I am a constructivist; I believe that people learn most effectively by being active participants in their own learning process. Engaging in hands-on activities, developing search strategies, and discussing their own perceptions help students to become critical thinkers that are prepared to use their knowledge in a real-world setting. As an instructor, my role is as a facilitator to this learning process and as a guide to the resources that help them learn. Whether I am speaking with library science students in my own classroom, or providing information literacy instruction as a librarian, my end goal is the same: to motivate students to become engaged critical learners.
I believe that the most important values I can impart, both as an academic librarian and as a college professor, are:
- Helping people become critical, savvy consumers of information
- Respectful discourse that encourages a range of opinion
- Ensuring that marginal perspectives are heard
- Motivating people to become lifelong learners
I use a variety of methods aligned with constructivist theory. In my own classroom, I frame each class with a brief introductory lecture—this frames the discussion that follows. Then as a class we discuss these concepts as well as the week’s readings, specifically chosen for their specific perspectives or provocative ideas. Encouraging student input through discussion helps emphasize that they, too, can synthesize and create knowledge. We end the class with an activity, which could be a hands-on exercise exhibiting the week’s topic, an issue or reading for small group discussion, or peer review of writing assignments.
Much of the in-class activities and take-home assignments revolve around student work in small groups. Their group assignments are designed to help them acquire specific professional skills as librarians (giving an educational presentation, reviewing and editing a colleague’s work) and to encourage them to help each other learn. In my classroom, I emphasize that as they are learning to be librarians, they must also learn to be teachers. Thus, if one student has completed an exercise and their peer is struggling with it, I encourage and expect them to help their peer complete it. These group exercises help them both take ownership of their learning and to help each other to learn.
As a librarian, I take a slightly different approach in my information literacy sessions. Although I still encourage a critical approach to information resources, I believe that the most important aspect of a “one-shot” session is creating rapport with the students and helping them think of me as a resource, ensuring that they return to the library. In these brief interactions, communicating a welcoming approach is more powerful than anything else that I do.
In these sessions, I encourage students to question the authenticity and veracity of their sources. I use “imperfect” searches to illustrate how to develop a search strategy and find terms that work in various resources. Many of my sessions focus specifically on finding statistics or raw data—in these, I teach them to think about the organizations that might collect such data, for what purpose it’s collected, and how to strategically search for data at different geographic levels (local, state, national, international). I encourage them to question their data, to think about the story it tells, and to take ownership of that process.
I believe that in library school, teaching by case study method could be particularly useful. This approach is common in business programs and was used in my higher education doctorate program. Students are given a scenario, which may be based on actual events, without being shown the conclusion. They are then asked to think of solutions to the issues listed in the scenario. The complex nature of library issues lends itself to this approach, and I have been researching this pedagogical method in order to learn how to craft effective case studies for my students.
Through conversation and peer observation of my Columbia librarian colleagues, I have been learning more about their various approaches to information literacy instruction. Specifically, I’m studying the active learning techniques used in one-shot, one-hour sessions with undergraduates. I plan to adapt these techniques into the one-hour sessions that I hold with graduate Journalism students, which focus primarily (but not exclusively) on data literacy.