Tips For FIMS Professors

I presented my 697 Individual Study findings to the 501 class on Tuesday and it went pretty well.  There were lots of questions and class interaction at the end which I always think is a good thing.  Some of the non-501'ers who came out to support me (Sabina, Linda, Tami) said I did a good job as did many of the 501'ers as well.  Whew! 

I was scheduled for half an hour but I think I went a bit long – maybe 45 minutes? Preparing for and then doing this presentation got me thinking what it must be like to have to teach a class for three hours every single week. 

I'm not a professor but having seen some really good professors (and some really bad ones) in my two semesters here and I thought I could make a list of “tips” for professors who want to improve their classes. 

(Disclaimer: these thoughts won't apply for all professors or all students – some students will go into a class with totally different expectations, desires and attitudes.  Also, I've never taught a real class in my life so what the haystack do I know?)

1. Make It Interesting
This is not the same as “make it entertaining” which I heard through the grapevine is what one professor says a lot of undergrads expect these days.  I would hope that, at least at the Masters level, the students are here to learn the material.  But if a professor doesn't engage the class, that won't happen.  Elisabeth Davies was a master at this – she made both cataloguing and statistics, two of the potentially most boring subjects in librarianship, not just interesting but exciting.

1.b …Or At Least Make It Useful
I'm going to steal Lauralee's comment and revise this post to add “If you can't make it interesting, at least make it useful.”  Good advice. 

2. Respect The Intelligence in the Room
By far, the worst professors I've had were people who gave an impression that they thought they had to be absolute authorities at the front of the room rather than being able to admit that, yes, even though they were highly educated people, they were also standing in front of a room full of other highly educated people (from a variety of fields that they couldn't possibly know everything about as well – PhD's, Masters, scientists to lawyers to musicians – even people who'd been to the “school of hard knocks” and had life experience) – all of whom could help contribute to the success of the class – if this intelligence was tapped wisely.

2.b …and They Will Respect You
Another revision coming out of a discussion with a classmate.  He claims that professors should be respected no matter what.  I feel that professors need to earn your respect rather than being granted it automatically and unconditionally.  It doesn't have to be a massive effort and can be accomplished within the first class (it can also ebb & flow throughout a semester – someone can start with little respect but gain it over time or vice versa.)  Some things that will earn my respect towards a professor – being approachable, having a “light touch” and/or being humourous, being a bit more informal than traditional professors, encouraging class discussion rather than simply lecturing, displaying a thorough knowledge of the material (plus an ability to communicate it to students), varying the classroom lectures and activities a bit to keep it interesting, 

3. Know How To Read A Room
Some of the best profs I've had have been able to adjust on the fly – if they sense that people aren't interested or pre-occupied (usually because there's a major assignment due in another class), they'll switch to more of a lecture mode.  Other times, they'll do a seminar format where they're asking for the entire class to participate.  I always found that Sam Trosow who taught us 501 was good at doing this. 

4. Have Guest Speakers
Some of my most enjoyable classes have been the ones that have had guest speakers who bring in different knowledge, perspectives and experience.  Denise Horoky who teaches “Collection Development in Academic Libraries” has been excellent for this. 

5. Make Your Class Relevant to (Future) Librarians
To me, this should apply even in classes that aren't directly connected to librarianship.  “525 – Managing Internet Information” is a perfect example.  Even though the subjects we learn – blogs, wikis, Ajax applications, etc. – aren't always directly related to libraries, Gord Nickerson does a great job of making sure that we think deeply about how these technologies could be used in a library setting in each of our weekly assignments. 

6. Draw On Your Practical Experience
Many of the professors at FIMS were practitioners before becoming academics and they are able to draw on their vast experiences in the library world to give very practical, useful and technical examples in the classroom.  Lynne McKechnie who teaches Children's Literature is particularly adept at this. 

7. Gives Lots of Feedback on Assignments/Hand Them Back Promptly
Once again, Lynne McKechnie, who is also my supervisor for my Individual Study, is excellent in both of these respects. 

8. Be Enthusiastic
This sort of similar to my first point about “make it interesting”.  One of the easiest ways to make it interesting is to convey enthusiasm about the material.  Again, to me, this is slightly different than “make it entertaining” and I don't expect professors to do cartwheels or juggle in front of the class.  But some excitement about the material will help students enjoy the class.  Isola Ajiferuke who taught us 505 was always incredibly enthusiastic which helped make the course enjoyable. 

9. Start With A Bang
I'll never forget that Jenn Pecoskie started our first 503 class by playing the KillerWhaleTank version of “New Orleans Is Sinking” by the Tragically Hip.  How cool is that? 

There are numerous other more minor things that I appreciated professors doing.  These include:

– Not only participate in the student council mid-term evaluations but ask for feedback, especially if you're a first time professor. Denise Horoky did “class check-ins” (as did Sue Hayter, another first-time prof who I didn't have) a couple times this semester and they were really helpful in providing direct feedback to the professor which, in turn, helped improve the class. 

– This is a silly one but we end up doing a lot of photocopying and I always appreciated the professors who made sure their readings were all from pre-existing photocopied pages, even if they were chapters from a textbook.  I really think it's wasteful to have an entire class flipping through a textbook a page at a time to photocopy chapters when having the readings pre-photocopied and on reserve would work much better.  (Gotta give the nod to a non-professor, Quinn, who was very good about making scans of textbo
ok chapters available this semester which saved people from having to do any photocopying if they didn't want to.)

– If you're going to have weekly “reader response” type assignments, give students the option of taking one week off for when they're extra busy.  Lynne gave us this option in Children's Lit and though I didn't end up using it, it was nice to know that if things got too hectic, I could have. 

– Similarly, think about the flow of the semester and realise that most students are taking four or five classes and will likely be the most busy in the last few weeks of term.  This is a good time to assign less and/or shorter readings and they'll love you for it. 

– Yet another related idea which is my own peronsal opinion is that I like to have complete choice in picking what I do my assignments on.  I know this thought petrifies some people and they prefer to be handed a topic or choice of topics but I'm here to learn about the areas I'm interested in so if I can tailor an assignment to my own interests, I much prefer that. 

– Be involved in extracurricular student activities.  I am still incredibly grateful to Pam McKenzie who was the only faculty member who made it out for my Freedom to Read Week event last semester.  And it was great to see both Elisabeth Davies and Gord Nickerson at the Student Council coffee house last week. 

– Repeat
questions when someone asks them, especially if someone is soft-spoken, as not everybody in the class will be
able to hear it.  Jenn Pecoskie who taught us 503 was always really
good about this. 

– This one's pretty minor but most assignments are due the day of class but some professors make assignments due earlier so that they can have them back on the day of class.  This is thoughtful but can really mess up students who, for the most part I would say, tend to plan their schedules partly on the assumption that most assignments will be due the day the class is held.

Okay, that's that.  Finally, Classmate of the Day  goes to the “Book Fairy” who left a pretty cool book in my mailbox today.  Much appreciated! 

Comments 6

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    Write a book, already Jason. Astute observations.
    Linda

    Posted 03 Aug 2006 at 11:40 am
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    I always thought a behind-the-scenes expose of the publishing/author world would be a hit. But maybe a behind-the-scenes of library school would be better?
    At any rate, I'd be happy with knowing that some faculty might see this page (or students might see this and other entries I've done) and gain something from it.

    Posted 03 Aug 2006 at 4:31 pm
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    just found your blog via infonation; I graduated from fims 10 years ago…I enjoyed it very much even though i did the 12 month intense program.your comments on cla were bang-on; i attended the 1st timers breakfast and it was the same overpriced and rushed…hope you are enjoying fims and find your niche in library land…i'm fortunate to be working in a great small university library…

    Posted 04 Aug 2006 at 6:41 pm
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    Yeah, #1 is so important – make it interesting, or if not that, at least *useful*; I can forgive a boring presentation if it covers useful information. Useless and boring has to be the worst combination ever…
    Re #2 – Yesssss….*sigh* You know, I had one like that in undergrad who, although she was an okay lecturer, had absolutely lost the respect of most of the class by the end of term because she just couldn't admit it when she didn't know the answer to something. And didn't deal well with being questioned. Urgh.

    Posted 05 Aug 2006 at 4:15 am
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    I couldn't find the link on InfoNation – can you post it here or e-mail it to me (jason@hammond.net)? Thanks for the compliments – I allow anonymous posts but would love to know who you are and where you work (you can e-mail this to me off-blog as well!) Cheers.

    Posted 05 Aug 2006 at 6:00 am
  6. Anonymous wrote:

    Great suggestion. I've added it to my original entry.

    Posted 05 Aug 2006 at 6:01 am

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