Professor Denke? Who’s that?

This spring 2017 semester I computer labwas the instructor for my university’s Web Page Design course – a class of 14 upperclassman students.  This was my first time teaching a for-credit course and now, since the class just ended, I feel compelled to share my reflections.  I have learned a great deal, but was able to refine the craziness in my brain to five take-aways:

  1. Web Design offers a lot of opportunities to discuss Information Literacy – it is a natural partnership for the library that should be exposed everywhere!

Here are some information literacies I discussed with my class over the course of the semester:

  • We need to consider copyright when identifying media that can be included in our site.
  • Use Creative Commons when posting your own material online to encourage collaboration!
  • Fake or incorrect information can be published online without difficulty.  (I made my students create fake news on a page of their final project website.  Great fun! Hopefully they will think twice next time they browse the web.)
  • The Internet should be available to all, the digital divide is holding us back.
  • Linking data (or utilizing the structure of the web) can increase the value of our websites (search engine optimization) and searches.
  1. Designing a course from scratch requires a great deal of research.

I did not want my web design course to be basic, or boring, though it was introductory.  So I did a great deal of research in order to prepare for my class.  I updated my RSS feed reader to include web design and development blogs and trade news, I read scholarly journals, and poured over updates to web documentation.  As a librarian:  I do not have a lot of professors taking me up on the opportunity to help design or update their coursework, but this research process was time consuming and, for me, one of the most enjoyable parts of the process.  I am interested to know if others routinely help instructors update their coursework and, if so, how this relationship came about.

  1. Students benefit when professors make their reading and research process transparent.

I made sure that my students knew how I identified their class readings and was staying well-informed on current trends in web design and development by revealing the process described above.  I wish I was able to dedicate more class time to this, but a brief discussion of RSS feeds and authority resulted in a basic understanding.  I think this is particularly important for classes in subject matter that is quickly changing and growing.  I believe all professors have the distinct opportunity to make their scholarship process transparent so that students can observe the process of scholarship (as a conversation, if you will) and participate!  My students also appreciated this transparency.

  1. Frequent assessment results in good conversations and better grades.

I used Remind to text my students questions about the week’s class content.  Remind allowed me to send group messages and respond to my students individually without having to request each of their phone numbers.  They just needed to subscribe to the chat.  These texts usually hinted at the content of their upcoming quizzes and resulted in students considering class content outside the class.  Retrieval practice suggests that students will be more adept at remembering information if they practicing remembering it frequently.  I found that they came into class wanting to know the answer to the question I had posed if they were not able to answer it with certainty.  And so, conversations about class topics were started by students and we were able to establish common understanding and move on to the next topic without leaving people behind.

  1.  The feels of a semester extend to professors.

Because my librarian responsibilities do not include teaching a for-credit class I have not experienced the intense emotional roller coaster of the semester brought on by the ebb and flow of work.  I have been doing my normal one-shot instruction, which includes a deluge of classes during the first few weeks of the semester and a continual trickle as the semester progresses.  Though one-shot instruction definitely has a cycle, it does not compare to the semester long grind an instructor experiences.  As an instructor, I can empathize with student stress because our experiences are directly related.  I experienced an intense feeling of relief after the midterm and have a fair amount of anxiety leading up to my students’ submission of their semester projects.  I will be excited and proud when my final grades are submitted and I can truly celebrate this accomplishment!

I’m guessing that professors who teach more than one course have a compounded experience of this phenomena.  I will definitely be more considerate of each professor’s feelings when engaging them in conversations around how the library can support their work.

I’m proud of some of my work and have identified areas where I would change in the future.  Web design is a fairly structured study, but my favorite part was getting to know my students and engaging them in conversations about accessibility and the future of the web.  I know a lot of my students valued these conversations because it brought in a lot of conceptual material and changed the pace of the class.  If I teach the class in the future I will definitely make some changes to the course design.  I will likely frame the final project in a real-life development setting where I act as Project Manager and Quality Assurance (and so they will have more due dates and grades– procrastination is real).  I’ll also begin the class with more discussion of variables, values, and logic as some students didn’t have the computer science background to easily orient their thinking.  And finally, I think I would reevaluate the overall difficulty of the course.  There are no prerequisites for our web design course, but many computer science students seemed to think the material was too easy and so they didn’t participate in the process (aka read the book) until they were behind and had deadlines.  However, other students struggled the whole way through, so I need to consider the best way to do this.

Whew – is it summer yet?

PS – A lot of my knowledge of teaching comes from the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast.  Bonnie Stachowiak and her guests provide some inspiring and practical ideas! I may or may not listen to it at the gym.

Author: Jess Denke

Assessment and Outreach Librarian at Muhlenberg College

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: