Jason Puckett With great power comes great bibliography.

24Oct/10Off

Evolution of a library session

"Printing Press" by Thomas Hawk

This is the third semester I've taught an information literacy session for a GSU class on the history of journalism. As the librarian for the communication department (which includes journalism) it falls under my area -- but it isn't really a journalism class in the usual sense; it's a history class whose topic happens to be journalism. It's a very research oriented course. Depending on who's teaching, topics can range from 19th-century journalists to late 20th-century subjects.

This presents some unique challenges for the students and for me. Their assignment is a 20-page paper on their topic of choice, using a mix of secondary and primary sources. This is a senior-level undergrad class, usually all journalism majors, who have had no training in doing historical primary source research. ...Neither have I, really.

So I got some help. The first thing I did when my colleague Jill Anderson, our new history librarian, came to GSU was ask her to co-teach with me. Over the last three semesters, we've evolved from:

  • Me teaching solo and doing lots of individual consultations (they gave me a box of chocolate at the end of the semester).
  • Me co-teaching with Jill. Her knowledge of primary source research has been an immeasurable help, and I think the students have really zeroed in on that. Still doing lots of individual consultations. Jill gets at least as many consultation requests as I do; I think she's probably doing more than 50% of the work for this class. Zotero has been a big hit with these classes, and the professor asked me for a longer segment about it during class.
  • Co-teaching again, and trying an experiment to cut down on the number of individual consultations, just because we don't have time to keep up with them all. We made up the phrase "research labs" and we held what essentially amounts to open office hours in a classroom. We fire up the projector, students show up and ask us their research questions, and we help. These are somewhat poorly attended which means we're basically doing more one on one consultations.
  • During the interim semester break, we had a lunch meeting with the two professors who are teaching this course -- that's right, two sections simultaneously this semester, totalling about fifty students. We fine-tuned our game plan, defined some boundaries about what we can and can't do for students (questions about "is this a good topic" get referred back to the professor, for example).¬† One professor offered up two class sessions, timed near key due dates, for the research labs, and attendance at the first lab shot way up since it was during their regular class time. We're encouraging students to email us specific questions, and we're making sure they send us their questions before we agree to meet with them one on one. Often we can help via email and don't need to put aside an hour for an in-person meeting.
  • My plans for the next research lab are to conduct it more like a class, or a group discussion. Previous labs have consisted of me and Jill circulating through the room giving individual help, and so many of the students are asking similar questions I think they'll benefit from group discussion and hearing each others' questions.

This class has been such a great experience of faculty-librarian collaboration, strategizing and fine-tuning and improving our teaching and support plans, that Jill and I are talking about writing an article about it next year. I've found at least one article about what we're calling research labs:

Jacklin, M., & Bordonaro, K. (2008). Innovations in Practice: Drop-In Clinics for Environmental Studies Students. Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library & Information Practice & Research, 3(2), 1-7. Retrieved from Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts database.

More as developments warrant.

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  1. Thanks for the shoutout! I should add that, as a new history librarian, this class has been a unique opportunity to think about how to help students learn how to “do” history. These are sharp, motivated students, but they don’t have the scaffolding that students majoring in history would have — history majors are required to take a methods course and then a research course that builds on the skills/knowledge learned in that course.

    So, part of the challenge with this class has been, in a real sense, learning how to calm these very motivated students’ anxieties about “having never done this kind of research before!” and how to help ground them by talking about and, in some ways, modeling how to do this kind of research (and, having been trained as a historian, modeling research is something I think about when I plan my upper-level history research-class instruction sessions).

    It’s a great lesson in a number of ways: we know they’re smart, we’re just helping them learn how to navigate a new domain… and, hopefully, how to breathe while they’re doing that :)


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