Laura Browning of Florida State University, along with Genny Jon of the University of Western Ontario, was one of the Robert F. Asleson Memorial ALA Conference Grant recipients for ALA Annual 2013 in Chicago last month.
This is Laura’s essay won over the grant committee.
Since August 2012, I have worked as a Graduate Assistant in the Undergraduate Services department of Strozier Library, the main library on Florida State University’s campus. I work directly under the sole instructional/reference librarian in the department. Over the course of the last two semesters, I have taught over 50 information literacy classes primarily to ENC1142 and ENC1145 classes. The classes I teach are always connected to a research project undergraduates are currently working on and range in topic from television stereotypes, to Shakespearean films and literature, to hero archetypes, and more! The classes were designed specifically to interest and motivate the undergraduate students who sign up for them. I have used everything from Batman to The Big Bang Theory as example research topics to increase student interest and motivation. But, I have found that one of the most effective measures to build student involvement and success rates is to establish strong collaborative relationships with the teaching assistants (T.A.s) I work with, as well as their primary faculty advisor within the department of English.
How do strong collaborative relationships begin to form when initially planning information literacy instruction? First, it begins with a good line of communication with English faculty. Before the beginning of the fall semester, we reached out to the faculty member in charge of all the English T.A.s. She invited us to visit the T.A.s beginning orientation to market our instructional services through a quick presentation and distribution of flyers/cards. Our presence in this meeting was vital and helped us establish a presence within the English department. Since this initial meeting, we have been invited to even more orientation events in the English department throughout subsequent semesters.
After spreading the initial word about our services, I sent a personal email to every ENC1142 and ENC1145 T.A. and introduced myself, advertised our instruction room and class services, and let them know how we could collaborate with them to meet their students’ needs. I had a very high level of initial response from the majority of the T.A.s and as I taught more and more classes, T.A.s spread the word to their colleagues and we gained additional bookings. This personal email, addressed specifically to each T.A. by name, helped get our collaborative partnership on the right foot.
How did I collaborate with each of the T.A.s for a successful class? Initially, I asked them to send a copy of their class assignment to me and also offered to meet with them in person to prepare together if they so preferred. Most T.A.s communicated with me primarily through email, but some preferred to come into the library to meet. I made sure to listen carefully to the types of resources they wanted their students to use, offered my own suggestions of websites/materials I could share, and then took all the best resources and linked them to a libguide page I created specifically to meet their class needs. Libguides were a fundamental element in strengthening my collaborative relationships with the T.A.s. Whether the T.A. met with me in person or communicated with me through email, I made each class their own unique tab on my ENC1142 and ENC1145 libguide. The link is http://guides.lib.fsu.edu/enc1142?hs=a. The reason they helped strengthen our relationship is because I listened to what the T.A. wanted their students to learn, created a custom page to meet the students’ needs, and then asked the instructor for feedback/revisions before using the guide to teach the class.
Many instructors told me that they loved the guides and found them to be very helpful. This collaborative element made each T.A. feel that their class was special and unique and that they had a voice in how the library could be of assistance to their students. Making the T.A.s feel that their voice was heard and crafted into a tangible product is vital in establishing strong partnerships. Assessment is another very important component of creating collaborative partnerships. After every class, I asked the instructor for feedback on how the class could be improved. I also asked them to share their students’ feedback in the form of student essays about their experience (as anecdotal evidence). It was easier to assess my instruction this way because many of the instructors already had the students complete a feedback essay assignment and this assignment could be easily shared with us, with their consent. I have to say that while my instruction was not always perfect, the overall response I got from each of the instructors and students was overwhelmingly positive.
To continue this strong collaborative partnership, we actively decided to invite all the T.A.s and library instructors to a Coffee and Cookie Gathering at the end of the spring semester. This was a way to personally meet with each of the T.A.s to share feedback, provide additional outreach and marketing services, to establish a stronger presence within the English department, and to thank each T.A. for their support. This meet-up was great because I continued to strengthen existing relationships, while also meeting new T.A.s that I could potentially work with in the coming semesters. Throughout this entire process the last two semesters, I have learned so much independently and through creating these lasting relationships.
This essay outlines in detail what my daily collaborative partnerships looked like, but it also teaches professionals some important general lessons about collaboration. You can do so much with a simple warm greeting and smile and by showing faculty and instructors that you care about their students. Even if every information literacy class isn’t perfect, they won’t remember that. They will remember the feeling you give them before they walk in the door and after they leave. And that is powerful.