Contextualizing my #IDE16ALA

This week’s focus for #IDE16ALA is situating what we’ll be learning in a particular teaching context–past, present, or future. Something I’m admittedly weak on and would like to improve is taking a programmatic approach to info lit instruction. I got a taste of the course approach to info lit this semester, where I cotaught an 8-week course geared toward providing supplemental research help for a group of students working on a term paper for another class.

I found teaching this course a challenge, truth be told, partially because I never felt it was MY class and partially because I’d never taught more than two info lit classes meant to build off of each other. So I thought I’d take on that experience and break it down in order to analyze what I might do to improve that experience, both for myself, my coteacher, and my students, in the future.

I’m working off of L. Dee Fink’s A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning (p. 7) to situate my teaching learning/context.

1. Specific Context of the Teaching/Learning Situation

The course can be taken at any point, but it’s typically taken by senior students writing their capstone papers. The class meets for an hour weekly in a computer lab. The environment is a bit tricky–it’s a fairly big classroom with the traditional teacher’s podium, but only around 8 or so students take the course at one time. I’d prefer the classroom to provide more of an intimate setting rather than one that invites students to spread out and distance themselves from the teachers.

2. General Context of the Learning Situation

I’m new at my institution, so I’m not entirely sure where this course came from–who advocated for it, who approved it, who even promotes it. I know that even many faculty at my institution are unaware it exists. So suffice it to say there aren’t many expectations from the university as far as I’m aware. I think the general idea is that this course is meant to develop the research skills of students, especially those who might need an extra push or additional guidance on long-term papers.

In terms of how the profession may view this course, there isn’t much of a precedent for high-quality for-credit IL courses. You look on the listservs and it’s still a common question for librarians to ask each other for ideas for getting started teaching for-credit courses. I haven’t yet heard of a widely successful course like this. This is a daunting situation to be in, but it’s also kind of exciting to think about how much room there is for improvement.

3. Nature of the Subject

This is a difficult question IMO. Whether a subject is theoretical or practical is a matter of perspective and treatment. Like we’ve learned with the advent of the ACRL Framework, information literacy can be treated in very different ways–as a practical set of skills (ACRL Standards) or as a nuanced, personal set of understandings (ACRL Framework). Personally I would love to treat the subject in a more theoretical sense, focusing on the “big ideas” of research by providing opportunities for students to question and challenge the nature of research and then putting them in authentic scenarios that require them to transfer their understandings to the more practical task of actually writing their term papers.

4. Characteristics of the Learners

We take a programmatic approach to IL instruction at my institution, so students are all exposed to information literacy concepts at least four times in their first year. Presumably students come in knowing a fair amount about the research process already. They’ve done it throughout college, and they’ve at least gotten those four foundational lessons, if not additional ones through their majors. But the students taking this course decided to take it for one reason or another. Usually that reason revolves around anxiety about completing such a large project or feeling like they need more guidance to be successful at research. Or else they needed just an easy one-credit class and this fit the bill. There’s a bit of a range there.

5. Characteristics of the Teacher

Now, I’m just going to focus on my own characteristics as a teacher and pretend this future class I’ll be teaching is mine alone. So here’s my teaching philosophy in a nutshell:

I love to teach through asking questions and facilitating discussion. I find it SO productive to have a general framework but steer the class in whatever direction it seems to need to go. I prefer to teach classes with somewhat of a structure but with enough flexibility to adapt to the particular needs of my learners. I don’t like assuming I know what my students know and what they need to know and how they’re thinking. I prefer facilitating discussions about research over standing in front of the class and talking at my students about something they very well might already know. I hate The Database Demonstration. I don’t know that true learning happens when you show a discrete set of information like a database or a research tool without framing it in a transferrable bigger question or concept about research. I think students know a lot more than they’re given credit for and I love learning from them and with them.

So that’s what I’m coming to this situation with. There’s probably more that I could have addressed, but I’m trying not to blab TOO much. Next up: significant learning goals!