Engagement in the LIS Classroom and Beyond

By Michael Stephens |

Last month, I wrote a bit about a survey by the Department of Education on online courses and the site we've been working on for my courses at Dominican University's Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Key quote:

If anything, library education should be based on an understanding of the foundations of our profession with a huge serving of “learning by doing.”

As classes ramp up this semester, this idea is still on my mind. The 20 students in my LIS 753 course, Introduction to the Fundamentals of the Internet, are exploring the site, contracting with a Web host and creating their first HTML documents. To use the language of my previous post, they are certainly "doing." Right now I'm pondering adapting a new assignment for LIS 768. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, this should prove a useful skill for my LIS Students.

A came across an article in The Chronicle called "How Students, Professors, and Colleges Are, and Should Be, Using Social Media"  that takes the discussion a little further. Chronicle writer Marc Beja spoke with S. Craig Watkins, an associate professor of radio, TV, and film at the University of Texas at Austin, about the new age of social networking and media, and what it means for the classroom of the future. His soon-to-be-published book, The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future, touches on those ideas.

In the Chronicle article, Watkins shares his views on the "Born Digital" crowd and makes some good points that K-12 and college educators should take to heart. He also offers good advice for university officials who may be grappling with student use of social media and encourages educators to find teachable moments rather than banning sites or taking what some might consider a paranoid approach to use of these tools. I never realized how pervasive social networking could be - the resident assistant in a dorm can now monitor various sites to see what students are up to. Yet another reason that those drunken snapshots posted to Facebook probably are not a good idea - ever!

In monitoring my courses online, it's intriguing to see that everyone's activities are logged in the feed for the site. I see who friended who, who updated their profile, and what time they posted their blog post. This layer of ultra-transparency makes the entire process more open. This site has actually become our classroom for the online class, and for the hybrid online/in-person class, it will be the virtual extension space.

This specific passage from the Chronicle interview really resonated with me because of its implications for classroom pedagogy:

How has today’s student changed how professors prepare their classes?
It’s really forcing university professors to think about their teaching style and the pedagogical techniques that they use in the classroom. In other words, I’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with simply delivering a traditional lecture in the classroom. I’m beginning to debate whether or not it’s effective, whether or not it works, whether or not it’s a useful tool or a useful way to engage and create a kind of learning space or a learning environment. They’re active learners, as opposed to passive learners. That one-way flow of content -- I don’t know how effective that is anymore.

I've seen students' eyes glaze over in traditional, in-person lectures that I've given, and I remember the feeling well from when I was on the other side of the lectern. I'm recalling nights spent in classrooms with adjuncts lecturing endlessly while working on my Masters--so last century...wait, it actually was last century! In recent semesters I've worked to limit the length and "ho hum" factor of my lectures, preferring instead to get students talking, acting or creating. Of course, this does depend on how prepared your students are. Hopefully they've done their reading or explored the topic beforehand. 

Of course, integrating technology into your classroom also depends on technology infrastructure and support. Today's LIS classroom should have up-to-date technology and access to the "tools of the trade." In this case it might be a digital camera or Flip, a recorder of some type, or possibly a tricked-out laptop. Wouldn't it be great to spend the first 30 minutes of a three hour class reviewing a copyright module and then send students out in groups to make a video about the issues and implications of copyright to be shown in the last 30 minutes as part of the your own film festival? Flip videos all around! PCs with editing software at the ready.

Does this type of engagement even have to take place in the classroom? I would hope my students are pondering and thinking about connections between theory, practice and their own situations all the time. Learning spaces can be anywhere on campus and, more importantly for distance students or those touched by economic issues, anywhere online as demonstrated above. The Copyright assignment that I referenced above could easily be given online and the videos shared with the world via YouTube.

I'm most excited when I see our faculty and other LIS faculty pushing the envelope with engagement, designing course experiences and offering ways to learn by doing. It's not just wheeling a cart of this week's reference books into a room to show them off one by one anymore. 

I'm curious: LIS profs, how have your class sessions changed? LIS students: Have you noticed a change in your class sessions?

The Article from the Chronicle is available at http://chronicle.com/blogPost/How-Students-Professors-and/7787