Teacher or librarian?: what roles to play?

Illustration: colourbox.com

Am I primarily a teacher or a librarian? This is a recurring issue for me. My education is in library and information sciences, and I work as a research librarian at a university, which would put me squarely in the librarian field – however, my work is mainly focussed on teaching, tutoring and communication, which would put me more in the teacher field. In many ways, I feel like being in the middle of these two professions and traditions can be more interesting than belonging to just one, but in other ways it is challenging to have one foot in each camp, so to speak. The library is where I work and where I see my colleagues, and it is where I always feel comfortable, but I love teaching, and if I consider myself more of a teacher, and emphasize learning more in that field, that gives me opportunities to go beyond the library’s sphere and to interact in more diverse ways. Having the teacher identity can make it easier for other faculty members to collaborate with me. And then there is the power structures issue.. more on that in another post..

In a recent article by Lisa Becksford (2022), a brief overview of the history of this discussion (on whether we are librarians or teachers) is enough to understand that this is a case that goes way back. I am not going to summarize Becksford’s article, as it is well worth reading in its entirety, but one of the things I thought was interesting was that one of the main issues in whether we are considered teachers, or consider ourselves teachers, is whether (or how much) pedagogy training we have. This is not surprising in itself, but when the author asked the respondents to indicate what kind of pedagogy training and professional development they had done, most had taken some courses and/or done quite a few professional development activities. Some other interesting points from the study includes these issues:

  • Teaching, particularly one-shots and the repetative nature of regular library instruction sessions, increase the risk of burnout
  • Pedagogy training remains an issue and it not emphasised enough in library graduate education
  • The lack of time is a serious obstacle for professional development
  • Seeing yourself as a teacher increases agency and is associated with higher professional satisfaction

As mentioned, I see myself in the span between these two, but I do see myself as a teacher more and more. For years, I have tried to move away from the one-shot, and I now have more integrated courses and often more collaboration with the faculty staff than before, and I believe that this has changed the way I see my own practice, too. When I am in a class where I have been collaborating with their course teacher and we have planned it well, working toward understanding more than just where to click in the databases, I do feel like I am a teacher. I once asked the students, as part of a study I did, what they saw me as, and nearly all of the students saw me first and foremost as a teacher. They didn’t separate me from faculty members who were teaching the same course.

Being at the same time on the inside (teaching alongside other teachers, and being perceived as one) and on the outside (someone who has no power over their marks and their progress in their studies) has its value. I do believe that students often tell me things that they would be too afraid to tell their teachers (one example: a student in his third year “confessed” to me that he didn’t understand the difference between qualitative and quantitative research. I feel pretty certain that he wouldn’t have said that to his teacher), and that probably gives me a better insight in what the students are actually struggling with. That is something that I can use when I teach, as I can start with where they are at, not where they “should be”.

Being a teaching librarian means that I have to work more independently to develop as a teacher. It is not emphasised in my education, and it has not always been seen as really important by managers in libraries. I have still much to learn, and I try to learn new skills, find better ways of communicating and trying new methods as often as I can, but I would not have been where I am today without a great effort to learn and practice, without support from some wonderful managers I have had, without my lovely colleagues, and without the curiosity and interest that I believe my darling mum instilled in me. I am grateful for all of this.

In conclusion, I think I’ll say that there are days when I really reach the students and when we have connections and conversations that fill me with joy to be able to contribute to their learning (and my own), and there are days where it seems like no matter how I try, I cannot get the response I need to foster learning or reflective thinking. These kind of days are hard, but they have also proven to be educational for myself, and most days (the good and the bad) inspire me to try harder and the more I practice, the more I feel like a teacher.


Becksford, L. (2022). Teacher, librarian, or both? A quantitative investigation of instruction librarians’ teacher identity. College & Research Libraries, 83(3), 372-392. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.5860/crl.83.3.372 

LOEX 2021: day 4

This will be the last LOEX post until I have watched the videos they will publish. As I have said before, I often prefer to have everything from one day in the same post, even though the blog posts get loooong that way. I just think it is easier to see connections etc. this way. I don’t know whether I’ll just add on the original posts when I have seen the recordings or if I’ll write them up separately, but .. we’ll see. Anyway, I managed to catch two sessions on Friday night. The first one was the best.

Strengthening your teaching philosophy through reflection on your beliefs about teaching and learning

Ashlynn Kogut from Texas A&M University said that though it is not strictly necessary to write your own teaching philosophy, it is highly recommended. A teaching philosophy is about expressing how you think about student learning, what kind of teaching role you want to have etc.

Schönwetter, Sokal, Friesen & Taylor's quote on what a teaching philosophy is and nine components of a teaching philosophy
[Screen dump from presentation]

The first two rows of the model above are probably the ones that are the most tangible and easiest to incorporate in a teaching philosophy, while the last row, i.e. Assessment and evaluation, outcomes and professional development, is harder to explain in a teaching philosophy.

Kogut’s own teaching philosophy is about student-centered teaching, active learning, developing the students’ confidence, the need for reflection and a connection to the curriculum/assignments. Librarians often have a clear strategy and plan for teaching, but Kogut said that most probably don’t think a lot about why we do what we do or have a clear philosphy in mind.

Kogut is working on her thesis, and she did a literature review on on the job instruction training and the roles librarians embrace and emphasise. Wheeler & McKinney (2015) wrote a good article about this, Kogut said. Do we think of ourselves as teachers? Are we valued as such? The outer factors influence how we feel about ourselves.

Kogut found that there is not always a connection between the literature (+ expectations) and the reality when it comes to the teacher role. The ACRL expects us to consider ourselves as pedagogues, but many librarians in real life have too little training, and may even have some reservations to the teacher role or even resisting it.

screen dump on teaching beliefs and learning beliefs.
[screen dump from presentation]

Kogut has done interviews with librarians in connection with her thesis. She found that librarians are generally interested in finding out what the students’ needs are. They want to understand the students’ needs, and what level they are at, and do not want to force them to be where the librarians are at [starting point/level/understanding]. (Clumsily written, I know.. My notes were a little sketchy here.) The librarians also wanted to understand the students’ affective and emotional needs, and put emphasis on being compassionate and understanding. The librarians wanted to respect the previous knowledge and experiences of students (hello, critical pedagogy – there you were!:) and to acknowledge that they might have knowledge unknown to us.

Most people agree that there are multiple ways to teach and learn, and that our preferences might not be the same as the students’ preferences. The process of learning often include interaction with others, learning by doing and reflection. Students don’t often learn something by just hearing a lecture or watching a video. Most need to be activated a little, and they need time to think.

The next thing struck a chord with me, as it is something I have tried to talk about so many times. Students need to understand WHY they should write about something or solve a problem. Teachers don’t always take the time to talk about this, and Kogut found that many librarians are trying to take on the role of putting things into context. How can the students use this in their profession, their internships or in other papers? Librarians often talk about this. Most also agree that students need to have their emotional needs fulfilled before they are ready to learn. They need to be emotionally ready, to feel empowered and to be connected and active in the learning process.

So what happens to us when there are conflicts between your beliefs (teaching philosophy) and the reality of teaching? The lecture is often the standard mode of teaching, even though we know that it has great limitations when it comes to learning. Maybe the reason why so many prefer the lecture is that it feels safe, easy and controllable? (I have written about this, too. I really think this is the reason. It’s not just the time issues.) It suits the library culture. We have to find a way to align ourselves to our beliefs, Kogut said.

Truly excellent session, this. As a part of my course in pedagogy for higher education, my first assignment was to write my pedagogical credo. It wasn’t really until years later that I got why that was a great assignment. I really hope that we’ll be focussing a little on teaching philosophy in the near future. It is a great way of knowing who you are and what you believe in.

Reaching higher with scaffolded learning

Christina Hillman and Mia Breitkopf from St. John Fisher College talked about the transition from one-shots to an integrated four-year developmental program. Hillman and Breitkopf talked about how the college has made some big changes in how the students move through their programs. Until fairly recently they have had a few obligatory courses, and they have been able to pick the rest in a free fashion (as long as some requirements have been met) whereas now they are following or keeping more to a laid path. The librarians felt like this transition has given them more liberty, as it is less focus on forming personal relationships with faculty and negotiations to gain access to students. There will also be less need and requests for the one-shot seeing as the courses are pre-determined.

Hillman and Breitkopf talked about a scaffold they have used to be able to say no to one-shots:

[Screen dump from presentation]

They explained that now, when teachers ask for one-shots, they are able to say what the students have already had when it comes to lessons and content because they follow a certain path. They are able to give the teachers the previous learning outcomes and lesson plans.

Hillman and Breitkopf also talked about how they have described learning outcomes for the entire information literacy (almost like the National Qualifications Framework, I thought, by the description), and it looks very comprehensive, but the librarians emphasised that they do not do all the teaching themselves. The learning outcomes have been developed in collaboration with faculty and they plan on using the outcomes together.

Hillman and Breitkopf explained that they are using HEDS, and if I understand correctly, this is a standardised research practices survey. The librarians are doing a lot of assessment, and have started to use a posttest system to evaluate the learning outcome. They are currently designing and planning a new course for juniors where they, among other things, will be focussing on citation tracking, as they believe that this will improve the students’ knowledge about citation types.

Disclaimer: I was really starting to feel that it had been a very long week at this point in the session, and it was Friday night here. I cannot guarantee, therefore, that I have understood everything here. I think I should point that out before I present my thoughts here.

My thoughts on this session:

I have been teaching for almost 16 years. At my university, most of the courses taught at my campus have been designed to be taken in a certain order. We are therefore used to the students following designed paths through their years with us. Maybe it will be different for St. John Fisher College library, but I have to say – I am always negotiating with teachers for access, there is no less need for good integration and personal relationships, and there is no less requests for one-shots. Still, I feel like I have always had the right to turn down requests if I have felt like the one-shot was out of context or it was not connected to an assignment.

Another thing that struck me was that it seemed like Hillman and Breitkopf have fallen into the “trap” that they think that what is taught is learned. To me, showing a teacher that I have already given a lecture on something and telling the teacher about the learning outcomes I used for the students two years ago, would be a useless exercise, and it does no good. How well do you remember something said to you out of context two years ago in a lecture? I mean.. that is just not how I see this thing working. If you want to say no to a one-shot because you can see that it would be to no avail or just not have the effect that you are after (perhaps because the timing is wrong, or you know that you are being called in as a substitute teacher without context) – well then, suggest an alternative, by all means, or say no. I just don’t think that saying no because you can say that you have said the same thing before is a good idea.

I just felt like there was a lot of behaviourism in the philosophy here. Testing for learning outcome, assessment all the time etc. I don’t know that I felt very connected to the ideas here. The citation idea for juniors can be a good idea.

I am highly in favour of developing more embedded programs and a closer collaboration (a real collaboration) with faculty where we are seen as valuable partners that can be involved in planning, teaching/ co-teaching and assessment, and I am often highly sceptical of the one-shot standard and the skewed power relations between the librarians and the faculty, but still.. I don’t know if this is the way forward. I don’t think that a standardised program, one-size fits all, embedded program will work better than an authentic, contextualised collaboration, even with some one-shots here and there. But again.. it might have been the time difference and the Friday night thing that made me misunderstand this whole session.


Well – how the world has changed since I blogged in early March. It is almost unbelievable. Still, I think that libraries here have been more prepared, or rather adapted, for this event than many other institutions. It didn’t take long for the National library to open up all their digital content, and many publishers have taken steps to ease access in this situation.

At the library where I work, we have been making online content for learning for years. I think I started producing videos in 2006 or 2007, and we got our own YouTube-channel in 2010 or 2011. Producing videos started as a way of letting our patrons help themselves, and as a way of saving staff resources. We have been short staffed for as long as I have worked there, and that will be 15 years this fall. In this situation that we have already got a good base of videos that we have used now that the physical library is closed, and we have made many more. The fact that we were used to it also meant that we could produce more content quickly. After our merger in 2016, the librarians at my university also have had the benefit of being used to Skype for business, Teams etc. so the learning curve haven’t been so steep. That said, I have also learned a few more platforms recently. First of all – Zoom.

I held my first lectures (I know, I know) on Zoom a few weeks ago. Even though I have tried to do more asynchronous teaching (i.e. videos, Q&A forums etc.) since the library was closed (due to internet capacity, scheduling issues etc.), I have been zooming (is that a verb now? :)) with some classes. An article in the Norwegian higher education paper, Universitetsavisa, pointed out that many students are struggling with this new situation. The students are having problems getting up in the morning, and often end up sleeping until 11 am, and they only manage to get a couple hours of school work done during the day. They spend a lot of time online, but are easily distracted, and many state that they miss the library space and reading rooms. The outer frames of their study days, that they have been used to, is not easily substituted with their home environments. Many students have moved back home with their parents as all campus activity not strictly necessary has been cancelled, so only students that need lab equipment etc. will need to be on campus. Living with their parents again is not conducive for academic work.  Obviously, these challenges cannot be fixed with a new tool or a new platform of any kind. That is why we are thinking about trying some more informal sessions online, too. Coffee mornings at the virtual library, for instance. Some libraries have started having “shut up and write” sessions online etc. I think that librarians have been able and even eager to try new things to maintain some sort of normalcy for their patrons. It is too early to tell whether we will succeed.

So anyway – Zoom. So far, I think it has been good. It is easy to use, and as long as we have the app from the university, it is secure (or so I am told). It is still quite difficult to teach to the void. I am used to my lectures beeing recorded etc., but then there are still some students in the auditorium. I find it difficult to be a good, engaging teacher, when all you see is 20 black frames with names in them. I encourage the students to use the camera if they have sufficient internet speed so to make them more humans to me, but I get why many (most) are reluctant to do so. I also find that most students are reluctant to ask questions during class on Zoom. I always record the lectures so that students who were unable to join can watch it later, but I have started to say at the beginning of each class that I will turn off the recording toward the end, so that students who have questions they do not want recorded can ask them then. Almost none do.

Zoom (or similar tools) will probably always be an addition to teaching for me, not the main thing. If this situation will continue for a long time, I will need to be more creative with giving the students assignments that can be done in class or before/after, like using “breakout sessions” in Zoom, and asking them to discuss something or reflect on something etc. I know I could use Kahoot etc., but I don’t know.. I guess I just think of that as something entertaining, and not really useful for real learning. Well – as Alexandre Dumas put it: “He who lives will see.” Stay safe, everyone.



Teaching masterclass style

The more I teach, the more I realise that you always have to try new styles of teaching. In the beginning, I guess I was looking for the ultimate format for teaching – the “one true ring to rule them all” of pedagogy. I am glad to say that I long since put that idea out of my head. I haven’t got a particular schedule for when I want to try new things. Sometimes I try several new ideas in course of a month, other times I stick with what I know for a while. Sometimes new things work so well it becomes a basic part of my teaching – other times… not so much. The joy of teaching a good group of students is wonderful, and I am bolder with ideas when I know the students are motivated.

Today, I tried teaching using the masterclass style. It is a kind of teaching I have never tried in this context, but that I was used to from my music lessons. The occupational therapy students here have rapidly become one of the most enthusiastic and motivated student groups on campus. Teaching them is always a joy. About a month ago I received the first requests for literature searching for their bachelor’s thesis. In stead of giving each group 30 minutes of my time (like I have always done in the past), I decided on doing this the masterclass way. I asked the teacher if I could have a few hours of time, and she, being the champ that she is, I immediately got a “yes” there. (Don’t you just love such teachers? I do!) The students came to an auditorium, and I called on each group – one at a time – to present their topic. I then commented on their search strategy, suggested search terms, tested a few searches, showed them some new databases that could help them or suggested databases that would be of most use. I had 12 groups during the four hours I had the room.

How did it go? Well, I guess I will have to see as the semester and the progress with the theses go on, but I think it went well. The students were motivated (or very good actors:)), they seemed to have no objection to be asked questions on front of everyone, and everyone was eagerly taking notes. We also had a chance to address a few more general questions on citations, on databases etc. I was quite exhausted afterwords, seeing as we had two 5-10 minutes break in four hours, and I had to think on my feet concerning finding good search terms etc., but I think it was worth it. At least I hope so. Later this month, I will test this method with a much larger group and it will be interesting to see whether the students will be as comfortable then.

studenter uformell undervisning


VIRAK 2017: Day 1 – parallell sessions


From the panel debate earlier in the day

[Previous posts on VIRAK 2017: warm-up + Day 1: panel&keynote]

After lunch, it was time for parallell sessions. There were SO many to choose from. The VIRAK committee received over 90 contributions, and with only two days to get everything in.. there were seven parallells: five workshops and two project/paper presentations. I went to number seven: project/paper presentations on teaching (“Undervisning”). There were three presentations in this session.

Anne Brit Løland (BI Norwegian Business School, campus Stavanger)(Best practice presentation):

Løland started by saying that collaboration between library and faculty has been known to enhance student learning, but that there is no “consensus” on how this collaboration should be done. Løland referred to a study by Junisbai, Lowe og Tagge (2016) to support this.

Løland talked about a project that she had in a strategy course at her campus. The teacher in the strategy course felt the need to focus more on referencing and getting the students to use better sources. The teacher reached out to Løland and they decided to team-teach a class. The teacher had a clear goal for the class in mind, and he knew what he wanted them to achieve. The teacher explained his goals to Løland, but did not focus on the details. That was left to Løland. They split the time in class between themselves. The teacher talked about the subject for the tasks, about methodology etc. and Løland had a traditional presentation on searching, applying principles of critical thinking on sources etc. After that the students worked in groups, and some of them presented their findings for the rest of the students. Løland used Padlet to communicate with the students. She and the teacher asked the students to explain their reasons for choosing the sources they had picked etc.

Løland said that one of the success factors behind this was that she is part of a small campus where the staff know each other, and where they know her well. She has lunch with faculty staff every day etc. This makes the threshold very low when it comes to approaching her with ideas on collaboration.

During Lølands presentation I kept thinking that while projects like these are a good way of getting a foot in the door with faculty staff, and to help students in the short run (I have certainly done many such projects), it is time to move this up a level. While the institutions do so little to thoroughly incorporate these kinds of skills in the course plans etc. the teaching of them will always appear rather random. It will only be done in courses where the librarians have a personal relation to the teachers. This way the asymmetry in power relations between librarian and teacher is also maintained. As librarians, we are completely at the mercy of teachers, and us almost begging to be let in the door only further cements this.

Idunn Bøyum, Eystein Gullbekk and Katriina Byström: (Oslo and Akershus University College of applied sciences)(Research paper presentation):

Byström presented a paper (soon to have a Norwegian edition, Bøyum told me on Twitter). The authors have made a model that shows the different levels of integration of the librarian. Byström talked about the variations on how information literacy is perceived, from something generic and transferrable to something context-dependent. This also influences how librarians see their own role, and how it is perceived by faculty staff etc. The model is very interesting. It shows four different approaches to multidisciplinary information literacy. There are two axis: one for participation level and one for integration. This leaves you with the four different approaches: the technique, the problem, the coaching and the negotiation approaches. It`s difficult to explain here without showing the model itself, so I recommend reading the article itself.

The authors believe that the model could be useful in planning teaching activities and in developing librarians` competencies, as well as be used when discussing information literacy and integration with others. I share that opinion:)

Pål Magnus Lykkja (University of Oslo) (Best Practice presentation):

Lykkja described how he had participated in a course on “Samfunnsgeografi” [societal geography], and how he had tried to integrate information skills. The course teachers had seen that students struggled to learn the “lingo” used in the course, and that they needed to do something to help the students recognise the different key concepts within this field.

The teachers had developed an open access text book, and tested more non-traditional teaching methods, like video lectures, flipped classroom etc. Lykkja had met the students in the library, and he took them to special collections and so on to help them get a more tangible sense of the different sources. He also led a workshop where students worked in groups on a particular assignment. It was quite traditional. The students were given research questions and had to build search strings, find literature and to find several (competing) perspectives on the research questions.

Lykkja found that it was difficult to find the right balance between “This is mandatory, and you`ll be graded on this task” and “This is optional, and you should do it because you`ll learn something useful”. He found that if students thought it was something they were being graded on, they became stressed and wouldt leave before it was “perfect”, and that they wouldn`t be bothered to show up for class if it was voluntary. He also said that time and timing was an issue. Two hours is a little too short to get the tasks done and to have meaningful discussions, but three hours is too long and it is work-intensive for the librarian.

This was what I got from the parallell sessions. I think it shows that there are many librarians in Norway who want to try things, who want to make a difference for students and staff, and who are dedicated to their work. It also shows, I think, that we are struggling with many of the same issues – being recognised by the institution, being integrated in course plans, collaboration with teachers, finding time and resources etc.

Day 1 of VIRAK was rounded off with Digital snippets and dinner at BI in Nydalen.

So many articles – so little time

Businessman climbing the stairs to the success of knowledge

Illustration: colourbox.com

I always like to start my week by looking through my rss feeds and having a look at some saved items in my reader. Sometimes, that is all I have time for – just registering that there is something interesting there – and then putting it aside for later. Sometimes, I have the opportunity to look through things a little more thoroughly  (=btw, the hardest word I know of to spell correctly in English).

Today was mostly a “look through briefly” kind of morning, but I thought I`d share a few tips here. Maybe that will motivate me to look through more later tonight?

I haven`t read these articles, but I looked at some of the abstracts. Many of them are presentations from Creating Knowledge VIII, a conference that took place in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 2016. The abstracts and (some) papers were published in the latest edition of NORIL.

There were also some presentations from LILAC17 that were held last week in Swansea, UK.

If you are interested in information literacy (who could not be? :), and do not already follow Sheila Webber`s blog, you should consider putting it on your rss feed. Webber updates regularly, and often live blogs from conferences, so it is well worth taking a look at her blog.

Anyway, here are some items on my reading list for this spring: 

From Nordic Journal of Information Literacy 2016 8(1), special issue:

Eriksson, F. (2016) Constructive Alignment as a Means to Establish Information Literacy in the Curriculum.

Webber, S. (2016) Teaching the Next Generation of Information Literacy Educators: Pedagogy and Learning

Head, A. J. (2016) “What Today’s University Students Have Taught Us”

Nierenberg, E. (2016) How Much Do Nursing and Teacher Education Students in Norway Learn about Information Literacy in Their First Months of Higher Education?

Various items from LILAC17:

I would have loved to see this poster:

White, J. & Ball, C. ‘So you didn’t get your Hogwarts letter…’ Engaging muggles in the library experience (poster).

Will be watching Alan Carbery`s LILAC17 keynote, available here: https://videostream.swan.ac.uk/contentglobal/9231_4p~QjzwupJp.mp4

From ACRL17:

James, H. G. and Gibes, E. A.: Embracing Threshold Concepts: Or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Framework

DeSanto, D. and Harrington, S. Harnessing the Intersections of Writing and Information Literacy

Grant, R., Haywood, F. and Casper, D. The Proof is in the Worksheets: Tying Library Instruction Assessment to ACRL Information Literacy Standards

Gessner, G. C. , Eldermire, E. ,Tang, N. and Tancheva, K. The Research Lifecycle and the Future of Research Libraries: A Library of Apps

Well, I doubt that I`ll be able to read and watch all of this content this spring, but I will do my best to get through abstracts and bibliographies at least.

Workshops for nursing students

Student asking questionIt is that time of the year again – oh, yeah! Bachelor`s mania. It is stressful for us, for the students and for the guidance counsellors, but it is also fun to work with the students on their theses. Most of them are really into it. They all want to get a good grade, of course, and maybe that even is the main reason to work hard for many of them. But many also seem genuinely interested in their subjects, and that kind of motivation is always easier to further encourage, of course.

The nursing students who are writing their bachelor`s theses are organised into groups of 2-4 students. This year there are 75 or 76 groups, I think. A few years ago we decided to offer workshops for nursing students, as they were just too many to handle on individual sessions for our staff. Students who are interested in tutoring from the library can sign up for a workshop at a given time (usually we give them four, two-hour sessions to choose from), and I team up with guidance counsellors from the institute. I use Google Forms for the sign-up forms, and then I divide them into their sessions. The students state their research questions/ purpose when they sign up, and that gives me an opportunity to check out some areas of research beforehand. When the deadline is up, then “the ship has sailed”, and the students who did not sign up will receive no offer of tutor sessions from the library during the work with their bachelor`s thesis. Troubleshooting? – yes. Help with searching strategies etc.? – no. It`s just a survival thing.

This year, 36 groups signed up for the sessions before the deadline. The workshops took place in a computer lab, and there were nine groups per session. I got help from four guidance counsellors, though not all four in every session – usually two helpers in each session. The students sit in groups and search for articles for their thesis, and I work my way through the groups until I have seen them all. Some need help finding search terms, some need a little help with narrowing down their searches, some need help to identify sources, some need a little encouragement, some need some guidance when it comes to methodology and so on. It really is great to meet them this way. I learn a lot, too.

I really find it interesting to work this way, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to do this together with the teachers/ guidance counsellors. We all learn from each other, and I wish we could do the same for all the other students and institutes, too. It is really intense, though, so I went to bed at 9.pm both days, totally exhausted:) Well – thats Bachelor`s mania for you!

Engaging students in large auditoriums

student teacher network imageIt`s been a busy autumn, but these last couple of days I have finally been able to have a look at some of the items in my “to read” pile on my desk. I have just read the book “Hvordan engasjere studentene?” (“How to engage the students?”). It was worth the effort.

The authors are working at BI (business school in Oslo) and they have experimented with different ideas and techniques to engage students in large settings, like auditoriums with up to 600 students. Not many students are comfortable raising their hand and speaking before such a large crowd, and the authors have described different methods and ideology to engage the students in active learning. The authors believe in “blended learning”, which means that they are using different approaches to learning activities, such as traditional lecture, group assignments, group discussions, one-minute papers, polls, tests and competitions (and many more) to increase motivation and engagements. They have briefly addressed how to cater to the different students` needs, too. They have used Blooms taxonomy to plan learning activities for the whole semester and they used Biggs` well-known students archetypes: “academic Susan”, “non-academic Robert” and “strategic Peter”. The authors have then used these archetypes to describe some of the issues on how to engage the Roberts without losing the Susans and vice-versa.

Of course, as in most books of this character, there is a seemingly unavoidable amount of “chatter”, and some of the technologies and methods are already well-known by teachers. Still, I would find it well worthy of a place in teacher`s training courses. The authors have managed to show their enthusiasm for the field, and it was easy to fall into their line of thinking. Even though many of ideas discussed in the book are made for teachers who teach entire courses, and not particularly for libraians who may have just a couple of sessions (if she is lucky!) during a course, I found some ideas very useful.

I think that I`ll have a furher look at these things in particular: one-minute paper, polls in the learning management system before lectures, group discussions and digital storytelling.

Ronæs, N. H., T. Haugnes og A. B. Swanberg (2012) Hvordan engasjere studentene?: BI LearningLab: en idébok med eksempler. Oslo: Alpha forl.

“The disengagement compact” – Kuh

Photo: colourbox.com

Photo: colourbox.com

A while back I read a book that really left an impression, and I find myself quoting it to teachers and other librarians all the time. It was Arum and Roksa`s “Academically adrift: limited learning on college campuses”. I keep coming back to it and to the very real and very challenging part about student engagement. This time I also looked up a source used to explain something called “The disengagement compact”; a term coined by Higher Education researcher, George D. Kuh. In his paper: “What we`re learning about student engagement from NSSE: Benchmarks for Effective Educational Practices”(2003) he talkes about how we (teachers and students) collectively have struck a bargain: “I`ll leave you alone if you leave me alone” (p.28), meaning that the teacher will not have too many demands as far as writing and reading is concerned and in that way save himself/herself from having to grade as many papers.

I don`t think that many teachers or students will admit that they are in on this bargain, but I think it is a problem for higher education. The proof of this lies in the amount of time students spend on their studies. Arum and Roksa (2011) stated that the amount of time that students spend on their studies has fallen from 40 hrs/week in the 60`s to approx 27hrs/week in the 00`s. The grades, however, has not become significantly poorer.

Becko (2011) commented on this issue and wrote “Who among us would admit to striking such a bargain? Not I. But as Arum and Roksa point out, the bargain is not struck among individuals, nor is it struck in a vacuum. As teachers, we enter an educational system in which this bargain has already been struck collectively”(2011, 2nd paragraph)

I have experienced this “disengagement compact” several times, both as a student and as a teaching librarian. As a student I was very concerned by grades. Of course, I wanted to learn new things, but it was often even more important  to me to get good grades, and I would use the strategies I knew to make that happen. As a teacher, or a teaching librarian, I have experienced some episodes where I may have struck this bargain or been tempted to, mostly because of lack of time. When using the tutor approach to teaching (as described in our pedagogical platform, currently being finalised here at GUC) it is easy to let students “get away” with papers that I know they really should have revised and handed in again; simply because having them hand things in a second, third and maybe even fourth time means that I have to correct them over again. From pedagogical and learning theory we know a lot about how students learn. Theorists like Vygotsky, Piaget and Dewey (and many, many more) have contributed various ideas and learning theories. Neither of them, as far as I know, have adressed the “disengagement compact”. They all expect teachers to never compromise on academic standards, and they expect students to want to learn and improve their skills.

How can we break out of the “disengagement compact”? Is it possible to reset the entire system?



Arum, R. og J. Roksa (2011) Academically adrift: limited learning on college campuses. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.

Becko (2011) Academically Adrift Part I: The Disengagement Compact.  [online]. In Socrates` Wake: a blog about teaching philosophy. URL: http://insocrateswake.blogspot.com.tr/2011/02/academically-adrift-part-i.html (14.10.14).

Kuh, G. D. (2003) What we’re learning about student engagement from NSSE: Benchmarks for effective educational practices. I: Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 35(2), p. 24-32.

Idealist vs pragmatist?

TutoringI recently came across the book “College libraries and the student culture”, edited by Duke and Asher. Chapter two of this book asks the question: how do librarians look at students? Do we have a pragmatist or an idealist perspective?

The pragmatist view is described as looking at higher education first and formost as a road to a profession (to train workers for the society) and to enrich the society. The idealist (or “liberal-progressive”) view is  described as someone “who support […] that the university is about self-actualization and the creation and dissemination of ideas” (Thill 2012, p. 15). Thill (ibid.) argues that many librarians take easier to the idealist view of things, and therefore have trouble adopting to the increasing mass of students with the pragmatic view. According to a survey, 25 percent of students give “making a good salery after graduation” as their main reason for entering college. Another 58 percent state “career plans” or “desire to move ahead with their lives” as main reasons for getting a college education. Only 6 percent say that they entered college because they like to “learn for learning`s sake” (p. 16). These numbers do not surprise me at all. After all, how can we suppose that many students should have idealist reasons for entering college? It costs a lot of money and they have never done it before (and therefore cannot have an idea on how it can change them).

Thill (2012) writes about how we view the students effects the way we treat them. If we see the students as having the pragmatist view, the role of the librarian is one of a service-provider to a customer. If they have an idealist perspective, our role is an educator and guide. Some faculty with a pragmatic perspective found that librarians find it hard to just give the students what they need (“consierge-type information delivery” as one librarian dubbed it):

“All to often librarians give people more information than they actually need to be able to answer the questions that they have. And that`s frustrating because sometings people are simply looking for a small set of numbers or a specific source and librarians tend to offer much more than what they`re being asked” (p.25) said one faculty member. While others who were interviewed in the study said that a librarian apply these “time-saving” ideas (hand them the information “on a silver platter”(p.26)) actually undermine both the pragmatists and the idealists. So – I guess it`s a case of “damned if you do and damned if you don`t” here.

I think I am both a pragmatist and an idealist. I fully understand students who are tied to the college reward system (grades, degrees..). It is perfectly natural that they should have this view. I was one myself. That doesn`t mean that I think that all we should do is provide the students with the skills they would need in a profession here and now. If that was all we might as well just send them out into the profession with a mentor straight after high school. There are so many things that I have learned through my studies that have nothing to do with my profession, but that has had an impact on my work- and social life. Much of what I learned is probably tacit knowledge, but I know that I went through a maturing period – and something happened to the way that I see my own little role in the society, my profession and society itself. Call it a cultivation of the mind, or a formation of the self (I am always searching for a good English translation of the Norwegian word “danning”. Still haven`t found it..) – anyway, it was learning for learning`s sake, too.

The way I see it, sometimes I have to be a “concierge information delivery”-person; someone who just points to the right source, but most of the time I can be someone who asks the right questions to students. Student: “Is this a peer-reviewed article?” Me: “Here are the principles we talked about in class. Try to use the principles and explain to me why you think it is/is not peer-reviewed.What do you think?” The only way that I can serve both the teachers (who give assigments) and the students (who can often look for the “instant gratification” way out) is to balance my two views.


Thrill, M. (2012) Pragmatism and Idealism in the Academic Library: An Analysis of Faculty and Librarian Expectations and Values In: Duke, L. M. and A. D. Asher (2012) College Libraries and Student Culture: What we now know. Chicago: American Library Association.