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Finding the Silver Linings: New Approaches to IL Instruction

September 15, 2020
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Covid-19 has caused untold disruption and libraries have not been immune. Rethinking almost everything we do to accommodate for social distancing and remote learning has not been easy, but alongside hardship, disruption can also bring new growth and revitalization. In my work, I see this more clearly in the area of IL instruction. Being pushed almost exclusively online has brought many challenges, but also unexpectedly, new freedoms and opportunities for creativity. Covid-19 has changed how I’m teaching this semester, and I believe many of these changes are ultimately for the better.

Typically, this time of year we have our “regular fall programming”, the classes my colleagues and I are reliably asked to teach year after year, and for which, to be honest, it can be easy to get into a bit of a rut. Show up to first year orientation and writing classes, introduce the databases, take a spin through source evaluation and credible sources, hype up reference and chat services, give students a chance to do some searching on their own, and then wrap it up. Over the years I’ve tried different approaches to presenting this material, such as incorporating Kahoot quizzes, but I could never quite break free from the constraints of the “one-shot.” In particular, one modality that always felt just out of reach was the oft discussed “flipped classroom” that was very in vogue a few years back. Although eager to give this format a try, I failed at finding a workable mechanism for getting students to complete work prior to IL sessions.  

But this semester, as I partnered with instructors to shift IL sessions online, suddenly the status quo, lecture-based approach I previously employed became untenable. Having me speak for all or most of the class period through a screen seemed like a pretty miserable scenario for everyone involved, myself included. Which led me to an uncomfortable moment of self-reflection: if students don’t want to sit through this style of teaching online, is it that much better when it’s live? Thankfully, I didn’t have much time to stew in this question, but instead, had to get to work on forging a new plan. What I landed on was one where I finally had the chance to “flip” my classes and put students in the driver’s seat. 

 For the most part, the majority of the IL sessions I have planned for this semester involve some version of students watching a video (created by me) and completing a task (either alone or in a group) prior or to our class meeting. Then during synchronous class time, we debrief and I answer questions. I also walk students through some examples of work completed by their peers. In a few instances, we go one step further and require groups to set up a zoom “consultation” with me or another librarian after they have selected sources for their project.

I can’t promise that all, or even any, of these classes will be a smashing success, but I can identify some specific benefits of our new format, including:

  • More targeted, assignment and skill specific instruction
  • Increased opportunity for assessment owing to the completion and collection of artifacts
  • Higher level of peer to peer interaction
  • Higher level of active learning and greater ownership on the part of students

Below are 2 examples of the “pre-work” students are being asked to complete before our class sessions:  

Activity for Keyword searching and source selection

Video and activity for Paraphrasing

(this relies heavily on APA Instructional Aids . I find these instruction aids to be quite helpful, particularly for the difficult task of teaching students how to paraphrase effectively)  

I would love to hear examples from other libraries about how you have adapted your instructional methods to adapt to the Covid environment, and/or the “silver linings” you’ve discovered in these hard times. Your comments are welcome!  

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