It’s been a year and a half since I assumed liaison responsibilities to the English department at MPOW. I won’t claim to have blossomed into the world’s best liaison, but I have been teaching one-shot instruction sessions on a regular basis. If you’ve spent any time in the instruction/information literacy world, then you know that most librarians are not a fan of the one-shot session. I’ve been “victim” to all the usual complaints: bad timing, course materials aren’t shared, limited time, no pre/post assessment, late notice, no stakes in the assignment, etc.

Certainly, I could spend more time cultivating my department to take these sessions more seriously. But after the chance to integrate information literacy concepts into full courses via our Digital Humanities curriculum, it makes more sense to invest my time in that form of pedagogy. I’m not going to stop accepting one-shot requests, but I am going to stop expecting more than is reasonable. What can I really accomplish in thirty minutes with first-year writing students? What are the most useful things for students to learn at this point in the semester?

When I first started developing a one-shot presentation, I was fresh off of several meetings about the new ACRL Framework. I had just read David Weinberger’s Too big to know : rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. This was all useful context, but I was overwhelmed by material to cover. I attempted to distill Weinberger’s book into a couple concepts that I could share with students, including: 1) filter failure as a mental model for information overload and 2) how the internet changed the storage and retrieval of information and knowledge gatekeepers. I used the “filter failure” idea to encourage the use of filters in whatever database students are using. I used the changing nature of information to explain some of the library’s (ancient in the eyes of students, and let’s be real, myself) organizational principles. I also tried to work in the “information has value” framework by making students guess our annual collections budget (I still do this. They are always blown away.). These concepts were useful for my own thinking, but I struggled to incorporate them into instruction in a non-prescriptive way.

A few weeks ago I had a spare morning before an afternoon one-shot and decided to redo my entire presentation. First, I reviewed results from a two-question survey I had administered to a few Writing 100 courses last year. The questions were: 1) What is the most confusing thing about the library and 2) What is the most confusing thing about research? Most of the responses to the first question related to how the library and the collection were organized. The answers to the second question were more useful. Students listed a range of concerns: how to get started, how to cite properly, what makes a good source, and my favorite, “I’m scared of plagiarism and getting kicked out.” From these 40+ responses, I determined the most frequently asked questions, sorted them to mirror the research process, then bookended them with some context-setting questions. The results:

  • What is the academic library?
  • Where do I start?
  • How do I know what keywords to use?
  • How do I go further?
  • What makes a good source?
  • How do I organize my research?
  • What if I need more help?

I realized that the FAQ format would be a great way to attempt to encourage student participation. In my presentations, I try to solicit answers to all questions before volunteering my own. This gives students a chance to share knowledge they might have already gained through other classes or experiences. It is also a useful model for dealing with varying levels of student participation. Some classes are chatty and willing to ask/answer questions throughout, others are definitely not. I can also keep this template for upper-level students by modifying my answers for more in-depth research.

So far I’ve used this new slidedeck in a few Writing 100 courses. The presentations feel smoother, more useful, and more interactive. I know I need to find a way to work in assessment, but it’s great to finally have a flexible structure for these class visits.