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Teaching and Learning Together: The U-M Library’s Festival of Learning

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Guest post by Emily Puckett Rodgers, Special Projects Librarian

While learning about knitting or cake decorating may not seem like professional development to most people, the act of teaching and the act of learning can be very powerful, especially if it is interest-driven. The staff at the University of Michigan Library are deeply involved in supporting learning at all levels: the identification, access and organization of information to inform learning, the instruction of techniques to support learning, and the provision of tools and services that can drive learning. However, not all of our staff (over four hundred) often engage in the act of learning and teaching ourselves.

Photo of Learn How to Make a Book session

Annette Haines teaches library staff how to make books.

Constance Steinkuehler, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin started out studying online games and literacy. What she stumbled upon was the fact that when students are genuinely passionate about learning more on a subject, their learning intensifies and opportunities for teaching can arise. Often our professional development opportunities put us in the professional learner’s seat and we don’t always get the chance to embody the teaching role or be a student of the world. We’re also starting to pay attention to how learners drive their learning outside formal learning settings, as seen in the research done by the Connected Learning Research Network.

In a large university library with several distinct divisions, it can be hard to gain a holistic picture of how all the pieces fit together, even for the staff. We have opportunities to learn and to teach more about each other through social events and speed-networking events, but these can either lack a hook (an incentive to walk up to someone you don’t know and start chatting) or are still role-based (The question “what do you do?” can be daunting to start a conversation around). As one of the world’s leading libraries, we are expected to be forward thinking and innovative. According to Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo, this state often requires three things: curiosity, an open mind, and a trusted space to take risk.

These features, supporting passion and participatory based learning and connecting library staff based on interest rather than responsibility, catalyzed my interest in organizing the University Library Festival of Learning, held in August 2013. Upon administrative approval, an interlibrary committee was formed to organize the Festival of Learning and it took place in August 2013.

A call for sessions was posted and we had over twenty staff from almost every unit propose a teaching session. Many of these staff had never formally taught before but we required that they provide learning objects and develop some sort of lesson plan for their students. Some sessions were lecture based and others were hands-on. Many teachers brought supplies for others to use to create things like handmade books, jewelry, knitting, and origami. This gave each teacher an opportunity to embrace the role of an instructor and define what they wanted their peers to gain from the experience. By stepping into the role of ‘teacher,’ these participants were given the challenge to create an experience both fun and informative for their peers. This setting developed a safe space to take what otherwise may be a daunting risk (getting up in front of others and being responsible for ‘teaching’ them something). This skill can be applied across several settings from team-based projects and committee work to representing the library on a local or regional scale.

From the learner perspective, this gave library staff a chance to connect with their peers on a topic that was interest-driven rather than professional. Regardless of rank, responsibility, or role, all the participants in a single session came together based on a common interest. This interest can now fuel additional conversations and possible collaborations across units. As an organizer of the Festival of Learning, I got to know library staff across physical locations and units that I might otherwise never work with. I was able to connect with managers and staff who have years of experience compared to my few years at the start of my career. Because of this introduction, I can now call on them if I have a question or a need from their domain of responsibility.

This opportunity gave over 150 participants from across the library an outlet to: embody and practice teaching, connect with their colleagues, and forge new relationships. You can read more about this event from the perspective of maker culture on the MakerBridge blog.


Written by Instructor College

October 8, 2013 at 10:21 am

Active Learning Panel

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Instructor College hosted an Active Learning Panel on May 24, 2013. Thirty librarians attended and heard from five colleagues, each of whom demonstrated an active learning exercise used in instruction.

Steve Lonn presented VoiceThread. VoiceThread is an online presentation tool that is unique because of the multiple options for audience members to add public comments. Students can type text comments, record audio and/or video comments, and also draw on slides to annotate them.

For some classes Steve teaches, he preloads slides into a VoiceThread presentation. Some of the slides prompt students to reflect about their own practice. In the end, the presentation is one part Steve’s original content and many parts student contribution.

During Steve’s presentation, we were encouraged to one-click register with VoiceThread, then experiment with commenting on a sample VoiceThread. We then discussed some ways librarians might use VoiceThread, perhaps during instruction, or maybe as a pre- or post-instruction activity.

Our second presenter was Mark MacEachern, who talked about Clinical Case instruction for medical students. Health Science instruction mimics the real-life environment, where clinicians will be faced with medical questions and will need to use the library resources to find answers.

In these clinical cases, the Librarian instructors present students with questions based on real medical cases. The Librarians then suggest resources that the students will find useful. Students then search for information that they can use to diagnose the health problem and suggest a treatment.

Librarians co-teach with medical school faculty, who comment on the results reported by the students. Librarians then highlight the strengths of the various resources.

Following Mark’s presentation, Catherine Morse presented on an exercise that she uses in a UC 370 class. Catherine begins this exercise by talking about how difficult data are to find. She also talks about users of data need to understand the data, and how research methods influence the data that come from studies.

To illustrate, Catherine gives her students an exercise where they find census data from their hometowns. By looking at how the data are reported through the years, Catherine is able to open a discussion of how census forms have evolved over time, and how the changes to how questions have changed how data on populations are reported.

Amanda Peters followed Catherine’s presentation with a demonstration of a Database Searching exercise use with undergraduate students. This exercise gives groups of students assigned databases and questions to search in them.

After students have had time to work with the databases, they report out to the larger group on what they’ve found: The types of articles indexed, whether full textis available in the database, and what options for citing are available. As students report out, Amanda comments on their search strategies and on strengths and weaknesses of the different databases.

With this exercise, Amanda finds that students immediately apply the skills that they learn in the early part of the instruction session, and they also learn from their peers.

Susan Turkel gave the final presentation. Susan presented a quality exercise that she uses in Psychology instruction. Students work together in pairs to answer the question, “How do you figure out which search results are good?” – or which are the higher quality search results that instructors will want to see cited in papers.

As students report out to the larger group, Susan discusses their results with them and fills in the blanks. In a final part of the exercise, Susan passes out lists of references for students to review. She asks them to make notes about the pros and cons of the various references and whether students would use these references for their papers or not.

A heartfelt Thank You to all presenters! Materials can be accessed at MBox:

Written by Instructor College

June 13, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Many Will Register, Few Will Complete

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MLibrary Study Group : Coursera E-learning and Digital Cultures

It probably went pretty much as we would have predicted.  A dozen Library staff showed up for our first study group in late January and, six weeks later, exactly two of us turned in the final course project.  That mirrors the 10% completion rate posted by the major MOOCs last year (Check out researcher Katy Jordan’s interactive data visualization).

Coursera’s “E-learning and Digital Cultures” class was offered by the University of Edinburgh, and was promoted as an exploration on “how digital cultures intersect with learning cultures online, and how our ideas about online education are shaped through “narratives”, or big stories, about the relationship between people and technology.”  It sounded like a great topic for the Instructor College, and the Steering Committee decided to organize an in-person study group for anyone interested in following or enrolling in the class.  Our plan was to meet at least three times over the course of the five-week course.

Our initial face-to-face meeting included participants with a variety of library affiliations.  North, medical, and central campus were all represented, as were public services and tech services.  About half were mostly just curious — about the topic of the course;  about others’ experiences and expectations;  about whether and how we might study together with such divergent goals for participation.  In that regard, I hope our first meeting was a success for all.

The course was designed with just one creative final project, and that wasn’t due until the last week of class.  Between Week 1 and Week 5, Coursera students were expected to engage in the material and with other students as appropriate.  At scale, that seemed to mean that, like water, we would seek our own level. Courserans (that’s what they call ’em) with like-minded expectations, learning styles, and social media preferences would find each other in the Discussion board, on Twitter, Pintrest, Flickr, Google+, etc.. There/where-ever, they shared stories, opinions, and predictions about the impact of digital technology on civilization.  MOOCs and education theory were common threads, but no more common than personal rants and creative license.

Graduate students from University of Edinburgh (presumably, tuition-paying souls) were simultaneously enrolled in the class.  Carl Berger style, they were tasked with designing the curriculum and meta-cognating on the course experience.  Each was responsible for monitoring multiple interaction channels, synthesizing our collective experience, and presenting their interpretation via new-media to the world.  My personal favorite captures the sense of commotion through a collection of text snippets posted by course participants:

Meanwhile in the brick and mortar of Harlan Hatcher, a handful of us met every week or so to watch the assigned videos and discuss the readings.  The videos were short and provocative, exploring the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Technology as sinister and savior. A sampling:

Bendito Machine III (
Inbox (
A Day Made of Glass (
Sight (
They’re Made Out Of Meat (

Our last few study groups focused on the progress a few of us were making on our final projects* and the progress the rest of us had abandoned due to more pressing commitments and a nasty flu bug.  Conversation turned to our complex feelings about failure and success in this unique learning environment.  How might our feelings (and actions) have changed if we had paid tuition?  What if the final project wasn’t peer-graded, or creative and exploratory?  To what extent did we stretch ourselves, to what extent did we learn — independently or from each other — regardless?

Speaking of learning from the experience, I recently stumbled upon the Edinburgh teaching team’s blog (  If you’re interested in instructional design, you may it informative.  Their most recent post is rather technical, but others are more pedagogically reflective.

Instructor College is considering another MOOC study group if we can identify another course on a topic of general interest to MLibrary staff.  Let us know if you have any suggestions.

Submitted by Diana Perpich, Instructor College Steering Committee Member

*Over 500 available at Flickr, search for #EDCMOOC

Written by Instructor College

March 31, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Posted in Events

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Instructor College End-of-Semester Instruction Event

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Image Courtesy of MLibrary at

Image Courtesy of MLibrary at

On December 17, 2012, the Instructor College hosted a program in which University of Michigan library instructors could reflect on the past semester. The Instructor College Steering Committee (ICSC) also reported on the activities that it coordinated over the last semester. Fifteen library instructors attended.

Fall 2012 Instructor College Steering Report

The ICSC conducted a survey of its members to determine its priorities over the 2012/2013 academic year. The committee will be working on a program similar to a reading group, a method for library instructors to formally discover ideas about a specific topic over time. The ICSC also hosted a new instructor luncheon with 3 new librarians to discuss the purpose of the Instructor College and how these new instructors could get help with teaching. A committee member met separately with another new librarian about these same topics. Finally, the ICSC could not report on the future of the Michigan Instruction Exchange but have been working to continue this program.

Fall 2012 Reflection Activities

Getting To Know You …

The event included a formal mixing activity.  Library instructors were given an index card with one of the following questions on it.

  • What are some of the ways you’ve worked with faculty this semester to integrate the library into their courses?
  • What do you see as the biggest instructional need of your target audience this semester?
  • How do you see library instruction changing in the next two years?
  • What is your favorite instruction “trick” (strategy, exercise, example, etc.), and why?
  • How do you develop rapport with students?
  • How do you start your instruction session in a way that acknowledges the students’ prior knowledge but also shows them that they need to learn more?

Librarians then found partners and asked each other the questions on their cards. After they finished answering the questions, they exchanged cards to get a new question and then found a new partner. After the activity, the whole group discussed some of the ideas that came out of this process. These thoughts included

  • Making connections with students prior to the session is important for a successful class.
  • Any “flipping” idea, including requiring one-on-one sessions with the librarian or the assignment of an instruction video prior to class, is more successful if the student can receive course credit.
  • Some librarians thought that the physical classroom setting did not always have an impact. Others had strong preferences for specific spaces and equipment. Most of all, flexibility from the librarians, students and faculty members were key in this area.
Fall 2012 Plus/Wish Activity

In the third part of the program, attendees chose small groups and then wrote down what worked well in their instruction and what they wished they would have done throughout the semester. They shared these reflections with the small group and then with the entire group. Some of their thoughts included

  • Sometimes there is miscommunication about the types of students that you will be teaching. You have to get over that as soon as possible and adapt your lesson quickly.
  • Many library instructors wished they could do more pre-assessment.
  • The complexity of information literacy makes one shot teaching difficult to complete comprehensively. Everything is so contextual it is hard to convey this complexity because each information need is different.
  • An instructor used Poll Everywhere successfully this semester.

Written by Instructor College

December 21, 2012 at 2:09 pm

MIX Conference in 2012

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MIX logoOn August 10, 2012, Instructor College hosted Michigan Instruction Exchange (MIX) conference. This conference was open to all academic library instructors in the state of Michigan. Its main topic was how library instructors could successfully help college students to get better at academic research in an increasingly diverse and overwhelming information environment. 139 librarians from all over the state of Michigan participated in this one-day conference.

This event consisted of four parts: keynote talk, panel discussion with faculty and library instructors, library instruction lightning talks, and networking with colleagues.



First, the keynote talk was given by Susan Gilroy, Librarian for Undergraduate Program for Writing, Widener LIbrary of Harvard College. Susan introduced how librarians of Harvard College Library tried to help new undergraduate students to achieve a significant level of information literacy and critical thinking.


Photo courtesy of Paul Barrow

Harvard College Library was participating in Project of Information Literacy (, which was a national study on early adults and their information-seeking behaviors, competencies, and the challenges they faced when conducting research in the digital age. In this project, librarians of Harvard College Library learned that their undergraduates often had little clue how to conduct research. For example, when they received an assignment, they tended to think about simply what their instructor wanted from it rather than what was its rationale. To promote critical thinking, Harvard College Library developed a website called “A Library Starter Kit for Harvard Freshmen” ( Librarians used it to help new college students explore and learn about library materials and to guide them to properly conduct research.

As you undertake these first projects, remember that good researchers are made, not born. Through trial and error, given sufficient opportunities to practice, and with a bit of coaching, you acquire these skill sets, work habits, and intellectual behaviors.  But you’ll do so only over time.  One research experience, one library session, one year at Harvard won’t teach you everything you need to know to move effortlessly in the library’s research environment, and even after four years here, you may end up using just a fraction of the collections that have taken us nearly four centuries to build.  (From A Library Starter Kit for Harvard Freshmen website)

 Susan’s Keynote talk is available here.

Speed Networking


Photo courtesy of Paul Barrow

 After the keynote presentation, all participants were divided into three groups to participate in a high speed networking session. ICSC task force distributed several questions (e.g. What do you see as the biggest instruction need of your targeted audience? What is your favorite instruction “trick” strategy? etc.) to participants in order to facilitate discussion and help them share their own instruction experiences with each other.

Lightning Talks

We had eight presenters for lightning talks. Presenters offered creative and interesting ideas regarding library instruction, engagement with students and faculty, and the promotion of critical thinking.  Here are some tips from their presentations:

  • IMG_2824

    Randal Baier
    Photo courtesy of Paul Barrow

    Librarians can contribute to improve student engagement by becoming leaders and active participants in faculty development programs or teaching and learning center. (Randal Baier, Media and Arts Librarian, Eastern Michigan University)

  • Applying new technology or instruction methods is no easy task. Rather than giving up when something does not work at the first time, try to use IOR (Implement, Observe and Reflect), i.e., to implement new techniques, observe how they go, and reflect on your observations. (Suzanne Bernstein, Web service Librarian,  Lansing Community College Library)

  • To promote students’ critical thinking and to teach them how to properly conduct research, collaboration between librarians and faculty is vital. (Stephanie Delano Davis, Information Literacy Librarian, Northwestern Michigan College)

  • Metadata of catalog record, Google Translate, Wikipedia, and WorldCat can be some good tools to understand content of non-english resources. (Karen Liston, Librarian III and Liaison ‘for less commonly taught languages, ESL & Int’l Students’, Wayne State University)

  • Peer tutor library service can provide authority-free environment when college students conduct a research. (Mary O’Kelly, Head of Instructional Services, Grand Valley State University)

  • Group project-oriented assignments is a useful method to improve student information literacy because it allows students to see the information in context, makes them understand the limitation of their own abilities, and have them open to new research approaches. (Marcus Richter & Steve Vest, Technical Services Librarian & Reference Librarian, Alma College)

  • Assigning group projects and using free software are some of good strategies to improve interactivity in online instruction session. (Bath walker, Director of Libraries, College for Creative Studies)

Video of Lightning Talk is available here

Faculty/Librarian Panel Talk

Leena Lalwani (Coordinator for Arts & Engineering Collection at the Art, Architecture and Engineering Library (AAEL), UM), Johannes Schwank (Professor of Chemical Engineering, UM), Amana Peters (Learning Communities Librarian, UM), and Joe Horton (Lecturer in the English Department Writing Program, UM) discussed active learning, and Scott Dennis (Humanities Librarian and Coordinator of Core Electronic Resources, UM) moderated this discussion.

Professor Schwank and Ms. Lalwani talked about how they collaborated to help students of engineering to complete practical group project, which was one of assignments in Professor Schwank’s class. Joe Horton and Amanda Peters explained how a undergraduate instruction librarian team of University of Michigan worked together with faculty in promoting active learning among new undergraduate students. They also talked about the usefulness of CTools as a communication tool  among faculty, librarians and students, a librarian’s role in a literature review stage, and the assessment of library instruction.

Video of panel discussion is available here.


Photo courtesy of Paul Barrow

Written by Instructor College

August 31, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Posted in Events, ICSC

Tagged with

Instructional Exchange brought to you by the MLibrary Instructor College Steering Committee

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In case you missed it, the Instructor College Steering Committee sponsored an event in December providing an opportunity for library staff to meet with their colleagues and share ideas about instruction. The format of the event was simply designed, providing a casual environment where staff participated in ‘speed sharing,’ listened to three lightening talks, and had the opportunity to share their thoughts in one of three discussion sections. We had twenty-eight participants from all over the library, including DSS, Special Collections, MPublishing, UGL, Grad Reference, Area Programs, Technical Services, the Health Sciences Library, and the Clark Library.

To start the event off participants engaged in three rounds of speed sharing, a spin off of speed dating. All attendees were separated into two separate groups, Maize or Blue, and then asked to sit across from someone not in their group, and preferably someone they did not know. We asked each participant to share with their partners in four minute rotations ‘what was their most effective instruction session from the past semester, and why was it so effective?’ At the end of each round, participants from the Maize group moved one space to the left. The result of such a rapid ice breaker? The majority of our participants agreed they met someone they did not previously know and about half of them indicated that they wanted to follow up with someone they spoke with. We were also fortunate to see some of the tools instructors have created:


Finding evidence based answers


Interactive tutorial to navigate the news

Active Learning

Components of an Active Learning Session

Following a quick wrap up of the speed sharing, we got right into the lightning talks. First up, Whitney Townsend, a Liaison Librarian with the Health Sciences Library. Whitney provided an overview of her application of active learning techniques in instruction sessions. She described active learning as a session where students learn how to use library resources in their own subject area, rather than participating in standalone sessions. In this way students learn to use library resources to tackle one of their own existing problem sets. She also mentioned that active learning is a great way to involve faculty; librarians at the Health Sciences Library team teach with faculty in a single two hour session.

Scott Dennis, the Humanities Librarian and Coordinator, Core Electronic Resources, at the Graduate Library, followed Whitney, demonstrating how he teaches with databases. His key piece of advice for instructors was to create sessions based on the restraints including time, location, and support. Secondly, he expressed that instructors have to think about and do what the students will attempt to do first, then show what resources the Library has and how they function to serve better results than a simple Google search. He also suggested that instructors should provide direct links to databases tailored to each session, in order to ease the find-ability and to encourage use. Finally, he mentioned the need to use real examples, offering to help someone in the class with their research will yield greater participation.

Phil Hallman, the field librarian for the Department of Screen Arts and Cultures, closed out the lightening talks with his approach to designing sessions. Phil indicated that instructors should create their sessions based on the needs of the faculty. As an example, Phil shared that he designed a session for one faculty member who wanted to teach his students how to use microfilm. Phil created a two-part session, where students attended a screening of a classic film, then in a separate session learned to use the older medium, microfilm, to create a commentary of the film. Initially there was student resistance to using the older medium, but slowly students began to broaden their search techniques and developed better research questions.

We concluded the event with three separate discussion sections, focused on the three topics of the lightening talks. Participants were encouraged to join one of three tables and share their thoughts and own experiences with active learning, teaching with technology and designing sessions.  Here are some images we captured from our discussions:

Active Learning Active Learning
Designing Sessions1 Designing Sessions2 Designing Sessions
Teaching Technology Teaching Technology 2 Teaching with Technology

If you were unable to attend our event, walk through the interactive tutorial to navigate the news here, find a video for the lightning talks and see how one instructor created a table to enable her students to find evidence based answers here(authentication required).

Written by Instructor College

February 2, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Using the New MLibrary Evaluation Forms

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Jeffrey Cordell is Instructional Pedagogy Librarian in the Undergraduate Library.  As part of the Assessment Working Group, he has helped to roll out the new evaluation forms being used to assess teaching across the library.

Using Assessment to Build Instruction Strategy

Over the past two years, the library has designed a set of evaluation forms for instruction sessions; over the course of fall semester, we generated reports on those evaluations for each instructor.  At a workshop in late February, individual reports were given out and discussed.  I want to give a sense of what we talked about in that meeting and to share some thoughts about evaluations and their uses for teaching.


Photo by Flickr user COCOEN

If you weren’t able to attend the workshop and would like a copy of your report, contact Jen Green at and ask for one.  As you look over your report, it’s important to remember that while it can tell you much about your teaching, it is not a core sample of who you are as a teacher.  Anytime we represent the experience of teaching and learning numerically, we engage in a kind of fiction or wishful thinking that says that we can capture experience quantitatively—that what happens in the classroom can be anything like adequately expressed through numbers.  It would be nice to think so, because it would mean that the experience of one classroom could be replicated exactly in another, as if all instructors with a 4.5 were doing exactly the same thing.  Rather, the kinds of numbers we see on course evaluation forms are rough approximations of the experience of being a student and inevitably do little to convey the rich complexity of what happens in the classroom, where each instructor works from his or her distinct, incommensurable qualities as a teacher.

Because they are such crude tools, course evaluations can sometimes seem to measure only the entertainment value of a class.  However, I do think they measure something useful, and that something is how students feel about their experience in the classroom.  At first glance, “feelings” may seem too subjective, even irrelevant to the process of finding information, to bother measuring.  After all, learning is not about feelings; it’s about acquiring information.  But learning is always bound up with one’s emotions, and, as Plato told us long ago, learning at its best matches the thrill of falling in love, and is, indeed, indistinguishable from it.  When we truly grasp an idea, we feel it lodge in ourselves, and that always carries with it change, change in our perceptions and, therefore, in who we are.  More pragmatically, there is a sense in which learning becomes more readily available to our consciousness when we’re aware that we are learning.  So, the use of course evaluations comes in part from the measure, however tentative and approximate, of students’ perception of their learning in a class.  While course evaluations cannot do the work of systematic assessment of skills (for that, we need tests), they can suggest to us, however crudely, how students perceive their experience in the classroom and whether they find that experience valuable.

The reports that the library has generated also help us, as instructors, to get a fuller sense of how our teaching fits into the larger mission of the library. The reports present your numbers against the mean for all the responses from a given evaluation form (that is, when you look at your report, you can see whether your numbers are higher, lower, or similar to the library mean for that report, be it “intro,” “advanced,” etc).   That, in turn, can give you a sense of what, in your classes, students seem to appreciate and where you might want to focus your attention as you revise your teaching techniques and in-class exercises.   Often, it’s not even so much a matter of changing how you teach as it is explicitly underscoring for students what it is they’re learning.  An interactive in-class exercise may not be perceived as interactive by your students until you say that it is.  Additionally, the evaluation forms give a sense of what we, as instructors at the library, value and hope to achieve.  On that level, these reports are part of an ongoing conversation that may take in questions such as: what do we consider successful numbers at the library? How do we want to use them (for example, they could be used as part of teaching portfolios)?  What kinds of institutional support would we like to have available to instructors who find things they want to change in their teaching based on these reports?  And so forth.

I have had many years experience in reading and using course evaluations, but, being new to the world of the library, am curious to hear your opinions of the new evaluations and reports, and to hear your ideas about how you are going to use the information they give us.

Written by Instructor College

April 25, 2011 at 3:23 pm