilities and expectations. First, they will visit and evaluate at least two different types of library instruction. In most cases, this means visiting a campus bib-info session, then finding a public, government, or special library at which to observe  a different kind of teaching. This leads to a comparative paper, and one hopes, a better understanding of the differences between different types of library. Finally, they undertake a job market analysis in which they look at current openings. Here, the expectation is that seeing what is required for application and what is expected in various positions will allow a head start on finding work after graduation, and that preparing a teaching statement for class will make completing those applications a bit easier.

Finally, I intend to bring in help in making these points. In-class guests provide unique insight, and the students appreciate the opportunity to ask questions of successful professionals. I expect to have at least four: the library’s subject liaison to our school, to both demonstrate an upper-level in-class library session and to discuss what a liaison does; the library’s instruction coordinator, to discuss how the instruction program works, the hiring process, and expectations for new hires; a public or special librarian, to reinforce that teaching doesn’t just happen at university libraries, and a representative from the campus teaching center, to share about the additional opportunities to develop teaching skills they offer.

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