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TL v58n1 I am not a teacher, am I?
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 58 Number 1

 2008

 

I Am Not a Teacher, Am I?

by

Laura Slavin
Jessica Mead

Lincoln Memorial University

Program Abstract: Teaching a college level course on information literacy can be challenging to librarians without a background in instruction. In this presentation, a media specialist and a cataloger, will present experiences as first time teachers while providing tips to other librarians from nontraditional backgrounds, who are venturing into the classroom.


Introduction

Academic librarians have always been teachers, a large part of their mission is to educate their community of users on how to access and use information. Many academic institutions are going one step further, asking librarians to step into a formal classroom setting, offering required, full credit courses on information literacy. At smaller universities, this might require all available librarians to teach the course. Librarians who are not from a traditional reference background find themselves asked to teach a classroom full of undergraduates.

What does a librarian do who has never taught before and must suddenly prepare and teach a course? This article is the perspective of two such librarians, a cataloger and a media specialist, who were asked to prepare for, and teach, a required, for-credit course at Lincoln Memorial University. Issues and concerns facing librarians in the classroom are considered as well as tips and tricks for all librarians who are preparing to teach in a formal setting.

Lincoln Memorial University currently requires all students to take a one credit hour course on information literacy. This course is taught by librarians and covers topic selection, search strategies for the OPAC and databases, website evaluation, and APA style citations. The culminating project is a twelve citation annotated bibliography. This course is currently undergoing a face lift and we hope to incorporate more hands-on learning activities. We would also like the students to concentrate more on search strategies and evaluation of sources than on formatting. We are currently contemplating eliminating this stand alone course and embedding the content into our two required English courses. We feel this may allow the students to make a better connection between what we are teaching them and how it will help them in their real world academic setting. The teaching of this course and the future integration of information literacy into classes across the curriculum allows students to make a connection between the library and their academic success. These courses increase not only their library skills and confidence, but also their comfort level in using librarians as a resource and seeing the library as a fun, comfortable place to be.

Laura Slavin’s Perspective

It’s a strange experience for a cataloger to step into the classroom and face eighteen undergraduates at the beginning of the semester. When I looked out at the classroom full of students, I could not help but think that it was never my intention to teach. I went to graduate school in library science and took as many cataloging courses as they provided. I’ve spent over six years of my career in technical services departments. My experience with reference and bibliographic instruction was limited.

What helped me as I began to prepare and teach the class? First of all, even that one reference course I took in college made a huge difference when teaching information literacy. Knowing how to find and evaluate reference sources helped me prepare and teach coursework about information literacy. Studying both the literacy standards as provided by ACRL and any literature available about beginning teaching was a huge help for me as I prepared to teach. Also, asking advice from colleagues, both librarians and professors, was invaluable. I also attended any workshops I could find on a variety of subjects including classes on content management systems and technology. Finally, I brushed up on my presentation skills and worked throughout each semester to improve them. I discovered early on the importance of engaging the students since, when I did not speak well, I often lost their attention.

Ultimately, it is the students that really matter and I found my increased involvement with them to be extremely rewarding. It is a great feeling when you see the light bulb go on and the student understands, or when a student directly applies what they are learning in their other coursework. Although challenging, helping students in trouble is also very rewarding.

Lincoln Memorial University called upon me to help teach this course and I was willing and able to give it a try. Teaching proved to give me more interaction with the students, more marketable skills, and it greatly improved my assertiveness and confidence. It was well worth all of my time and effort.

Jessica Mead’s Perspective

After spending my childhood in libraries alongside my mother, who is a public library director, I decided to spend my adulthood there too. My concentration in library school was on youth services and I had every intention of being a children’s librarian forever. I worked in the Miami-Dade Public Library system for a few years and then as a media specialist in elementary schools after moving to Tennessee. Last year I was presented with the opportunity to work at Lincoln Memorial University, and while part of me will always love children’s services, I have since found that teaching is rewarding at any level.

Teaching at a university is a challenge for someone who is used to working with children young enough not to notice your mistakes. However, I have found that my background in the elementary schools has helped prepare me for creating and leading my own class. The same teaching strategies apply to all students whether they are 5 or 21. 

I found assistance in reading literature from the education field on how to create interesting courses and employ successful teaching methods. But perhaps the most valuable help I received has come from consultation and conversation with other teaching librarians and faculty. My number one piece of advice would be to communicate with anyone who will listen and share ideas, frustrations, and solutions. I would not have made it through my first year without the support and advice of my fellow librarians and faculty.

Interaction with my peers, as well as increased interaction with students, is one of the main reasons I believe teaching has been so fulfilling for me. The increased face time with students and faculty is good not only for me but for the university as well. It creates a new and different relationship between the library and the rest of campus. I feel teaching has also benefited me professionally by making me a more confident public speaker and by allowing me to jump headfirst into the world of information literacy, which is clearly where academia and libraries are headed. 

This headfirst dive into the world of higher education comes with its share of bumps and bruises, but it is also filled with moments in the classroom that make it all worth the effort. Here are a few words of advice from my experience in the classroom. A sense of humor goes far in bridging the gap between student and teacher. Don’t be afraid to mess up; it happens and it’s correctable. Openness and honesty works both ways: be open with the students and they will be open with you. And finally, relish the thanks you will get at the end of a class. Most students are inevitably grateful that you have taught them skills that will make the rest of their life easier. 

Tips and Tricks

Now that we have been in the trenches for a year, we decided to share a few tips and tricks we have learned along the way.

  • Prepare, prepare, prepare. Know your material for the day backwards and forwards and always anticipate a question you haven’t thought of. Also, have extra activities or lectures in mind if you end too early. Idle students will eventually cause problems.
  • Make your expectations clear. Have detailed assignments and make expectations known. It is helpful to students to know what you expect in regards to format and presentation as well as content.
  • Make good use of your student’s time. Once a student is in your classroom they will actually want to do something. Make class time interesting and engaging and use all of it. While some students will appreciate a 15 minute class, most will feel slighted and upset that they got out of bed for it!
  • It is necessary to have a detailed syllabus. Policies such as attendance and late assignments should be clear and firm and you should be as detailed as possible with assignments and due dates. 
  • Spice up the material. Hands on activities are received better than straight lectures. 
  • Show some enthusiasm!! Let the students see how much you love what you teach. If they think it is important to you, they will see it is important to them.

Academic libraries, and many other institutions, have realized that making students information literate is key to their success in academia and in the world at large. More librarians are being asked to teach their own courses or to co-teach with faculty members. This is a major shift in our profession and one from which we should not shy away. While there are some issues that come with teaching (no formal educational training and time management come to mind) the end result is what is important. Students on your campus are getting the benefit of learning information literacy skills from professionals who love what they do, and you are getting the benefit of broadening your horizons and sharing your knowledge. We have found teaching trying and tiring, but most of all fun!


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