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Archive for the ‘Experiential Learning’ Category

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

Fail Better

with 2 comments

Sue Wortman, Social Work Librarian at the Hatcher Graduate Library, recently discovered a TED talk of interest to instructors.  Sue has graciously accepted the invitation of the Instructor College Steering Committee to create a guest post for the Instructor College blog.  We hope that the post will open a conversation here on the blog.  We invite you to share your thoughts and reactions.



by Flickr user tainasnov

Back in December I sent around a link to a TED talk by Diana Laufenberg called “How to learn? From mistakes,” thinking it had a number of things for librarian instructors to consider.  Ms. Laufenberg is an energetic and inspiring young public school teacher who described her experiences teaching both high school and middle school students.  Her teaching experiences have included working at a rural Kansas high school, an Arizona middle school and most recently she teaches at the Science Leadership Academy, a school sponsored by the Philadelphia Public Schools and the Franklin Institute for students in grades 9-12.

Designing Experiential Learning

In this TED talk which lasts barely ten minutes Diana Laufenberg gives three concrete examples of assignments she gave students at her three different schools.  The assignments demonstrate beautifully the use of experiential learning, or what she calls an “authentic experience.”  For one assignment in a high school government class Laufenberg required her students to put on an election forum for their community.  Another assignment involved middle school geography students creating their own short movies, explaining what they intended to do with their lives to bring about positive change. In the third assignment students developed informative graphic posters which explained some natural disaster which took place in history. As part of this last assignment students critiqued each other’s posters, discussing both the positive and the negative.

Each of these assignments stretched students. Laufenberg expected a lot from her students and they didn’t fail her.  She didn’t spoon-feed students, or teach to standardized tests. She gave them an experience and then stepped back to take the part of mentor,  counselor or facilitator to guide them.  She mentioned that more experienced teachers thought she was being too idealistic and implied that they thought she’d soon become jaded toward the students’ abilities, like they were.  It takes courage to get out of your comfort zone and try something different. That goes for teachers as well as students. Sir Ken Robinson, in one of the most viewed TED talks ever states this succinctly when he says, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with anything original.”

Prepared to Fail?


by Flickr user fireflythegreat

I think this quote gets to the very heart of learning. When we teach students about the library are we prepared to let them fail in order to let them learn? What might that look like? I don’t have the answer to this but I would welcome discussion.  And it’s not just students who learn by failing. Teachers, librarian teachers also need to be prepared to fail.

In the past, library sessions were lectures or demonstration, not workshops. Authors Brooks-Harris and Stock-Ward provide a great definition of what a workshop is in their book Workshops: designing and facilitating experiential learning.

A workshop is a short-term learning experience that encourages active, experiential learning and uses a variety of learning activities to meet the needs of diverse learners. [Page 6]

Do the one-shot library instruction workshops we offer conform to this definition? It’s very hard in the short time we have with students to create a workshop which encourages active, experiential learning and by trying sometimes we may fail in our attempts.

Outside of the Comfort Zone

Last week I tried involving MSW level students in a discussion about formulating a search. I was trying to explain the process of coming up with a research question and then deciding where to search for articles and which search terms to use. I used the recent example of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s’ shooting to suggest I was trying to formulate a research question. I wasn’t specific but I said I wanted to see if I could find articles which connected extreme political views and the lack of civility with violence in democracy in the U.S.  I was purposely vague about the question and asked for suggestions for making it clearer.  In other sessions where I’ve tried to teach students about searching I primarily went with the “canned search.”  I knew which database and exactly which terms to use to get the best results. No chance of failure on my part there. This was different. There was more buy-in when students worked together to come up with the question they wanted to answer as well as the search terms to use.

We dissected the question into major topics and I listed possible search terms on the board as I normally do but even when the class was letting out I overheard students telling each other which search terms worked best for them: “I found that using (left and right) instead of (left wing and right wing) worked better.”

Teaching vs. Facilitating

I see the connection between this class and Diana Laufenberg’s classes. I wasn’t so much teaching as facilitating. This is another important concept covered by Brooks-Harris and Stock-Ward in their book mentioned above. Being a facilitator is a much more active role than being an instructor or teacher.  This may be a real paradigm shift for most of us. The facilitator role leads to experiential learning, according to these authors.  Failure and experience go hand in hand. I got a great quote from my niece this week on Facebook, “Experience is a hard teacher. She gives the test first and the lessons afterwards.” Vernon Law, a pitcher for the Pirates back in the 1950s said that.

More Food for Thought

If you’re interested in reading more from Brooks-Harris and Stock-Ward’s book and can’t get to it from the library (I have it!) you can see most of the first chapter on Google Books.

Here’s another good quote, “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” – John Dewey


Thanks, again, to Sue for this thought-provoking post.  Now, tell us what you think.  As a library instructor, do you give your students the opportunity to learn from failure?  What experience do you have facilitating experiential learning?  What are your thoughts or concerns about this model of teaching and learning?

Written by Instructor College

January 24, 2011 at 3:49 pm