September 30, 2019

Instruction in Grad School: What Do We Learn and What’s Missing?

This month’s blog post is the result of a collaboration between the Teaching SIG and ArLiSNAP (Art Library Students and New Library Professionals) , so to start out with, we’d like to thank the ArLiSNAP team for their work reaching out to survey participants!

One common topic of casual conversation at many teaching librarian events and conferences is the state of instruction-about-instruction in MLIS programs. Though we each had our own sense of the situation, those of us on the Teaching SIG blog team were curious to hear what experiences other librarians in the field had had with instruction and pedagogy in grad school. Along with ArLiSNAP, we reached out to ARLIS members to get their thoughts on what they had or hadn’t learned about instruction in grad school—and what they wished they had.

The respondents to our survey were roughly equally split between new professionals (1-5 years in the field), mid-career professionals (5-10 years), and seasoned professionals (10+ years). Unfortunately, no current grad students replied—but if you know one or are one, we’d still love to hear your thoughts!

Of these 13 respondents, 69.2% said their grad school offered classes on instruction and/or pedagogy. That said, many respondents who said their schools offered an instruction class said there was only one, or that it was offered sporadically—as a result, almost none of the respondents had actually been able to take the class in question. Additionally, while some of the respondents reported having had some sort of formal instruction training, pedagogy seemed to be completely absent from all of their graduate school experiences.

We’ve gathered a few of the many interesting responses here, but we’d also love to continue the conversation. Feel free to join us on the Teaching SIG Slack channel to talk more about your grad school instruction experience, and where you’d like to see MLIS programs going in the future! (If you’d like to join the Slack channel, please email esclippa (at) gmail (dot) com for an invite.)

Q: What was your graduate school experience with or exposure to instruction?:

  • Anonymous: I did not have any of my own experience except for public speaking in classes.
  • Courtney Hunt: The course on instruction was only offered once a year, so I never actually took it. However, I did a practicum in instruction, so was able to gain practical experience that way.
  • Michelle Demeter: Only because I was a graduate assistant providing instruction did I get experience. FSU had (still likely) only one class on instruction, which from what I heard from my colleagues was not especially helpful. I also came into my MLS program having been a TA and adjunct in a previous master’s program and trained as a K-12 teacher with several years classroom experience under my belt.
  • Anonymous: I learned about pedagogy during a part-time job doing library one-shots.  I didn’t know that the LIS program offered a information literacy class until my last semester of grad school, when it was too late.
  • Anonymous: One class in instruction, specifically, but it didn’t seem especially helpful at the time. We didn’t learn how to write lesson plans or teach effectively, in my opinion. I don’t think there were other options for more advanced teaching or pedagogy classes at the time I went.

Q: What was your graduate school experience with or exposure to pedagogy?

  • Anonymous: I had little to no exposure to pedagogy as a graduate student. I learned instruction on-the-job working in an academic library while I was a grad student.
  • Anonymous: It was very minimal. I learned about it but, I did not know what it was called until my professional career started.
  • Courtney Hunt: Very limited. I would say none. I imagine some pedagogy would be covered in the instruction course that I was unable to take.
  • Olivia Piepmeier: There was one class called “User Education.” It covered approaches to library instruction and involved getting to guest teach in some capacity. I can’t recall if everyone had the same experience, but I came to an undergraduate course within the School of Information and Library Science and went over JSTOR. This was my first experience teaching at all! After taking that course, I did a practicum (so, unpaid but getting credit) at a small liberal arts college and was able to create and teach a couple library instruction sessions for art history classes. That same semester, I also volunteered (no credit, no payment) at the campus art museum to create a library instruction session with the university’s art librarian for docents that wanted to hone their research skills and learn more about the art library. The content of that was based on observation of the docents in their weekly meetings and a survey.

Q: Was there anything instruction-related you especially wish had been covered in graduate school? (If you have graduate, anything you’ve since realized would have been valuable?)

  • Anonymous: The research methods class is a mandatory part of the iSchool curriculum and I wish the teaching class had been as well.      
  • Anonymous: It would have been extremely valuable for me to be exposed to more inclusive methods of instruction. In academic libraries, it is possible to be instructing a classroom of students who have had incredibly varied experiences doing research in the past. It is advantageous for us to be prepared with pedagogical approaches that can serve a wide variety of understandings of what research is and how it is conducted.
  • Anonymous: I really wish I had that practical experience. Whether it be teaching a class to my fellow classmates as an assignment, etc. I think that would have been really helpful! Especially for applying to jobs.
  • Courtney Hunt: Effective methods of assessment for one-shot sessions and/or longer seminar session as well.
  • Olivia Piepmeier: This goes beyond just instruction, but critical librarianship in general. I struggle working a critical edge into my instruction now so it would have been helpful to consider that as a student. Having more paid graduate assistantships that would have involved teaching would have helped too, as doing something is the best way to get experience and working for free isn’t possible for everyone.
  • Michelle Demeter: I think having a relationship with the library and partnering to observe and teach classes would have been helpful. Also I’m not sure how much instructional design is being taught today but it is needed.
  • Anonymous: I think, despite having a full load as a double major, it would have been beneficial to designate an instruction-based course as core curriculum for graduation.


Other thoughts:

  • Michelle Demeter: For so long library school students are not taught to be proper instructors nor to understand what it means to be one within the larger framework of the university or library where they work. They need to better understand their role and relationship to other instructors/faculty. They also need better instruction on assessment- why it’s important, how to conduct effective assessment, being observed and receiving and giving critical feedback, etc. Instructional design and the development of online learning objects is crucial now and cannot be ignored. Too many librarians have little or no training yet are so adamant against getting help or formal training and understanding their limits when ignored can negatively impact the quality of learning for their students.
  • Anonymous: I didn’t set out to teach info sessions to the comp classes, but that’s a large part of my job now, and probably the most hated part for many of my colleagues. It’s harder to teach freshman who are very new and resent being there than upperclassmen who are dedicated to their major.

Our takeaways:

Obviously, this is neither a formal survey nor a statistically significant study! That said, some of the common messages and experiences we encountered in this anecdotal exploration did lead to us considering what the next steps might be in improving the instruction education landscape in library and information graduate programs.

Certainly, it seems that it would be valuable for all MLIS programs to offer classes in Instruction, and that these classes should concretely address pedagogy and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Where they are offered, they should ideally be offered annually, to ensure that it is possible for interested students with full schedules and course loads to take them. The value and feasibility of including them as a core or mandatory part of the curriculum may differ depending on the program and its intended population, but we are interested in continuing to discuss this subject in the SIG, including possibly reaching out to interview program directors to hear their take on it. To help facilitate conversations and learning about instruction and pedagogy outside of grad school, the Teaching SIG intends to expand our offerings of discussion and webinars to those outside of the SIG, as well.

As ever, though, we’re always looking for more ideas and interested in your take! Feel free to drop us a line with your thoughts. Till next time!

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