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Learning to Be Together Again

September 19, 2022

Many of us who work in academic libraries are busy teaching library instruction sessions again. This is my second academic year as a First-Year Experience Librarian, and already I have noticed such a big change from last year. Like many other universities, we returned to full-time, in-person instruction in Fall 2021. Last fall, I noticed a lot of awkward silence during instruction sessions. Most of the activities I did with students utilized tools such as Padlet and Mentimeter, which prevented them from having to speak out loud at all to deliver answers to the activities. However, sometimes I would ask a follow-up question, and I got crickets. I was lucky if I got one person to volunteer a verbal answer, and many times that was with some extra encouragement. Also, it seemed any exercises I did involving groups or partners required more work on my part to get the students into groups. It was obvious to me that, just like everyone else, our students were learning how to be around other people again.

A year later, and I have noticed a big change in this year’s first-year students compared to last year’s. When I ask students to partner up, I usually only have one or two shy students, who I have to help find a partner. Last year I was having to help pair up each student. This year I slightly dialed back on how much I use other tools for students to answer questions. While I still use those tools for many activities, I now have more open conversations built into my lessons as well. This was a bit of a gamble because I didn’t know if the students would be ready for this. However, so far, I’ve been getting at least a few hands up every time I verbally ask a question. There’s also more chatter amongst the students as they file into the classroom, and I have to do much more wrangling when they’re working in groups than I did last year. Students last year were quieter when working in their groups, and when they finished an activity, they would often just scroll through their phones. This year, students turn and talk to one another and joke around to the point where I have to direct them back to the task at hand. I actually taught a class last week where the students were so comfortable and animated around each other that I was struggling to explain the directions for the activities over their talking.

While these instances can be a little frustrating in the moment, I have been happy to see our students acting like normal college students once again. Our sessions are so much fun when the students are engaged and really interacting with the lesson. It’s been refreshing to watch them become friends with one another and begin building that sense of belonging that turns college into their home away from home. I’ve also seen a dramatic increase in students popping by my office to ask a quick question once I’ve taught one of their classes, or coming up to me when a session is complete to get additional help from me. I hope this means our students are finally starting to recover from the pandemic and find solace in human connections once again. Such a big part of college is the friendships we build that last a life time, and it’s been nice to see our students forming those friendships once again.

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