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Boatwright Library News

April 4, 2013

Wearing Two Hats: Faculty Librarians and First Year Seminars (Part Two)

Three years ago the University of Richmond replaced the required Core course with First-Year Seminars (FYS).   Because one of the FYS program’s stated goals is to “develop the fundamentals of information literacy and library research,” it has been an ideal opportunity for liaison librarians to work closely with multiple class sections.   Two librarians, Linda Fairtile and Marcia Whitehead, have taken it a step further and taught their own FYS courses. Dr. Marcia Whitehead's reflections on this experience are featured in this issue.

Teaching a First-Year Seminar (mine is called "The Search for the Self") has reminded me at times of my seventh grade Home Economics class, the purpose of which was to teach me such useful skills as cooking and sewing, but which was also designed to produce outcomes based on the content of the lessons—applesauce for a single cooking class or a pinafore style apron for a semester of sewing.  Similarly, in an FYS, some skills (like making applesauce) can be mastered in a single class, and some take an entire semester to produce a creation with uneven stitches and crooked trim.  As an instructor, the most important thing for me to remember is that, in order for the students to learn how to choose materials, weigh or measure, cut or chop, mix or stitch, they actually have to do it.  And then do it again. And again.

As a librarian, I know well that most students cannot replicate a process they have seen demonstrated only once, still less one they have only heard described.  I can’t either. Once I have learned a process, I have to repeat it at frequent intervals if I am not to forget it.  So must they. My first year students may prefer variety, but they learn from repetition. They like the sense of autonomy that comes from being allowed to choose some of the course reading material; my goal is for them to learn to conduct research by searching for, selecting, and evaluating those texts, not once, but several times over the course of the semester.  Since the subject of the course embraces nearly every discipline it’s hard for them to choose anything topically irrelevant. But the challenge isn’t just to make applesauce; it’s to make applesauce you want to eat.  Whatever they choose becomes the assigned reading for the entire class. The selectors don’t just have to read it; they have to lead the discussion. Sometimes the applesauce is delicious; sometimes it goes up in flames. If they learn what kinds of articles to pick and how to prepare mentally for a lively discussion then the day is well spent, even if the article itself is not a significant contribution to the literature.

The experience of teaching a First-Year Seminar--three times now--and seeing it through a major revision makes me appreciate the flexibility of “one-shot” library sessions.  If a strategy fails there, I have another opportunity in a week or so to try something else—with a different class. On the other hand, as a librarian, I have little opportunity for follow-up with the same students. I only know whether or not the individual class sessions go well, not whether the students actually grasp, employ, and retain the skills and concepts I try to impart.  If I have the opportunity to teach my FYS again, I will think more about the apron—the semester long process of creating pieces and integrating them into a larger product.  I will include more reflective writing by the students about the choices they made, why they made them, and what they learned from both their successes and their failures. In the meantime, I am unpicking quite a few stitches myself.

- Dr. Marcia Whitehead

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Visit the Rare Book Room Monday - Thursday, 1-5 p.m.
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Upcoming Library Events

"Food For Fines" Day
Information & Assistance Desk
Monday, April 15, 2013

"Edible Books" Display
Boatwright Library Lobby
Monday, April 15, 2013

"MakerSpace in Boatwright"
Research & Collaborative Area, 1st Floor
April 16 and 17, 2:30 - 5:00 p.m.

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