Reflections on presenting to an LIS class

Earlier this semester, I got invited to speak to a graduate class in the iSchool at the University of Illinois. The class was LIS 451: Introduction to Network Information Systems. While I didn’t take the class during my time in Illinois, my mentor and professor, Martin, taught the class (and therefore, I heard a lot about the syllabus and class structure). The goal of the class is to get students comfortable using technology and provide hands on experiences with networking computers, taking computers apart, and helping other use technology. Many of these activities I did while working with Martin and others on various grants and community members.

In typical Hailley fashion, I enthusiastically said yes to this opportunity. Then, as the date drew closer, some fear set in. What would I take about for an hour? Was the work I did in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois and now in State College, PA worthy of a presentation to students only a year or two behind me professionally? Would peers outside my close bubble find my ideas, theories, and practice useful and or interesting?

Setting aside those fears, I dug into my backlogs of HLS posts for inspiration, and reflected on my practice as a librarian and with some coaching from Martin, figured out my presentation. I called it “Demystifying to Build.” 

For me, demystifying is a crucial concept to how I see myself as a librarian and how that concept defines the work I do. I kicked off my presentation with the following slide, broadly defining demystify.

Demystify definition

When we clarify, explain, and highlight the ways a system works, we allow ourselves to better understand the process/things/piece of technology. We become more confident in our ability to broadly solve problems, even if we haven’t encountered that specific situation before.

The rest of my presentation was spent on defining what it meant to demystify in a variety of contexts including

  • Computers
  • Community
  • Research
  • Academic librarianship

For each section, I used the definitions above to set the stage and used examples from my life to expand on those concepts. Naturally, the work I did with the Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center and the Residence Hall Libraries were key examples. As I was creating this presentation, I started to more clearly see the influences of Illinois play out in my work at Penn State so far. For example, demystifying technology allows users to move from thinking of technology as a magical black box to thinking of it as a tool they use to do things they value doing. If we pull that idea of demystifying over “research,” we can think strategically about how we work with students. In order of us to demystify research, we need to work together with novice student researchers to show them the skills of how to find information. In that process, we are actually opening the door to our community of practice and inviting them in. That’s powerful.

My presentation wouldn’t be complete without some theory sprinkled in. Before the class, I created a list of my essential readings, and saw how the core readings from Illinois influenced the new readings I’ve started to ground my academic librarianship in. I’ve included the list here, if you’re curious.

When I was all said, and done, I opened it up for conversation. The students in the class were engaged with me and the ideas I had put forth. We discussed the natural human stage of magical thinking and how that plays into demystifying as adults. The growth mindset also came up and how growing technical knowledge is not always easy. We talked about the comfort and connection doing demystifying together.

There was so discussed on the situated learning ideas I had proposed. In my current job, I was introduced to Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger’s idea of a community of practice with experts helping to bring novices into this space. As a reference librarian, I try to use situate learning in every conversation I have with students. In my office, I reposition my second monitor to face the student and handle my wireless mouse over to them. We search together, but by giving the mouse to the student, I allow them to navigate the field of information and ultimately chose the information they think will be the most useful for their project. The students in this LIS class liked that idea, and even requested a picture of my office space to better see how I position reference.

 My office space -- you can see the second monitor that I can rotate around and the wireless mouse in the middle of the picture.

My office space -- you can see the second monitor that I can rotate around and the wireless mouse in the middle of the picture.

In our discussion, we also discussed the ways handing over the mouse lets the novice know you trust them and know they have the capability to successfully research a topic. Selfishly, it was really nice to hear resonance with those ideas and a have sense of validation for the ways in which I think and talk about reference.

After the discussion on my talk, the conversation shifted to the service learning projects the students are working on. It was great to hear about the technology support they were providing and how demystifying might fit into the work they do. I definitely started to miss UNCC a little bit more in those moments.

Class ended and I logged out of Blackboard feeling pretty good. I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about my work in that form. It was confidence boost and a reminder about the time it takes to do this work. As a professional who is standing on the edge of really diving into research, it was helpful to put all my thoughts into a (somewhat) concise presentation and see where opportunities exist for future papers, posters, and other publications. I’ve included all the slides of my presentation below and look forward to talking about my work with other groups in the future.