Moving to the Online Arena

I always knew that I’d eventually return to the original subject of this blog–how we can apply research & literature from the field of education in academic libraries. And here we are!

My colleague Lorrie and I will be presenting at the LILAC 2019 conference in Nottingham, UK–and we’re pretty darn psyched, by the way. One of our two workshops will be on a subject that is dear to our professional hearts & central to our work: modifying the techniques that we use for “in-person” information literacy instruction sessions for online courses. In other words, that music professor who we’ve taught for in person for five years gets her first online section of Music Appreciation, and we work together to determine how best to embed information literacy skills in the course. Good stuff.

By good fortune (and general interest in the subject), I took a course from CU Online titled Online Skills Mastery last summer. Concepts in the course are based partially on Aaron Johnson’s Excellent Online Teaching: Effective Strategies for a Successful Semester Online. (You can also learn more though Aaron’s Excellent Online Teaching site.) Online Skills Mastery helps faculty plan how they will teach superior-quality online courses. Even though I did not have any credit-bearing courses in the works at the time, I found the course very valuable. Full disclosure, just like many colleagues in our field, I had a difficult time adapting the lessons from the course for a while. Same set of problems/excuses–I would use all of this if [I had the students for the whole semester…if I knew the students better…if I actually had a syllabus and assignments…et cetera, et cetera, et cetera].

Then I actually listened to my own advice and said, this is valuable stuff! How can I adapt it to my own teaching landscape? Without further ado, here are several lessons from Excellent Online Teaching that have helped to strengthen my own online library instruction.

Embed your personality. This was a revelation for me! I bring a lot of personality to in-person instruction. But in the past, my online instruction sessions & tools for asynchronous teaching focused on the message and almost purposefully separated out any hints of personality. Now I’ve learned to put a myself into online instruction (sparingly, though) through the examples I choose & the narratives I use to present them, through the ways in which I introduce myself & converse with the students (synchronously or asynchronously), and through even simpler techniques like making sure that students see a photo or video showing me. After all, we often say in academic libraries, make sure that the students know that there’s a real person there to help them.

Communicate regularly (and do it well). Aaron’s best practices for communicating regularly provided a couple of eureka moments for me. (These points come from Chapter 4 of Excellent Teaching Online; learn much more there.) I can easily modify them for courses with which I have a semester-long relationship. I can also use them as inspiration for the ways I follow up with students from one-shot sessions. The most insightful points for me were [paraphrased]:

  • Each message should help students find a starting point with some part of their work. Thinking about the questions that students send my way, this makes a lot of sense.
  • Explain why the instructions you’re giving the students matter.
  • Make expectations clear. Be specific about what we’re looking for, or what a successful application of skills will look like.
  • And, of course, encourage students. This may be easy or difficult for you as an individual teacher. I believe that a little extra encouragement is something powerful that we librarians can provide–a supportive “ally” relationship.

It’s well worth finding a copy of Aaron’s book and/or checking out his website. These and other principles can easily be modified for your information literacy instruction.

Please let me know how these are working for you–or if there are other principles of good online teaching that you’ve adapted for online environments.

 

Reference

Johnson, A. (2013). Excellent online teaching: Effective strategies for a successful semester online. Amazon Digital Services.

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