Uncovering Expectations and Opportunities, Opening Doors 

It’s hard to believe, but we’re already wrapping up week two of the fall semester at my campus. This means that my information literacy instruction responsibilities are starting to ramp up. Teaching has been a big part of every library job I’ve had since grad school. So it naturally follows that teaching dominates a lot of my time and thinking, not to mention my posts here–from reflections on experimenting with specific activities or strategies in the classroom to the evolution of my teaching practice over the years and attempting to uncover the research process. It’s that last bit in particular that I want to pick up on here, with fresh eyes. 

For many years now, transparency has been a guiding principle of my approach to teaching and all information literacy-related work, in and out of the classroom. I aim to expose embedded–and often invisible–information literacy concepts, skills, strategies, and expectations in order to make the mysteries and complexities of the research process more accessible to students and engage them in it. 

A few weeks ago, I attended the faculty development series my campus offers just before the start of each semester. My colleague led a session about strategies that instructors can use to support neurodivergent students. Her recommendations included providing explicit and intentional directions about academic and behavioral expectations and providing options for student participation to give students some control. Her suggestions made sense to me–I could imagine how such clarity, as well as choice, might support neurodivergent students’ engagement, and neurotypical students’ engagement, too. 

I’ve tried incorporating some of her recommendations in the few classes I’ve worked with so far this semester. More specifically, I’ve tried to make clear at the beginning of each class how students might choose to engage in the session. I provided, for example, a list of what engaging might look like including participating in the in-class activities, asking questions, and contributing comments, as well as avoiding distractions in order to focus, actively taking notes, reflecting on how the day’s content relates or applies to their own experience, etc. I also articulated how students might accomplish these things: vocally in class, in the online platforms as part of our day’s activities (e.g., Padlet, Jamboard), or after class by emailing me or stopping by my office. I provided these expectations in writing on a slide and described them during class. I have always articulated how I hope students will participate in class, suggesting that they ask questions or share their thoughts. This new level of intentionality and detail at the outset, though, brought a more focused spotlight than I have been in the habit of offering. To be honest, it felt a bit awkward to me. I was concerned that it might feel forced or be perceived as juvenile or even didactic. So I’ve attempted to frame these introductory remarks as an invitation to students rather than a patronizing prescription, explaining that I understand students might be uncertain about how to participate given that I’m an unfamiliar guest instructor and I want to be clear that I hope they’ll actively engage in the class. To me, that framing feels more comfortable and authentic.

I’ve only tried this in three classes so far this semester. It’s a limited sample, but I have to say that I’ve been struck by how engaged many of the students in these three classes have been. Of course, that could have nothing to do with this tweak! But maybe…

What strikes me now is how this new, small change is, in fact, so closely aligned with the transparency I’ve been cultivating around information literacy. This intentionality in being explicit about class engagement options is just another kind of unveiling, another way to increase clarity, accessibility, and inclusion.

It makes me wonder what else I could be working to uncover and clarify for students in and out of the classroom. Where else might I be making assumptions? What other paths and processes– established and expected to me but invisible to students–could be unveiled? How and where do you practice transparency in your teaching?