Valuing Student Experience

Discussions surrounding student experiences and how to incorporate those experiences during library instruction have been a hot topic in library land and is something I’ve thought about as well. How can I best value student experiences and ensure that what I’m teaching is relevant to them? What do I need to do to make my teaching student-centered?  When I think about student experiences, I think about the unique backgrounds, perspectives, ideas, beliefs, identities, and skills that students bring into the classroom. I think about what I bring to the classroom as well and what all of this might mean for library instruction.

Student experience is at the forefront of my mind – now more than ever – because I work for a Jesuit university. Though Jesuit pedagogy is built on religious foundations, you don’t have to be religious to understand and adopt the pieces that work for your own teaching practice. Jesuit education is based on the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm (IPP). I’m not an expert on IPP since I was only introduced to the concept a few months ago, but there are a few things I’ve been able to take away from this approach to teaching. I’ve found it a useful framework when thinking about how to bring student experience into the library classroom, especially in a one-shot setting.

In IPP, experience is labelled as context. On page 10, section 35 of the IPP document, context is explained as this:

Since human experience, always the starting point in an Ignatian pedagogy, never occurs in a vacuum, we must know as much as we can about the actual context within which teaching and learning take place. As teachers, therefore, we need to understand the world of the student, including the ways in which family, friends, peers, youth culture and mores as well as social pressures, school life, politics, economics, religion, media, art, music, and other realities impact that world and affect the student for better or worse. Indeed, from time to time we should work seriously with students to reflect on the contextual realities of both our worlds. (IPP, p. 10)

Essentially, we need to understand the world surrounding students and how that world works for or against them. I don’t think there’s an easy, one-size fits all approach to doing this. If critically reflecting on and incorporating student experiences into library instruction were easy, everyone would do it right now; however, there are many ways we can value students. For me, the first step to valuing a student’s context is to not make assumptions about their world. I can’t assume that every student has the same educational background, cultural identity, socioeconomic status, experience with technology, or beliefs about a subject. If I do make those assumptions, I’m already de-valuing the experiences a student brings into my classroom; I’m forcing my own experiences and understandings of the world onto them. I have to actively practice this because I have my own implicit biases that affect my worldview and how I interact with students. Reshaping the way we think about students, what they bring to the classroom, and what we think they know is an active and ongoing process.

Since many librarians teach one-shots, or sessions that are shorter than the typical for-credit class, it can be difficult to really get to know the students in our classrooms. With these constraints, I really struggle with the question of how to build context with such little time because I want to build continuing relationships and strong connections, which are not possible in one, 75 minute class. I think context can be built in smaller ways. Conversations with faculty before library instruction help build context. We can understand the class students are in, the topics that they are studying, and the assignment that they are working on. We can also be aware of campus, state, country, and worldwide issues that affect student lives.

Within library instruction, there are ways that we can continue to value student experiences. One way to do this is with short questions at the beginning of class such as asking students if they’ve been to the library before, what their major is, or who they go to for research help. Any information about what students know and where they are coming from is useful. Using varied and inclusive examples can also ensure that multiple backgrounds are valued. I also try to make references students can connect to, and I’ll check in with students to make sure they are still relevant (Do you all use Twitter? Is SparkNotes still a thing?). I think it’s also important to connect new concepts or tools to things that students already know because that acknowledges their life outside the classroom. If students use Google, let’s talk about Google and how that relates to library research.

Thinking back to the context section of the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm, one thing I find helpful are the questions posed at the end of the paragraph such as, “How do world experiences affect the very way in which students learn, helping to mold their habitual patterns of thinking and acting?” Class discussions are a place where students can both share their own experiences and also critically reflect on how their own lives influence their understanding of information. This is, again, difficult in a one-shot setting because we have to take the time to build familiarity with students so they feel comfortable talking to and with us. Luckily, I had several opportunities to work with a class multiple times throughout the semester, which allowed for more open conversations surrounding power, belief systems, and how that relates to information. I hope multiple instruction sessions become more of a norm for libraries in the future.

The last idea surrounding student experiences that I’ve been thinking about is how context-building goes beyond a library instruction session. I struggled with how to check-in with students after instruction, and one of my colleagues mentioned that she offers a follow-up email later in the semester to any student who wants one. It’s a simple idea, and it works. At the end of instruction, I pass a sheet around for any student who wants to write down their email for a check-in. A week later, I’ll send them an email asking how they are doing and let them know that they can contact me at any time if they need help. Most students don’t reply, but I’m surprised by the amount that do (especially once assignments are due!). It allows an opportunity to continue working outside of the classroom, learn more about students, and engage one-on-one. Beyond email follow-ups, attending student presentations and speeches, events, and celebrations on campus show students that we care about their lives and experiences.

Students are at the center of our work in academic libraries, and we should value the different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences that they bring into the classroom. There’s no singular way to build or establish context, which can feel daunting, but we can start with smaller ideas, both inside and outside the library.

How do you recognize student experiences in library instruction?

Digging for Gratitude

A little over a year ago, I took a flight to Los Angeles to interview for my job at UCLA – it was the night before the election. At the time, natives and their allies were fighting to re-route Dakota Access Pipeline. I found out towards the end of my flight to LA, that the gentlemen in the aisle seat of my row was from North Dakota and thought natives were “making a big deal” out of it. I woke up the next morning to learn that my less preferred candidate won the election, and I cried in disbelief. I had no idea how I was going to get through my interview.

A year later, I am in my position at UCLA, and recent news of the Keystone Pipeline 210,000 gallon oil spill has come to light days before Thanksgiving, a holiday based upon the false notion of unity between natives and colonizers. I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, but I just wanted to place this article in it’s appropriate historical context of my life as a first-year librarian. While I am beyond grateful for my job, my amazing colleagues, and the sunny skies around me, I started in this profession during, what I believe is, a grave time in global history.

I approached librarianship as a career because I loved being able to provide individuals information. However, as I mentioned in my first post, I also embraced the critical possibilities within the profession. I would be lying if I said I have been able to sustain the enthusiasm for deneutralizing the library because between moving across the country, starting a new job, and the current political climate, I am emotionally exhausted.

The good news is I have still found outlets that affirm my place in this field. So here is a list of what has kept me going. I want to share this for anyone else feeling a lack of hope and/or motivation to keep sticking with the fight:

  • Multiple students have approached me with a research question that focuses upon a marginalized population.
  • The UCLA Medical Education Committee held a retreat to discuss diversity, inclusion and equity in medical education. This included speakers that used words such as “racism”, “oppression”, and “microaggressions”.
  • I have been able to collaborate with amazing South Asian women librarians for an upcoming chapter in Pushing the Margins: Women of Color and Intersectionality in LIS. On top of it, my co-authors and I were able to share our experiences about being South Asian women in librarianship in a panel at a symposium at UCLA. And even better, I was able to meet and listen to the other incredible authors that will be included in this book!
  • My colleagues and I were able to create an in-person and virtual exhibit to highlight Immigrants in the Sciences in response to the DACA reversal and the White nationalist march in Charlottesville.
  • UCLA’s Powell Library held a successful Conversation Cafe for International Education Week.
  • I attended a fulfilling professional development opportunity about systematic reviews.
  • I have shared tears and memories with several other LIS students through the ARL IRDW and Spectrum Scholar program.
  • I was able to visit Seattle for the first time and attend my first (of many) Medical Library Association conference.
  • I gained a mentor and friend.
  • Every time I teach, I learn something new about active learning, teaching methodology, and how to teach to specific audiences. Most importantly, I feel like I am truly in my element.
  • I met the Librarian of Congress! #swoon
  • I inherited two precious cats (librarian status achieved).
  • I’m way less clueless about being a librarian than I was when I started in April!
  • And now I am able to share my first-year experiences through ACRLog!

This is not an exhaustive list, however, it proves that in less than 8 months of working in my position, I have been blessed to create, pursue, attend, and feel a part of unique opportunities within my profession, especially at my institution. So while I might feel disillusioned and hopeless because of the world and its inequities, I have to admit that there have been several upsides.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you too can discover these golden nuggets amongst the rubble around us.

Library (and Library-relevant) Events and the Inauguration

The U.S. Presidential Inauguration is scheduled for tomorrow, and many organizations have planned programming, displays, and other ways to engage their communities in conversations around issues raised since the election and during the transition. At my college and university we’re still in our winter intersession — our Spring semester doesn’t begin until the end of the month — and we don’t have any events planned at my library, though I’m enjoying the Post-election Resource Guide zine that my CUNY colleagues at Hunter College Library put together. I found myself wondering what academic (and other) library folks are up to this week, and after a bit of research found a few library and library-adjacent events I thought I’d share.

While not specifically happening in academic libraries, the Writer’s Resist event last Saturday January 15th at the iconic 42nd street location of the New York Public Library felt near and dear to my librarian and academic heart. Sponsored by PEN America, a literary and human rights organization, this literary rally featured readings by prominent writers and a pledge by PEN members and participants to defend the First Amendment. There are terrific photos on Twitter — including gorgeous signage featuring author portraits and quotes — under the hashtag #LouderTogether. And closer to my college in Brooklyn, the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library held a Pre-Inaguration Weekend Sign-Making Workshop last night. Brooklynites (and other local folks) of all political persuasions were invited to come to the library to use art supplies and button makers to exercise our First Amendment rights to free expression.

Many academic librarians are already back to the new semester this week and are planning programming in conjunction with inauguration-related events at their colleges or universities. At American University in Washington, D.C., Communication Librarian Derrick Jefferson participated yesterday in Teach, Organize, Engage: A Forum on Contemporary Politics and the Future. This full-day teach-in at the university was jointly sponsored by AU’s student, faculty, and staff governance bodies, and featured presentations about getting to the current moment in the U.S. as well as other domestic and international issues. The session Derrick presented — “Fact Checking and Communication in the ‘Post-Truth’ Era” — sounds like it was a great example of the critical information literacy expertise that academic librarians can bring to these conversations on campus, both formal and informal.

I also heard from John Jackson, Outreach & Communications Librarian, and Marie Kennedy, Serials and Electronic Resources Librarian, at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles about a half-day teach-in at their campus on Friday, the day of the inauguration. The LMU teach-in starts with a viewing of the inauguration and then breaks out into various smaller sessions, during which librarians will offer four sessions of a workshop on critically analyzing news sources called “Keepin’ It Real: Tips & Strategies for Evaluating Fake News.” The workshop will cover misleading news sources like misinformation, disinformation, click-bait, and propaganda, among others. I think holding this workshop right after the inauguration will provide students with a great opportunity to discuss any questions they have about speeches and media from the inauguration while it’s still fresh in their minds.

Is your library doing any programming or displays for the inauguration this week, or continuing to discuss the transition to the new administration in the future? Let us know in the comments.

Following the road of assessment

This Fall semester has been taking off like a rocket. It’s been a little less than a month, but library instruction has been taking up a good chunk of my time. At my institution, American University, we have a program called College Writing. This program requires all incoming freshman to take at least one section of College Writing.

Every faculty member that teaches College Writing is paired with a librarian. At least one library instruction session is required and it’s up to us to shape the lesson so that it’s relevant to the student’s’ current assignment.

This semester is a bit different. I had a total of 18 sections of College Writing, compared to the nine sections I had last Fall. I was prepared for a busy semester. Oh boy, has it been busy and it’s only been 2 weeks!

I could be as detailed as I want about my routine, but it’s basically a chain of communication. I ask the faculty member about learning outcomes, what they want out of this library instruction day, what skill level their students are at, and are the students quiet? Do they participate? Details like these help me out a lot, since I will only see the students in the classroom once or twice in the semester.

As I scheduled classes, reserved rooms, and worked on my class outlines, I struggled with how I would incorporate assessment into my lessons. Assessment is a topic I have been thinking about for a while. To be honest, this was a subject that I had been avoiding because it was something that made me uneasy. I have always told myself “I’ll do it next semester” or “I’ll find more information about it later.”

However, it’s been a year since I have started my job at American and decided that this semester it was time to incorporate assessment into my library instruction. When I think of assessment, I tend to think of a ton of data, a desk full of papers everywhere, and an endless amount of work (OK, I like to exaggerate). Now, I do have some forms of assessment in my classes, but it’s in the form of the questions I ask the students in order to evaluate their familiarity with not only the library, but the resources that we are using in class.

Assessment comes in many forms, but I specifically had one method in mind. Over the summer, I worked with another colleague in doing library instruction for the Summer Transition Enrichment Program (STEP). This program provides incoming freshman with preparation for academic success. STEP is a 7 week residential program that helps students with the transition from high school to college. They have a class that is very similar to a College Writing class, meaning, they have a research paper due by the end of the program. One of the components of that class is a library instruction day. As my colleague and I started preparing to co-teach one of the classes, she asked what form of assessment I do for my College Writing classes.

Immediately, I felt ashamed. All the time I had put assessment off and this was the moment where I finally had to own up to it. However, I have awesome colleagues who don’t poke (too much) fun at me. She talked about the post class questionnaire that she usually did with her students. Together, we came up with a couple of questions for the students in the STEP class. It was not a long process whatsoever, but I came to see that there is actually nothing scary about it, like I had thought.

There are many different types of assessment, ones more complicated and time consuming than my little questionnaire. However, I wanted to start small and with something I was comfortable with.  My library instruction classes only started last week, but I remember getting back the questionnaires and leaving them on my desk for a couple of hours. I was afraid to look at them. What if the students did not learn anything? What if they hated me? What if I was the worst librarian ever?

After a couple hours, I needed to log my classes into our stats. I counted the questionnaires and look through them. To my surprise, the students did well. Now, this is an assessment to help me analyze what the students had trouble comprehending and also the areas where I need to do better.

And guess what happened? I found one area where I realized I needed to explain better and spend a little more time on. It’s only the beginning of the semester and I have already found ways to improve upon and this is what it’s really about. To me, assessment is an opportunity to learn about your teaching and improve as you go along.

As someone who is new to this, I want to continue to learn about assessment. There are a couple of resources that one can turn to:

-Look at your own institution to see if they offer any workshops on assessment. What resources do they offer to help their staff or faculty?

-Research other institutions to see if they have assessment in place or an assessment toolkit

-Research the literature on instruction and assessment to see how other institutions go about it

Finally, your colleagues will be your most valuable tools. What assessment do they do? Take them out for coffee and ask them!

I still have a couple more College Writing classes, but I am going to make it my goal to incorporate even more assessment for next semester’s classes. In other words, I am going to make myself accountable. For next semester, I will write another post on how I plan to incorporate more assessment into my teaching, but I also want to know from our readers, what assessment do you do for library instruction? Stay tuned!

Test for E.C.H.O.

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Marc Mason, Library Undergraduate Services Associate at Arizona State University Libraries.

I had one of those days today. One of those rare ones, the kind of day where you walk around with a little more bounce in your step, your chin tilted a bit higher. It was a day where – hallelujah! – validation rained down upon my shoulders and washed away some of the frustrations I’ve felt lately on the job.

We could all use a few more of those days. Mine came about courtesy of our university’s International Students and Scholar Center. Prior to school starting, they held a day-long conference for all incoming international graduate students. This is the second time that the ISSC has put on this conference, and they have generously included me as a breakout session speaker each time. Last time out, around 20 students came to my talk, which I will admit was disappointing. I suppose the competition during that time slot was fierce, but my library-guy pride to this day still kind of believes it can’t have been that fierce and more students should have come to see me.

Arrogance? Sure. But I think libraries could use a little more swagger.

Because of that tiny turnout last time, I had little in the way of expectations going into this second conference. So it was more than a bit shocking when I arrived at my room to set up and saw that there were 240 chairs arranged in the audience. I can take a joke at my expense, but this had the look of something that was going to be embarrassing. I swear I felt my sense of pride start to shrivel. The time ticked down. The previous session finished. I held my breath.

A flood of people poured into my room. 180 of them as a matter of fact.

Floating on air, I did my thing, offering up the library services I wanted them to know about, and keeping them laughing all the way through. When I was done, over two dozen stayed to talk to me further. Like I said: it was incredibly validating. May each and every one of you have a day like that, and soon – that’s my wish for you.

I’ve been working with the international population for over seven years now, and in general, it is always my favorite part of my job (even when it isn’t one of “those” days). The opportunity to meet and teach people from all over the world is truly a gift. It has also put me in a position to speak at conferences on international student topics and to meet amazing colleagues from across the country in the process. It has given me the opportunity to see humanity in an incredible light, and to truly take a stand for tolerance. I would not trade it for anything. My job gives me the chance to continuously learn, both on an academic and on a cultural level.

I have occasionally been asked about best practices for working with international students, and with that in mind, I decided to put into words how I go about working with these student populations and their extraordinary cultural differences. I call it “Test for E.C.H.O.”

E stands for Empathy: The first thing you can do is show your capability for understanding. These folks have traveled thousands upon thousands of miles to be at your institution. Sometimes they have traveled for almost three days depending on long layovers. They’re far from home, they cannot get home easily, and everything is somewhat scary. The signage is in a second language. The odds of any random cashier speaking their native tongue is slim. Local foods may not sit well with their digestive systems for a while and they may get sick for the first few weeks of being here. Oh, and they may not see their families for a year or better. The whole process can be wildly intimidating, and all it takes is one bad interaction with a local to make them question their life decisions.

Don’t be that local. Keep some of the above in your mind and let it guide you in how you approach working with these students.

C stands for Care: After you have shown empathy, follow that up by demonstrating that you believe that they matter. That you care about them as fellow human beings. Don’t allow that physical distance they’ve traveled to become an emotional one as well. (Life need not always batter us with metaphors.) I can’t even begin to tell you how many students I have worked with over the last few years who responded to simple moments of genuine caring. Creating that connection grounds that student to the university and provides them a human connection to their educational experience.

Be that connection. It’s great for them, and I promise it’s great for you as well.

H stands for Humor: Different cultures have different senses of humor, that much is certain. But laughter creates a bond between you and the international student that will be of enormous benefit.

There is a tendency among many in our profession to take themselves very, very seriously. And I get that – we are the gatekeepers for information, freedom fighters against the tyranny of government overreach, yadda yadda yadda. However, that seriousness can also be rather intimidating, not just for our international students, but for all students. This sometimes places our expectations for students far out of reach for where their real capabilities lie. If and when that happens, students start avoiding the library, seeing it as a foreboding place where they do not belong.

We never want them to feel like they don’t belong. Right? So be silly. Tell a joke that revolves around a pop cultural artifact that has worldwide appeal. No matter where we are from, certain things are popular. Star Wars, Beyonce, Harry Potter… it isn’t difficult to find common ground. Use it to get some laughs, put their minds at ease, and create a learning experience they will never forget.

O stands for Optimism: And finally, help these students believe. When you are working and learning in a second language, particularly one as difficult as English, confidence is a fragile thing. Setbacks can be crippling, and doubts about one’s ability to succeed (not to mention the time and money put into coming to the U.S.) can set in quickly. Numerous students have shared their “I almost quit” stories with me since I started working with this population, and they all have pretty much the same plot: a failure of some sort, painful phone calls to friends/confidants expressing regret and fear, worries about how family may react when they go home in “disgrace,” and (for those who stuck it out) a eureka moment where they got the right help to carry them through their struggles.

A librarian can be that help. Be that help.

When working with an international learner, using phrases like “yes, you’ve got this” or “I can tell you understand this stuff” can make a massive difference as that student continues working through their assignments. The reassurance of an expert goes a long way towards solidifying confidence and building a strong mindset for success. And they’ll remember the part you played in that success, I promise you.

The world isn’t slowing down anytime soon, and neither is the influx of international students to U.S. schools. Cultural literacy and competency is going to become one of the most critical skills our library staff can possess. So as you find yourself working with this population – whether individually or whole classes – take just a moment to remind yourself to test for E.C.H.O. Trust me – you’ll be glad you did. And you’ll have more than a few of those kinds of days.