At the beginning of the academic year, a university-based librarian usually finds herself* instructing students in how to find information. I completed my initial forty-six hours of such instruction yesterday, so it’s time to take stock…
I sometimes wonder, when in the throes of teaching, whether the students reallise how much effort goes into educating them. I reflect on the times I sat through certain of my degree lectures, a little bored, wondering when it would be over, not for one moment considering that the person talking had put hours and hours into preparing the lecture, was likely making a certain physical effort in delivering it and could wind up deflated if there was no obvious appreciation.
I put a lot of me into my teaching. I enthuse about beautiful architectural books, about databases, about fabulous high resolution Creative Commons licensed photographs of buildings. I’m quite physical in my enthusing. When I talk about structuring searches and identifying synonyms for keywords, I run to the nearest window, point and ask the architectural students to tell me what it is (one day someone WILL say fenestration). When I talk about the gorgeously glossy architectural journals such as El Croquis and Casabella, I have a good sniff of the pages and pass them around, instructing the students to smell the quality of the information (they always indulge me, bless ’em). I positively force students to stroke material samples we hold in our trade literature collection. I sometimes use interpretive dance to demonstrate ideas (this works particularly well when explaining CI/SfB classification). I have students join in panto-style, shouting out answers, telling me whether a search will result in more (higher!) or fewer (lower!) results. I have them grade on a scale of one to ten how excited they are about particular database search features (it’s usually an eight). I spend in the region of £25 each year buying lollies to hand out to students for answering a quiz question using databases, getting some Internet for Architecture Tutorial quizzes correct and answering my particularly tricky citing and referencing questions. And I recently found myself running about a room trying to free a moth, offering a moment’s diversion for the students.
Architecture students are a particularly clever and creative lot. They are peculiarly confident and sometimes delightfully cheeky. So, more often than not, the instructing will descend into jolly banter, which I actively encourage.
And, each time I manage to sneak into another School of Architecture lecture and discover what the students are learning, I try to incorporate some of that experience into my own teaching. This can leave me feeling very vulnerable, as I’m ignorant about architecture, and can’t easily express why I respond to a particular building in a particular way, but sometimes this obvious vulnerability draws an opinion from an otherwise retiring student.
I tell myself that these things combined mean the students stand a better chance of remembering what I’m trying to teach. That these things combined mean I appear human to them and they’re more likely to approach me on library related matters. And these things combined have often resulted in exactly that. But these things combined aren’t pedagogically sound and may be frowned upon were some colleagues to witness them. And these things combined mean I could alienate students who judge me unprofessional.
I’d love to hear other librarians’ thoughts on this. On whether it’s best to subdue one’s personality when teaching. Or whether a little bit of silliness goes a long way…
* shameful gender stereotyping