A key part of my work is a focus on Teaching & Learning. That has been true, certainly, as Director for Learning Environments and Associate Director for Learning and Outreach at Virginia Tech University Libraries, Head of Instruction, the Instructional Design Librarian before that, and even with my emphasis on student training as the Microtext Specialist at Wake Forest University’s Z. Smith Reynolds Library. I’ve done a lot of work in this area from teaching and creating learning environments and from building learning objects to teaching teachers. I’ve also offered a number of preconferences related to teaching and done a fair amount of consulting both at academic institutions and most recently with a vendor. I love talking about teaching, and was honored to be included in Finding Dulcea’s Educators that Rock series.
Teaching vs. Learning
In the field you hear a lot about teaching, instruction, and learning. And if you’re not actually focusing in these areas, it might seem like we’re semantically all over the place. However, each has a slightly different meaning. In most cases I’m teaching a class or training session, but my personal focus is on learning: the process the student uses to learn, the experience of the student, the design of the learning environment, etc. That focus isn’t innate to all teachers, in most cases it’s something people grow into as they shift their focus from themselves as instructor to their students as learners. Approaching librarianship as creating a learning environment is a huge mental shift from approaching it as a teaching profession, but that shift can enable you to rethink your instructional focus and approach, and ultimately help your students learn more.
Understanding Your Students
Part of that process is really understanding your students. I talk a lot about this in my teacher training (that I address below). Understanding general traits of learners (learning styles, developmental patterns, disciplinary perspective) can help you create an education environment that will facilitate learning for your students. Knowing the campus culture and perspective can be really useful. What are “typical divisionals” like? What is it like to be a given major at your institution? A graduate student? What do students think of librarians? This background can help you anticipate your students’ expectations, which can help you create an experience that either fits within their expectation or challenges them in useful ways. Finally, understanding general trends within the students you are working with can be useful. Exactly how prevalent is Twitter with students? What is the smart phone saturation like? You can do research across fields to find some useful trends, as I was able to compile for a chapter “Educating the Millennial User,” In James R. Kennedy and Gerard B. McCabe’s 2007 Our New Public A Changing Clientele: Bewildering Issues or New Challenges for Managing Libraries. Of course, that information is most powerful when coupled with an understanding of your own institution.
I spent four years as an Instructional Design Librarian. During this time I advocated for instructional design both at my own institution and in the field. I wrote large segments of the report for the Strategic Planning Committee on Innovation in Technology and Information that built an argument for an increased focus on instructional design on campus. Soon after the campus supported an instructional developer for our Teaching and Learning Center, and as the institution addresses online learning, it is clear that faculty will demand support in this area. Externally I had the pleasure of presenting an ACRL preconference for ALA in 2009 with one of my closest colleagues, Kaeley McMahan, on “Instructional Design for Librarians: The What, Why, and How of ID.”
Even before my place of work began exploring online learning, I worked to stay current in that field. Online learning was my introduction to the idea of teaching as a discipline–the worst class I ever took was an online one, and the best class I ever took was an online one. It was clear the platform wasn’t good or bad. It was how it was implemented. I taught the first undergraduate online class at Wake Forest University and spoke many times to the Wake community about the experience, from faculty groups to the College Board of Visitors.
It has been clear for a number of years that online is coming, so staying abreast of online learning discussions meant that I had a view of the world that was coming and could help prepare my own institution for it. Also, people who teach online develop techniques that can be useful in face-to-face or blended classes, so it always made sense to me to learn from this community.
I also have given presentations on online learning as well including a session with Lauren Ray on “Extending the Impact of Online Library Instructional Tools through Collaborative Development” at the 2009 ACRL conference and an NCLA preconference, “Everybody Teaches: Creating Effective Online e-Learning Experiences” with Beth Filar Williams and Amy Archambault.
Before I officially was involved with online learning, I made use of extensive instructional technology, both to inform my own teaching as things evolved, but also to have experiences to share with faculty or librarians interested in incorporating technology into their own work. I’ve given countless presentations on this theme at my own institution, have consulted on it, and presented on various related topics from “Web 2.0” to podcasting to social software to Google Apps.
This is a session I co-presented on “Blended Learning” which talked about how to think of technology tools:
From my earliest days it was clear to me that to make the biggest impact on our learners, it starts with the teachers. I have run several semesters of “Teaching Teaching,” a weekly workshop focused on helping librarians learn about pedagogical theory, active learning strategies, and other aspects of teaching that we might not have picked up in library school.
I blogged on this topic and developed this slidedeck to explain the program: