Carol Perryman MSLIS
100 Manning Hall
Campus Box 3360
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
Teaching: A reflection
As a teacher, practitioner, and researcher in Library and Information Science, my particular interest is to enable the continuation and growth of a community of learning. Our discipline has been slow in developing its own research and decision support resources, perhaps because we are focused outward, toward those we serve. One result has been that practitioners develop subject expertise in those areas that most concern those populations at the expense of our own. At the same time, due to changes in our contexts of practice, librarians are faced with issues such as the repurposing of libraries as places, re- and up-skilling of both professional and paraprofessional staff, and an increasingly contested base of financial support.
My intention is to integrate an ongoing discussion about the field into my teaching, whatever the topic, in order to continue working toward change. Masters-level library students sorely need critical literacy skills, and they need to be engaged after leaving school in lifelong learning. Ideally, students better educated in the basics of research in LIS will enter the job market prepared to find and use and even create and disseminate knowledge using the best information available.
These goals are not confined to pragmatic skills, although these form the center of our work-setting practices. These skills should be taught, of course - but because they are constantly changing, it is critical thinking and the ability to adapt that is most important. There will always be new resources and technologies, now-unimaginable combinations of media and access points. When what is needed is for new practitioners who can help guide and support the inevitable change process, learning and teaching should be interactive, inspirational, and rigorous. I think I'm beginning to be able to achieve that, when I ask students to read, reflect, and interact, then to build from there as we explore new models for research (see the EBL Tutorial syllabus, for examples of this).
Students are learners and teachers, bringing as much as they take away – or more, since younger library students inevitably bring life experiences, new skills and ideas in serving ever-changing populations with rapidly expanding technology. As a teacher/learner, I am and should be open to questions, even challenges – I must model what we can be as colleagues, and work to remain open, flexible and responsive to changes brought to the classroom (wherever it may be) by new learner-teachers. An example of this is my use of the Blackboard site's bulletin board for the EBL class, where we encouraged students to monitor listserves and share new sites and articles they find in the their studies. I am still getting e-mails from those students with new materials and questions (see the message from one of my students, in the Comments section), which I consider to be an indicator of some success: I have sparked interest in ideas and possibilities. When I next teach this course, I will place more emphasis on this type of participation.
After 20 years in libraries, I know that I am always in the process of becoming, just as the field itself continues to evolve. There is no end in sight, and this is part of the message that I believe should permeate every lesson and course. We can change reactively, or we can grow and participate in directing change. To me, our knowledge work begins between us, in our reflective practice and discourse. Success in the learning/teaching relationship is a spark ignited. More than simple return performance, I hope to help build new knowledge and put it to the test.
When I teach, I know I am working to create trust, so it is important to me to treat the relationship between us, and the topic being taught, with respect. Good teaching is a journey toward effective communication, and is ideally ego-free. As a teacher I cannot rest on reputation, but need to demonstrate my understanding and model my ideas about LIS with every student. Besides humor and humility and trust, I believe joy should live in the classroom. This would be the core of my belief: that the intimate community of teaching and learning is no more than a distillation of our environment, experience, values, and our own deepest selves.
How do these observations relate to my own understanding and philosophy of teaching and learning? Perhaps the question should really be: How does this personal view incorporate itself into the reality of time constraints, the need to achieve some kind of demonstrable objectives? I feel this should be manifested in my work in challenging, well-planned lessons designed to engage critical thinking, a high standard of expectations conveyed and modeled, clear objectives, and explicit rubrics so that there is no mystery involved in how students are being assessed.
My experience of teaching includes years spent training staff and the public in two public library systems as well as managers, residents, allied health professionals, and non-clinical staff as the lead medical librarian in a large teaching hospital. Due to my interest and 9-year history of involvement with the hospital's Patient and Family Education Committee, I was twice an invited speaker in the annual Nurse Educator Research Forum, helping to inform those who teach others about the services and resources we could provide. I also worked with the hospital's hospice and parish nursing programs to orient volunteers to the use of our resources, and designed a hands-on, web-based training unit that became one component of a mandatory series of new manager orientation sessions that merged online with in-person teaching. Continuing to develop web-based resources, I later worked as a grant-funded contract librarian to create unit web pages and a modular tutorial for patient education using tablet PCs at the bedside.
What I have learned so far from working as an adult educator is that learning is an alive and growing creation that rewards all those involved - but only if they really are involved. It helps no one to render the teaching/learning experience immobile by failing to engage participants. Equally, helping to establish links between the student's own context of practice and new knowledge makes learning come alive, and enhances retention. While working to orient and then support volunteers in the parish nursing program, for example, I encouraged participants to share their successes, uncertainties, and problems with the entire group, so we could all learn from one another's experiences. Because I have conducted adult and continuing education in a number of library-related work settings (such as the workshops I conducted at Duke's Medical Library, training corporate trainers who then helped affiliate physicians to access hospital-funded information resources, and setting up shadowing programs between the circulation and reference departments in a public library), I bring experience and insight to the classroom, expanding the teaching/learning relationship to include mentoring during that process.
My work with tutorials has been equally as extensive, but this area is one that needs improvement. I continue to work toward practicing what I believe, a challenge with online tutorials or distance learning. I have not yet mastered the constantly evolving resources now available for online education, and question whether lessons in that environment are as effective as face-to-face teaching, given the limitations of technology and my own lack of experience with distance education. However with my Evidence-based Librarianship (EBL) tutorial, I will have the opportunity to try creative ways of engaging participants. This tutorial is currently being refined as the center of a national study intended to encourage discourse among librarians in medical and academic libraries about needed change in our profession. Its application, format, and intent embodies my own philosophy of teaching as an interactive process that ideally becomes a critical, motivational factor in participants' professional growth. Specifically, I am working to craft an online educational experience that includes interactive discussion among participants as part of the course; that asks them, throughout the tutorial, to reflect and share their thoughts about the concepts and their application in the workplace; and by providing feedback at every opportunity.
Incorporating my observations and objectives into the teaching/learning relationship also means finding opportunities outside the classroom for discussion and mentoring. Throughout my career, I have done this, both seeking mentors and welcoming opportunities to share my experiences with others as a mentor. It means honesty and a desire to learn as I teach, continuously improving my understanding of what works. As an exampIe, I had the privilege of co-teaching the first ever full-semester course on EBL during the spring semester of 2004, working with a veteran teacher who has not lost her sense of wonder and openness to learning. My EBL tutorial was tested in that classroom as part of the content, so that I could interact with students, talk about what works and what does not, and make changes as we continued - a thoroughly vital and engaging process.
Because of what I learned during the class, the course bibliography and glossary were expanded. The extensive bibliography represents a thorough overview of history, concepts, and methods, supporting the class learning but moving beyond it and providing students with further resources and exemplars of research studies. The Blackboard site grew to include speaker notes and slides, a discussion board, links to papers from an international EBL conference and to the video from a virtual workshop provided by the Canadian Library Association, which we attended during class. That particular opportunity arose mid-semester, and provided the class with material for some interesting follow-up discussion about the differences between US and Canadian library systems in their readiness to adopt EBL practices.
I believe that the more I have a sense of myself as an individual within a context of knowledge to be either imparted or absorbed, the more ‘I’ will be present in my teaching, and that this presence is an important element of my success. I bring years of hands-on experience to the classroom, and a passion for the profession: I am energized by teaching and learning. I know that with more full-semester course experiences, I will practice and develop the toolbox of teaching techniques I am now learning, continuing to improve my ability to help students join the profession’s ongoing discourse.
I had the opportunity in 2002, during my first full semester at the University of Illinois, to attend the Dodge Poetry Festival in New Jersey. Five past and present poets laureate were among those reading their works. One poet, Li-Young Lee, talked about the nature of what poets do, and I consider it to have immediate bearing upon the subject of what we do as teachers and as learners. Li-Young said that poets can only carve the space around an idea or image, shaping the vessel. He said that poetry is meant to be read aloud; and that it is an incomplete work in the absence of listeners.
Learners are not passive, even during moments when there is no interaction. We construct in the moment, using tools of experience, of perception, and of our need for meaning; finally, we take with us this construction. If I am myself listening during the course of either teaching or learning, I can work with others to help build meaning, but I must be open to the realization that it might end by being something other than the meaning I have crafted from my own experience.