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Learning to Teach

February 10, 2020

I have a confession to make…I’m an instruction librarian who never learned how to instruct. Learning to teach information literacy skills was not part of my schooling. There was no Teaching 101 in library school for me, no Educational Theory 405. I didn’t learn the ins-and-outs of different ways our brain learns new ideas or how to best keep college students engaged.  

Because of this, I usually walk away from a teaching session asking myself “did the students listen to me? Did they pay any attention? Did they learn anything at all?” I’m a librarian. I’ve had the training and the experience to know how important information literacy skills are and want nothing more than to share that knowledge and understanding with the students. So how do I as an untrained teacher develop engaging lessons about, admittedly, not the most exciting topics? 

This is something I have been thinking about ever since I started observing my colleagues teach and then as I began to teach myself. My initial thought was “how can I make info lit interactive so I talk less and the students do more?” 

After reading Amy Boykin and Allison Willson-Metzger’s article “A Murder in the Library” I got inspired. A Murder Mystery seemed like the perfect idea to get students engaged, especially with the rising popularity of escape rooms and the like. Reading this article led me to discover Carleton College’s Annual Library Mystery Event where they created an interactive Murder Mystery complete with clues where students learned about library resources and services. This seemed perfect to me and a great way to get incoming freshmen familiar with the library during their orientation. Using this as a base, I created my own “Mystery at the Library: the Quest for the Holy Grail” where a history professor went missing on his search for the Holy Grail. The freshmen students had to retrace their steps to find the missing professor and Holy Grail, all the while learning in a hands-on way about our resources and services. The event was successful, but I thought how can I take this fun activity and bring it into the classroom? 

Mystery at the Library: The Quest for the Holy Grail poster

I read a lot of articles and listened to presentations on different ways this could be possible with my ultimate end-goal being an engaging lesson from which students will learn and have fun. I turned towards Canvas, my institution’s learning management system, to develop a digital scavenger hunt.developed what I hope (key word: Hope) will be an engaging way to get students to a) learn the importance of information literacy skills and b) have fun. This digital scavenger hunt I created asks students questions about printing money, databases, InterLibrary Loan, and more. After each question the students are given a clue to a cypher. Once they answer every question,  gather the clues, and put them in the correct order, the cypher reveals a call number to a book revealing that the missing professor and the Holy Grail are located in the stacks near the book. 

Currently, graduate and undergraduate students who work in the library are testing the digital scavenger hunt. So far I have received great feedback, though with the overall feeling that I made it too difficult. Whether or not this is due to my own design skills or the questions being too difficult, I’m unsure. If the questions are too hard, I like to believe if the students had an info lit class prior to taking it, they would be able to get through it more easily. This of course leads to a bigger discussion on what and how we are as librarians teaching students and how we can make this better. I will continue to edit the questions and rethink how to make the Quest a great companion to a lecture in my information literacy classes. I’m determined to speak less, have the students do more, and create enthusiasm around library instruction.  

I certainly don’t have all the answers, and don’t know yet if this digital scavenger hunt will have a positive effect on student learning outcomes. Until I become the superhero teacher I wish to become, I do know I will continue to learn through my own research and experience to find what works and doesn’t in the classroom, and will always seek to make learning fun.  

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