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ACRL IL Immersion 2015 experience

As mentioned last month, our very own Elizabeth Brookbank, ACRL-Oregon Public Universities Representative and Instruction Librarian at Western Oregon University, participated in the ACRL Information Literacy Immersion Teacher Track, August 2-7, 2015, in Seattle. Below, Elizabeth has captured her thoughts — and personal faves! — from the experience.


Since starting library school, I had heard other librarians talk about “Immersion.” It was always discussed as a sought-after and prestigious opportunity that was both deeply valued, but also sort of terrifying. Even so, many of the librarians I admire and think of as role models had participated in it. And so, upon hearing that it was being held in Seattle this year, and in my second year as an Instruction Librarian, I decided to apply for this mysterious experience called Immersion. I am so grateful that I did. (I am also tired. So, so tired.)

When they call it Immersion, they are not kidding. Every day started at 8:30 a.m. and most went until 8 or 9 p.m. That’s before the homework. This level of intensity, however, allowed for a depth of content that would not have been possible otherwise. The intensity of the experience also bonded the group together and started from the very beginning to create a learning community of trust.

It was an experience at times serious and at times lighthearted. This work-hard-but-have-fun environment was intentionally created and fostered by the faculty. They had a good sense of humor, and they let us see them as human beings, thus creating a mutual trust. They provided us with a mix of learning activities, some of them fun and whimsical, some of them challenging and thought-provoking, some of them all of the above. They thoughtfully guided us through discussions of some sticky topics and encouraged reflection at the end of each session. In short, they were excellent teachers. They modeled what they were teaching us and were transparent about how they planned and structured our learning experience so that we could replicate it as teachers ourselves.

Since there is no way I can fit everything I learned into one short blog post, I will instead give you my top 5 (plus 1) takeaways from Immersion 2015:

  1. Be intentional. There is never one right answer when it comes to how to teach, what to teach, how best to use your time, etc. Just make sure the choices you make are intentional.
  2. Challenge assumptions. About yourself as a teacher, about your students, about learning in general and what you are teaching specifically.
  3. Active verb + in order to + why phrase = a good learning outcome. The active verb should be developmentally appropriate and the “in order to” + why phrase should guide your assessment of that outcome.
  4. Activity does not equal active learning. Any learning activity can be active – even a lecture, if you ask students to reflect critically on it. Conversely, an activity does not ensure that active learning will happen.
  5. Talk about learning, not sources. Talking so much about “sources” divorces research from the learning process and experience for students. Instead of talking in your instruction sessions about the number of sources students have to find, talk about what they need to learn and how to use research to learn it.
  6. When engaged in intense intellectual work, eat every 2-3 hours. 😉 Seriously, they fed us so much, but I lived for those snack breaks.

Another big highlight of Immersion for me was getting to soak up the wisdom of the imitable Deb Gilchrist. And so, my second list is a fan-girl homage to Deb.

Top 5 (plus 1) things I learned at Immersion from Deb Gilchrist:

  1. Don’t talk about anything in a session that you can put on a handout.
  2. A learning outcome doesn’t have to be measurable, but it does have to be judgeable.
  3. Make learning outcomes transferrable outside academia. You aren’t teaching to help students write their 10-page papers. You’re teaching to help them become informed, responsible, functional citizens of the world.
  4. Re assessment: Start small, but start!
  5. We should assess what we value, not value what can be easily assessed.
  6. Be intentional!

And finally, a selection of tweets:

So yes, Immersion was exhausting and overwhelming, but it was also absolutely inspiring. It has fundamentally shifted my perspective on teaching and being a librarian. To anyone considering whether or not to apply to the next program, I encourage you wholeheartedly to go for it.

And now, I’m off to take a nap!

~ Elizabeth Brookbank, ACRL-Oregon Public Universities Representative (2013-2015)
Instruction Librarian, Western Oregon University

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