I recently wrote about effective uses of technology in the classroom. This past week our group of teaching librarians has been using another technology that was also really successful. We are teaching information literacy in about 30 sections of CORE 110 classes which is an interdisciplinary first year class called Concepts of the Self. In the class, students are trying to understand the self and why they behave the way they do through examining various texts and literature.
In this IL session we are looking at similar concepts in the context of information. We’re asking students to examine their own information seeking behaviors, habits and preferences. One way we’re doing this is by asking them questions using Poll Everywhere. The questions are about they prefer to get information, share information and search. Poll Everywhere is a web based technology that allows participants to vote in polls via text message, a web page, an embeddable widget, and even Twitter. The polls can be multiple choice, free response, or donation polls where people pledge money.
We’ve had a couple technical glitches, but from my experience so far it has been an overwhelming success. I think it works really well (especially with first years) for several reasons:
- It’s a technology that almost every student already has in their pocket - Purchasing clickers would not have been feasible for us due to the large number of sections we have to teach and because we have to go to a wide variety of different classrooms. Instead we are using a technology that students are comfortable with and use all the time.
- Everyone has a little bit of an ego – Students love seeing themselves reflected on the large screen. It gives people a sense of control and people appreciate when they are asked for their opinion. It’s not simply someone telling them what to think.
- It creates room for discussion – Students have to commit to a choice and then as a teacher you can give them an opportunity to justify or explain that choice and see how others might differ from them.
- It’s real time – The students got really excited when they saw the graphs move and change as their answers come in. It adds a bit of a wow factor.
- It’s novel – Most students haven’t used something like this and we catch them off guard. Librarians asking them to pull out their phones and vote with them can break down some stereotypes that first-years might have.
For it to work seamlessly, my colleague Sarah and I had to set up the polls and put them into PowerPoint presentations for the rest of the teaching librarians. It was kind of a large experiment (30+ sections is a lot) and it could have failed bigtime. But luckily our library and our crew of teaching librarians are a pretty adventurous bunch. We don’t mind experimenting and in this instance it paid off.
In Zen Buddhism a sesshin is a period of intense practice of Zen and meditation that typically last 5-7 days. This reminded me a lot of my Immersion experience this weekend. In Zen you are trying to maintain the utmost concentration on your practice, and the same is true with Immersion. Teaching librarians have the opportunity to concentrate on nothing but teaching and learning for 4.5 days.
Normally life consists of rushing from one thing to the next with little sustained focus, but at Immersion we got to concentrate solely on teaching. Even during the informal, social parts of Immersion we were jokingly refering to “teachable moments,” and “what lesson did we learn here?”
At sesshin there is also a significant amount of discomfort that occurs. Your legs and body can get very sore from doing extended sitting meditation, you can get completely exhausted doing all night meditation, and even get hit from monks using a flat wooden stick called a keisaku.
Now our amazing faculty members weren’t whacking us with sticks, but there is a certain amount of pain and dismofort at Immersion too. You can get really tired (I took a nap under my desk like George Constanza). You are required to prepare and deliver a short speech in front of your peers, which can make people very nervous. And you are constantly challenged in different types of less than confortable learning activities such as elevator pitches, skits, and even an addition of battledecks this year. But in both Zen and Immersion this discomfort is to serve a higher purpose. Getting out of your confort zone helps you improve and become a more successful person and teacher.
Finally in Zen there is sometimes an elightenment experience that occurs after all the intense practice and concentration and Immersion is similar. We discussed ”Aha!” moments, and I know I had a couple of those. I also heard several people saying (me included) that there were points later in the week when things started to all come together. Different pieces like assessment and learning styles began to make sense as a more coherent whole and we could see information literacy in a new light.
I do feel that I am more info lit enlightened and I’d recommend ACRL Immersion to librarian who has to do teaching in the classroom. It wasn’t all work. We had time to go out and blow of some steam too. I also made a lot of new friendships. It might not be for everyone but it is a great program if you’re serious about information literacy and want to push yourself to become better.
My drawing of a lesson from Parker Palmer
I’m at ACRL Immersion this week which is fortunately in lovely Burlington, VT at Champlain College. It is overwhelming and I’m meeting tons of people and getting tons of information. I’m actually squeezing this post in between dinner and yoga. I wanted to take some time to reflect on my experience so far though and share things I’ve found helpful for immersion and my career.
- Take time to reflect – That’s what I’m doing right now. Here at Immersion I try to squeeze in precious minutes to reflect on what I learned and what it means to me. But this should be done at work to. Reflect on what you’re doing. Take a step back and look at the big picture. Take time to just think and not necessarily be creating something. Have your students in class reflect too. That’s where ideas can be born and meaning can be found.
- Real experts don’t sit at a desk, they talk to people in the world – I got this from a great video we watched about the design company IDEO. You can theorize all you want, but the real information is out in the world. We make assumptions about students all the time, but rarely examine them or ask their opinions. I know I want to take more time talking to students about assumptions or just observing people when I get back.
- The people you surround yourself with make a difference – Immersion is tons of work and it’s easy to get tired and less engaged. But the people here are a self selected group. They’re people who wanted to come to improve their teaching. The other Immersionites are engaged, participating, or even asking me questions. They push me when I’m tired and help make me better. If you surround yourself with engaged, curious, dynamic people it helps you to be better and improve.
- Stay passionate, keep things fresh – Burnout happens. I’ve only just celebrated my second year of librarianship, but over time things can get stale and you can become burned out. You need to work on keeping your passion alive. Keep your teaching or your job fresh. Try new ideas often. Try out some different technology or slides in the classroom. Experiment and be willing to fail.
There is tons more I’ve taken in still have three more days. I highly recommend Immersion to anyone though. And for people who have attended or are currently attending I’d love to hear other things you’ve taken away or advice you might have.