Category Archives: instruction

Last day of class

I meant to post about this when it actually happened, but I figure it’s still worth talking about.

Way back in the summer I was asked to go do a 40 minute BI in a exercise science/nutrition class on avoiding plagiarism and evaluating websites (yeah, I know, two topics that don’t exactly go hand and hand). I agreed and to be honest was so not looking forward to it. The instructor left and the new person who inherited the course still wanted me to do it, just could we switch the dates. Without thinking I agreed. It wasn’t until late in November that I realized that I would be showing up on the very last day of class.

Recipe for disaster.

Or not.

I have the thing all prepped from the last time, but one night I’m watching TV and one of these horrid commercials on the general greatness of High Fructose Corn Syrup comes on.

Ok, so these are exercise science and nutrition students and they know darn well that this is a load of hooey. And I have them. I can feel it. I point out the web site and say, we’ll look at it in a sec, but first I thought you might like this:

And they’re dying.

We then go to the link off the first video which leads to the Corn Refiners Association site and then I’m able to talk about bias, how to evaluate web sites etc.

It worked so well I’m hoping I can use this again.


I came back this weekend from a wonderful library conference. Normally I attend MLA, but I had an opportunity to offer a continuing education course at EAHIL, in Krakow, Poland. So I ended up doing a 4-hour course on teaching methodologies.

There’s presenting or teaching in front of students and then there’s presenting in front of your peers. I can handle students. Let’s just say I was incredibly nervous for this class. To my relief it went rather well. My audience was marvelous and I came away with some great ideas myself.

Because I taught the class, I had the chance to attend the rest of the conference. It’s a lot smaller than MLA–about 360 attendees–but it was a really well-organized and informative conference. I particularly liked getting the European perspective on library issues. Interesting to learn that Evidence-based Practice hasn’t gotten a firm foothold in many European countries (excluding the UK).

More later…

Why We Teach

I’m in the thick of orientations for the new semester. By this point, I can do EndNote in my sleep. I’ve taught MEDLINE so many times, it’s scary. I’m almost at the point of not needing to go into a class with even a piece of paper. (When I was a newly minted librarian, a ream of notes was not uncommon). My expectations for these sessions are low. I go in with a realistic set of goals and objectives. I figure that a handful of students will remember the majority of what I teach and that the remainder will hopefully remember a couple of key points.

There’s no fear anymore. To be honest, there isn’t a ton of optimism on my part either.

Today I had a fantastic experience. Let me pause for a moment. “Fantastic experience ” and library orientation do not usually go hand-in-hand, particularly when you are dealing with students new to the research process. Normally, they just don’t get it. They either think there’s nothing to finding the literature or they think their previous efforts are going to cut it. Also, they’re not at the point of need.

Reader, today was different. First of all this was a great group. Every class has a personality and anyone who tells you different has no clue. You get a group of people together and something chemical happens to them. Some groups are morose. Some are rowdy. Some would be bored to tears even if I did handstands.

This class was different. They were attentive. They were intelligent. They were funny. They were engaged. Even when we were deep in the MeSH and the mysteries of explode versus focus, I had their attention. They oohed and ahhed when I showed them EndNote. They were writing notes. They were laughing.

In short, it was great. I’m exhausted but it’s a good kind of exhaustion. I’ve had great classes before. It’s just that typically those take place in a workshop scenario or when the instruction is tied to an assignment. I think this is the first time it’s happened with a general beginning of semester orientation.

So now I’m awaiting my next session with optimism and anticipation.

Searching and salt

Library instruction can occasionally be a lot like the experience the Ben Stein character has in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. That is, despite all of your efforts, the students just kind of stare at you, mouths agape.

Every so often you have what they call a “teaching moment.” It’s when you and the student(s) are in sync. They suddenly get it. You can see it on their faces.

It’s a great feeling.

So I’m teaching a class on Evidence-Based Practice, which can be a dense subject. It’s lecture too, even worse. But they’re with me. They’re asking questions. I’m getting feedback. It’s going really well. The class being all women, I use my shopping analogy for searching. Basically here’s how I put it:

When you go shopping for clothes, most people will tell you that the most efficient way to do it is to TRY on the clothes first. See if you like them. See if they fit. See if they are what you want. Don’t just buy a bunch of things and take them home, because chances are you’ll only have to return them. So when you’re searching, you have to use the same approach. LOOK at your results. Do they work for what you need? Do you like them? Do they FIT?

Class loves this. We’re onto search techniques. They’re taking notes. They’re asking more questions. And we get into the advantages of doing all your searches on one line versus breaking them apart and adding them later. I use my cooking analogy:

It’s like cooking. You can always add more salt, but you can’t take it out if you’ve added too much. So sometimes it is good to–

“Just add a potato.”

Now I cook (hence the analogy) and I’m intrigued by this. As, I might add, are most of the class. Turns out that if you throw a potato into a soup or a stew or whatever it will absorb the extra salt and you can just dispose of it.

I managed to recover the class by saying that as far as I knew there was no equivalent to a potato in the Ovid interface.

Humbling moment that was…

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

They don’t teach you about the hours and hours of preparation you’ll need for instruction when you’re in library school. No, that’s wrong, I think I did hear about it, but I don’t think it really sunk in. Not until I found myself poking around in InfoTrac OneFile for hours on end trying to find relevant examples that would demonstrate the strengths and the flaws of the database. It might also have been when I was practicing to myself and the cats I was pet sitting so I could get the timing right. I was off the clock (in an hourly wage position) and it was a beautiful day. The cats were perturbed and so was I. I don’t do that quite as much anymore and when I do, at least I’m salaried so I am getting paid for the preparation.

I’ve gotten to the point now where I’m not over-prepared. No longer do I walk in a class with two inches of papers. I haven’t quite reached the stage where I walk in with nothing at all, but it’s down to two or three pieces of paper. I’m getting the timing down too.

One of the graduate students was telling me how much they hate public speaking. I used to go into shakes before presentations. Cold sweats, anxiety dreams, tension headaches–all were a part of my world. I admit to still having bouts of nervousness when speaking in front of colleagues, but students don’t induce the absolute panic in me that they used to. Maybe it’s because I’ve come to realize that I know more than they do.