Seeing Students’ Ears Perk Up: A Comment on Teaching & A Book Review of Critical Library Instruction Theories & Methods

Teaching is one of my favorite intellectual activities.  I believe it is a dialogue between the instructor and students, where complete silence from the audience is not allowed.  I try to keep my audience from being silently passive at all costs by frequently asking them questions, soliciting their comments, or giving them hands-on exercises to do.  To make my workshops relevant to students, I show them how to search for topics in their subject area and solve problems that are similar to what they will be facing when they need to complete their course assignments.  I also try to tie recent news events (e.g., the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, Montreal’s Grand Prix, etc.) to the search topics I present.  However, I am realizing, more and more, that this is not enough to engage my audience during a library workshop.  Many students grasp the technical skills in searching fairly quickly, such as learning how to use truncation symbols and Boolean operators.  The awe factor of Colombo and EndNote only lasts a little while.  How do we keep students interested for the entire workshop, be it 60, 90, or 120 minutes long?

I think part of the answer involves storytelling, i.e., involves sharing life/research experiences with students and asking them to share theirs with the class.  I have been privileged enough to be able to observe colleagues successfully attract students’ interest while teaching.  They told brief stories, such as the story of Eugene Garfield and his involvement in the creation of Web of Science.  I also find that when I tell personal stories (such as talking about my adventures and misadventures preparing for my first conference poster and talk), I see students’ ears perk up.  I figure that if I also add an opportunity in the workshop for students to share their own experiences as searchers, I think that I will strike gold, i.e., that the students will become more animated and fully engage with the workshop content.

The benefits of librarians and students sharing their experiences in library instruction have also been explored in the literature.  It is a central theme in the book, Critical Library Instruction Theories and Methods, which is a collection of essays edited by three practicing librarians (Maria T. Accardi, Emily Drabinski, Alana Kumbier) and published by Library Juice Press in 2010.  This book describes theories and case studies that can help librarians develop instructional sessions that move beyond the teaching of technical skills to teaching students how to think critically about information and the search process.  Some examples of methods, included in the book, that incorporate critical thinking in the library classroom are: 1) setting aside time for students to formulate and/or discuss their own research topics with the instructor and the class; 2) comparing and contrasting Google with academic databases; 3) discussing how Google’s marketing strategies affect how it lists search results; 4) asking students’ about how much time they should spend in a database without obtaining relevant results in order to discuss why a certain amount of search frustration is counterproductive and avoidable; and 5) asking students to reflect on their own search strategy and think of how they would revise it if they needed to update it at a future date.  Critical Library Instruction Theories & Methods will give readers ideas for making library instruction more interesting to students and obtaining more student interaction during a library session.

By: Giovanna Badia, Schulich Library of Science & Engineering

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