Friday, August 29, 2008


As I mentioned briefly in FriendFeed yesterday, our library tried an interesting experiment with mini-workshops. Many of my colleagues had long wanted to see what it would be like to provide brief workshops right next to our busy reference desk. Yesterday, we gave it a shot. I'm optimistic about the prospects. Here's how we provided them:
  • Picked "finding course reserve materials and textbooks" as the focus of the ten-minute workshop, as the reference desk is flooded at the moment with students all trying to figure out if their textbooks and other assigned course materials might be available in the library.
  • Set up a projector, screen, and laptop on the side counter of our reference desk. Our reference desk is shaped like a large, squared-off letter "U." The sides of the "U" are low counters about ten fet long.
  • Set up a dozen chairs facing the side of the reference desk and the screen.
  • Posted a sign by the reference desk announcing a mini-workshop at such-and-such time on "course reserves."
  • For fifteen minutes prior to the start of the workshop, a librarian roamed around the busiest floors of the library drumming up interest in the workshop and steering interested students down to the desk.
  • We did four separate mini-workshops in the late morning and early afternoon, when the library was most crowded with students.
  • Attendance at each workshop ranged from seven to eleven students. At each workshop, at least a few people dropped in after they had already begun.
I taught two of the workshops and was happy to have students hanging around afterwards to ask additional questions. Although my "classroom" was a bit noisier than what I was used to and I had to speak up louder than I am used to in the reference area, I was told that I could be clearly heard and understood. I really enjoyed this kind of quick-and-dirty instruction, as it filled a real need, reached a fair number of students in a really short time, and did not take a lot of effort to set up and run.

Although my colleagues and I have not had a chance yet to discuss in detail what happened and whether we will do more, I think there is a good chance that our library will try this again. I can see a number of useful benefits to adding mini-workshops like this to our range of formal instructional offerings, which includes open workshops, course-related lectures, niche workshops (scheduled at the request of a handful of students), and our credit courses (we even have an information studies minor here). Here are some of the benefits of doing these mini-workshops:
  • For busy students, a ten-minute workshop on something really practical has particular appeal.
  • By offering the workshops next to the reference desk, which is fifty fee away from the main entrance of the library and in plain view of all who come in, we are helping to reinforce the notion of the library as a beehive of activity. We are also making our instructional efforts much more visible to all, especially to those who had not even considered that a library would offer workshops (let alone credit courses).
  • They are easy to set up and run. One person could theoretically do it all (round up attendees and teach).
  • Since they are so short and take such a minimum of investment to do, you can offer a bunch of them in one day (we did four as an experiment, but I can see doing more in a single day, perhaps one every half hour during the hours when library attendance peaks).
There may be some limits in what topics we can teach in such a short amount of time (we can't squeeze our traditional 75-minute open workshop into this time frame), but then these mini-workshops are probably best viewed as a complement to our other instructional offerings instead of a replacement for any of them.

After my colleagues and I have had a chance to analyze our experiment a bit, I'll try to remember to report back here on whether this experiment will continue and, if so, how it is working out.


At 10:14 AM , Blogger Amy said...

I think this is a great idea. Kudos. You really captured your audience at the "point of need."

At 6:01 PM , Anonymous Beth said...

very good idea, and good timing, too. Nice going, Stephen.

At 11:17 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

great idea, I currently run monthly courses and the mini courses would be a great complement to them, or for those who haven't the time for a longer course



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