14 July 2011

Serious fun

The Teaching Librarians have been working on our lesson plans for the fall over the last week. One of our sessions is with our third year students.  I love working with third years.  Something seems to happen by the junior year where many, if not most, of our students really understand that you are a valuable resource.  They don't sleep through class.  They ask questions.  They ask for help.  Hallellujah!

We are 100% committed to active, inquiry-based learning and to having fun in the classroom.  As we thought about how to engage our students, we started talking about how third years seem ready to be serious.  We don't have to "trick" them into participating or learning anymore.  We can treat them like fellow researchers.  It's kind of exciting.

In this case, students are tackling their first literature reviews.  As we thought about what students need to do this assignment well, we found ourselves digging into some pretty advance research skills.  As we talked about the what and the how, the question arose: how do we make the session fun while also imparting the serious nature of the assignment and the task?  Can we be serious but also have fun?

We talked about a number of ways to engage our students.  We talked about metaphors.  We talked about using technology, music, Youtubes.  We talked about relating to things they care about.  We talked about the process, the outcomes.  And we came up with a lesson plan that is feeling pretty solid.  But still, the question haunts me.  Not because I think I know the answer but because I think it is revealing about our own attitudes towards what we offer and sometimes teach.

I think fear factors into it.  Fear of boring students and being boring, fear of messing up in front of them, fear of lacking authority, fear of not being invited back, fear of descending reference statistics, decreases in funding....AHHHH! (she runs and hides under her desk).

This fear is natural I think.  We've been told for decades and longer that we will soon be outdone by computers.  By golly, I watched Desk Set the other night and realized that we were already manifesting that fear in 1957!  But while this fear is natural, it is also exhausting.

A particular axiom comes to mind: Ensure your own good time.  What is it about databases that makes it fun for you?  For me, I love how it makes me think about a topic in a different light.  And that excites me.  When I have to show databases in class, that is what I share about it.  How this tool excites me and makes me feel like I am on an adventure.  Dorky?  Sure.  By god, I'm a librarian!  I am dorky!

Can we make serious research and serious teaching on research skills fun?  YES!  But it has to come from within.

So when it comes to the serious stuff, what is it that you (yes YOU) find fun about it?  How to share something fun is way easier than sharing something boring, right?

Do you have a story to share about something serious you made fun?  I'd love to hear it!  Share away!

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