Had lunch with my friend/colleague in Spanish today and we discussed plans to improve upon her SPAN 326: Latin American Civilizations course.  At the top of the list of student comments provided at the end of Fall 2007 . . . KEEP KIM! Both Cristina and I are pleased to see how valuable her students found the embedded library instruction and follow-up as they compiled their final portfolio projects.  A few possible tweaks:

  • Shorten history lessons (in powerpoint format) given during class time with homework assignments (or work time in class) leading students to scholarly articles, books and/or websites that provide answers to a given set of questions.  This approach puts more of the learning in the students’ hands (never teach what students can learn on their own) and would generate more class discussion.  A particular thought is to give students a key article to provide a little context.  Next, students research articles on their own that supplement the original article where specific examples and different points of view can be explored and discussed in class.  Content can be learned independently and through group discussion with the research skills as the vehicle for finding the content.
  • Forewarn students of topics that will be harder than most to locate solid, scholarly materials on.  For instance, Precolumbian to 20th Century history in Latin America involves changing geographic borders, especially if you consider the main civilizations of the Maya and the Aztecs.  It will be difficult for students to locate with 100% certainty where a particular tribe (that perhaps became part of the greater Maya or Aztec) lived when Mexico and Guatemala, for instance, were not their own separate countries with distinct borders.
  • Include required readings that students have to find through their newly acquired research skills, rather than simply linking them in MyCourses (ANGEL).
  • Adjust the timing of when students need to see me (or e-mail me) to have sources verified in conjunction with the timeline for Ellen’s ANTH 229 class.  Last fall, I got bombarded with SPAN and ANTH students needing to meet with me, each on an individual basis, within the same week.  STRESS! Although face-to-face is better, I managed to instruct students with their choice of scholarly materials and citation style almost as easily though e-mail communication.
  • Require verification of sources by attaching a grade to the consultations (whether in person or via e-mail).
  • Include criteria in the portfolio assignment to ensure students are finding a variety of sources on their chosen country, rather than consistently using the same book for the different historical eras.
  • Provide an instruction session at the beginning of the 20th Century section to show students how to access current news stories and websites of grassroot and non-profit organizations, in the Spanish language.

During the course of our conversation, Cristina mentioned to me the growing interest in the Foreign Languages Department for including library instruction in the curriculum, especially where Spanish is concerned.  Within the past year, I have seen an increase in the number of Spanish library sessions I’ve been requested for.

Proof that if you start small and get just one professor interested, word will spread.

My dear friend from the Foreign Languages Department stopped in to see me this morning.  We’ve been friends for a few years now, even before she was working on a tenure-track line, but we began working on a new teaching partnership last summer.  Cristina attended the first conference presentation that Ellen Kintz (ANTH), Tom Cardot (student), and I offered to an audience of teaching faculty (as opposed to preaching to the choir of librarians).  Cristina and I had already taught together in her Spanish classes, for one-shot instruction only.  She was inspired by the triangular model of collaboration, especially as she was gearing up to teach a Latin American Civilization course for the first time in Fall 2007.

We met multiple times last summer to discuss a strategy.  We knew that we wanted to cover maps, books, journals, and the web and plan for a few work sessions throughout the semester as students gathered scholarly materials (primarily in Spanish) on a particular country for a cumulative final portfolio.  Background research would span from pre-colonial times to the present.  The goal was to have students present their country on Culture Day (an idea taken from another dear friend and colleague who is visiting Rochester next week . . . yay!!!!) and students would have the opportunity to bring in food, music, visuals and costume from their studied country.  The plan sounded great – ambitious, but both Cristina and I were very enthusiastic about what we could accomplish.

Since this was a newly developed course, we ran into a few roadblocks.  Despite the aim of having a librarian come into the classroom and teach sessions on each of the areas mentioned above (maps, books, journals, web), time got short and Cristina needed to cover her anticipated content.  After our introductory map/web lesson, my time in the classroom got shortened to about 15 minutes, rather than the expected 45, per session.  Knowing that students were “required” to see me with their chosen sources before adding them to the final portfolio, I wasn’t too worried.  I could always reteach, one-on-one, especially as it related to the specific choices students were making with their research materials.  We now know that the “requirement” needs to better enforced (with extra credit or a participation requirement for the course?) and we need to think smarter about how students will schedule time with me.  I ended up getting somewhat bombarded between the Spanish and Anthropology student needs.

Some of the students’ web choices were appalling, and disheartening, considering the web was actually one of the lessons that was taught in detail.  But practice makes perfect, and from what Cristina tells me, the students ended up doing very well in the course, with their final portfolio, and she has qualitative data to share with me as we forge ahead with modifications for Fall 2008.  I’m looking forward to seeing the students’ comments and brainstorming with Cristina on how we can improve our collaborative teaching.

This process makes me think of Michelle in Oswego who will start working with a theater professor in a similar collaborative manner.  There is no guarantee that a first stab at infusing scholarly research skills into an established course will be a huge success.  Quite the contrary.  Plan ahead as much as you can, but expect the unexpected, work with students as closely as possible, assess, and then tweak.  Ellen Kintz and I tweak ALL THE TIME.  That is really the reason for our Tues/Thurs morning meetings.  Practice makes perfect!  An important tip for anyone starting out in a teaching partnership.