ACRL MIS Bright Ideas Discussion Notes

Bright Ideas Discussion Session—ALA Midwinter 2005
Hosted by ACRL/IS Management of Instruction Services Committee
Sunday January 16, 2005—9:30-11am

Discussion Notes

Group A: Training New Instruction Librarians
You are responsible for training a new instruction librarian who recently graduated from library school. S/he has no teaching experience and never took a course about instruction or pedagogy at library school. How do you effectively introduce this new librarian to the world of teaching without overwhelming them?

Facilitator: Susan Augustine

Comment from Facilitator: “We had a very good discussion about how to engage, support, and train new instruction librarians. There were things that nearly every one of us is doing at our home institution, but there were also a number of fresh and unusual ideas that I think were helpful. Here is a list of the various suggestions.”

1. Provide articles on active learning and instruction methods/techniques to new instruction librarians.

2. Have new librarians observe your best instructors. One librarian suspected that when she was trained, she was asked to observe the worst instructors in order to see what NOT to do. She found this unhelpful and disrespectful.

3. Have new librarians observe excellent teachers in the faculty as well as instruction librarians.

4. Have new librarians observe for at least ½ semester.

5. Have new librarians team teach classes with more seasoned librarians.

6. When they do start teaching on their own, ask them to teach upper-level classes where the students are more engaged rather than some of the more challenging (in terms of attention and discipline) lower-level classes.

7. Observe them observing instructors and then talk after class about what they thought was successful.

8. Be clear in explaining what outcomes they should expect from their students in each class.

9. Employ peer coaching, which can be less intimidating.

10. Videotape them teaching and ask librarian to evaluate themselves before viewing the tape and then after viewing the tape.
11. Encourage and support them to attend different instruction conferences, including LOEX, ACRL, WILU (Canadian conference), and Educause. Encourage them to apply for ACRL’s immersion program.

12. Provide small pieces of lesson plans that focus on how to teach things that we have to explain all the time (narrowing down on a topic, coming up with keywords, Boolean logic, evaluating a source), and have new librarians “present” these lesson plans in either a role-playing situation with other librarians or in front of the instruction coordinator. Provide constructive feedback afterward.

13. Introduce new instruction librarians to your campus’s Center for Teaching Excellence (or similar department). Ask them to attend workshops put on by the Center or have them meet with a staff member at the Center for one-on-one training. (where they can learn about lesson planning, handout design, instructional design, etc.)

14. Have a voice coach come in and work with your team of instruction librarians.

15. Have a seasoned, good library instructor mentor a new librarian.

16. Advocate with ALA about instruction being a required part of Library schools’ curriculum.

17. Some Managers of Instruction programs provide scripts, but there was a general concern that this might lead to stiffness and boring instruction.

18. Have students/faculty complete evaluation forms after library workshops to provide new instructors with feedback.

19. Offer instruction brown-bag lunches where instructors can discuss teaching techniques and novel approaches.

Group B: Providing Incentives for Becoming a Better Teacher
Often librarians who teach library instruction sessions have other responsibilities for which they have to balance their time. How do you create a positive and encouraging learning environment so librarians are motivated to make the time to improve their teaching?

Facilitator: Mike Russo

1. The tenured faculty could take on more of the committee responsibilities in the academic setting, allowing the tenure-tack faculty more time to devote to improving their teaching.

2. Conduct professional development workshops on teaching diverse populations, information literacy standards, and other topics to be suggested by the instructors themselves to keep instructors engaged.

3. Invite Communication Studies and/or Drama faculty to demonstrate/critique class presentation and presence to equip teachers with the presentation tools to give them the confidence to do their jobs well.

4. Top level librarians (e.g., Director/Dean) should participate, at least occasionally, in one-shot classes and other instructional workshops to demonstrate their personal commitment to the importance of the instructional effort.

5. Job descriptions for reference/public service librarians should include instruction as a job responsibility to demonstrate the importance of instruction in the library environment.

6. It’s important that the classroom teacher attend any scheduled one-shot classes. Such attendance sends a signal to the students that library instruction is important. More to the point, it sends a message to the librarian-instructor that his or her efforts are valued.

7. Librarian-instructors should be allowed to specialize in what they teach. It was felt that some librarians are reluctant to take on certain instruction assignments. Allowing them to concentrate on what they do best was seen as a way to encourage those librarians to be more interested in teaching.

8. In conjunction with the above (# 7), it was suggested that subject specialists be allowed autonomy to set their own instructional goals.

9. Peer pressure was offered as motivation to improve instruction.

10. One participant offered her own experience as a mentor to a Library Science student, indicating that this student really challenged her in a way that caused her to change her instructional practices.

11. One participant told of her own experience giving formal awards to instructors for various accomplishments. She has done this only once and is concerned about continuing this practice. Her concern is that the same people will be honored time after time.

12. Observations and feedback based on the observations are another way of encouraging librarian-instructors to continue improving their teaching.

Group C: Ensuring High-Quality Teaching
You manage an instruction program staffed primarily by librarians who do not report directly to you. What bright ideas do you have to ensure the quality and consistency of their teaching, especially if you do not have evaluative authority for their work?

Facilitators: Marybeth McCartin and Michele Ostrow

1. Shadowing: Librarians sit in with each other and observe. Peer-coaching.

2. Co-teaching: Pair a subject librarian who is an expert in the area with another subject librarian with a different expertise. Learn from each other and help with reference as well.

3. Create instructional toolkits, including scripts. Scripts do not necessarily mean that every word is written out. Instead, they can be outlines for the class. This ensures some consistency and helps librarians new to the field or the institution to get started. May want to create a clearinghouse of instructional materials with other people submitting. To avoid having to post everything you get, regardless of quality, just post highlights which give coordinator editing privileges.

4. Instructor college (University of Michigan): enrichment sessions done by the library in collaboration with other units on campus. For example, a dean may come and talk about how freshman programs are changing.

5. Partner with centers for teaching excellence on campus.

6. Evaluate student learning to assess teaching quality. Assessment methods include pre- and post-tests, faculty evaluations, working with faculty to see bibliographies or end products of student research, collecting in-class active learning exercises. May be able to piggyback on existing assessment in the regular course.

7. Reflective teaching: have instructors reflect on their own competencies and outcomes and self-report. May share with peers for ideas and feedback. May include keeping a teaching portfolio of class materials and assessments.

8. Teaching circles or discussion groups around a topic such as “How are you using technology in the classroom?”

9. Journal circles: One person reads an article and reports to others and then they discuss it.

10. If you have evaluative authority, can use a rubric. University of Kansas has a 9-point evaluation scheme that Scott Walter is willing to share.

Additional Comment from Facilitator: “Discussed how difficult it is to assess without evaluative authority. Relying on interest of instructors and good will, so only those interested will participate. This creates a problem for consistency of teaching across the institution.”

Group F: Providing Constructive Teaching Evaluations
Many teaching librarians benefit greatly from observation and evaluation. However, being observed while teaching can be intimidating. How can you offer constructive critique about their performance in a supportive manner?
Facilitator: Jackie Kremer

Comment from Facilitator: “A lively, engaging discussion was held regarding the benefits of, and often lack of, observation and evaluation of teaching by librarians. While everyone in the group considered instruction a significant part of their job responsibilities, surprisingly no one in the group had been observed or performed observations as part of a formal process. Listed below are ideas for providing constructive teaching evaluations, listed in the order they were shared:”

1. Set a welcoming environment which encourages librarians to sit in on each others classes. (Many people in the group have this environment and do sit in on colleague’s classes)

2. Discuss the results of Faculty Assessment forms. Also use Student Evaluation forms. Leave room for comments on forms.

3. Have the observing librarian participate in the class by giving them a job, such as handing out papers. This may make the observed feel more comfortable.

4. Give observed librarian a list of Best Practices and then observe them.

5. Remember that online teaching needs to evaluated as well. (We did not get into how this type of evaluation could/should be done.)

6. Recognize that upper level instruction may be harder to evaluate because often it is done by subject specialists who are not part of the Instruction team.

7. Many librarians participate in a RTP (Retention, Tenure, Promotion) process which may require observations and evaluations, so leverage off of RTP.

8. Use the Teaching and Learning Center expertise at your own institution, if it exists. They are trained to do this and may be a more palatable choice than being observed by a colleague.

9. Peer Coaching – a lengthy conversation ensued about this form of observation and assessment. People liked it because the librarian being observed could request what the observation would focus on. Subsequent discussion of Peer Coaching by the home group showed a clear interest in this approach. Two librarians from the home group told us of their experiences with Peer Coaching. More information on Peer Coaching may be available at library websites of University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Syracuse University, University of Kansas, Portland Community College, Dartmouth and Tufts.

Questions and comments may be sent to Helen Georgas, Chair, at


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