Tag Archives: Teaching

Librarians are at the intersection of so many things

I had a really interesting experience with a student client a couple of days ago. A wonderfully challenging & enjoyable interaction that really got me appreciating the intersections that influence so much of my working day, my professional ontology & my ever evolving professional epistemology (such as it is). I’m writing a post about because I don’t hear librarians talk about it but it seems really important to me, so I’d like to think about it a little.

The student is going into his fourth year of study & this involves undertaking a research project. The student is studying in a discipline which traditionally isn’t big on using scholarly literature as part of the learning journey. So, even exposure to some journal literature can be pretty mind blowing. The idea of being scholarly is completely new to these students (and the student with whom I was working).

I had expected the session to begin with a chat about the search strategies that he had planned & perhaps a bit of a chat about choice of database & GoogleScholar. A bit of a revision of work that he’d already done & helping him feel some confidence about how he was starting off this session. But, what actually happened was a wonderful conversation that revealed something of the complexity & excitement of his learning journey into the scholarly environment & the ways that librarianship lets me experience, understand & connect things. I hope that I can start to unpack it a little.

A discussion about his first strategy didn’t really end up being a discussion about the strategy & the initial results at all, though it could easily have been. The search results list actually became a launching pad to a discussion about being scholarly & how his understanding of scholarliness was evolving through his personal and business values – a willingness to sacrifice to some profit to produce the level of accuracy he considers that his clients deserve, accountability & transparency that he feels has gone by the way these days, a practice of prompting open & objective discussions with his clients, his responsibility to share his knowledge & experience with younger people in his field & to offer them support, the perfectionism that extends into his personal life & how his family responds, & his need to have a relationship with his supervisor that challenges him intellectually & demands that he aim high.

It was 2 1/2 hours of constructivism in action 🙂

Exploration of the research methodologies outlined in papers & his own research methodology came to life as he drew connections with his business operations & his obligations to produce accurate results. Determining how to discuss his methodology in his dissertation & in the conference paper that he is hoping to write with his supervisor gained meaning through their connections with the technical reports that he writes for his clients and how they need to be transparent so he can be accountable to them.

How that transparency in business creates an environment where he & his clients can have rigorous discussions about results that he reports and any assumptions that need to be made in his work or provisional elements that need to be flagged. And, how he came to relate this to research conversations based in objectivity & evidence rather than personal or business experience, perspectives, beliefs etc. And how that should be reflected in the literature that he uses to inform his research & how his information evaluation learning is letting him start to do that.

How the scholarly quest to ask the appropriate questions and identify the appropriate evidence drives the evolution of his search strategies, and how this has similarities with the way the different business environments influence the demands that his clients place on his work & the demands that he places on his work.

And, on this construction went 🙂

Because of the information literacy librarian’s place in the teaching & learning environments at a university & our engagement with such a variety of clients (all of the different world views to which we are exposed & have to work), I was able to take an active role in supporting his construction of the scholarly environment & his realisation that he is truly a scholar at heart.

I don’t think that everyone who works in teaching & learning environments gets this opportunity, simply because they don’t have to work with all the world views that we have to so we can be librarians.

And, it became even more interesting. The day after this conversation, he came to see me. There had been some technical problems overnight & he thought that his data had all been corrupted. He has lots of personal stuff on his plate as he is recovering from a life threatening illness. The data problem had led him to conclude that he needed to put aside his research project for the time being. But, then he re-read the notes from our chat &, that it was those notes that made him reconnect with his deep desire to enter the scholarly world, & that he wasn’t ready to put aside his research project. That, despite his illness, he needed to continue it for himself and the values of personal & business integrity that drive him to be the person that he his, the business man that he is & the student that he is.

Our profession lets us be part of journeys like that. It’s pretty amazing. And, to think that many people think that we’re spending our days checking out books. WOW!!!


Unpacking personal pedagogy with a metaphor

Using a metaphor to unpack one’s personal pedagogy is another great strategy for awareness creation. It’s probably going to be a tricky method for me but, I’m giving it a shot 🙂

When I teach well, I am like a bus driver. Each of my passengers is on their own lifelong journey to build and share knowledge, and I am responsible for helping them reach just one point in that learning destination. The short trip that they take is an information literacy or library-related trip directly related to their study or research goals.

What they actually make of that journey is up to the passengers; how they choose to engage with me and with their fellow passengers and how they choose to engage with the other elements of our journey.

When they embark, I seek to offer my passengers a hospitable environment (Palmer 2007) through a genuine welcome and a commitment to a respectful, interactive, constructivist journey that induces regular laughs along the way. I hope that my passengers will engage with each other; my pedagogy is designed to encourage it. But, if an individual’s learning journey needs to be more solo than social, I attempt to respect and accommodate this as well. I am not the silent disengaged bus driver, but the bus driver who sees each passenger as an individual with their own goals, needs, personality, mood, attitude to the trip, etc.

Although our route is rather well defined, the stops are determined by the learners and how they respond to the session as it progresses.

The learning objectives, content and pedagogy define our route, and these are authentic to ensure that we are connected to the real world as we move through it. Our planned learning activities, and our interactions with these, are directly related to the real worlds of assignments, professional competencies and course-specific learning objectives set by examiners. As we travel, my passengers feel part of their world.

As I travel with my passengers, I engage with them and learn from them. I reflect during the journey and after it (Schon 1983). This is essential as the more I understand the learners, and the disciplines in which they operate, the more knowledge I have to help me improve journeys to come.

Our bus is not state of the art but I make every effort to appropriately incorporate the technology to which I have access. By incorporating technologies in the appropriate manner, I create opportunities for the journey to be more comfortable and engaging.

My passengers disembark satisfied with new relevant thinking tools and have had some of their entrenched information views and behaviours challenged in a useful way. They feel ready to take another journey with me, and their course examiners are also motivated to explore further information literacy journeys. I cut the bus’s engine feeling energised, a little wiser, and hopeful that the learners will approach me when they need help, or even come to another class or use another online resource some time.

Palmer, PJ 2007, The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Schon, DA 1983, The reflective practitioner, Ashgate, London.

The structure of my personal pedagogy

This structure has been informed by three particular sources:

  • Elbaz, F 1983, Teacher thinking: a study of practical knowledge, Croom Helm, London.
  • Marland, P 2007, Learning to teach: a primer for pre-service teachers, Pearson Education Australia, French’s Forest, New South Wales.
  • McGill, M 2013, EDU8705 Personal pedagogy in context: module 2 – personal pedagogies: an introduction, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba.


Personal pedagogy and its influence on my info lit teaching work: An anecdote

Anecdotes are a great way to help us unpack the personal pedagogies with which we work.

Here’s my anecdote:

It’s six weeks ago at 9:15am and five people are sitting in a library computer lab. We’re reading a journal article and it’s quiet. Everyone is reading and sipping from their water bottles or takeaway coffee cups (I know, I know – we’re not supposed to have coffee in the lab but I’ve bent the rule for the circumstances).

As well as the article, each of us has a page of literature evaluation criteria. We are reading an article on the history of sustainability and evaluating it according to the criteria. Four of us have clean, fresh articles and one of us has notes scrawled over her copy. The person with the not-so-fresh copy is me.

I am the teacher (and the students’ liaison librarian). The other four are first year undergraduate Urban and Regional Planning students.

In front of me sits Kathleen, a quietly confident school leaver. Nearby sits Margaret who is about twenty years older, vivacious and at the beginning of a journey to a new career. Behind Margaret is Eric. Eric is young and gives nothing away. He was late to the session today, but much later yesterday (so I’m counting my blessings there). Behind Kathleen is Ethel. Ethel is about the same age as Margaret and she is quietly and actively engaged in the session.

I don’t wonder, even once, about how Margaret and Ethel are going. I do wonder about Eric. He is typing on the computer and I wonder whether he is on his Facebook page. But, something inside tells me not to stroll by him and I think, “He might be typing up his evaluation notes … at least he’s not texting on his phone … we’re sharing our evaluations with each other in a few minutes, he knows that”.

Then I look at Kathleen and I am taken back thirty years. I see myself standing among the book shelves in Central Library at the University of Queensland. It seems quite dark and every book I pick up discusses things that happened before I was alive or when I was a child. I can’t quite connect with what’s in these books and I’m feeling that I’m not quite learning what I should. I come back to the present, look at Kathleen, and wonder if she feels like I did thirty years ago. I think, “I doubt it. She’s confident and a thinker”.

Eric is no longer typing, and it’s time to share our evaluations.

And, here’s what I think the anecdote reveals about my personal pedagogy:

  • Connecting with the students as people and learners is important to me – it’s about empathy. After Kathleen shared her evaluation, we explored it a little further as a group and I shared my memory. My sharing led her to reveal that she was also feeling this way which reassured her and created interest from the other students – we began communicating even more as five people rather than four students and one teacher
  • Which leads me to something else that I think is important – that I learn much from the students with whom I work and I really value that as a teacher, a librarian and a person. As a librarian it’s critical as it helps me learn basic things about the disciplines that I support and so improves my liaison work as a whole. It also influences how I work with clients in reference interviews
  • I thought that I had overcome an insecurity that used to pop up in my teaching sometimes but it’s still there & can rear its head under the right circumstances. I really care about the learning opportunities that I create for students and I care deeply about their learning, but that can lead me to focus on me rather than the students. That showed up in my worries about Eric – was he on Facebook instead of doing the work? I really, really thought that he would  be on Facebook but it turned out that he was typing up his evaluation; and a very unique and though-provoking evaluation it was. I was  worried that he wasn’t engaged with the learning activity that I created???? That shouldn’t be!!!!
  • Which leads me to another issue. I grew up learning to value independence, and the level of connectedness that comes with constant accessing of phones and Facebook is something that I struggle to deal with sometimes. I don’t understand what it feels like to need to connected like that and so I have to be very conscious of challenging my instincts as I don’t have that empathy to help guide my responses to such dependent behaviour.