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Pedagogy for Librarians Day Four: Big Teach!

I spent all of Wednesday afternoon and evening preparing for the Big Teach, to be delivered on Thursday morning. I chose the topic of “finding health information with PICO” – this is a topic I have taught once before as part of a longer lecture to a multidisciplinary group of health students. PICO is a framework for picking the relevant information out of a real-world health problem, to identify knowledge gaps and formulate a search question. I won’t go into a huge amount of detail about what it entails here, but if anyone is interested, there’s a good explanation on the University of Huddersfield’s libguides.

I created a detailed session plan using the Northern College template (if anyone wants to see the template, let me know!), then spent the rest of the evening putting together a PowerPoint and producing some handouts and case studies for the activities in the session.

I think I probably spent longer on the PowerPoint than I actually needed to – I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to presentations! I don’t think any of my other materials suffered as a result, but I probably made it all a bit more stressful than needed by working on it until so late. Here’s my slides, if anyone is interested:

I really learned a huge amount from this process. Starting with the planning side: I had never used (or even seen) a session plan before so found it a bit tricky to use at first, however once I’d got the hang of what to include I actually found it really useful. I’ve never really planned my teaching sessions before, beyond a “back of the envelope” list of topics I want to cover, so the session plan was a bit of a revelation. I’m a pretty organised and logical person in general so having a structured session plan really appeals to me. I could see straight away that having come up with learning objectives and a full outline of the session improved my actual teaching immeasurably!

I tried out a few new techniques in my session. At the start, I asked everyone to hold up a red, yellow or green “traffic light” card to indicate their existing level of knowledge of PICO (red for never heard of it, yellow for know what it is but not sure how to use it, and green for know what it is and how to use it). This allowed me to instantly see that I had four learners who had never heard of PICO, and two who had heard of it but didn’t know how to use it. I used this information to get a couple of my learners to swap places, so that the two “yellow” learners were seated next to “red” learners, and could share their knowledge and support those who knew less in the group activity stages.

I started off the session by outlining what PICO is and how it is applied. I then asked a few questions about how and why people thought it might be a useful tool, to generate a bit of discussion. This worked really well, which I was pleased by: I’ve always been a bit nervous of trying to start off discussions in my teaching, largely out of fear that no one will say anything!

I still think this is a legitimate worry – I knew that within the course, it was “safe” to try out techniques like this, as I was among supportive friends who would all join in with my discussions and activities. Sadly that is not always the case when addressing students! Seeing how well this went though has given me a bit more confidence to actually try this with students.

I then introduced an activity: I gave everyone a written case study, and asked them all individually to pick out information under the four PICO headings. I gave them a few minutes to do this, then asked people to pair up, and compare what they had picked out with what their neighbour had identified, and have a go as a pair at writing a clinical question based on their case study. Finally, I asked each pair to read out their clinical question to the group, and discuss what they had identified and why.

I’ve heard this technique referred to as “think-pair-share” before, and I was delighted with how well it went! It’s such a simple technique, but it does get learners to think about things to a much greater extent than if I was just talking at them. It’s also pretty well scaleable – one of the difficulties I find with teaching in libraries (and I’ve heard this a lot from others too) is that we’re often teaching massive groups, because we only get to see each cohort once so often have to teach them all together. It’s very difficult to organise activities for such large groups, but think-pair-share could be done pretty easily with even the largest groups, with a bit of careful planning of the “share” stage.

To round up the session, I asked my learners to feedback about how they had found the activity, and asked a few questions to prompt a bit of discussion about how they would see PICO being used in practice, and whether they thought they might find it useful themselves (most did – yay!) Finally, I asked everyone to hold up a traffic light card again, as at the start – and was pleased to see four green cards and two yellow/green (two people felt on the fence so held up two cards!).

There were a few things that could have gone better in my session. For example, I had meant to put the PICO definitions back on the screen and reiterate them verbally before setting the learners off with the individual and pair tasks, but forgot to do so. I also felt like I spoke too much at the start – the initial explanation of PICO was quite lengthy – so I think I could have started with an activity to engage the group before launching into my explanation. It was also noted in my feedback that I could have put my learning objectives up on screen at the start and end of the session – I agree this would have been useful, I’d actually intended to do this when writing my slides but forgot about it!

I also learned lots from participating in everyone else’s sessions! Observing the ways everyone else taught was very informative. For example, I was impressed at what a difference it made when in some sessions we had to actually get up and move around the room, e.g. to stand in areas denoting our feelings/thoughts on a subject, or to write ideas on flipchart paper.

A couple of people used props, which were great: one used folded “fortune tellers” to illustrate the CRAP test (I am totally stealing this idea, as well as the fantastic video she also showed!), and another handed out food items with various use by/best before dates to illustrate information literacy. I would never have thought of using props this way, but they were really effective so I’d love to give this a go (with the caveat that I think you’d need quite a small group to be able to use props like this).

I came away at the end of everyone’s Big Teaches with several new ideas to incorporate into my practice. I am going to start using session plans, as I found this enormously helpful in outlining what I was going to do and why. I plan to include many more interactive activities in my teaching, in particular think-pair-share and using traffic light cards to gauge initial knowledge.

I would like to try to incorporate activities using the physical space, for example contributing to ideas on flipcharts, however this may be more difficult depending on the size of the group and the layout of the room I am given (both of which I have no control over!).

Finally, on a personal level I have learned that a lot of my anxiety over teaching was unfounded. I came to realise during the week that almost everyone else on the course had the same worries and concerns as I did and that although many of my fellow learners had been teaching for much longer than I have, that didn’t necessarily mean they felt any more knowledgeable or prepared than I did.

It seemed a fairly common experience on the course that many of us were thrust into teaching without any real training – which made me wonder, is teaching ever covered in Library School? It certainly wasn’t at City, and none of the people I spoke to on the course about it remembered it being covered at their library school either. This seems a massive oversight to me, as teaching is something that so many of us end up doing.

It would make sense to me for there to be an optional module on the basics of teaching as part of library school – optional because it’s not necessarily something that all of us will do (I’ve worked in several library roles where teaching didn’t feature at all), but should at least be there so people can explore it if it’s something that appeals to them and that they think they may want to explore. I’d be interested to hear others’ thoughts on this.

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2 comments on “Pedagogy for Librarians Day Four: Big Teach!

  1. I really think teaching needs to be covered at Library School. We had a session or two on pedagogy, which was good, but in hindsight I would’ve liked something more practical (much like the activities you’ve described in these posts). I felt underprepared going into my first teaching sessions. It’s a big step from training to teaching.

  2. I agree that teaching definitely needs to be an option in Library School. We have covered teaching in a couple of NLPN events and we *always* get feedback that it would be useful for future events. It is a daunting thing to do, especially without training! Training can be expensive too, which doesn’t help – the ILG did really well to put on this course at such low cost.

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