Steve: This is Circulating Ideas. I’m Steve Thomas. My guest today is Melissa Wong. She’s an adjunct instructor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Graduate School for Library and Information Science, and she is the author of Instructional Design for LIS Professionals: a Guide for Teaching Librarians and Information Science Professionals. Circulating Ideas is brought to you with support from listeners just like you.
Steve: Melissa, welcome to the show.
Melissa: Good morning!
Steve: I wanted to have you on because I had a copy of your book Instructional Design for LIS Professionals and we will talk about that and lots of other issues here in the next few minutes here. But I wanted to get started and find out how did you get started in libraries in the first place and how did you kind of get to where you are now?
Melissa: Oh wow. That’s a real throwback, isn’t it? So, my interest in being a librarian goes back to undergrad. I was an English major and had been working in the writing and tutoring center. And my senior year we had this program where we put a writing tutor in the library in the evening to help students. And I didn’t have a lot of, sort of business, early on. And so I ended up spending a lot of time chatting with the librarians and learning more about what they did and suddenly realized that this is what I really wanted to do, that it was really exciting. And so I ended up applying to library school, went to the University of Illinois, spent two years there getting my masters and then got my first professional job at the University of Southern California here in Los Angeles as a reference and instruction librarian. What I really wanted to do was teach, I wanted to be an instruction librarian and this was back in the mid-nineties when instruction was just becoming the thing, really, in academic libraries. And so I spent about six years at USC in a couple of different positions, left there to become the library director at Marymount college just now Marymount California University, a small liberal arts college, was the library director there for about eight years. And, during that time got started as an adjunct in the iSchool at the University of Illinois, teaching reference, kind of a, you know, one course a semester kind of thing and realized I really loved it, loved working with graduate students, loved teaching online. And so then at a certain point realized that’s what I really wanted to do, left my library director position, and now I focus on teaching. So I’ve been teaching online with the iSchool at this point for 18 years, which kind of blows me away because it’s, I’ve been teaching online for so long.
Steve: Well that’s, it’s really great that online learning is at such a place that you can live in Los Angeles, but teach at a school in Illinois and it just, it allows you so much more flexibility and teaching options.
Melissa: Yeah, it’s really great. And then what’s fun of course is my students are from all over the country as well. In fact, sometimes my students are even living internationally and still working on their degrees. So it gives us an interesting diversity of experiences that students bring because of that. It’s really fun.
Steve: Yeah. It makes the idea of in-state tuition and out of state tuition kind of weird.
Melissa: Yeah, it definitely does.
Steve: So, before we get into kind of the content of it, what made you want to write this Instructional Design for LIS Professionals book?
Melissa: I’m really passionate about good teaching, in addition to being passionate about the work that librarians do and I really love teaching that to my students and helping them prepare for their careers as librarians. Because I’ve always been interested in instruction ever since I was in graduate school, I’m really interested in how do we create a really authentic, engaging learning experience that’s really mentoring our students to be professional librarians who are, in some ways it’s kind of a cliche but hit the ground running, right? Really ready to contribute to the profession and into their communities. And also then how do we do that online, which is different than the face-to-face classroom. As I said earlier, I’ve been teaching online for Illinois for 18 years. I’ve also done some professional development teaching workshops and things for ACRL, and the technology has changed so much in that time. So how do we use the technology to create the most effective learning experience that we can? And so then the way this book came about is in part because of Blanche Woolls who was at the time an editor at Libraries Unlimited and kind of a mentor to me as a writer. And I had finished one book with her, and she approached me and said, “Melissa, I know you’re really excited about teaching and I kind of have this idea for a book about teaching that would be aimed at faculty in library schools. There’s not a lot of writing out there that’s just kind of a primer for how to get started for new faculty. Would you be interested?” And so she and I just started hashing out what this book might look like and it became a reality.
Steve: Kind of at a broader thing than the book, a common complaint people sometimes have coming out of library school is they didn’t feel like they’d prepared them for the actual work that they’re doing, it’s good theoretical kind of stuff. How do you feel like that’s changed over the years to kind of accommodate that? To make it, like you said, more authentic and reflect the skills that people will actually need in their practice without getting rid of that higher level theory as well?
Melissa: Right. I think that’s the tension in graduate education for library science is that students need to get that theory and understand the larger reasons why we do the things we do. Because those ideas, right, around organizing information, the ethics of the profession, those are going to guide us for the decades that we’re in our career and thinking more broadly about what we do, not just day to day what’s in front of us, but we of course also want to prepare our students to leave school ready to be able to do the work of a librarian and ready to tackle the issues that are right in front of them. So, and I think that’s always been a tension for faculty. I do think that, or hope, that more and more we really look at how do we find that balance. For me it’s about introducing material in class that gives students a sense of that theory about these guiding principles, but then translating that into assignments or in-class activities that help us wrestle with the issues of the day. Right? So how do we maybe take ongoing conversations around intellectual freedom and apply them to, you know, the situations that we’re having today. So for instance, looking at filters in libraries, or issues of who are coming in the doors of our libraries. So we obviously have a homeless crisis in our country. So how do we, how do we respond to that? Right? So looking for assignments that are authentic, that allow students to tackle these current real world problems and also assignments that let students customize what they want to learn. So, depending on where they’re at in their graduate education, what they’re doing with their career, what they plan to do when they get out of school, that they can take an assignment and they can pick their own topic, they can tweak the parameters. I always say to my students, you know, if you don’t like this assignment, talk to me about it. Let’s talk about what might be more meaningful for you or more helpful for you. And that lets them use the work we’re doing in the classroom to really prepare for the career that they want.
Steve: Yeah, and on the other end where people are arguing almost for it to be like an apprenticeship kind of thing, it’s like, do you really want to pay graduate school prices to learn about Boolean searching? I mean it’s… you need to learn that sort of, but it’s kind of, you don’t need to be taught Microsoft word or how to use an ILS. It’s, like, you’ll learn that on the job.
Melissa: Right. And again, it’s that theory that’s going to sustain us for 40 years on the job. And thinking about some of those deeper issues of what we’re trying to accomplish as librarians. So, but it’s a good tension, right? Because it keeps things dynamic and engaging. It’s not just this rote teaching the same thing every semester,
Steve: Right, you don’t want it to spiral out where you’re, all you’re talking about is theory with no grounding at all at that point, so you need that tension to pull you back down in the other direction too.
Melissa: Yeah, exactly, and I like that tension. To me, that’s one of the things that keeps it challenging and engaging every semester. What am I going to teach? What are we going to do together? It’s a good tension.
Steve: So a lot of your, you have a couple of different sections in the book. A lot of it is for people who are teaching library and information science and some of it is about teaching, through webinars and things like that as well.
Melissa: Yeah, a lot of the book is aimed at LIS faculty. So how do we teach in the classroom or online? But there is a whole section of the book that’s really aimed at librarians who are offering professional development webinars and workshops for other librarians. So thinking about in some ways a lot of the same issues. How do we make our instruction engaging and authentic when we’re teaching one another in those professional development settings?
Steve: Well, is there anything, I don’t know, any kind of uniqueness that you kind of see… I know there’s a broad range of students that you get, but is there anything that kind of binds LIS students that you can kind of see as something that you can, something that you can gear courses toward and be pretty sure that it’s going to connect with the majority of them? I know that’s a pretty broad question.
Melissa: One of the things, I don’t want to say, it makes us unique because we’re definitely not the only area that’s doing this, but, we know that the vast majority of our students are planning careers in the LIS field. So when we think about ourselves as engaging in graduate education, it really is professional education, and so knowing that students are going to… I actually shouldn’t even say that they’re going to be doing this when they graduate because more than half of our students are working in libraries while they’re going to school, right? But we know they’re going into these careers. And so this isn’t just about theoretical knowledge for them. It is about preparing for a career, being able to do the job, and again, I find that really exciting because I can talk to my students about, yes, when you are on the reference desk or when you’re leading storytime, these are the kinds of things that are going to happen or these are the kinds of things that you want to achieve in your work. So knowing that it’s going to be really applicable as soon as they are on the job is, I think very fun, both for me and for them.
Steve: Well, I know I’ve never been a professor, but I know from talking to various people that a lot of times people want to have, I don’t know if this is the right word, but kind of a learning philosophy, a teaching philosophy. Can you speak to that at all? Is there anything kind of that something that you think about in your teaching philosophies or anything that you would teach to other people of how to think to form their own?
Melissa: I’ve mentioned a couple of times already that to me, the importance of really authentic learning. So thinking about how my students are going to be using what I’m teaching them on the job as a practicing librarian. A couple other things that for me are really important are creating learning opportunities that are really engaging so that my students aren’t just sitting and listening to a lecture for a couple of hours, but that they’re actively driving what we’re doing in class, that they’re driving the conversations that we’re having and so that people are interested and part of their own learning. So what we talk about as engagement, that for me is really important. I spend a lot of time as I prep for classes, thinking about how do I get students involved in what they’re doing so then I’m not just talking at them in class this week. The other thing that’s really important for me as an instructor is thinking about who are my students? And they’re diverse in lots of different ways and creating an inclusive classroom environment. For me, I think a lot about accessibility for students with disabilities but also thinking about different backgrounds that students have come from in terms of their family, their professional experience, their undergraduate education and creating an environment that is open to all of my students, a place where they can all be successful and also that prepares them to go out into the world and create more inclusive library spaces as well.
Steve: Well, I know, unless something has gone terribly wrong, there should be a transcript of this episode available on my site. But how do you go about, for someone who’s like a new, trying to be a new LIS professor, how should they think about assignments to make sure that they’re accessible to the most students?
Melissa: Yeah, so there are a couple of different things that we can do. One place to start is by ensuring that your materials themselves are accessible to students with a wide range of disabilities. So for instance, anytime we use a video in class, we want to make sure that it has closed captions. And the great thing about closed captions and other kinds of accessibility features is that they make that video or that instructional material more usable by a wide variety of students, right? So we think about adding closed captions for students who have a hearing disability. But of course, closed captions are also used by students who might be studying late at night when other members of their family are sleeping. They are used by students who might be studying on the train during their daily commute, right? There’s all kinds of reasons, or people who will benefit from those captions. So thinking about transcripts for podcasts, close captions for videos, any kind of written material like PDFs that we post on our course websites should be accessible to a screen reader. So looking at material accessibility and I talk about that in the book and there are lots of resources online that faculty can consult. And also of course all of our institutions have offices on campus that serve students with disabilities who can give you wonderful advice about how to ensure that your materials are accessible and even teach you how to do that or how do you make sure that it gets done. But then the next step for me is I start to think about pedagogy. So what am I doing in the classroom? And that is where something called universal design for learning, often just referred to as UDL is really valuable because it looks at starting to vary our pedagogy and the ways that we engage and motivate our students and adding variety to that, that serves a lot of different learners and kind of preferences for learning. So learning about UDL and thinking more consciously about how I incorporate those principles into my teaching has been really, really powerful for me.
Steve: And we were talking before the recording about how there’s so many automated things now to help that kind of thing. That’s not so much, it’s not so much time intensive work anymore because it’s just the old days you had to have somebody or you had to do it, which just took forever to transcribe it. Or you had somebody who could do it super fast, you had to pay them to do it, but now you can kind of feed things in and computers can do things for us.
Melissa: Right. So we were chatting about the fact that if you create a video, if you upload it to YouTube to share with your students, YouTube has an automatic captioning feature that I would say is 90% accurate in my experience. It is really important that you go in and edit those captions for accuracy. It’s sometimes has trouble with things like punctuation or proper names or library jargon and so it transcribes them incorrectly, but it doesn’t take long to go and fix that. I know that at Illinois we can upload our videos to a campus media server. Same thing. It has automatic transcribing for captions and then I just go in and I fix them up a little bit, but it’s not too time consuming. I just learned this spring about if you’re giving a live presentation and you’re using slides, it used to be that you would need to have a CART person come in. So a professional who could do live transcription of what you were saying. But I learned this spring that if you use Google Slides, it will do live transcription while you are presenting. I was blown away by how accurate it was. And even if you didn’t create your slides in Google Slides for a conference, I was at the spring, I really quickly imported my PowerPoint into Google Slides and then just had the presentation run through Google Slides. It caught everything I was saying. It even picked up the Q & A in the room because of course we had a microphone, which is a big accessibility issue at conferences, always use the microphone, but it picked up everything and it was 98% accurate. It was so good. It was really impressive.
Steve: Although I have to say I do now feel bad for people who are transcriptionists that they’re getting pushed out of their jobs, I think, by computers.
Melissa: Yeah, I definitely think there is still a role in higher ed for professional transcriptionists because of course when we get into courses like engineering and math, and you have a lot of technical vocabulary or you’re trying to show things like equations, right? We need a professional to do that. But again, for those of us who are at a conference or who are speaking in class every day, it’s a really nice option to be able to do this. And even people again who maybe don’t have a hearing disability but want to see something written out because they just comprehend it a little bit quicker or it’s a nice, you know, I found even at a conference I was at, I was watching this and I missed something that the presenter said, but I was able to go back and look at the transcription on the screen really quickly and get back on track with what was being said. So it’s good to know that those options are out there in terms of accessibility.
Steve: Yeah. And I mean even if you don’t have any kind of learning disability or anything that prevents you from learning through hearing, sometimes people just kind of naturally want to read more or want to, cause sometimes it can just a preference, not necessarily for a disability. So just, it’s good all around.
Melissa: Yeah, it really is.
Steve: I don’t think there’s a downside to it.
Melissa: No, there absolutely isn’t. And again, when we look at a lot of accessibility features, they make our learning, they open up our instruction to students with disabilities, but they also offer options for all kinds of students that just make our classrooms or our instructional materials more engaging, more flexible. Right. Again, I think about that student who works full time and has a commute and would like to be able to do things while they’re commuting. So one of my classes is a management class and we read some popular management books. So instead of a textbook, we read some really interesting books like “Blind Spot” about unconscious bias and how it affects us in our lives. We read a book by Chip and Dan Heath called “Decisive” about decision making and one of the things my students like about those options is that they’re available as audiobooks. And so I have students who said, “Yeah, I listened to the entire book on my morning commute for a couple of weeks.” And it just allows them to be a little bit more efficient. It gives them options. I have students who listen to those books while they’re cooking dinner while they’re folding the laundry. Again, it gives our students some options and a little bit more control over their learning.
Steve: That’s great. In the book you talk a lot about, the bulk of the book is talking about how to design instruction in an effective, engaging kind of way. In what way would you say, I guess when you’re starting out on a course, you want to think through the course because you’re writing the syllabus, things like that. How do you come up with what kind of, I don’t know if you come up with an outcome statement or just kind of, how would you, I guess the first section I should just read it from the book is, Outcomes and Assessment. So how do you come up with what you want the outcome to be and how you assess whether that actually happens?
Melissa: Right. So when I’m creating a new course or even when I’m revamping an existing course, I do start by thinking about the learning outcomes. So what is it that I want students to have gotten out of the course at the end of these four months? And there are a lot of things I’ll look at as I’m thinking about that. So I’ll look at the course description of course. What do we say students are going to get out of this course? Because it’s really important to always keep that in mind. And then I think about my own experience as a professional. So what do I need to be, what did I need to be able to do on the job or what do they need to be able to do on job as it exists mow? I can look at things like competency statements from ALA. So there are competency statements for instruction librarians or for management. I often have conversations with colleagues who are working in the field or who are teaching similar courses to mine, and then I take all of that and try to distill it into five or six learning outcomes. So what will students know or be able to do at the end of the class? So for my instruction course, it can be something as simple as they will be able to design an instructional outline for a workshop that includes active learning and accessibility. And then those outcomes drive what we do for 15 weeks. What do we talk about in class? What are we going to read? And then from there I start thinking about assignments. And actually oftentimes the assignments actually come before the weekly planning, really, I look from the outcomes and think, so what kinds of assignments could students do that would help them develop these skills? So in my instruction course, if I want them to be able to plan a workshop and develop handouts that go with that and activities, right, the logical assignment is that we’re going to design instruction. So in my instruction course they design a one hour workshop and as I start to build out that assignment, what’s it going to look like? What will they have created by the end of the semester? I also think about is this something that they could use in their job? So if they have a job currently, could they tailor this assignment for a program that they’re going to be designing in their public library for a workshop that they might be giving in an academic library. It’s really, really fun when students come to the class and say, “Wait, I have to do a program two months from now. Could I design this program as part of this assignment?” And I’ll say, “Well, yeah, definitely. Of course you can. That would be ideal in my world.” I even had a student who emailed me about five years, eight years after she had been in the class and she said, “Melissa, remember that workshop I designed in class? I finally got to teach it!” She had had something for work and she needed a workshop on that topic and pulled out the assignment as a starting point. I do think that she updated it eight years later, but it was really fun that she was actually able to look back at that assignment as a starting point. I know, and the assignments of course, become a lot of the assessment, right? So assessment is looking at, we know what we wanted students to get out of the class, do we know that they were able to achieve that? And so the assignments for me then fold into assessment that at the end of the semester I can look back at student work and say, are they getting out of this course what I hope they are? Do they have the skills I wanted them to learn? Do they have the knowledge I wanted them to learn?
Steve: And then, and then how do you take that at the end and determine if you’ve achieved that and how you should change it in the future?
Melissa: So, I engage in a process of self reflection or critical reflection all the time in my teaching. So every week when class ends, and I should say that in my classes, even though I teach online, we have these two hour required weekly sessions where we’re online together. It’s a web conferencing style software where we have discussions, students do activities, and then of course we have forum discussions and activities like that every week. So each week at the end of class I spend a little bit of time thinking about how did class go, what was really effective, what could have maybe been stronger or didn’t just pan out the way I thought it would. I often have students do some kind of reflective writing at the end of class. And so I look at what students wrote about their learning that week and I make some notes for myself. Sometimes right there in my outline of the day I’ll add some notes about what went well or what didn’t, what I might want to change. I keep a running list of things I want to change about the course, and so sometimes at the end of class I’ll just make a quick note there, something that I want to change for the following semester. And then at the end of the semester I do the same thing. So I spend a little bit of time thinking about the assignments, how students reacted to material in the class, and I make some notes, which is really helpful because of course when I go to revise the course maybe six weeks later, it isn’t quite as fresh in my mind. So being able to go back and look at that, those notes is really helpful. I also take my student evaluations really seriously. I change the questions I ask every semester or so that I’m interested in and I get really great feedback from my students about what they really appreciated or found most engaging or helpful in their learning and then suggestions that they have for the future.
Steve: Talking about students, you do have a section in here about student support as well, and I know there’s sort of the balance here again of you don’t want to make your course too easy. Like you don’t want to be, “Oh go take Melissa’s course. She’s an easy A!” You know, but you want to challenge them, but you also don’t want to push them too far and give them, you know, overload them and put them, they may be having a crisis and they’re out in their personal life, but you don’t want to push them into crisis mode because you’ve just overloaded them completely.
Melissa: I don’t want to be the trigger!
Steve: Right. So how do you balance that between push pushing them academically but then not pushing them too far?
Melissa: Right. So one of the things I always say to my students is I want my expectations to be really clear. So the work might be challenging in my class, but it should never be a mystery what I’m looking for. If you don’t understand what you’re supposed to be doing for an assignment, if the directions are confusing, you absolutely should talk to me. This is not meant to be a guessing game. But I think more importantly I try to offer students a lot of support as they go through the course. And so many of my assignments are scaffolded so that we do little chunks together throughout the semester that helped them keep on track or make sure that they got maybe part one done well because it’s going to be the basis for part two and part three and part four. And so they turn in draft work and they get feedback from me or we do a peer review activity where they get feedback from one another and can ask for help. I find that’s really important. I always give my students examples. So when students do really good work, I’ll ask them if I can use it as an example for future semesters and share their work with other students. And I have students tell me that’s really helpful to be able to see examples of other students’ work. I always tell students, of course they can email me, they can stay after class and talk to me about the work that they’re doing. And then I also really try to remember that my students are doing more than just taking my class. Right? And it’s easy as an instructor, I love what I teach. I’m really passionate about it so I could give them 20 readings every week, but that’s just not realistic. They’re not going to be able to do that because they are taking other classes, they are working, they have family obligations. And some of that is just about listening to my students, finding that sweet spot of what’s the right amount of work. But I also say to my students, deadlines in my courses are flexible. It’s their responsibility to contact me and say, Hey, I know we have this deadline coming up. I’m having this challenge in my life, or I know we had an assignment due this morning, but I was in the ER with one of my kids last night, or simply I got the flu, right? That happens. And I think in the, in the work world, when you suddenly end up in the emergency room with your children or you get the flu, you just have to email your boss and say, look, I know I had this report due this morning, but it just, it’s not going to happen. I’m too sick. And I say to my students, so just email me and let’s talk about it. And 95% of the time we’ve got some flexibility or we can figure out how to make that flexible/ I’m realistic with myself when I have 25 assignments to grade, I’m not getting 25 research assignments graded in 24 hours anyways. Well if you turn yours in a couple of days late, I’m still grading, it doesn’t affect me. Right? So why not?
Steve: You just go to the end of the queue.
Melissa: Yeah, you just go to the end of the queue. And so I really try to stress to students that I understand that they have these lives outside of my class. I’m really much more concerned about the quality of their work then that they’ve turned it in by a somewhat arbitrary deadline. And I’d rather they just be honest with themselves and with me and take a couple extra days and do better quality work. I find that much more interesting to grade as well, right? The best quality work that they’re capable of producing. And so I think all of those things, just listening to my students about their workload, about recognizing that they have these other lives, and then giving them some flexibility around things like due dates for me has worked out really, really well.
Steve: That’s great. So there’s lots more in the book about, designing syllabi and lesson plans and materials. But I want people to actually read the book, so I don’t want it to go over everything. So I’m going to leave that there and if you want to learn more about that, get the book and read the book. And I want to move to just kind of applying the principles of the book to people actively in the field doing professional development stuff. So what are kind of the main things that you feel like people can get from your course design strategies toward making webinars or workshops and things like that?
Melissa: So I think again, the concept that you pointed out of starting with your learning outcomes. What is it that you want people to know or be able to do by the end of this webinar or this professional development workshop that you’re teaching? And using that then to really guide all of the content and in particular the assignments. To me, what’s really fun about teaching professional development, and again, I’ve taught some three-week, four-week courses for ACRL. I’ve done professional development workshops face-to-face in my career is that we’re working with professionals who are in the field right now. They’ve signed up for your webinar or your workshop because they have something that they want to learn. And our colleagues are very self-directed learners. So thinking about assignments that they can use right away or that they can tweak to tackle something that they’re doing in their professional lives are going to feel very authentic. They’re going to be very engaging, and to me as the instructor, again, it’s really fun, right, to see what our colleagues can come up with. So designing assignments that people can relate to their workplace right then and there, it’s going to be fun for you as the instructor, it’s going to be fun for your participants and then designing workshops where you really tap into the rich experiences that our colleagues are going to bring to these webinars and these workshops. So, giving them a lot of room to tailor conversations or forum discussions to issues that interest them again, where they can share their experiences with one another. It really helps to think of yourself as this facilitator, right? As opposed to somebody who has to control every aspect of the course. So giving a lot of responsibility over to our learners is going to create a really rich, interesting professional development experience. At the same time, I do think it is important to stay engaged as the instructor. So I certainly have participated in professional development classes where the instructor almost steps back a little bit too much, right, so they don’t seem to be very present at all. So we have to find that balance of being present without necessarily directing the entire thing.
Steve: Yeah, and I think a lot of that, you kind of specifically call out webinars, but I mean a lot of these strategies can be just if you’re giving like a presentation at a conference for an hour-long presentation, a lot of these skills can be used for that as well.
Melissa: Right? Right. I think we’ve really moved away too from that idea that when you’re giving a presentation that you need to be talking at your audience the entire time, right? So there is value. We want our presenters to share their expertise because of course that’s why they’re presenting, but I find that our colleagues want to engage in dialogue. They want to have opportunities for a little bit more active learning. So even pausing for a quick activity where the audience can maybe do a think-pair-share with people around them or they can do a short learning activity where they can make those connections with their colleagues, where they can tap into experiences that people are bringing into the room at a conference, those proved to be really engaging people. People don’t want to just sit for an hour and listen to anymore.
Steve: And I think probably the probably the last decade of social media is even conditioning people to having conversations with people now and not just getting information shouted at them from a megaphone.
Melissa: Right. And what’s funny is they’re going to do it anyway, right? We know that people sit in presentations and they are on social media making comments and sort of live-tweeting maybe about it. And again, and I have sat in presentations where the person did talk for an hour and, and it was very engaging, but by and large, I think we’re looking for something that’s maybe a little bit more interactive. And if we don’t offer that as the, our audience is going to find a way to do it again, by conversing with other people in the room on social media while it’s happening. So we should, let’s find a way to tap into that. Right.
Steve: Right. It’s nice to embrace it. And you can tell the people who do because they’ll like create a hashtag for their own presentation and say, just use this one so you can talk to people and follow the conversation. And then that also permits the conversation to continue afterwards because you could just keep talking about it and keep using that hashtag.
Melissa: Yeah. Which again, is really great because then we get ideas from maybe people who aren’t able to be at that particular conference or weren’t in that particular presentation, or as you say, the presenter herself can get online and say, Oh yeah, I did mention that resource. Here’s the full citation. It’s so enriching, right, that we can have these conversations that happen outside of just the room that we were in for 60 minutes.
Steve: Yeah. No, I mean, and I do that all the time at ALA conferences that I can’t go to. I’ll just pop on and see what’s happening, what people are talking about and yeah. I wanted to talk about another topic that sort of relates to this, but it’s more about mentorship in the field. So it’s not so much, the book is more about, I guess, formalized education, but then the mentorship is kind of an informal education afterwards. And I know early in a career especially, I mean throughout a career, but early especially a mentor can be a tremendous help. What kind of skills do you think a practicing professional can find in themselves to become a good mentor?
Melissa: That’s such a good question. There’s such a… what do I want to say? There’s such a need for mentorship and in some ways I look at the really this cry for mentorship. I see this particularly with my graduate students who are new to the profession and really are looking for some support as they go out. They’re looking for some guidance as they go out into the field. And I think we just don’t have enough mentoring for our new professionals in the field, and yet we can all participate in mentoring because a lot of times mentoring is just about sharing what you’ve learned on the job. It’s sometimes just about offering support and saying yes, you’ve had a bad day or yes, it can be really wearing to spend a lot of time on the reference desk. It’s tough work, you know, that we’re doing, right. So as as professionals, once we’re in the profession we have a little bit of experience, being a good listener is a lot of mentoring. Also just giving people ideas and options and then letting our new colleagues do their own problem solving. I think sometimes people are hesitant to be mentors because feel like it means they have to have all of the answers. And what I’ve learned is you don’t have to have all of the answers. Sometimes it’s about saying to a colleague who’s struggling with a challenge, “I don’t know what the answer is, but I have confidence you can figure it out. Here are a couple of strategies that have worked for me in the past” or “Here are a couple of ideas. I think that there is probably a webinar about this. Let’s see what we can find or have you asked on Twitter if other people have encountered the same problem? I think you might get good advice. Or here’s a name of a person that I think might have an answer. Let me introduce you over email and see if they might be able to give you some direction.” So moving away from this idea of the mentor is somebody who has all the answers to somebody who is a support system who can just help our colleagues figure out what the next steps might be. That’s something we can all do.
Steve: Yeah. I mean kind of someone with more experience so they can actually speak to maybe what you’ve not encountered yet and have like a different angle on things even if it’s something, cause I mean, like I said, even 20 years into a profession, it’s still good to have a mentor because you can still always learn and you always want to have conversations.
Melissa: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I have trusted colleagues that when I’m stuck, I’ve got a challenge in class. Something’s not working out or I’m trying to learn something new in the profession that I’m unfamiliar with. I turn to those colleagues and say, okay, what, what’s a good place to start reading? Or, you know, can I just talk with you for 15 minutes about this challenge that I’m having? And I walk away 15 minutes later with a completely new teaching idea or a new way to look at a problem. Right? We all need those relationships in our career.
Steve: And as we go through our career, we meet various people and we kind of make this little network of people that we can have those kinds of conversations with. But early on, how do you think somebody, what should they be looking for when they’re trying to find a mentor in the first place? Like when they haven’t been working in the field for 20 years and made friends at conferences and various places, what should they be looking for?
Melissa: I find from me that a mentoring relationship has to have a level of comfort and trust. So start by looking for colleagues that you feel comfortable with. If you feel really intimidated by that colleague, they’re probably not going to be the right mentor for you, or if you just feel awkward, uncomfortable, you know, being open with them about challenges you’re facing, that’s not the mentor for you. So look for a colleague that you feel comfortable with. I do think… so there are formal mentoring programs in organizations like ALA that can be a place to look for a mentor because they will pair you up with somebody that you have similar professional interests with and who has agreed that they have the time to be a mentor. But I don’t think you have to go through such a formal process. I do find that I do have some students who I mentor in their career and they often start as very casual relationships. So there are student who may be just emailed me really quickly about a question that they had and yet they seem to keep coming back, right? And what we realize is that we enjoy talking to one another and so that relationship starts very organically. And then two years later I realize, Oh, I really talked to this student quite a bit in their career. So be open to that, be open to reaching out with these initially maybe relatively straightforward, simple questions. And I’m a little bit of a believer in if it’s meant to be, it’s going to happen. But I do think that means that if you’re a little bit shy, a little bit of an introvert, that you might need to put yourself out there. Just go ahead and ask those questions or maybe ask that question of a couple of people and see who you get a response from. And don’t be afraid to then go back another time and ask another question. I also really suggest looking around at the students who are in your classes with you. I find that those relationships that start in graduate school can be some of the most powerful throughout your career. Certainly somebody that I talk to a lot and write with a lot is somebody that I met in graduate school and 25 years later we’re still really close friends, and again we write together, we speak together. So keep in mind that those relationships in graduate school can be really sustaining throughout your career and try to nurture those while you’re in graduate school. Be open to those while you’re in graduate school.
Steve: You’ve talked a lot throughout the interview about engagement and you talk about it a lot in the book and that’s kind of what you’re trying to do is make this stuff engaging.
Melissa: It’s really a thing for me, that kind of active involvement, that engagement, that excitement around teaching and learning. So yes, engagement’s definitely a thing for me.
Steve: Well then you should be able to answer this. I wanted to kind of wrap up with asking what keeps you engaged in your work?
Melissa: Oh, that’s so easy. It’s my students. I think early in my teaching career I felt like I was supposed to be the expert and come with the answers. And now I realize that my students bring so much experience and expertise of their own, maybe not expertise in what I’m teaching them because that’s why they signed up for my class, right. But they bring other kinds of expertise to the classroom, other kinds of experiences. And also they have amazingly creative ideas. So I mentioned one of my assignments is that students design a one hour workshop and every semester I’m just blown away by what they do in that assignment. They’ll say, Oh, I’m going to teach about this topic, and I think I never would have thought about that as a potential workshop in the library, but what a fantastic idea. Or I look at their outline and maybe it’s something that I’ve seen other people teach and yet they have this incredibly creative idea for how they’re going to teach it in the classroom. This past semester I had students do presentations in a couple of different classes, and the way that they taught each other about topics in our field was so creative and interesting that when I’m open to letting my students share their expertise to being creative in the classroom, to trying new things, even though I’m not always sure what’s going to happen, they’ll say I want to do something with this new technology. And I’ll say, I don’t really know much about that, but I’m really excited to see what you can do with it. I learned so much from them. And what happens of course, is that then every semester is different. Every semester is a little bit unpredictable, but it’s so fun. It’s fun to come to class everyday and see the ideas and the questions that they bring. It’s fun to give them these assignments and just see what they make of them, right. So that for me is what’s so engaging is just to be open to my students. And these are my future colleagues. They’re going to graduate in a year, they’re out in the field and I follow a lot of my students on social media and once again, just like blown away by the work that they’re doing. What’s so fun to me too is when a student in class asks a question and I’ll say, Oh, there’s this great article, or there’s this person you need to follow on Twitter. Hey, by the way, they’re actually an alum. She was in my class two years ago. Look at the great work that she’s doing. For me, that is what keeps me going semester after semester.
Steve: Yes. Get a nice sense of satisfaction as well, that job well done. Because look at how good of a professional they are. I helped, I contributed, I helped with that. I contributed to that.
Melissa: I hope I did. You know, I hope in some little way that I may be opened their eyes to some topic or some idea that then for them became a research agenda or became a great workshop. You know, the good work that they’re doing in their community. And I’m really lucky I have students who email me. I always tell them at the end of class, please tell me. I want to hear when you get that first job. I want hear when you have a great program at your library or something exciting happens to you. And I’m so lucky that my students do email me, and it’s such a great feeling when they email me and say, Oh, I just taught my first workshop. I never would’ve thought I could have been a teacher and it went so well, or I didn’t even realize that I was meant to do this work. So to see the great work that they’re doing in their communities, as teachers, as librarians, that really are making our communities better, stronger places. That also for me is so sustaining, because I just had that little snippet with them, you know, maybe four months in a class or maybe they took two classes with me. But our colleagues go out and do such fantastic work and to have had that privilege of knowing them in a class of maybe seeing a little bit of the genesis of that is again for me, it’s just so exciting and so rewarding.
Steve: So, Melissa Wong, the book is Instructional Design for LIS Professionals: a Guide for Teaching Librarians and Information Science Professionals. If people want to follow up with you, and ask you more questions, how could they get in touch with you?
Melissa: So I teach for the iSchool at the University of Illinois and so you can, if you go to the website you can find the email there or it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. And then I’m on Twitter @lisafterclass.
Steve: Good handle.
Melissa: It started because I have had a blog which I still contribute to randomly, but it’s really about conversations I want to have with my students when class ends. And that’s where the Twitter handle came from.
Steve: All right, well, go get yourself a copy of the book from Libraries Unlimited. And there’s a lot, like I said, there’s lots of good stuff that we didn’t cover on this podcast, so you’ll want to read that and help out. I think I’m a public librarian and I think there’s stuff in here that’s going to help me with program design for the public. So it’s great stuff for all kinds of librarians in here.
Melissa: Steve, thanks so much. It was such a pleasure to talk to you this morning.
Steve: Yes, thank you.