A session that rocked!

K, this was hands-down the best session I’ve attended so far. “Creating Change: Teacher Librarians and New Learners,” presented by Dr. Jeffrey Liles, an education professor at St. John Fisher College in Rochester. The presentation slides are available here. In a nutshell, Liles discussed a variety of different theories of learning (behaviorialist, cognitive theory, constructivist, connectivism and brain-based learning) and talked about how those theories played out in the classroom. And despite not coming from the library world (or maybe because) he really spoke directly to the experience of library instruction. He got it. He knows and understands the kind of instruction we do and the challenges we face. Moreover, he was a very dynamic and engaging speaker, clearly demonstrating he practices what he preaches.

I was also immediately sympathetic to his approach given that he kicked off with a quote from Parker Palmer’s “The Courage to Teach” (a book actually had the pleasure to work on when I was at J-B). Palmer’s notion of subject-centered teaching is really an excellent approach. And he writes with such sensitivity and understanding of the joys and frustrations of teaching that anyone who has ever stood before a classroom and cared about what they are doing will immediately connect with him.

Liles laid out a number of his assumptions for us and discussed what they mean in practical terms for teaching. i will not replicate them all here, but two things in particular struck a chord with me, and they are related. First, “less is more.” He emphasized the need to resist trying to cover too much material in a class. It is more effective to cover less material and go in depth, than to skim the surface by trying to cover too much. He knows that many faculty members requesting a library instruction session will ask the librarians to cover way too much material, and his advise is to work with that faculty member on paring down the coverage to focus on something more manageable and meaningful. Relatedly was what he coined as the “nature of the experience matters: educative vs. miseducative.” I think he said he got this from John Dewey. Here the basic point is that an educative experience is one in which the learner is motivated to go back for more. They want to learn more about the topic because you’ve done something to ignite that spark in them. If you can design a session that is educative, you will hopefully have students come into the library on their own initiative when they need help because they know that they can learn more from the librarian. And now you have the opportunity to cover more.

The whole session helped me to reflect on our instruction session and what I could do to become a more effective instructor. I certainly want to revisit what I do. For instance, moving forward, I want to do more to really engage the students in the process, beginning a session with asking them how they find information, discussing techniques and tools, having them teach each other and introducing them to resources and strategies new to them. I’m jazzed.

Missed the Direct Democracy session. For whatever reason, it isn’t listed in the conference program and by the time I booted up and found the location on the LPSS website, I discovered it was in the boonies and I had no desire to trek over to see it. So, I squeezed in some coding for my LIBR 240 class and took the opportunity to blog the other session. A little down time in between is good.

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