The Collective: from improv to instruction (and everything in between)

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Last month, I attended The Collective 2016, an innovative library conference centered on library practice. (It only took me over thirty days to write a summary!) The conference was highly interactive and aimed at fostering collaborative idea development and networking through hands-on, workshop-style sessions. It was great!

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Table games, anyone? Me, upper left. (Image courtesy of @Anitalifedotcom)

The conference started with an icebreaker session. You know, one of those activities that starts with “get up and move to a table of people you don’t know.” (I didn’t, by the way…) But instead of just making small talk or even having to talk about anything specific at all, we played board games. Who doesn’t like board games? My table played jumbo Jenga. Our tower was very tall and it never fell! Yay us!

Improv as professional practice

The first session I attended was about using improv as a tool for professional practice, both in the classroom and out. My wonderful colleague, Christina, introduced me to improv a few years ago, at an in-house library event, so I was familiar with the concept. I’d also taken an improv workshop, due to the influence of said wonderful colleague. I was interested, though, in seeing how it could be used as a professional tool.

We started by doing an exercise on “Yes, and” in which the main speaker provided a statement and the participants replied enthusiastically with, “Yes, and?!” Jill Markgraf, the session presenter, made the correlation to providing front-facing library services and being mindful of approaches to the research facilitation process. Recognizing students’ place in the research process, rather than looking down on or criticizing them for either getting a false start or not knowing where to start is important. Even seeking help is worth affirming, because we’re all learners and have to start somewhere. So the “yes” is affirming and the “and” builds on that by offering suggestions, guidance, or redirection.

The other activity that stood out to me was Good, Bad, and Ugly. It is a role-play scenario in which three individuals take on the parts of experts in field and provide feedback on, well, the good, the bad, and the ugly. A statement or situation is provided by the facilitator. The “good” persona talks about all the positive elements; the “bad” persona talks about negatives; and the “ugly” persona gives extreme worst case examples of everything. This being a library conference, somehow everything kept coming back to alcohol. I felt kinda sorry for the good persona when someone in the room asked about diversity in librarianship and she couldn’t think of anything to say off the top of her head. Being that I’ve always got my nose in some article or book on the topic, I was mentally squirming in my seat, thinking, “Oooh! Pick me! Pick me!”

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Librarians improvising. (Image from Library Improv)

Jill suggested using this activity as an ice breaker for departmental meetings. Librarians, in my experience, can be people of strong opinions. Get a bunch of people in one room to discuss changing things and it could take a while, so I could see how it could be a useful way to acknowledge feelings and worst case scenarios while keeping things light.

After the session, I went to Jill’s Library Improv website and found the Keyword Taboo activity, which I used later in a class. It went swimmingly, so I will keep her site in mind for future instruction brainstorming.

 

Instructional design and teaching strategies

I went to a lot of sessions that dealt with designing and improving instruction. Because I am currently teaching a three-credit, semester length course, I felt I could use some help with brainstorming for effective teaching, particularly because, at the time, I was still working on shaping the final project. Sessions I attended covered problem-based learning, creative planning and problem solving, instructional design, and designing one-shot instruction with an eye towards the framework. Like I said, it was a lot of instruction stuff.

The instruction process in academic librarianship involves a lot of complicated pieces. Being faculty, there is that expectation of instruction and research, but most librarians don’t teach semester length courses. Instructional support often happens in conjunction with teaching faculty in various departments, most often the ones affiliated with liaison areas. One of the sessions I attended involved planning one-shot instruction sessions under different circumstances. Such as, you talked to the teaching faculty, made all your plans, and then arrived at the classroom to find you only have twenty minutes to talk. Or, a professor asks you to come speak to their class, but the instruction isn’t tied to any project or assignment. There were also optimal scenarios, such as, you have a three session series in which to cover basic IL concepts related to X discipline and your students are freshmen.

One of the things I appreciated most about the conference was the opportunity to gain hands-on practice in instructional and curricular design. Too, the reason it was valuable was because of the opportunity for collaborative planning and feedback from the session facilitators. Chatting with one of the facilitators during the  “Make it Beautiful, Make it Usable: Improving Instructional Materials for Today’s Learners” session gave me ideas for developing the final project(s) for my adjunct course. Also, seeing how different libraries in different academic communities have developed and used lessons to address student learning outcomes.

Most of the assessment programming I attended was focused on a programmic level. I’m also interested in assessing student learning in single-shot, series, and semester length courses. What does assessment look like on an informal vs. formal basis? How are these measures used to improve student learning, instruction, and match (curriculum mapping)?

As a side note, one of the sessions I attended was facilitated by a librarian and a professor from my alma mater. I couldn’t resist going up to them later and saying, Hey! I used to be a student here, but now I’m a librarian too! I think I was more tickled about that than they were.

More Info

If you’re interested in learning more about the programming, you can view community notes, handouts, and PPT slides via Sched. You can also find archived live tweeting of the conference here or via #libcol16.

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