Posted by: Maria | October 23, 2008

non-demo instruction and the courage to let go

Inspired by an internetlibrarianfriend‘s attempt at non-demo instruction, which, in turn, was inspired by an exercise in this book, I tried something new in a class last night, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

First I did a library tour (standard for a first year seminar library session), and then I did our little pre-test quiz (also standard), and then I led a short discussion about types of information sources and the tools we have to locate them (yup, standard), and then I turned the projector off on my computer (decidedly NOT STANDARD).  This alone felt like a radical act.  And then I got even more radical and non-standard and launched right into the activity, which you can see here.

In the exercise, students were asked to conduct searches in a specific information search tool, answer some questions about the search, and then demonstrate to the class what they did and how they did it and what they found.  I had them work in pairs, and I assigned each pair one of the three tools I specified on the worksheet.  I gave them 15 minutes to work, which seemed to be exactly the right amount of time, based on what I saw them doing, and then I randomly chose three pairs–one for each of the three tools–to present to the class.

At was at this point–when students were presenting–that I turned the projector back on, but it was a student who sat at the demo computer, and I sat at one of the student computers.  I occasionally rolled up (while still seated in my chair) to the screen while a student was demonstrating when I saw a teachable moment present itself.  For example, when a student was showing how to do an IUCAT search, I took a moment to interject a brief aside about how to have items sent to you from other IU libraries.  I tried to keep these interjections to a minimum, but I did think it was important that I did make occasional contributions.  I still have instructional goals to accomplish, after all, and if they don’t happen naturally through a student-led presentation, I still need to work some things in somehow.

The scariest thing about this activity was feeling like I was losing control.   Relinquishing my “teacher” seat at the front of the room and giving it over to a student required a certain amount of faith–faith that there would be a payoff for trying something different and surrendering and letting go of something comfortable.  And, luckily for me, this was a case where this faith was validated.  The activity went exactly as I hoped.  The classroom felt lively and active, not boring and slow.  Students were working and talking and figuring things out together.  Students shared their knowledge with each other.  And I was there to help nudge them along.  It was truly one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had in that classroom, and I can’t wait to try it again.



  1. Sounds great!

    I’ve been wanting to do some group work, but am stymied by the set up in my labs. We have the standard professor at the front with the projector set up, and then rows of tables with desktop computers on them, and you can barely get in behind them to talk to students. I’m still trying to figure out how to help the students who sit next to the wall.

    If I could redesign my lab, I’d have several small round tables with laptops that we could move around.

    That said, this sounds like a great post-exercise thing to do. I’ve been wondering what to do after my exercises, and encouraging the students to come up and teach is a great idea.

    Also, can you email/post your pre-test?

  2. We have the same set up in my lab, too, which is not conducive to group work, for sure, but it works pretty okay for pairs.

    I’ll email you the pre-/post-test for your edification.

  3. […] to do something new in my library context, usually tipped off by something I’ve seen on a blog, at another library, or in a book, these approaches feel risky. I suspect this has something to do […]

  4. Congratulations! Those students were lucky to be your guinea pigs.

  5. […] the high school edition Posted by Maria under library instruction   Today I did my New Thing again, for the second time, only this time my students were high schoolers.  My library offers […]

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