By Meredith Farkas | August 3, 2010
Wow, what can I say about Immersion? First of all, you have to be there to really understand what a profound experience it is. My in-laws were visiting when I got back from Immersion and I found it very difficult to explain the experience. What I told them is that it was an intensive program (like a retreat) focused on building an information literacy program (well, it is in the program track, though the teacher track is more focused on developing an approach to teaching). But it was so much more than that. It was a time of intense reflection on where we’ve been, what we’ve been doing, where we want to go, and what we need to do to get there. It was about developing the persuasive skills to realize our goals. I recognized many missteps I’d made in the past and saw my future path so much more clearly at the end of Immersion that I now feel a renewed sense of purpose. It was like a vision quest minus the peyote.
Immersion was exhausting. You barely had time to stop and think since you were constantly engaged in activities or doing “homework.” But it was also exhilarating, because you were constantly hearing things that made fireworks go off in your brain. “Oh my gosh, we could totally do that at my library!” After being back at work for 3 hours, I’d already used an idea from Immersion for changing our student orientation program. This year we’re getting 26 groups of about 30 students each coming to the library for around 40 minutes each. My cohort leader (the fabulous Tiffini Travis) gave me the idea to break the students into groups and have each group find out about certain parts of the library and then share that information with the entire class. Brilliant! Not only does it prevent us from having to give a dry, boring lecture/tour, but it gets the students engaged in learning and acting as teachers rather than passive participants. While I loved the scavenger hunts we did for the past two years, they were a ton of work and stress for me and I always felt burnt out just as the fall semester was starting. This idea was embraced by all of my colleagues. Hot damn!
Immersion was also about breaking down one of our biggest barriers: ourselves. Never underestimate the power of denial and procrastination! I think my biggest epiphany came when we were discussing a case study we’d been assigned to read. It was about Dorothy, the first instruction coordinator at her institution, and the missteps she made in her first few years on the job. I realized when I was talking about the mistakes she’d made, I was getting really annoyed. And then I realized why. I’d made many of those same mistakes. I was Dorothy! It made me see my own role in a new light and helped me realize that I’d been avoiding some of the same things (being more involved in the University outside of the library, focusing on staff development). Those realizations really informed my action plan and will inform all of my work this year as instruction coordinator. After talking to many of my fellow program-track colleagues, I realized that I was not the only one who’d had that epiphany, so it was definitely a good experience to break down our own denial.
Another epiphany came when we took a survey to determine where we fell in our leadership orientation (structural, political, human resources or symbolic). I found that I scored very high on symbolic, which didn’t surprise me at all, because I tend to be a big picture/vision person. What it made me realize was that I wasn’t focused enough on the other areas. I wasn’t focused enough on building consensus and a sense of shared purpose amongst the members of the instruction team (while my colleagues have always gone along with my ideas, I don’t feel like I ever had the sort of buy-in that makes people feel truly committed to a project). I wasn’t focused enough on the world outside of the library and getting involved in committees and activities that could provide opportunities for promoting IL. And I wasn’t focused enough on gathering and using data to make the case for information literacy instruction. So these were the areas that I ended up focusing on in my action plan, which was the final project we did in the program track of Immersion.
By the end of Day 1 back at work, I’d implemented one of the items from my action plan. I wanted to develop a library staff development program centered around instruction. In addition to scheduling monthly instruction meetings (meetings had previously not been very regular and were combined reference/instruction meetings), I also scheduled monthly brown bag lunches to share ideas surrounding pedagogy, assessment and content related to IL. We’re going to have our first brown bag this Friday where I’ll be talking about developing learning outcomes (thanks Anne Zald for the great lessons on developing appropriate outcomes!). Given that my colleagues have varying levels of training and experience in teaching (from zero to a bit, pretty much), this should be really beneficial for all of us. I also hope it will create more of a sense of cohesiveness among members of the instruction team, since in the past we’d been very focused on our own liaison areas. We’re one of the few libraries out there that’s been suffering from too few meetings rather than too many, so I think this will be a positive change.
One of the most rewarding activities we did at Immersion was a brand new one that the Immersion faculty were trying out for the first time. They had each program track cohort plan and execute an instruction session for a teacher track cohort about planning and persuasion (basically what we’d been learning all week). It was great for us, because there’s nothing that makes learning stickier than when you have to teach what you’d just learned. It also brought our cohort together more. And it was great for the teacher track because they’d been planning out how they were going to change their teaching without considering how they were going to convince stakeholders that this was a change worth making. Also, it was just nice to come together with members of the teacher track like that and hear about what they were learning.
One of the things I loved best were the variety of group and individual experiences. Sometimes we were listening to a lecture in a big room. Sometimes we were participating in small group discussions/activities. Sometimes we were doing individual work. Sometimes we were molding stuff with clay and doing skits wearing snorkeling gear. Sometimes it was just the 30 program track participants sharing their experiences. I feel like I’ve built such a wonderful network of instructors and instruction coordinators whom I know I will learn much more from in the future. I absolutely loved working with my cohort; we are all dealing with diverse and complex situations and it was really nice to discuss this stuff with people who are equally passionate about user-centered info lit instruction. I really hope to keep in touch with these inspiring professionals.
If you do instruction at your library and have the opportunity to attend Immersion, I’d highly recommend doing it. I’ve been to plenty of conferences and have come out with great ideas, but I’ve never felt so changed by anything else. It was wonderful. Thanks to Randy, Anne, Beth, Craig, Tiffini and ACRL for creating such a memorable experience for us!