Stranger in a Strange Land

Book ShelvesBy Angelynn King
Head Librarian
Delaware Technical Community College
Owens Campus

Although librarians teach in a number of ways, most of our classroom contact comes in the form of guest appearances in other instructors’ courses – what we call “one-shots.”

Giving a one-shot is like a cross between being a substitute teacher and delivering the best man’s speech at a wedding: you have to be relevant and entertaining while sticking to the schedule and making sure nothing goes off the rails.

It can be challenging to hold the attention of students you’ve never met with material they’ve never seen, but over the years I’ve discovered a few ways of increasing my odds of delivering meaningful instruction in this format.

Be prepared. Be very prepared.

When you’re teaching a skill set rather than a subject – and you may in fact know very little about the subject – you can’t assume you’ll be able to “wing it” at any point in your presentation. Librarians usually tie the session very closely to a particular assignment, which enables the students to immediately see the relevance (and the timeliness). Ask the instructor of record to suggest some sample topics so you can run some searches ahead of time – then run them again the night before in case anything has changed.

Double (or triple) down on tech.

Since you’re never completely sure what the classroom setup will be, it helps to make all your tech redundant, if not doubly redundant. PowerPoint presentation? E-mail it to yourself in case you have trouble accessing your virtual drive, and think about carrying it on a memory stick as well. Handouts? Send a virtual copy to the instructor to put on Blackboard. Here at Owens, the library also keeps master copies of assignments and pathfinders at the reference desk for students who come in for help later.

Make a connection.

You won’t be able to learn all the students’ names in 20-30 minutes, at least not without sacrificing valuable (and limited) instructional time. I usually ask them about their research topics instead. This way I know something about them that they’ve invested in, and if there’s time I can even use their subjects as examples in extra searches.

Don’t sit down.

An instructor who has an ongoing relationship with a class might be able to get away with this from time to time, but a visitor can’t. Keep hopping: be Vanna White at the screen, pass out your own papers, and move closer to students when they speak to demonstrate interest and focus the class’s attention on them. It helps if they never know what you’re going to do next.

You can rest when you get back to your office.


And as it turns out, what works in a brief appearance works over time as well: all of these practices served me in good stead when I began teaching full-semester courses. Maybe some of them will come in handy for you as well!

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