Interview with Angela Pashia

Angela Pashia is an Assistant Professor and the Instructional Services Outreach Librarian at the University of West Georgia, where she regularly teaches a credit bearing information literacy course. She has a Masters in Information Science & Learning Technologies, with an emphasis in library science, from the University of Missouri, and a Masters in Anthropology from the University of Virginia. She is currently focusing on practicing critical pedagogies, incorporating social justice issues into “the library course”, and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Angela is teaching a class for Library Juice Academy in January, titled Developing a Credit-Bearing Information Literacy Course. She has agreed to do an interview here to tell interested people a bit about her course.

Hi, Angela. Thanks for agreeing to do the interview.

Thanks for inviting me to be interviewed!

I’d like to start by asking you to briefly describe the class you’ll be teaching for us.

The class I will be teaching is targeted to instruction librarians who have experience teaching one-shots, but have not been responsible for a semester-long course before. There are a lot of perks and challenges involved in teaching a credit-bearing information literacy course. On one hand, I love that I get to spend a full semester getting to know a set of students. I also have the opportunity to teach concepts that don’t often get covered in one-shots. For example, it’s one thing to teach students to evaluate sources using a tool like the CRAP test, or even coming up with a list of criteria students think should be considered. But how often do we get to then take that further to discuss the ways ideology affects information, or spend a whole lesson examining the use of various logical fallacies in arguments as another facet to consider when evaluating a source? On the other hand, if you’ve only taught one-shots, how do you then arrange everything you want to teach into a coherent syllabus? Deciding how to plan assessments that you will actually grade is another challenge. And classroom management is another issue – we do a certain amount of that in teaching one-shots, but in that model, we don’t have to deal with the student who is chronically 15 minutes late to a 50-minute class or reach out to the student who did great for 8 weeks then disappeared. So my class will address some strategies related to these aspects of teaching a semester-long course.

I got the idea for this class after talking to people at conferences and on twitter, who either want to or had signed up to teach credit-bearing courses, and had questions about planning syllabi and whatnot. The title refers to teaching an information literacy course, because that was what I was thinking of when I proposed the class, but the content will focus on class design and management, so that it will be useful whether students are planning to teach an information literacy course, a semester-long first year orientation course, or whatever.

That sounds really great. Can you give us an outline of what the course will cover, week-to-week?

My thought is to start with developing a syllabus, which will take a couple of the weeks, since that entails linking the course learning outcomes to more granular daily learning outcomes, and then deciding how to assess those learning outcomes. That naturally segues into actually grading that student work. And then we’ll wrap up with a discussion of classroom management strategies. Writing that out now, it feels like LOT to cover in four weeks! This course will really be an overview, with discussion and resources to save and refer back to later.

This is a new course, so I’m open to being flexible – if we get into it and everyone really wants to spend the fourth week talking more about grading rubrics instead of classroom management, I’m willing to shift gears as needed, and adjust the description or length for future offerings of the course!

So I surmise that a lot of what you teach in this class comes from your own studies in preparing to teach a credit-bearing course, and your experience teaching it. Can you talk about that? What did you study, and how did the opportunity to teach a “library class” come about?

My background is in Anthropology. I earned a Masters and started a PhD program before switching to library school. I had some experience as a TA in my first grad program, leading 20-person discussion sections connected to a large lecture course. Then, in the first year of my PhD program, I was a TA for General Anthropology, an introductory survey course with 180-225 students each semester. That meant that I attended lectures, helped the Graduate Instructor select test questions from a test bank, and lectured a couple of times when the Instructor was unable to be in class. The following year, I got to be the Graduate Instructor for that class – which meant I was the instructor of record and responsible for all of the planning of the course. In many ways, I had less training in pedagogy than I got in my first year at my current job, but the grad students had a folder (back then it was burned on a CD!) of past materials – syllabi, powerpoint presentations, tests, etc. We also used an introductory text, so it was easy to just structure the course to follow the organization of the textbook. Those materials helped a lot, though I’d admit my instruction was just a bunch of boring lectures and scantron tests!

Flashing forward a couple of years, I graduated in 2011 and landed a job at some small regional university that I had never heard of (it’s not really that small, except in comparison to the large state flagship universities I attended). I was willing to move cross-country because I specifically wanted to focus on library instruction. I lucked into a place that had an established course. It’s 2 credit hours and is one of the options that will meet a core curriculum requirement.

Another librarian who some readers may recognize, Jessica Critten, started the same month as I did, so we went through some of the challenges of starting to teach this class together. Colleagues shared their syllabi, assignments, and other resources to help us get started, which was a great help. As we’ve each developed in our positions, we’ve gone different directions with our course designs, but continue to share ideas and talk through challenges.

Since then, our department has had several new people start teaching the course. In summer 2012, at what felt like the last minute, we were granted funding for two one-year limited-term positions with no guarantee of continued funding. We hired two new grads, who had something like a week to prepare to start teaching! One was here for one year, and the other was here for two years, but both left for great permanent positions elsewhere. In the next budget cycle, we got funding for two new tenure-track faculty positions to start summer 2013. Of course, the whole department contributed to helping all of the new hires get their feet under them. And then this fall semester, I worked with one of our staff members who earned a MLIS while working here, but had no teaching experience. We taught the class together in a sort of student/mentor teacher relationship – we met weekly to talk about the reasoning behind each week’s lessons, grading, etc., and she taught some lessons and helped with the grading. She’ll be teaching the course on her own this coming spring semester!

I talk a lot about my experiences, because I feel more comfortable critiquing my own missteps than picking on others! But the topics I plan to focus on for the LJA course are things that have come up in discussions with several of the people who started teaching the class after I did. Those conversations helped me internalize that most people struggle with these things, it’s not just me! I feel like it’s easy to say that, and to know it on an intellectual level, but still feel like an impostor on an emotional level. But really, everyone I’ve talked to who really cares about their students has struggled with these things, and many still do after several years of teaching.

And I hope I didn’t write too much for this question!

No, not at all. That is all very helpful in thinking about this. I wonder if you can say a couple of things about what was most interesting or surprising about teaching the credit-bearing course?

It’s really rewarding to see students develop over the course of a semester. I don’t always get to see much change, because we’re talking about just a few months, at a time when, developmentally, their brains may not yet be wired to be able to handle a lot of grey areas, like picking apart the ways authority is constructed and contextual. So I sometimes envy friends who teach in disciplines with majors, where they get to see students grow over the course of several semesters. On really challenging days, I remind myself that I am planting seeds, and even if I don’t see growth now, it could be germinating and sprout next semester or next year. Sometimes a student will email a year or two after having taken my class to tell me that they didn’t really get the importance of the lessons when they were in my class, but now that they have to do more serious research in other classes, they’re so glad to have taken my class.

But it is amazing when I do get to see that growth. A couple of years ago, I had this one student. For the first month or so of the semester, they seemed like a total slacker. They would do the homework assignments, but would write really short answers that kind of skimmed the surface near what I was looking for. After getting low grades on a few assignments, this person asked me why, what they needed to do to get better grades. I explained my grading, and what I’m looking for – make sure you answer all of the questions, and say enough to show that you are actually applying what we’ve talked about, not just reciting the terms you think I want to hear. For the next few assignments, I didn’t see much change, so I wondered, did they even really listen or did they just want an easier answer? But then, when it came time to grade the final projects, this student knocked it out of the park. At that time, the final project included a paper, an annotated bibliography, and a presentation. On the annotated bibliography, the annotation had to include an evaluation of the source’s credibility. This student did the best job of applying our evaluation criteria out of everyone in the class! I don’t remember much about their paper, except that overall, they had more minor grammatical errors on both the paper and annotated bibliography than most, but the content was really good.

A week after finals week was over that semester, I went out for drinks with a friend. Assuming the students had all left town, we just grabbed seats at the bar (instead of looking for a less visible seat somewhere). We were wrong. That student walked by and saw me, and came over to give me a hug. They said that was the first time they had ever gotten an A, and told me about how proud their mom was when they showed her the paper for my class. This student earned it – like I said, despite lackluster work on lower value homework assignments, they did a great job on the final project. That also kind of validated my approach to homework assignments – lots of feedback on lower value assignments early, so that they know how I grade before they turn in a high value assignment!

Oh, and it’s also interesting to see how former students react to you during reference shifts – will they avoid eye contact or come over to say hi or ??? Being the one who is responsible for assessing their learning means that I have to be the one to hold them accountable – which means recording an F for some students for the semester. And nobody likes that (myself included)! Some students in that boat will avoid eye contact at all costs, while others will acknowledge that they dropped the ball that semester but have gotten things together since then.

That is great. I hope people taking your class with up will end up having similar experiences. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about your class and your experiences. And best of luck with the class next month.

Thanks for interviewing me! I also hope they have similar experiences!

I know you recently developed a Library Juice Certificate in Library Instruction – I would definitely encourage people to check that out. My course will cover the logistics of managing a semester-long course, but I would not have had as many great experiences without training in how to teach well. I got that from a range of sources, including Maria Accardi’s Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction course. My course will just fill the gap for those of us trying to translate pedagogical training for librarians, which mostly focuses on one-shots, into a coherent semester-long plan. We’ll examine issues that don’t come up much for those teaching only one-shots, but not address skills that are also relevant to one-shots, like how to develop an engaging lesson plan. I really enjoyed Maria’s course, and have heard great things about Andrea Baer’s classes, too!

Thanks for the plug! And thanks again for the interview.

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