As an educator, I approach learning as a conversation. I see students as invaluable interlocutors who contribute significantly to the conversation’s depth. Drawing on my training as a sociolinguist, I view meaning and reality as negotiated – not prescribed – and I view students as trustworthy participants in those negotiations. I come to the classroom with the expectation that I will learn from my students and we will build educational outcomes together. As a first-generation college student who struggled and failed many times, I do not expect immediate success from students. Instead, I anticipate that the conversations started in my classroom will continue in the students’ lives for years to come, and may guide or aide them in ways beyond the measuring rubrics of the academy.
In teaching information literacy and research methods, I work with the types of media students encounter every day. I affirm that the techniques and tools they acquire in the library can be useful in many facets of their personal and professional lives. In one exercise, I ask students to help me analyze memes intended to provoke xenophobic panic. Together, we work through what is and is not present in the image, how text and picture work with or against one another, and how the image makes us feel – physically, emotionally. Rather than focusing solely on the kinds of resources students might use for coursework (monographics, academic articles, reference texts), I expand the lesson scope to demonstrate how critical analysis of an information ‘object’ is important in day-to-day life.
I often encourage students to ‘check-in’ with their physical and emotional responses to information. In another exercise, I ask students to locate books in the library based on the color of the cover (1). One goal of this exercise is to build a visual awareness of the library as a dynamic space. Throughout the experiment, students are asked to listen for noises, think about distances between spaces in the library, observe what kinds of topics are shelved together and what topics are missing, and ask themselves if they feel comfortable or uncomfortable, welcome or unwelcome. Through this reflective somatic and affective work, students become aware of what worries or encourages them during library research. They simultaneously build an awareness of how cataloging and organizational systems manifest physically in libraries and archives. By listening to their observations, I become more attuned to what students are sensing when they visit the library and I incorporate that awareness into future instruction sessions, programming, and policy decisions.
I view experimentation and exploration as hallmarks of student success. Rather than asking students to demonstrate mastery and memorization, I provide them with opportunities to apply skills or ideas to content outside of the lesson plan and ask difficult questions. To me, experimentation demonstrates the cultivation of curiosity. Experimentation also shows that the student is working towards becoming an independent researcher. At times, experimentation will end in failure or produce unexpected results. I value the failure that comes with experimentation as equal to the success that comes with following the expected path.
I recognize that experimentation and failure are often undervalued in our society. Knowing this, I am direct with students and researchers about the standardized benchmarks for success and progress. I highlight how I can help them attain measurable progress, and I discuss the social inequity often ‘baked into’ definitions of progress. I encourage them to keep curiosity alive despite the pressure to succeed economically. I read the emotions of students and researchers as indicative of their current circumstances, not their inherent capacity to learn, the certainty of their ideas, or the security of their personal and material lives. In good faith, I provide an appropriate level of guidance – whether that is an in-depth consultation or research triage – while continuing to believe the student or researcher has yet-unknown potential to learn, create, and share.
Classroom Evaluations (Fall 2018)
- After a library instruction session, 92% of students in my classroom said they would seek out a librarian’s help with research, before seeking help from an instructor or peer.
- Students commented that my instruction sessions were “clear” and that they, “felt more confident using the library,” post-session.
- For 96% of students, my instruction sessions developed their understanding of library research.
- Per student feedback, my instruction help students “develop […] arguments” and build successfully on prior library instruction.
(1) This exercise is based on the work of Mackenzie Salisbury and Nick Ferreira at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. See Mackenzie Salisbury and Nick Ferreira, “Drifting through Research: How the Bibliodérive Inspired New Approaches to Information Literacy at Flaxman Library,” Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America 36, no. 1 (2017): 108-121.