Instruction Feedback

I’ve been teaching at VCU for about 8 months, and haven’t really gotten feedback from other librarians. There isn’t really a culture of observation and evaluation among the instruction librarians at VCU. This came up in a meeting way back in the fall semester, and I had been thinking about it again when I started doing some research into mentorship programs. I found this book, Peer Coaching in Higher Education, that had some really great ideas on how to implement and run a peer coaching system. The idea is to build relationships, and coach each other, rather than evaluate. “Evaluate” can be a scary work sometimes, especially when you’re being put in a vulnerable position, like in front of 25 not-always-friendly-and-engaging 19 year olds.

I really wanted someone to watch one of my classes, and give me some real feedback on my teaching techniques. I finally got it! Here’s what I learned about myself and what I’m doing:

  • I need to zoom in on the screen sometimes, especially when showing searches. Duh! I already knew that. I had even told that to other librarians – why wasn’t I doing it myself??
  • I need to be a little more clear on what a discipline specific database is, and how it’s different from the VCUL Search. I thought I had been doing a good job, apparently not. I’m going to work on some specific language to use in my next classes to make sure I’m getting the point across every time.
  • A few times I was going too fast when demonstrating the search. It’s so hard to squeeze everything in! I wish I had multiple sessions for every class so I could do everything! And often, by the time I get to the demonstration, I can tell that the students are getting antsy. They’re done listening to me, and I can tell, so I think I go a little too fast just to get it over with. Well guess what students, I’m slowing down now!
  • Instead of showing them the subject guides immediately after the VCUL Search, give them a break, let them try for a few minutes, and then regroup to show them those additional resources. This might help alleviate my issue with going too fast. I’m doing the search, knowing there’s still more stuff to come, so I rush. Instead of rushing to get it over with, I can slow down hoping that I won’t lose them because they’ll be getting a break soon.
  • I try to explain subject tags in a few different ways. Sometimes I use email subject headers (so far hasn’t been effective, so I’m going to stop doing that altogether), and I either use Twitter or Netflix as parallels. Apparently, Twitter isn’t a good example, which completely blows my mind. Twitter started when I was in college, and I know tons of people who were using it then. The women I advise in Tri Sigma are all over Twitter. My 20 year old sister tweets a couple of times an hour. So I have a really hard time believing that students don’t get my Twitter reference. But I guess I could be wrong. So maybe I’ll just switch completely over using Netflix, or try doing a survey of students before I make the reference – how many of them actually use Twitter? And make a reference based on that.
  • Finally, I need to promote myself better.. I do a great job or reinforcing the idea that they can get help from a librarian, but not so much that they can get help from me.. It was suggested that I bring in my business cards to leave at the back of the room. I used to, but found that very few, if any students, took my cards. Instead, I started putting my email in the footer of the worksheets they do. My boss suggested that I keep putting cards in the back, just in case, and ask the instructor to help push the cards on students. I guess it doesn’t hurt to do that.

These are some great suggestions, and most of them are some quick easy fixes, others I’m going to have to write down a few times to try to remember them and get them into my system. But I’m really glad to finally have gotten some good feedback. I talked to my boss about the information I got from the Peer Coaching book, and she thought it was a great idea. We might start looking at implementing a system like this for the fall for our instructional services team, and I think it will be really helpful in constantly improving our teaching, and getting new ideas from each other.

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