A Presentation on Teaching Teaching

So today I was planning to give a presentation on Teaching Teaching, a project that was one of my larger contributions to MPOW over the past year. (post about it from the beginning and midpoint) I was really excited about this, in large part because it was for an educator’s conference, and one that I’ve learned a lot from in the past.

The conference is a Lilly one, that happens every year in Greensboro, NC, just 45 minutes away.

And, as seems to be the case most weekends these days, we were hit with bad weather just in time for the event. This actually wasn’t a big deal for the major speakers and out of town attendees who flew in. They arrived at the conference hotel yesterday, so they were all there and ready to go. It wasn’t too big of a deal, either, for the Greensboro folks who were able to make it in.

But my commute was just far enough, in a small car, and from the west (where weather is colder), so I didn’t feel like it was a safe move to attempt the drive in. While I was looking into conditions this morning, a report came in of a 5 car accident at an exit I’d be passing (as well as smaller accidents), and the universities in Greensboro and Winston-Salem closed for the day, so I feel pretty confident in this decision.

But, I still regret that I wasn’t able to contribute today to something I had committed to and that I’m missing the event that is still proceeding. Maybe things will thaw a bit to at least participate tomorrow or Sunday.

So, that’s the background. I still wanted to share the presentation and basic information in case folks are interested (I heard from a few folks on Twitter who wanted to know what I was planning to do). I’d really like to present on this at some point, so it’s frustrating that I wasn’t able to today. I might make an audio track for the presentation if the conference follows up on my offer to do so, but at this point here is the information in text form:

I always do some sort of introduction; but as blog posts are different from presentations, we’ll just dive right in.

Teaching at ZSR

Teaching at my library tends to fall in four different categories (though, there are often other types that might fall into a miscellaneous category).

  1. One-shot library instruction: As with most libraries, we do a lot of one-shot library instruction for specific classes.
  2. Technology training: The ZSR Library has a history of providing technology training for the University. We go into classes to teach students how to use technologies required by their professors, teach faculty how to use technology and why it might be useful for their classes, and we teach workshops on specific tools that are open to students, faculty, and staff.
  3. Lib100: We offer one-credit information literacy classes every semester. This semester there are 11 sections. The curriculum varies by instructor, as long as the basic goals are met. These optional classes are always full with a wait list; if we had more people to teach them, we’d fill even more sections.
  4. Lib200: Lib200 is the subject specific version of Lib100. We have sections on business, humanities, social sciences, and the sciences. These focus on resources specific to their disciplines and research methods most appropriate for the types of courses that fall into these categories.

History of Teaching Teaching

The concept for this program had been floating around for a while, but several things happened that indicated there was interest, willingness, and even enthusiasm for the program by Spring 2009. I subtitled this presentation “The improbable success of a class for librarian teachers” because whenever I’ve talked to people outside my library about the program, they are enthusiastic and often start talking about what it might look like in their library. But then they start worrying that people wouldn’t be interested, would say they’d come but then back out due to time constraints, would feel that attendance indicated a lack of knowledge or professionalism, or  they just don’t see the potential for buy-in.

The success of the program certainly wasn’t because everyone had gobs of free time or didn’t know what they were doing. The individuals I talked with about the program indicated that though they were extremely busy, improving their teaching was so important to them that they were willing to make time to do it. And the point of the class wasn’t to teach things that people didn’t know; most of the attendees have been teaching for some time and are skilled teachers. The point was to give people a vocabulary to talk about their teaching, provide the theoretical background for why certain things work, and to give people a framework from which to improve their already good teaching.

So, the timeline:

  • 2007: I was hired as the Instructional Design Librarian. At that point I had already been working at the library in another capacity and had been co-teaching a Lib100 class. I had filled my MLIS electives with anything education related that I could, so I had theoretical knowledge to bring to the table. In the beginning I would meet with instructors who requested a session, and we’d talk about what they were doing in the classroom, issues they were having, or take a look at their syllabus, and we’d discuss the good things they had going in their class and the I’d make recommendations for improvement. Through these conversations I learned that there were some common themes that people wanted to know more about. I began thinking about putting together a series of workshops, and separately from that, a few people requested something similar to what I was planning.
  • 2008: We also had an Information Literacy Librarian, Roz Tedford (now Assistant Director, Research & Instruction Services), who I knew would want to be involved in something like this. I went to talk to her about it, and fortunately, she had been thinking of a similar idea!! We talked about the format the program could take and what would make the most sense, and settled on a one hour “course” that would be open to all library staff at any of the 3 WFU libraries. We discussed some general ideas of what to cover, based on what people had indicated curiosity about, and since I came from the Instructional Design side of things I developed the timeline and structure of the course. I would lead session in which I had specific subject knowledge, and Roz took on the ones for the things she was comfortable with.
  • 2009: We taught two “courses” in 2009, one in the spring and one in the fall. More on the specific format, structure, and content coming up:

Design of the Course

Analysis

So, you already know about the history of the program, which informed the creation of the course. Knowing the common issues and interests of the librarians I worked with made it easy to understand what they wanted (and what didn’t know they wanted, but would be interested in) for the course. In the second iteration, I specifically asked what they wanted to include, and created a schedule based on that.

We also took into consideration the types of teaching that take place at ZSR, adding staff training as well, since a few attendees came specifically to learn things that might be applicable for when they had new information to share with the staff.

Each week, I took note of who was able to make it, and would use that information to tailor examples or to make sure specific information was covered to meet the needs I knew about.

Design

So, the first part of the design was to plan the trajectory of the course. The first moved from general/theoretical to more specific/actionable. We ended with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning because a lot of people I work with do interesting things with their teaching that could easily be strong contributions to the literature. Since I knew a lot of people wanted to move to a more active form of teaching, that was a running theme throughout the course.

So the first class ended up being much more about theory and educational principles. The general feeling was that it had been useful, but there was also a strong interest in specifics of “how to do X” in the classroom. So, I started the second class with a facilitated discussion to draw out what people wanted to know more about. It was during a time of day that was harder for people to attend, so I also asked for a list of dates people planned to attend so I could build the schedule around a logical flow of ideas as well as trying to make sure people would be able to attend the sessions they were most interested in attending.

Both courses were one hour a week whenever regular classes were meeting, but there was no homework, outside reading, or assignments. (Everyone’s so busy, after all!) For the first course, the first half of the session would be a lecture/discussion on a given topic, and the second half of the session would be an active learning activity. I tried to use a different activity each session to give people a wider variety of options to draw on. We’d conclude with the “meta” of the course, discussing the different techniques or hidden goals of each session.

By the time we got to the second course, I wanted to make sure it was clear we all have something to add, not just Roz and me standing at the front of the class. We moved to a facilitated discussion model, in which I (or someone else in the few cases in which I couldn’t make it) would make sure the discussion was still moving, and everyone got a chance to speak that wanted it. If there were specific points I wanted to ensure were covered, I’d just make sure the conversation went to those places.

Development

The course “container” was a blog. I used the blog to include scheduling information as well as posts about each class. I was much more diligent about this in the first course than the second, largely because the feedback was that it was nice to have the content available, but that very few people looked at it. For the first course, I attempted to post three times per class:

  1. The content we covered
  2. The “meta” of the course, or why I taught it the way I taught it
  3. A Q&A post

Roz would post for the sessions she ran. We got very few Q&A comments in the blog, and most follow up was actually in person.

For those of you familiar with the ADDIE model, Implementation and Evaluation will be addressed in the next two sections:

Course Content

The tag cloud on the left was generated from the course blog.

The content for the spring 2009 course, as I mentioned, was more theoretical. We covered instructional design, taxonomies, educational psychology, learning styles/multiple intelligences, learning theory, active learning, classroom management, assessment, and SoTL.

The fall 2009 course, as mentioned, was much more practical. In that course we discussed Facebook, Twitter, and Libguides as course pages, active Learning in one-shot classes, incorporating current information issues in library instruction, Sakai (and/or content management systems), a pedagogical approach to teaching critical thinking, writing objective quiz questions and creating assignments, classroom management, teaching the research process, creating engaged, evenly distributed, discussions, and embedded library instruction.

Assessment

To keep pressure low, we didn’t use any formal assessment tools. All assessment was very informal, but Roz and I were both keen to make use of any information we got from attendees (and those who had a reason to not attend). We’d talk to people one-on-one after sessions and get feedback that way. Some people felt comfortable emailing and asking if we could do something differently or include extra information on a given topic, and we’d take that into account.

I also monitored attendance. For the first course, we regularly had a majority of our instructors in attendance. And, if I recall correctly, every librarian involved in instruction at ZSR came to at least one. We also had some non-instruction librarians come and someone from the law library and the medical library. This regular attendance indicated continued interest in the topic and that it was worth the time investment. The second course was much smaller, but the same core group attended most sessions, indicating that it was meeting a specific need of the new group.

But the most significant feedback I’ve gotten wasn’t actually meant to be feedback at all. Remember how in 2007 I had a lot of one-on-one meetings about how to improve teaching? By the middle of the Spring semester, I started getting a lot fewer request. And, every meeting I had ended up agreeing with everything the instructor was doing and just supporting what they were already planning, rather than a discussing how to improve things.

Plans for the future

Given that Teaching Teaching is a significant time investment for everyone involved, and that people seem to be very on top of things, I didn’t feel good creating a third iteration that people would feel inclined to come to if they wouldn’t get much out of it. On the last day of the Fall course, we talked about what would be most beneficial. We also discussed the topic at a Reference, Instruction, and Technology Services retreat. The general consensus was it would be nice to reserve the option to offer it again in a few semesters’ time, as new librarians come on and as people forget specifics, but most everyone agreed that we could take a few semesters off. People also wanted to reserve the right to have a few one-off workshops between now and then, which of course I’m happy to do as needs or interest arise.

For now, Roz is offering an information literacy course, following a similar weekly model, for the new librarians on staff. They’re following a rough template of the LIB100 course content. They’re using a Libguide as the course container. I’ll become more involved with this as they progress from getting the basic overview to designing their courses.

So that’s the basic information about the ZSR Teaching Teaching program. I joke about working myself out of a job, but I really feel that if everyone gets to a point where they feel strong in their instructional design skills, it’s only a good thing. I’m sure I can find other things to do. :)

4 thoughts on “A Presentation on Teaching Teaching

  1. It’s a shame you weren’t able to do your presentation today because it is very good! I know it wouldn’t be the same as presenting at Lilly, but I think it would be an excellent staff development session, or even a TLC program (other faculty at WFU might be very interested in how you and Roz helped library faculty improve their teaching skills).

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