Having previously stated that I think that the nature of what I teach requires more didactic and Socratic (at best) teaching methods I’m wondering what sort of teaching styles I actually incorporate into my sessions. There are 4 choices:
- Authority / coach (for those dependent learners)
- Motivator / guide (for interested learners)
- Facilitator (for involved learners)
- Consultant / delegator (for self-directed learners)
I have 2 sorts of training sessions happening at the moment – about 10 classes for groups of 15 Part2 (ie 3rd year) undergraduates, and 2 classes of c.15 MPhil students.
Ostensibly they cover the same thing (just with different levels of detail)
- Establish what the group already knows about literature searching
- Introduce the idea that there are other places to look than google
- Present a range of different tools and techniques which can be used to improve search results
- Hands-on searching of some databases to put techniques into practice.
The undergraduate version of this session is very much more motivator to begin with(inspiring, goal setting – ie you want your dissertation to be as good as possible don’t you? Do you think current startegies are adequate to the task?) and coach (informational lecture – ie these are the buttons you press to make pubmed do what you want) with a little bit of facilitator in there as well (discussion around the range of language in any one topic). The group are very much in the dependent stage – I send out a pre-session questionnaire asking if they’ve used, heard of but never used, or never heard of Pubmed, web of knowledge and endnoteweb. They know that their skills are pretty much non-existent in relation to what I intend to cover in the session (although they are yet to be convinced perhaps that it matters – that hopefully comes in the session!). But I would hope that they’re also an interested learner – at least when I try to suggest why pubmed v google is no contest. So hopefully my teaching style is pretty close to the types of learners who attend.
In terms of teaching style, the postgraduates get pretty much the same mix of motivator and facilitator (particularly since they are definitely interested as learners – they know why the stuff I’m talking about is useful/valuable, and they know they’ve got an intense year ahead). And I do try to be more of a delegator as well – establishing what skills they already have, and what they might like to focus on in the session – they’ve already got a deal of experience in searching to get the information they need (a lot of the time gathered through self-directed learning ie they’ve taught themselves), it’s just perhaps a longer, more frustrating process than it needs to be. But it’s interesting how much I still return to being a coach when it becomes clear that their techniques have some holes in them.
There’s a couple of activities I do in the postgrad session which hopefully encourage more reflection on their part, and which also encourage me to let them dictate the pass and content of the session:
- After inviting the group to introduce themselves and their experience of searching, I ask them to plot themselves on a graph with x-axis = experience and y-axis = confidence. What I should do (but didn’t in todays session, was to close the circle at the end of the session, and ask the students to re-position their plot if they’d like to after the end of the session. This wouldn’t be intended to make them feel rubbish, but to encourage them to reflect on how much they could improve their technique with a better knowledge of what they could actually be doing.
- After presenting a very complex search strategy I ask the students to write on post-its the question the strategy is try to answer. We then deconstruct the strategy. To improve this task, I should pause half way through the deconstruction to ask if anyone would like to rephrase/edit the question they posted. And allow time for the group to consider the changes.
- Having established the experience of the various students attending, it would be better to ask them to raise one or 2 issues they struggle with, and then ensure I address these in the rest of the session – perhaps ticking them off to emphasise that I’ve addressed their specific questions.