Reflections on Recent Library Instruction

Last Wednesday, for the first time, I had more than 75 minutes for instruction.  This class seminar meets once a week for 2.5 hours.  I was at liberty to use the entire class time (provided that there was a long break) and, in the words of the instructor “make them work.”  So, what to do with all that time?

I thought this was a good opportunity to incorporate group work and active learning.  I’m not ready to do the pure constructivist thing, where I have them do their group work first, then lecture/demonstrate.  I don’t know how well that would go over with the instructor, since, after all, she is coming to ME for the instruction.  So, I planned to speak for an hour about various resources and strategies on picking keywords, selecting databases, searching, and evaluating.  20 minute  break.   Then the idea was to have them break into groups and work together on a research plan*, followed by them sharing what worked and what didn’t work. I’d hoped to reinforce some important ideas at that point.  The class plan worked out neatly to fit the 2.5 hours.

Only it didn’t quite work out that way.

For starters, it was a great day outside.  It was really too nice a day to sit in a library classroom for 2.5 hours, even with a break.  Then, what I thought would take an hour took longer, and the students got restless.  I don’t blame them.  And I felt we had really reached a saturation point.  We had our break, and I did assign the group work.  The instructor left early, due to illness, and since the energy had long left the room, I decided against having people report on what they did.  Keeping them any longer would have turned into resentment. So I let them go early, which made them very happy.

I should have talked less. As for the group work, I should have provided more specific instructions and examples of what I wanted.  Some students interpreted search strategies as citations for articles found.  And some groups didn’t necessarily work together, though they all contributed to the document.  I should have specified that only one person at a time type and that they talk amongst themselves.

Still, I like the idea of the group work on the research plan.  I’m not going to abandon this, just adjust it.  Perhaps start the class off with it?  Talk less and still have it afterward?  I even toyed with the idea of having the students create research narratives for future classes (the “illness narrative” figures prominently in this class) and I would score them with a rubric.  The research plan itself should probably be tweaked.

Til the next time…

*idea for the research plan from:

Downey, A., Ramin, L., & Byerly, G. (2008). Simple Ways to Add Active Learning to Your Library Instruction. (cover story). Texas Library Journal, 84(2), 52-54


About Pamela J. Morgan

Librarian at Vanderbilt University Libraries
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