8.6 (Reflecting on) Teaching and Training Skills

From the PKSB

“Understand and apply skills for effective teaching and training; awareness of how people learn and understanding of the learning experience, design and deliver a range of learning activities for specific audiences/users; undertake assessment and give feedback; evaluate experiences

I initially gave myself a ‘2’ on this section of the PKSB, rating myself as having a ‘good’ understanding of the concepts, principles and theories surrounding this area. My aim is to rise to a ‘3’, and be able to apply this understanding to my day-to-day work.

Radical happens whenever the assumptions around which we base our learning and practice are called into question and scrutinized in democratic, participatory ways. (Whitworth, 2014).

I’ve chosen to look at teaching over the last week or so because a) it is one of my favourite parts of the job and b) after being so inspired by Darren Flynn’s talk at the Get Career Ready event last month I realised how little I actually know about teaching, and how ineffective the teaching I have been previously doing has been. There is a wealth of difference between having the confidence to stand in front of a hall of people and lecture then about a subject-if I’m honest I find public speaking far easier than small talk -and leading a session where the participants actually go away having learnt a skill or process they could now feasibly put into practice.

The most important thing I have learnt is that all lessons must engage the learners, and must allow them to take away skills they did not have before, and that as teachers our job is to make sure that learning has occurred and if it has not reflect on why it has not.

I read the chapter of Andrew Whitworth’s ‘Radical Information Literacy’ (2014) made available through the Radical Information Literacy webinar and was struck by this quote, taken from Matusou, (2011).

“The goal of education is not to make students have the same understanding as the teacher, but rather to engage them is histrionically valuable discourses, to become familiar with histrionically, culturally and socially important voices, to learn to address these voices and to develop responsible replies to them without an expectation of an agreement or an emerging consensus”

I think is a really valuable way of thinking; one of the biggest lessons I ever took from a teaching session was how much more the whole class got out of it when we debated the use of the database (in this case an ebook platform) I was teaching them about rather than me just wittering on about it. I had started by doing the usual ‘you have to read around your subject’ thing, and showed a few searches, but when the class started questioning why they had to get quotes from other sources when the textbooks had all the answers they needed to pass the course the lesson became about something else entirely; the value of researching purely for the pleasure of knowing that bit more about something. By turning the class around from just demonstrating a product to talking about our values as people, and why I think being able to research and learn is so intrinsically important, some of the students went away valuing the resources and having a meaningful way of connecting with them, demonstrated by me seeing more of them using them in the library for stuff other that for their modules. I would have no idea at all they felt the way they did had I not just gone with my gut and allowed the students to ask me questions not just about the process of using a resource, but the reasons for doing so in the first place. I’m sure some of the students went from that class thinking none of what I said applied to them-but that is what this quote is saying-at least give people the option of thinking about the world differently, if they choose not to then at least they know the option is there. They are being given the tools to take responsibility for their own learning, and if we focus on the needs of the learner in order for them to do that, we will better fulfill the objectives of the lesson.

One thing I know I am guilty of is of meaninglessly demonstrating using a database or a way of searching without encouraging students to be actively involved in the lesson. This is a very easy way of teaching if you don’t have much time to prepare, or are using someone else’s PowerPoint slides you all share as a team. But how do you know that anyone you’re presenting to goes away having understood what you’ve said, or is able to put what you have said into practice. I’m now reading Walsh and Inala’s ‘Active Learning Techniques for Librarians’ (2010) and they clearly state

“Lecturing provides very little scope for reflection or analysis of the material…students cannot process the necessary information presented to them in order to have a full learning experience.”

Over the next year I will be focusing on how to involve the students more in my lesson, and use more ‘active teaching’ methods, such as games and discussions. I love some of the ideas imparted in Walsh and Inala’s book, although I am wary that if I try to make lessons too busy and make all the students participate vocally or physically I will be teaching to a monoculture that is happy to do this. Walsh and Inala say that

“By using more practical activities, tasks or problem solving, it enables librarians to assess the level of knowledge and learning at the point of the activity.”

But what if being unable to fully take part in an activity prevents someone who may actually have a high level of knowledge about something from being accurately assessed?

I think that teaching is a subject that could be quite visceral, with lots of different theories and practices mentioned that I am finding out about every day. One could spend one’s life ‘what if’ing and I think one of the larger struggles I’m going to find is balancing out the theories and values with the more practical ‘getting the job done’ side of teaching. But the same could go from librarianship in general…

My plan is to fulfill the criteria of the PKSB by designing a delivering training sessions using various teaching methods, both remotely, and ‘Active’ learning sessions. I will then evaluate these sessions as part of my Chartership portfolio.

I am also attending the ‘Making (non-digital) games for libraries’ workshop on the 1 May in Dublin in order to further expand on my knowledge of active learning techniques and library games, and hopefully get some inspiration for my sessions!

One thing is for sure, I definitely want to do a ‘proper’ teaching qualification in the future, if only to expand on the fascinating range of theories and styles I’ve come across in this week’s research!

References

Walsh, A. and Inala, P. (2010) ‘Active learning techniques for libraries: practical examples”. Oxford: Chandos

Whitworth, A. (2014) ‘Radical information literacy’. Oxford: Chandos

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