Tag Archives: instruction

Must Scheduling be Sisyphean?

I was planning to post last week about something interesting I’d read in the library or higher ed news and literature, but I haven’t kept up with my reading as much as usual recently. The task that’s been occupying my time? Scheduling our English Comp library instruction sessions. It’s not the most glamorous or fun part of my job, but it’s one of the most important. Every semester the scheduling process seems to drag on and on, and I find myself thinking that there has to be a better way. But once the schedule is set my grumpiness fades away, conveniently forgotten until the beginning of the next semester. I always intend to spend time between semesters researching scheduling alternatives, but there’s usually a project that’s so much more interesting that it elbows scheduling out of the way.

We use Google Calendar to keep track of the library’s schedule (not just instruction, but reference, meetings, etc.), and I’m reasonably satisfied with it. It’s the process of scheduling classes and librarian instructors that I think could use some tweaking. In the past I’ve waited until a few days into the semester to get the final list of classes from the English Department (sometimes sections are added or canceled at the last minute, depending on enrollment). Then I’ve taken the class list and our calendar and slotted all of the sections into our library classroom schedule. And then I’ve tentatively assigned instruction librarians to the schedule, trying to make sure that no one is responsible for too many early morning, evening or weekend sessions. Once the instruction librarians have approved their schedules, each of us has contacted the English instructors for the library sessions we’re teaching. Occasionally there’s a bit of horsetrading when an English instructor requests a date change, but usually not too much.

This semester we tried something a bit different and asked the English faculty when in the semester they’d like their library session to be scheduled, emphasizing that we’d like their students to come to the session with a research topic in hand that they can use to practice searching for library and internet resources. I got a preliminary list of classes from the English department and contacted faculty a few days before classes began, but there were still a handful that I wasn’t able to get in touch with until the second week of classes. About two-thirds of the instructors responded with their preferred dates, and I was able to give most of them their first choice (I’d asked for 3 possibilities). I put the remainder of classes in our schedule as before and contacted those instructors to let them know. We also decided we’d try asking the instruction librarians to pick the classes they’d like to teach, so each of us chose our sections once the schedule was set.

I do think that scheduling went a bit smoother this semester, but it’s hard to know exactly why. We have significantly fewer sections of English Comp this spring than we had in the fall (64 rather than 126), which definitely impacts scheduling. But in some ways I feel like the amount of time spent scheduling hasn’t changed, it’s just been spread out more evenly: I’m fielding emails from faculty and putting sessions into the calendar in dribs and drabs over the course of the two weeks rather than in a couple of big, multi-hour scheduling binges. We’ll see if this method can hold up in the fall.

How does your library schedule instruction sessions? Are there any tips or tricks for streamlining the process that you can share?

Maintaining Your Instruction Mojo

This post is somewhat of a follow-up to my last one on the involved library administrator. In that post I identified some reasons why an academic library administrator should consider staying actively involved in public services. That includes teaching instruction sessions.

There are many dimensions to being a great library instructor. Teaching regularly can certainly help to keep those skills sharp, and it affords the needed opportunity to experiment with learners, to try new things, and to stretch one’s capabilities in the classroom. While I advocated that academic library administrators should endeavor to continue their teaching role (BTW, there are college presidents that continue to teach regularly), having fewer opportunities to do so isn’t without consequences. For one thing, you become a bit rusty. In addition, since moving into administration is something you typically do in the latter part of your career, you’re a bit older, maybe less energetic and perhaps a bit less eager to try new things. Oh, and the students look much younger.

I volunteered for a few freshman instruction sessions this semester and I got to thinking about whether I’m going to appear too old or out of touch to the students. Using a cultural reference to the sixties that no contemporary student would understand is not beyond the realm of possibility for me. I’m certainly older than most of the lecturers teaching the courses. I’d like to avoid coming off as out-of-touch. On the other hand I absolutely don’t want to seem like I am trying too hard to be cool. I got to thinking about this a bit more when I came across an article in the August/September 2009 issue of The Teaching Professor titled “Why Don’t My Students Think I’m Groovy“. (sorry – not freely available online). The author raises concerns about how to keep her teaching methods fresh so millennial students can connect with her.

The author suggests the five R’s for engaging millennial students:

1. Relevance – The big challenge is to connect course content to the current culture – learning has to be relevant to them.

2. Rationale – Today’s students were raised in a non-authoritarian manner. They won’t comply because the instructor is in charge, but will be more likely to do so when given a good rationale.

3. Relaxed – They thrive in a less formal environment in which they can interact informally with the instructor and each other.

4. Rapport – More than previous generations they are used to having adults in their lives and show interest in them. They appreciate it when instructors show interest as well or when we connect on a personal level.

5. Research-based methods – Millennials have grown up constantly engaged so they can tend to bore easily, so be prepared with active learning methods

These are good tips to keep in mind. Something else that can help is the ability to demonstrate comfort and flexibility with technology. Being a geek could potentially score additional points with today’s students. Again, trying too hard could be problematic, but showing some skills with the smart classroom technology or navigating the web could work in your favor. If you end up having to ask the students for help you may be in trouble.

So how have things been going for me? I now remind myself to dress more casually on days I teach an instruction session. For these groups, I don’t think a suit and tie makes the instructor appear as likable or approachable. I make sure I’m comfortable with the technology. In fact I downloaded our clicker software and spent time learning how to create slides that will work with the clicker technology we’re using in our instruction this semester. I can’t say for sure if I’ve got my instruction mojo working at full capacity, but things seem to be going well. No one fell asleep in the 8:00 am class I did last week.