Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Selling Public Speaking

Our library instruction program has a relationship with several first-year and general education courses.  Two of these courses are required in the first year (and are also required to schedule a library instruction session), and the other two are taken in either the first or second year, and may or may not visit the Library.  One of the latter of these courses is Public Speaking, a class that for one reason or another I have had difficulty connecting with.  For one thing, the course is often taught by adjunct professors whom I may not have had an opportunity to meet in person.  But if I'm honest with myself, a lot of my inability to connect in the past has occurred once I actually succeeded in getting the class into the Library.  Since for some students this is the third time they will have seen me in a year, it becomes difficult to convince them that no, this is not the same thing you learned last week and last semester, when maybe, just a little bit, it is.

Yes, mon petit choux: I want to teach you how to figure out what you need to know, how to find sources in a database, how to evaluate the sources you find, and how to use and cite them.  But I swear!  These are different databases, with different cool features, and I know you're still only using Google, and...
What it came down to was this: I needed to sell my students on these resources.  But this is Public Speaking—they're supposed to be learning the art of persuasion, right?  They should be selling these resources to me!  For this, I needed some ties.

Vintage, school spirit, and classic black, Goodwill Industries didn't let me down.  Armed with this new-to-me arsenal of clip-on polyester persuasion, I set out to reframe a tired lesson plan.  Instead of running through the typical motions of asking students to write out a research question from which we would generate keywords and synonyms, I decided to turn this into a public speaking opportunity.  I asked for a volunteer who 1) Knew their topic, and 2) Would be okay with speaking in front of the class.  I invited this eager volunteer to come stand behind the podium and (if she wished) wear a tie.  [Back-up no-volunteer plan B: I would volunteer.]  I explained that the volunteer was holding a press conference, and would be fielding questions from the press corps (the rest of the class) about her topic: ________.

On each of the students' handouts was a list of questions to get them started, but for the most part, they asked good questions that got at the heart of the topic, asking follow-up questions to help clarify, and tough questions the volunteer had not thought about.  As the class fired off their inquiries and the volunteer answered what she knew about the topic, I wrote keywords I picked up from their conversation on the whiteboard at the front of the room.  At the end of this session, I explained to the class that this was a way of helping the volunteer to figure out what she already knew, and to focus in on what she needed to know about her topic.  The keywords on the board were simply the most important descriptor words they had mentioned.  I then asked all of the students to pair up and repeat the process with each other, with the questioner writing down keywords on the handout.  NOTE: Be sure to tell students to switch handouts before this activity, so that the keywords are written on the correct piece of paper!

For my second act, I tried a variation on a usually-successful activity.  In the past, we had split students up into small groups and asked them to peer-teach the rest of the class how to use one of four new databases (one database per group).  For this class, I added a subtle twist and stuck to three databases instead of four to avoid presentation fatigue.  Each group was now a marketing group and was charged with the task of pitching the database to the rest of the class (their focus group).  The group presenting needed to show and tell us:
  1. How to find an article/resource using this database (student 1)
  2. What kind of information this database is good for finding (all)
  3. Cool features of the database (one per each of the remaining students)
 And they needed to keep it interesting!  Remember, I told them, you're trying to sell this to us!  I encouraged them to put on the ties to make it legit, and at the end of their pitch, I showed my approval by saying, I would totally use that database!  Perhaps the most encouraging part of this revision was the conversations I overheard as the 'marketing groups' prepared their pitches: This is SO cool!  I had no idea this existed!  This is so helpful!  Discovering the features on their own, with a goal and a time limit, the students found the features that they thought were most relevant to their needs (I almost always learn something new about a database in these classes).  And best of all, we weren't all falling asleep by the end of the last group's presentation.

Essentially, it's new clothes on an old horse, but it worked: I didn't get a single accusation of self-plagiarism.

1 comment:

  1. Love, love, love the peer teaching/"selling" of databases!