Graduate Students Are(n’t) the Worst

Due to a series of scheduling mishaps, I only observed one class this week: a graduate-level English class that is the “intro” course for new MA students and some PhDs.  Just a few short years ago, I was actually a member of that class and I remember coming in for library instruction (although it wasn’t with the fabulous librarian who did this session).  In my class, there was a bit of a “too cool for the library” attitude.  So I have to admit I was expecting a tough crowd for this session, especially since I tend to agree with this pearl of wisdom from 30 Rock:

[Disclaimer: I am a perma-grad student and many of my friends have spend significant amounts of time in grad school, so I don’t actually think grad students are the worst people.  But this clip is going to function as a framing device for the rest of my post (ok, grad students are the worst: we use phrases like “function as a framing device.”) :)]

The main reason I think this session was successful is because Jenny struck an excellent balance between simple and complex.  She began the session with a little joke that she usually teaches freshmen, so she might get over-animated or try to teach them easy things at times.  This gave her the “excuse” to briefly mention how to find a couple simple but foundational items, including Journal Finder and Research Guides.  There were probably a lot of students who had never heard of either of those, but they most likely wouldn’t have wanted to admit it or ask for help.  From there, Jenny moved into teaching a lot of “insider tricks” involving MLA, Worldcat, ILL, and primary source databases.  She was able to demonstrate how to conduct basic searches while showing these insider tips–but by focusing on the parts that were special and advanced, she really engaged the students.

She gave the students a worksheet that took them through several complex search tasks, and it was clear that the students were interested in trying to figure them out and didn’t scoff at them as busywork.  She invited volunteers up to the podium to walk the class through the excercises, which I think is also an excellent way to give advanced students like these ownership of the material.

Overall it was clear that Jenny had created an environment where the students felt challenged and engaged, but still able to ask questions.  Her methods met the grad students on their level, but still subtley included students who might not have been as familiar with library research.  There are two extremes to this balance: she could have been overly simplistic and talked down to the students, or she could have shown them tons of advanced skills without giving any introductory material.  In reaction to the first approach, a majority of the students would have quickly checked out; in reaction to the second many might have been extremely interested, but several would have felt lost and confused (and that’s all too familiar a feeling in grad school–the library might as well be a happy place!).