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so far, so far away

maura @ 9:06 pm

I had this whole post about open access publishing I was in the middle of writing for my other blag, but I broke my own writing rules and didn’t finish it this morning. I read the paper and my RSS feeds instead, which felt like a better way to start this Monday. We blew any sleep gained Saturday night by staying up too late reading/programming last night, then of course I woke up early and couldn’t go back to sleep, just for good measure. Tonight I am going to sleep at 9pm, seriously.

I had two classes right in a row in the middle of the day today, which meant that I ate lunch around 11:00am. Maybe it was my tiredness or maybe my full stomach that made me feel like the classes didn’t go particularly well. They weren’t awful, just that there seemed to be a higher percentage than usual of students either blatantly not paying attention and/or chatting amongst themselves. I know all of the things to do in these cases, e.g., stand near the chatterers, give them pointed looks, ask them questions about the material, and ask them to stop talking. And I even did some of them. But still, something about these classes was dissatisfying.

The humble one-shot library instruction session has been written about many times and in many venues, both formal and informal, and I’m not going to bore you with a repeat here. But on days like today I find myself wondering how I can make it better. What if there were a way to get the students more involved and to make the session less draining for me, too? Partly that’s my own fault — my adrenaline rush usually keeps me moving around during classes and I talk with my hands too much. But it’s also because of that dreaded feeling that I have to lecture for much of the session or else I won’t be able to cover all of the material. And lecturing is tiring.

I’ve been trying to hatch an alternative plan for these sessions in my head over the past week or so. I’m not sure if it’s gained enough mass yet to put down in writing — it still feels kind of ethereal. But the gist of it is: what if the entire class session consisted of me asking students questions? What if I asked them to demonstrate searching the library catalog and databases? I do ask questions throughout my classes, but maybe actually rewriting the library session as a series of questions would both help take the talking onus off of me and get the students more involved.

Now I just need to find the time to write those questions down. But not tonight.

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5 comments on “so far, so far away”

tex (3 November 2009 at 3:53 pm)

This is hard because you’re basically their substitute teacher for the day and first-year students (presumably the ones who most need the into to the library class) are the ones most likely to treat you that way. Are they individual classes coming in – like the regular instructors are bring one of their classes to you – or random groups of students coming in on their lunch hours? In the first case, the other instructor should be helping control the chatter.

In either case I think your idea to make it more interactive is right on. The successful library classes I’ve been to with students involved a basic overview of the databases and search strategies, and then the librarian got students working on their own searches, kicking off their individual research projects and allowing them time to go into the stacks to find materials. We humanities instructors and TAs worked with the librarian to help students refine topics and searches (and keep students from just running off once the lecture part was over).

maura (3 November 2009 at 10:20 pm)

Yeah, it’s a pickle all around. Most of our instruction is English Comp (the instructors bring their classes): there are only 4 of us that teach these sessions and this semester we have 126 sections. If the students are working on a paper or research assignment we speak to that, but often they’re not and we just don’t have time to do something different for every class.

The session is something between an orientation and instruction, and I’d really love it to be more the latter than the former. Been thinking on it for a year now — hopefully I’ll get a chance to do a bit of experimenting this semester. I’m glad to hear that getting the students searching worked well in your classes.

Caroline (4 November 2009 at 4:18 am)

I think of it like this – if you were learning to drive a car and the driving instructor just kept talking about how to start the car, put it in gear, accelerate, stop, turn corners, etc, etc, wouldn’t you get just a little bored? Wouldn’t you prefer that the instructor gave you a quick overview and then made you try to drive yourself? Don’t you think you would learn more quickly if you actually tried to drive the car, rather than listening to the driving instructing telling you how to do it?

maura (4 November 2009 at 9:54 pm)

That’s a great analogy, thanks Caroline! We do that in the advanced classes and it works so well (just had one today), but then again they always have an assignment to work from. Going to keep thinking on it (and suggestions are always welcome!).

mauraweb!» archive » put the music on (7 November 2009 at 6:36 pm)

[…] may remember my musing/grumping about classes I taught earlier in the week. I had a class this morning (my lone weekend class this semester), and I’m happy to report […]

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