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Reflections on Teaching Session

Reflections on Learning Through the Development of a Teaching Plan


Developing a quality lesson plan can be a challenging process due to the number of different factors that need to be incorporated into a learning session. Difficulties can arise in keeping the subject matter focused enough to create an in-depth experience for the students, while simultaneously covering a broad enough scope to ensure that they are learning several of the ACRL core information literacy competencies. It can be tempting to try covering all of the competencies within a single session—they are, after all, significant benchmarks for information literate people to achieve. It is better however, to choose a few core competencies that clearly align with the desired outcomes of the session and focus on creating an interactive, multiple learning style-oriented, content-rich experience. This is a challenging endeavor and in the remainder of this paper I will discuss the methods with which I approached this task, as well as reflect on what I learned through the process.

My first step in creating the teaching session was identifying an audience in order to direct the development of the course contents. After choosing an undergraduate art student population it was easier to tailor the contents of the session to the specific needs and interests of that group. What I found in beginning the process, however, was that my mission to teach critical evaluation and usage of social media resources was not at all specific to this audience; as I set out identifying goals, objectives, and performance measures for the session it was equally clear that the material was applicable to any undergraduate student group. All of the learning objectives I outlined and aligned with ACRL information literacy standards were geared at general knowledge about how to examine resources, identify information needs, assess the validity and usefulness of sources, and conduct research that would fill individual information needs. Throughout this information literacy instruction course, however, teaching to the needs of a particular audience and reaching a diverse body of students have been constant themes in identifying good teaching strategies. It is generally not enough to present an out-of-the-box session since this approach is likely to alienate—or bore—participants.

In attempting to align the course with my designated audience, I found that tailoring the examples and activities to the interests of the group could be a way to make the overall contents more relevant. The point of acquiring information about a group prior to teaching them is to make sure that the contents of the session will hold their interests. With this in mind I had to figure out how to balance content about information literacy concepts with art- and design-focused ideas. In order to present relevant examples, I used my own social media networks to identify resources related to art. I then created all of my video tutorials using thematic examples. In this way I was able to demonstrate how to use the tools to locate resources in general, while keeping the ability to locate art-focused resources at the forefront. During a live session I believe it would be even better to involve the students by asking them to volunteer topics and then conduct the same types of searches using their areas of interest.

The difference between live and distance learning brings me to the next point. It was quite challenging for me to figure out how to engage students when they would not be present in a classroom setting. Turning to a partner to discuss a point and other such quick interactive interludes are not possible in a distance learning session; even in a synchronous online session live chat does not quite facilitate that type of quick small group exchange—at least not as expeditiously. The particular environment I was working with for this session was completely asynchronous, so the interactivity element was even more challenging, as was assessment. This, however, is becoming an increasingly popular delivery method so focusing on how to work within that system was a valuable learning experience. My initial temptation was to simply create a lecture style environment. This seemed like the best way to deliver the materials in a manner that was efficient and thorough. Lecture can also be easily translated to PowerPoint slides, which is likely to be a familiar method of information gathering for students; resources such as Slideshare have made reading through presentations a common practice. Upon further consideration, however, I realized that lecture accommodates only those students that prefer this style of learning; additionally, lectures target only the needs of students that are auditory and—depending on the quality and availability of slides—visual learners. Those students that need hands-on experience are not considered at all in such a scenario. Also, the needs of auditory learners are only partially met through a lecture-only environment since peer discussion is an integral part of this group's learning preferences. Hence, while a 50-minute lecture would be the easiest to deliver, I decided it was not the best teaching strategy, even in an asynchronous course.

Throughout this ILI class we have studied various methods of content delivery, all of which have a place in instructional settings. The main thing I have learned from this is that employing a mixture of these tactics is likely to address the learning preferences of everyone in the class at some point during the instructional session, thus creating a welcoming environment where a diversity of student needs are met. This idea is easier to realize on paper, though, than it is to put into practice; the challenge is exacerbated when instruction is not face-to-face. Moving past a lecture and slide reading approach took some creativity. First, I identified the instructional strategies that I wanted to include in a teaching session. Lecture, guided practice, individual practice, discussion, reflection, and questioning strategies were all important elements for me to include in order to achieve a balance of instructional styles. First, I began by figuring out how to get students thinking about the material; I accomplished this through a questioning technique, asking students to consider how they would define critical thinking. Through reading about different learning strategies I have gleaned that this simple action should take passive listening to an active state of thinking about the material that is about to be presented. I then proceeded with a short lecture (presenting definitions) and ended that section by asking students to consider the similarities between them. It was important to me to begin with a definition, highlighting different facets of how critical thinking would be used later in the session; inviting the students to consider how they would actually define a term that gets batted around frequently was a way to make them think about what they really know about critical thinking. I believe this reflection will help solidify the contents of the lesson and make the session more meaningful.

In order to include guided practice and demonstration in the session I decided that video tutorials would work best. Students can pause, rewind, and review any of the videos throughout the session. A disadvantage to asynchronous guided practice is that questions cannot be addressed along the way, however I felt that using video would help both visual and auditory learners to process the material while following along on the Internet could help kinesthetic learners. Of course, difficulties could arise with students keeping up on the first run-through, or having to open a second window in order to practice while simultaneously watching the videos. Despite these limitations I can see an upside to using videos in that students can pause and replay the material if they get lost or wish to review it at a later time. Creating these video resources was a learning experience as well, since it forced me to think carefully about which resources to cover in depth. Using a time-based medium forced me to weed through the options and select a mixture of resources that would likely be new to many students, but also cover familiar resources that could be used in unexpected ways. For example, rather than cover several social bookmarking sites I instead chose to focus on CiteULike, which I felt would be less familiar than Delicious, and to focus on Quora instead of other answer-based communities for similar reasons. By limiting the scope of my coverage I was able to better cover critical evaluation of each resource, which is ultimately the purpose of the session. This skill can then be translated to other resources when the students carry out their own research.

Discussion was another concept that I had to consider since I wanted to retain sharing and collaboration in some form. For starters, I incorporated several activities into the session that involved evaluating information and sharing responses. I anticipate that this would be handled through course software discussion forums and that I would require a minimum number of peer-to-peer responses in order to encourage conversation amongst the class. Thinking and sharing ideas with a group is essential to the development of the ability to articulate ideas and it is also a great way to learn about various resources or diverse perspectives on a topic.

I also wanted to capture some of the more informal discussion that occurs in a classroom setting, but this proved trickier. I think that turning to a partner and sharing a quick reflection is a valuable way to solidify concepts and increase learning (and attention span). In researching ideas about how to facilitate discussions in an asynchronous setting, I found a presentation on using Twitter within a math class. Students tweeted responses during a specific portion of the session and reviewed and responded to each other in that environment both during and after class. I decided that using Twitter could be a good way to capture the essence of the quick sharing and collaboration that occurs in face-to-face sessions; because of the 140-character limit students would need to be succinct when reflecting on a prompt, just as they would in a two-minute discussion break. By using the hash tag to organize tweets, it would be easy for students to read and respond to one another. An added bonus is that this provides an assessment tool; by looking at the content of the Tweets I could determine whether students seem to understand the material enough to generate thoughtful (though short) responses. If something seems off base, I could follow up and address any issues or simply evaluate how the instruction overall might be changed in future sessions to generate better understanding of the core concepts.

In order to assess whether students had effectively learned the material from the session, I included individual practice in the form of an assignment. This assignment would be completed after the session and I would provide individual feedback. I also incorporated a final discussion activity that would be completed in conjunction with this assignment. I felt that this would offer one last chance for students to share observations and resources. Students often learn best from each other, so incorporating mandatory discussions gives everyone an opportunity to both contribute and glean new methods and sources for research. In sharing information from the assignment and subsequently reading the postings of their peers they could learn new ways of approaching research. This assignment would also give me a chance to correct any misconceptions or answer any questions that may have arisen. In reading about how to effectively facilitate online discussions I have learned that making them a requirement seems to work best. This makes sense (given motivation and time factors), so having a final discussion and associated task to complete would be a more effective way to encourage students to ask questions; simply putting up an "email me" slide at the end of the presentation seems less motivational.

Overall, I learned a great deal through developing this teaching session, including information about information literacy and also about putting effective teaching strategies into practice. I had to remind myself that all of the elements of my instructional plan should contribute directly to students achieving one of the goals and learning outcomes I had devised. This proved harder than I had initially imagined because the information literacy field is so wide. It was tempting to veer off course and begin showing how to locate all sorts of cool web resources; I had to pare down my material a number of times in order to stay on track. The focus was on critical thinking in relation to sources, not a presentation on all the great sources that we can find on the Internet. As such, I had to check and recheck that in the course of introducing types of social networks and specific examples I was still focused on how to evaluate those materials.

I also found it challenging to create a session that would be entirely asynchronous, but doing so made me think more creatively about delivery methods. I feel that some of the activities are better planned because I had to consider how to make them work in this type of environment. I was also focused on interactivity in a heightened manner, which led me to try out Prezi presentation software—it seemed to involve more action on the part of the viewer to zoom and progress through the presentation, which seemed to be a way to keep them engaged. This software also encourages idea clusters and broad topic views followed by narrower detail views; this closely mirrors the preferences of many students to get a global picture of a topic followed by sequential coverage. I feel that panning and zooming forced me to think more thoroughly about overviews, arrangement, and the relationships between ideas than creating a PowerPoint presentation would have. I definitely thought more about how to create a logical path through the material (required because of the non-linear sequence of the layout), and this created a more complex way of tying ideas together. In the future I will absolutely be more cognizant of how the narrative fits together and how this impacts understanding of the material. In short, creating this lesson plan and presentation has encouraged me to actively consider how to better organize materials and encourage interactivity within a classroom. I will certainly apply many of these principles to instruction in the future, regardless of the environment or type of delivery system in place.