A library instruction experience that I actually enjoyed!

I had a very pleasant and satisfying library instruction experience today, and I want to talk about what made it so. I think that the pleasure of this session served as a useful inoculation against repetitive burnout-inducing teaching.

Context: I was asked to visit a group of incoming first year students attending a week-long writing intensive workshop designed to give them a head start on the conventions and expectations of college writing before the semester starts. The workshop took place in the writing center, which has an instructor workstation with a giant touch screen display and student workstations. I was given 60 minutes. The writing center director is leading the workshop all week, and she talked to them about the CRAAP test before I got there. I have a strong, collaborative relationship with the writing center director going back several years. We share similar goals and try to make the most of where our instructional interests intersect and overlap.

What I Did: I prepared an activity that asked students to consider three different information sources on the same topic and answer questions about the audience, creator(s), and purpose of each source, and why those things matter to them specifically. I chose a Wikipedia article, a scholarly article, and a .gov website on the topic (distracted driving) and linked to them in a LibGuide for them to access easily. The students worked in three groups, each assessing one of the three sources and answering the questions, then we talked about all three as a whole class. I’ve done more complicated versions of this activity (more sources and more questions), and this was a more streamlined, simplified version. I spent the majority of the time guiding the activity and subsequent discussion of the sources and how our conversation connected to the conventions and concerns of college writing in general. I spent only a little bit of time showing them how to navigate the library home page, keyword brainstorming, and search phrase construction. I gave the writing center director a handout about this to distribute later.

What I Worried About: I did have some concerns about the students having been introduced to the CRAAP test before I got there. It’s not that that the CRAAP test isn’t useful; I just didn’t know how she had sold it to them, and if it had been presented as a set of flexible guidelines or as a rigid code to which they had to adhere. I didn’t think it was the former, because I know the writing center director pretty well, but I still worried about it. I personally referred to it as a set of flexible guidelines and also talked about how authority is constructed and contextual. (Look at me being all Frameworky and everything!) Also, I felt worried about whether they would actually talk and participate during the group work time and whether I was going to be uncomfortable and nervous while I waited for them to complete the task. For me, this discomfort/nervousness, or the anticipation thereof, is a trigger to shift into autopilot lecture-and-demonstrate mode as a security blanket.

What Worked: The group work was successful! The students made astute and complex observations about the sources and asked smart questions. I think I chose good, accessible sources—the scholarly article, in particular, was not especially full of jargon. The body language and facial expressions of the students indicated that they were mentally present, paying attention, and engaged.

How I Felt: I felt energized and excited to be there and work with them. I felt like this wasn’t just one of a billion interchangeable generic library instruction sessions. I liked that I spent minimal time on pointing-and-clicking and more time in conversation about bigger picture issues. I think this energy, and the novelty of trying something new, helped me counteract my usual triggers.

What I Will Do Next: Try to build opportunities for interactive conversations about more conceptual stuff at the beginning of instruction sessions. My tendency is to do more explanatory/overview stuff first, and then move to discussion, but maybe launching the discussion right from the start improves the energy and sequencing of the session’s activities. I didn’t build in any formal assessment mechanisms into the session, and if I repeat this activity in some form in the future, I’ll need to think about incorporating some sort of quick classroom assessment technique.