In last week’s post in this series, I talked about my PHIL 230 (Studies in Philosophy) course model for an intermediate topics class in philosophy, which I built by using the Scholarship as Conversation frame to generate my outcomes and my assignment structures. This week, I’m going to scale down from a whole philosophy course to a library instruction one-shot for a philosophy class at a similar level and with a similar student population, applying the same rules and principles that guided my whole-course approach.
Let’s review those rules and principles and put them to work in the one-shot context!
Assumptions and Constraints
Take it as given that my overall instructional goal is to use a small amount of time (anywhere from 15 minutes to 50, single session only) to do what I have been asked to do in a way that helps to make it possible for students to participate in the Conversation. My choices with regard to specific learning outcomes in a one-shot session for someone else’s class are necessarily constrained by the instructor’s needs; I can’t just decide to do whatever I want to get students into the Conversation and skip the instructor’s actual request to teach them how to use a specific set of ProQuest-hosted databases effectively, for example. What I need to do is figure out how to frame the assigned task — e.g. teaching effective database use — as a part of participation in the Conversation. In this context, an element of the Information Literacy Framework becomes a sort of rhetorical setting for the session as well as a session outcome generation aid.
Enter by the narrow gate
Following this rule in the context of a one-shot mostly involves (a) sticking as closely as possible to what the instructor actually needs done, (b) minding the time, and most importantly (c) making content and practice decisions about which things need to be given to students and which things they need to acquire for themselves as a part of the learning process in the session. There is where we turn to the tools (as mentioned last time). I take it to be pretty standard good practice nowadays to provide some sort of online research guide (LibGuide if possible, some other form if not) to which students will have continual access and make sure they know how to find it. Don’t give the full tour of the guide unless that’s required or advisable as a part of the instructor’s choice for the session; use a handout card, QR code, whatever else you have to do in order to make sure they have the link in addition to showing them how to get there from either the course in the learning management system or the Library landing page or both.
Curation is the name of the game; collaboration is how we play
As might already be obvious from my comments about research guides above, the primary curation task for a short session will actually take place outside of the session itself, in the form of decisions about resources to share up-front in the guide. That’s not all, though. Curation in a one-shot session in which students are supposed to pick up a skill is also my shorthand term for the selection of tasks for students to perform, questions for students to answer, and/or problems for students to solve. Keeping time constraints and Rule (1) in mind, a properly narrow (“curated”) task that sets the students up to work on and successfully solve a problem or answer a question that puts them in the Conversation is ideal.
To that end, there are two forms of collaboration at work:
(a) The kind done with the class instructor, for the purpose of making decisions about what to curate in terms of content and questions (accomplished by asking, by discussing, by reading the syllabus and/or the assignment in question, etc.).
(b) The pedagogical sort involving the students themselves, in which it is my goal (within reason, given time constraints) to get the students to figure out some of the process stuff and/or the rationale for the process themselves, as a group working to solve a problem or set of problems (time constraints always loom here).
Keeping the Frame in mind, it’s important always to contextualize the resources and tasks in the session as participation in an ongoing conversation; this is something the students can be made to come up with themselves, through a little of that ol’ Socratic-ish Q&A action, which will make it stick a bit more firmly.
“Yikes!” You might say. “That seems like a lot to pack into a very small amount of time! Why can’t you just walk the class through watching a simple search in the database, do a little quiz, and call it a day?”
Why? Because watching someone else search for something or being told how to search for something isn’t the same as having to make decisions about doing it yourself, and giving someone a context in which to think about how to do a thing — and then helping them to actually do it — is often better for retaining the information. Experiential learning does seem to have some decently-documented benefits in that regard.
Obviously, a 15-minute quickie running through a PhilPapers user interface demo is not going to work the same way as a 30 minute-or-more session in which there’s more room to talk about search methods. The limits imposed by time and instructor priority determine how any of the above rules are applied. The goal of getting the students to do something instead of passively witnessing, however — joining the Conversation rather than watching it — remains the same and dictates my own session priorities as I try to meet instructor requirements.
It’s also worth remembering (if you’re feeling a tiny bit of panic at looking at all of the stuff I seem to think can be done in a one-shot) that what I’ve just described above is not an actual session — it’s mostly what has to happen before the session. Following the rules and working within constraints means that the end product (the session itself) should be relatively simple when it actually happens, if I do it right. It does involve some risk — getting students to figure something out in a way that still works within time constraints is a bit like working the high wire without a net. Deciding how best to limit and frame questions to keep the class on track toward the intended outcome sometimes runs up against problems related to background knowledge deficits. You don’t want to assume they know nothing, but it’s not wise to assume they know much (and yet you don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence…). I have sometimes been surprised by the odd, unstated rules students have made for themselves in order to understand something (rules that ended up interfering with comprehension by accident).
Next week, I’m going to use my final post in this series to think a little bit about assessment. How did it all turn out when I taught this way? In answer, I will explore my own experience of von Moltke’s classic, often mangled-in-the-quoting observation: no plan survives contact with the enemy.
No one said this was going to be easy…