Posted by: Emily | September 11, 2008

Losing classroom control

I talk a big game about the relevance of critical pedagogy to library instruction (I know you’re getting your abstract ready, right?), and I am always on about ways of making library instruction about the knowledges everybody brings to the classroom, students and teachers alike. That said, the sad scary truth is that I’m a little scared to give up the safety that accompanies standing at the front of the room and lecturing. How do I feel the fear and do it anyway?

I had a surprisingly wonderful drink with a new librarian friend visiting from Oregon (GO DUCKS!) this week. Surprising not because I didn’t expect to enjoy the beer or her company, but surprising for the fruitfulness of the discussion. A graduate of the Immersion program (which I’d always sort of figured was just a week full of awkward icebreakers, but it turns out I was way way wrong), E. told me about some of the ways she teaches her info lit classes. Instead of just demo’ing the catalog in front of passive students–something I do because it’s easy and I’m not afraid of it but hate because it runs counter to my politics–she structures the class under the assumption that students will stumble over and learn what they need to learn about the tools in the process of answering other kinds of questions for themselves. Kind of a no-brainer, surely, but I was still awfully impressed with how excited she was as she talked about teaching. Me? I am afraid of everything going wrong. What if everything goes wrong?

I’m in a new place this semester, so that allows me to try new tricks. I’d like to get off on the right foot by not resorting to my old comfort-level teaching methods. How do you try new things? Am I the only one out here who’s scared to put my teaching theories into practice?



  1. I’m teaching my first class this week, and after a summer of leading workshops & talking up critical information literacy, critical pedagogy, and teaching beyond concepts, I’m still nervous about how I’m actually going to put these ideas into practice.

    I’ve been thinking of having students get into small groups & try searching selected databases without a demo first, then reporting back (to the rest of us) on their experiences, what they noticed, what they found. That could be structured as a problem-based learning activity, perhaps. In that scenario, we’re still spending time on the databases (tools), though.

    If you were to skip the demo, or give it less importance in your class sessions, what would that give you time to do that you can’t do now?

    And what’s this “everything” that could go wrong? Would we learn that searching’s messy, that we don’t always get it right the first time, that it takes time, and even the librarian has to step back, scratch head, and come up with a different plan? Is that too disheartening/discouraging an outcome?

  2. (Sorry, in the first sentence of the post above, I meant “teaching beyond skills to concepts”)

  3. Extremely great points your making–and I can totally relate. But doing a demo at the front of the classroom is boring. It bores me and it bores the crap out of students. But I don’t know if it’s possible to make everything as fun as a party: this IS catalog and database searching. I like Alana’s “problem-based” ideas. You could start small: if you have the resources for each student to be seated at a computer, use a search topic that is relevant to them. (For instance, the freshman I teach all have to read the same book before getting to college; they then search on that topic or related themes. I have them formulate the search strategy in groups and come up with key words for each concept of the inquiry. Then, they volunteer these key words to me and I use their ideas to do the search.)
    *This is maybe one idea for taking baby steps when teaching catalog & database searching. I guess the point is to get them DOing stuff, rather than sitting and staring blankly.
    *I also try and start lower-division courses with search-engines since that’s what they know. I’ve also been experimenting with Flickr and Delicious to teach key word searching by contrasting tag clouds (folksonomies) and CV (taxonomies). I use some of those concepts to teach the catalog, and that seems to help. But I am still doing an awful lot of TALKING and not doing. So I’m working on it too:) I like the concept, though, of things “going wrong” in the classroom. I guess I think that you don’t really learn something until you encounter a problem with something and work through it.

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