The Bank Stops Here or Revising my Commodities Session in Environmental Studies 100

As the librarian for Environmental Studies, I have the pleasure of teaching a VERY exciting research session for Environmental Studies 100. Students enrolled in this course must research and write a short paper outlining the lifecycle of a commodity. Students choose a range of commodities from beef to iPhones.  This is a challenging assignment as many of the students enrolled are first years who have yet to undertake an interdisciplinary research assignment like the one before them.

The class is on the large side at the College; typically there are about sixty students in a large lecture hall. I teach two sessions in one week while half of the class tours the campus from an ecological prescriptive. There is a lot of ground to cover with the students; this project demands that they use multiple research databases, open web resources, and trade publications. We have to cover what the difference is between these types of sources. I have to show them ALL of the databases that might be most beneficial to them while they research their commodity. Frankly, this assignment intimidated me.

icon-calendar For the past three or so years, I lectured outlining every contingency they might need. I was their knowledge bank and they were eager to make withdrawals. Their eyes expressed fear and many of them would meet with me individually after the session to get additional help. I met with a lot of students individually and I began to notice some patterns about our interactions:

  1. Their commodity topics were far too broad.
  2. They needed reassurance.
  3. They were confused about how to toggle from one discipline to another.
  4. They needed reassurance.

icon-edit Every year, I vowed to make improvements, but I struggled to figure pinpoint where I could improve without sacrificing time to show them ALL THE RESEARCH OPTIONS.

icon-lightbulb-o This year, I had an epiphany after reviewing my Trello cards from past years where I make small notes to myself about what went well and what did not go well. The students needed time together to narrow their topics into more digestible ones. In one one one meetings with students, I would often help them locate a New York Times article or an article from a trade publication about how boots are made and distributed and show the student the clues in these articles that generate the search terms they need to complete the research for their assignment. Why do this in one on one meetings when I can do it in groups during class? Further, I could collocate ALL the sources into a course guide and encourage them to apply the lessons learned in their groups with the resources in the guide and encourage them to follow up with me later.

icon-wrench This also led me to revise my course guide and examine it with a more critical eye. While I could prepare them for ALL THE CONTINGENCIES, I realized that this would lead to information overload and if I wanted this to be a resource of use, I needed to trim down the guide to make it more user friendly. I also added some prompts to the guide to help students learn to read different sources different to extract the information they needed to complete their assignment.

I came to class this spring as a facilitator. The students would review the guide at the start of class, break into groups, read an article with the prompts on the guide, discuss the prompts and answer some questions. Finally, they would report back if they could narrow their topic from BEEF to something more specific like ‘GRASS FED LOCAL BEEF.’ The students appeared to be less befuddled and overwhelmed.

icon-thumbs-o-up In the end, I only met with two students outside of class this year. The revision made for some bumps during the seventy-five minute session, but I am better prepared to refine the guide and prompts for next spring. I am grateful that the banks stops here and that I can share authority with the students instead of lecturing to them.