It is not easy being a new student of Information Studies. When our initiates tell family and friends of their educational path, they may be greeted with a perplexed expression and a skeptical “What’s that?” The study of information is not obvious; it requires what Marcia J. Bates calls a meta-perspective, a distinct way of seeing that transcends surface meanings to the informational patterns therein. After 30 years as an educator in Information Studies, Bates asserts that it takes newcomers at least one vexing and tumultuous semester to refocus their vision on information phenomena. Once this meta-perspective is obtained, though, our students are uniquely empowered to solve the problems and realize the opportunities of the Information Age, whether in libraries or other sites of knowledge work.
My favorite metaphor for teaching is Marcia J. Bates' "red thread of information."
I was born with a predilection and knack for this meta-perspective. Even as a child, I was more excited to organize my books than read them! When I discovered the field of Information Studies as a young adult, it was an ecstatic homecoming. My approach to teaching leverages my innate understanding of this meta-perspective, along with a boundless enthusiasm for it. At the Faculty of Information, I am most strategically assigned to large, gateway classes of the Library and Information Science concentration, such as INF1323: The Information Experience. There, I see myself as a guide, translator, and cheerleader through what can be a strenuous conceptual transformation. With this contribution in mind, I have developed my own approach to the classroom.
For starters, my teaching is a carefully crafted, multi-media, interactive performance. Given that my students are relatively new to information science and lack subject knowledge, my classes open with a lecture (usually 90 minutes) to introduce major ideas and place them in historical and social context. These presentations have clearly stated themes and an easily followed narrative arc. I apply several tricks to make the abstractions of Information Studies friendly and concrete. I use PowerPoint to display the most important concepts in vivid, memorable ways. I offer precise definitions and then explore them in terms of familiar, sometimes funny everyday happenings. I integrate video or musical snippets and constantly circulate real artifacts. Acknowledging the physical dimension of learning, I sometimes direct students to move their bodies in ways that transmute key tenets. There is usually a surprise element at some moment in my lecture, whether a contest or personal story shared in confidence. Even my clothing is coordinated per session, for I am a lead actress in what I hope is a blockbuster learning show. Typically, lectures are followed by a break; once refreshed, students participate in small group activities involving discussion, role-playing, and impromptu presentations that are an opportunity to process the lesson individually and among peers.
Second, given the demands of indoctrination into Information Studies, I aim to administrate my classes with utmost grace. This way, student attention is fully devoted to knowledge acquisition. My syllabi are detailed, accurate, and artful so as to capture the imagination. Each 12-week course is structured as 3-4 shorter, cohesive units. At key transition points between units, I deliver a comprehensive review that confirms and consolidates learning. Every class conforms to a timed agenda without wandering or overrun. Upon entering the classroom, students are supplied with handouts of PowerPoint notes to more easily follow along. There is explicit orchestration between lectures, readings, and assignments so that everything hangs together. My Quercus websites are uncluttered and scrupulously maintained, and I respond to student emails as quickly as possible. Teaching assistants are well-integrated into the course and are cast as full members of a team. Overall, through deft administration, students happily steep in the ideas of Information Studies.
Since my research agenda explores the crossroads of information and pleasure, it seems appropriate to guide students into information science in a spirit of wonder and delight. Yet, in a reflexive mode, I wonder: Do I make learning too easy or entertaining for our students? Do I suggest precision and consensus around concepts where there is none? Is my approach too structured or controlled? To remain open to input and change, I monitor my course evaluations, I attend training sessions at the Office of Teaching Advancement, and I participate in Faculty curriculum planning efforts where my philosophy is expressed and sometimes challenged. Thankfully, at the Faculty of Information we believe that divergent approaches to learning about information are both stimulating and necessary.