Instructional Design for Librarians

Open Pedagogy involves an instructional design intended to make the learning transparent to the learner and to the class. No longer do you rely on a class session without assessment of learning or evaluation of instruction. Level of experience with the content is made visible with the intention of empowerment rather than shame. Assessment criteria are designed by students and the instructor instead of foisted on them by instructors or the institution. In some cases this may seem akin to the discussion about adaptive learning and learning analytics, as covered in this Educause article. In other ways it addresses a tinge of insecurity that abounds: Will they be able to retain and use the skills we just covered?

The type of teaching librarians do is in many ways similar from the work of instructors teaching semester long courses. With semester long courses, there is the flow of a fourteen week sequence of classes. There are decisions to make of what activities to employ to support the different learning objectives in the course.  There are the learning objectives themselves. Library instruction should take these into consideration. Occasionally, teaching a first year research skills class  is a rote activity – assumptions made about student ability and need. Whether 20 minutes, 40 minutes, an hour in length, there are many activities that we can use to make these sessions more engaging, dynamic, and enduring. Designing a one-off class can be tricky but instructional design methods can guide us through the process to ensure we cover the big steps and allow both the students and ourselves to see what we have learned, what we do well, and what we can improve. The following are a series of questions that will guide you through the design process.

At the end of the session what do you want your students to be able to do? 

  • What is the educational setting? Are your students coming as part of a course with a required library instruction session? Are they coming voluntarily to an open workshop? Are they working on a group project outside of a course?
  • What previous experience with research do your students have? How do you know?
  • What do they need to know in order to do the level of research they are working on? What do they need to know first, before more advanced skills are covered?
  • What is the final product they need to produce, i.e. paper, annotated bibliography, presentation, poster, blog post?

How will you know if your students are able to do those things?

Assessment can take many forms.

  • Are students able to define their research need (i.e. keywords)?
  • Are students able to find relevant content for their research need?
  • Are they able to narrow down search results to a manageable number of items?

What activities should your students do in order to best achieve the learning outcomes for the session?

  • Model the work that needs to be done to achieve the learning goals.
  • Have your students make decisions on their own, and resist the temptation to tell them the steps.
  • Ask them to articulate what decisions they made and why.
  • Identify activities that puts the learning in their hands.


The answers to these questions will undoubtedly influence the other decisions you will make in designing your instruction. Some instructors may find the lecture model comfortingly predictable while others find it too restricting. Others are drawn to a seminar or discussion model driven by discussion and questioning. Smaller classes lend themselves to the latter, but because of worry in getting sidetracked or discomfort with non-linear learning there are times when librarians shy away from it. Putting the students in charge of their learning is a form of empowerment and increased student learning. Let’s move out of comfort zones together.


This post draws heavily on my experience working with Fink’s Creating Significant Learning Experiences and Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding By Design approaches.

Fink, L. Dee. (2017). Creating significant learning experiences: an integrated approach to designing college courses. Rev. and updated edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Expanded 2nd ed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Contemplative Pedagogy

Bridging Curriculum, Mindfulness, and the Complexities of Student Life

white stones stacked: cairn
CC0 Public Domain

The college experience is one of identity making, learning, and experimentation. Teaching and learning practice through a contemplative pedagogical frame promote the deep learning of the whole student. The Library is an ideal place for this work.

Libraries are often a core element of student life. There are spaces to study alone or with others, and places where student can meet up or simply relax. Libraries are a refuge from dorms, roommates, and the noise of daily life. The conversations Librarians have with students often reach beyond the current assignment and include student fears about their performance in a course or being intimidated by a professor. Those moments of quiet consultation may also be a time when a Librarian my notice signs of a student in crisis.

Contemplative pedagogy provides Librarians with ways to not only teach research skills in a way that promotes life-long learning, but to also encourage personal reflection, critical thinking and perhaps the unlearning of highly structured learning of secondary school.


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