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put the music on

maura @ 6:36 pm

You 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 that it was an entirely different — and pleasant! — experience.

I’ve been trying to deconstruct it all day. The course instructor was there, though she had to miss the first half of the session; since the library doesn’t open that early she had to wait by the door for latecomers. The students were averagely engaged, some more than others, and there was a bit of chatting. I worked to ask more questions of them which I think helped, especially asking questions of the chatty ones. It was the first class of the day so the room wasn’t too hot yet.* I tried to pace + talk with my hands less (because I think that tires me out), though I’m not exceptionally well-rested today. And a big plus is that the students are working on a research assignment right now. I always ask students to suggest topics to search during library sessions, but today we actually found a couple of relevant books, articles, and websites for a few lucky ones.

* This is a serious bummer. Because the classroom was carved out of a windowless space not originally intended for 30 computers, it gets incredibly hot. We have a couple of fans and run them between classes, but we can’t run them too high during class or we’d have to yell over them. I sympathize with the students, really, I do. Even the most fascinating discussion is difficult to concentrate on when you’re in a hot room, and for most students even debating the pros + cons of Wikipedia (usually the high point of student interest in the session) doesn’t really qualify as fascinating.

So, what can I take away from this?

1. I need to try harder to schedule these sessions at students’ point of need: when they are beginning research for an assignment.

Scheduling is a huge bear for us. This semester we have 126 sections of English Comp I. We always have 4 instruction librarians and 1 classroom. Recently we’ve been trying to squeeze most classes in right after midterms, figuring that students won’t really be thinking about their final papers until then. But some sections don’t do a research paper and some faculty would prefer sessions earlier or later (we do accommodate those faculty who ask). Maybe next semester we will try asking for a few date suggestions from each prof and schedule them first come, first served. A colleague also suggested sticking with the same librarian/instructor pair from semester to semester, which could help us keep all of these diverse assignments in mind.

I also need to gently remind faculty that the sessions work best if students have an assignment. Since this is the only required library session in our students’ academic careers at the college, there’s a tendency to make it more orientation than instruction. I’d really like to move my classes more firmly into the instruction zone. Probably it’s time to revisit our learning objectives to make sure they don’t focus too much on orientation-type info. It’s also really hard to resist the temptation in these sessions to try and cover everything, because we’re only guaranteed to get them in the library this one time. But I know I should probably resist.

2. More thinking about a session that’s entirely made up of questions I ask of the students.

I already structure the first part of the class like this, in which I discuss searching the internet and how library and internet resources are different. We have classroom control software, so I could ask students to search and then display their results on the screen for all to see, which might be more efficient (and less scary) than asking students to come to the podium to demonstrate. I’m still not sure this will work with all classes — in my experience the students’ prior library knowledge is all over the place. But it will definitely be more interactive and (I hope) engaging for the students. I’ll need to really tightly tie the questions to our learning objectives to be sure that we have time to cover everything we need to in the session, and practice keeping a closer eye on the clock.

Closer, closer still! This is getting closer to a plan.

P.S. Sorry for so much library stuff here lately. I guess I can’t figure out where to put these less-formal blatherings. But I clearly want to write about these issues (I sat down to try to write an ACRL blog post but this is what I got instead), so I guess it’ll be here for now.

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