Friday, August 23, 2013

Comp K: Teaching

Design instructional programs based on learning principles and theories.


LIS professionals – even if they do not work in schools or universities – are often called upon to teach. This could be a class for library patrons about using a database, instructing employees on a new computer program, or making a tutorial about e-books for the library website. Therefore, knowing how to teach effectively is a crucial skill for any librarian to have. I took LIBR 287: Seminar in Information Science – Information Literacy to learn some of these skills. I had some experience at work as a teacher of sorts; I was formally trained by my company to teach classes to new employees, but I was just taught rudimentary information about learning styles. In LIBR 287, we studied and applied major learning theories, how to implement the major principles of teaching, and instructional design.

There are three dominant approaches to learning in behavioral science:

  • Behaviorism. Behaviorists believe that learning is achieved when a correct response is given to a certain stimulus. This theory is well-known because of the experiments by Ivan Pavlov in the 1920s on training dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. He conditioned the dogs to give the desired response to a stimulus. B. F. Skinner worked on behaviorism in the 1950s with his operant conditioning chamber (or “Skinner Box”) experiments, encouraging certain behaviors in rats and pigeons with rewards, or discouraging behaviors with punishment. To behaviorists, practice, repetition, and testing are important factors. According to Booth (2011), “Learners are seen as black boxes; information goes in, answers come out” (Kindle Location 1532). This theory has fallen out of favor as cognitivism and constructivism have become more popular.

  • Cognitivism. This theory posits that prior learning affects new learning. The more connections people can make between what they already know and what they are learning, the more meaningful that knowledge becomes (and thus easier to remember and retrieve). Cognitivism became popular in the mid-20th century, replacing behaviorism as the prevailing school of thought. For teaching, this means we should find out what students already know, and try to connect the new information to that.

  • Constructivism. An outgrowth of cognitivism, constructivists believe meaning is constructed by connecting new information to old. The difference lies in the idea that the context always matters. There is emphasis on learning within a community as well as experiential education, as advocated by well-known constructivist John Dewey. Teachers should link new and old information, as in cognitivism, but should also put new learning into a broader context so the learner can see where the information fits in with other ideas. Also, because of the importance of community and experience, teachers should give learners a chance to do hands-on work with the materials, as well as interact with peers.

In LIBR 287, we learned about some teaching principles and methods that use cognitive and constructive theories of learning. One popular method is active learning, in which the “students engage themselves in the learning process and become responsible for their own learning” (Conger, 2001, p. 311). This method shifts the power from the teacher to the students, allowing them to construct knowledge for themselves. One popular aspect of active learning is cooperative learning, which means letting students work toward a goal in a small group. Active and cooperative learning can manifest as short quizzes, brainstorming sessions, peer teaching – any activity that allows the learner to be an active participant, rather than a passive receptacle. I also studied the principles of Universal Design for Learning as well as Learner-Centered Teaching, which I will describe in more detail in my evidence.


Evidence 1 is a paper I wrote for LIBR 287 about Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in university Information Literacy (IL) courses. UDL is a method of curriculum development that takes all learning styles and possible disabilities into account. This paper, called Drewieske_UDL and IL in Higher Education, was the culmination of a semester-long project that included observation of an information literacy class. UDL is based on the Universal Design principle from architecture, in that it is cheaper and easier to design and build a building that is accessible to everyone, rather than have to retrofit it with ramps, elevators, and the like after the fact. UDL puts the onus on the educator to have an accessible curriculum in place, rather than waiting until a student with a disability shows up and then changing everything (which is not only difficult, but can also make the disabled student feel like a burden). In the paper, I looked at how UDL principles are being applied in college-level information literacy classes. In my observation of a stand-alone IL class at the local university, I note how the instructor fulfilled the principles of UDL. I argue that it is especially important for IL instructors to use UDL, because many times the classes are a one-off so the instructors have no time to get to know the students. This evidence proves I know about teaching principles, particularly UDL, and how to apply them in real library teaching sessions.

Evidence 2, from LIBR 287, is a link to and reflection of a five-minute screencast tutorial - called Drewieske Screencast and Reflection - on editing files in Media Monkey (a music organization program). I used the principles of UDL, as well as techniques mentioned in several journal articles about developing screencasts. Because active and cooperative learning are nearly impossible in a short tutorial like this, I tried to make it as engaging as possible. This meant teaching conceptually – or putting the ideas into a larger context – rather than procedurally, or step-by-step. Another difficulty was incorporating the UDL principles; because of the format, I could only use a few of the techniques such as certain visual enhancements and shortening and simplifying my script. This evidence proves I can design an instructional session and apply learning theories in an online, asynchronous teaching environment.

Evidence 3, also from LIBR 287, is an instructional session I gave to my classmates over Blackboard Collaborate. I have also included my lesson plan and reflection as evidence (Lesson Plan and Kate Drewieske Reflection). My presentation was a 20-minute tutorial on using Media Monkey (expanding on my screencast in Evidence 2). I used the Grassian and Kaplowitz (2009) Learner-Centered Teaching (LCT) model, describing in the lesson plan how each Power Point slide fits in to the model and giving my methodology in detail at the end. The LCT model is rooted in constructivism and worked particularly well with adult learners rather than children. This model encourages instructors to view learners as partners rather than students, to listen and engage with the learners. To do this, I polled the class at the beginning of my session to learn about their music organization systems, as well as incorporating a few small activities. LCT can lead to unpredictability in a teaching session, so I had contingencies planned just in case no one participated in the activities. In my reflection (written after my classmates gave me constructive feedback), I explain what parts of the instructional session went well, and what I could improve on next time. The LCT model was very successful, but I had a bit of trouble with the transitions. This evidence proves I can apply the lessons of learning theory (constructivism) and the principles of LCT to write a thorough lesson plan and effectively instruct a group of users.


The theories and methods for successful teaching should be in every LIS professional’s repertoire. My professor in LIBR 287, Dr. Michelle Holschuh-Simmons, employed many of the above methods herself to make the class engaging and memorable. Using her class as an example, as well as all I have learned from that class, I believe I will be able to create and teach an instructional session, whether online or in person, one person or a group. My knowledge of these topics will mean a more significant, productive session for the learner.


Booth, C. (2011). Reflective teaching, effective learning: Instructional literacy for library educators [Kindle version]. Retrieved from

Conger, J. E. (2001). Wake up that back row! Interactive library instruction without hands-on student computers. The Reference Librarian 73, 309-322.

Grassian, E.S., & Kaplowitz, J.R. (2009). Information literacy instruction: Theory and practice (2nd ed.). New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.

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