Featured Teaching Librarian: Alicia Salaz

Several times a year, the ACRL Instruction Section Teaching Methods Committee selects and interviews a librarian who demonstrates a passion for teaching, innovation, and student learning. Nominate yourself or someone great!

Tell Us About You!
Name: Alicia SalazAlicia Salaz
Institution: Carnegie Mellon University, Qatar
Job Title: Reference and Instruction Librarian
Number of Years Teaching: Seven

Cool Things to Know About Me!
Q: Why did you become a librarian?
A: I thought I could change the world.

Q: What are you reading right now?
A: I just finished reading Without You, There is No Us by Suki Kim. It’s an amazing chronicle of her experience teaching English in North Korea. And since we just came back from ACRL, next on my list is Lawrence Lessig‘s catalog.

What Makes You a Great Teaching Librarian?

Q: Describe your favorite teaching method (e.g. flipped classroom, problem-based learning).
A: My favorite methods really vary depending on the characteristics of the audience.  For novices in a small group, I like to use a Socratic questioning sort of technique to introduce a subject and the big questions around it. I do it often with my freshmen in the credit-bearing research skills class I teach. If you’re 17 years old and have never explicitly thought about the process of research before, it merits asking: How do you know what’s true? Why do you think so? What makes you trust the information presented in your school textbooks? This makes everything you say next seem more important than it would have otherwise. It also leads students to connect new information with what they already know, and to loosen their grip on possibly faulty assumptions which would hinder the assimilation of new knowledge. In the era of great new technologies and innovative educational methods, this is one that I would call “an oldie, but a goodie.” For students who already have a basic grasp of a subject, I prefer to use a problem-based approach.

Q: Describe a favorite activity that you use with students (this could be for a face-to-face class, online, or hybrid class).

A: One of my favorites is a face-to-face class exercise for freshmen where groups of about four students are asked to evaluate a packet of journals to figure out which are popular, which are scholarly, and why. In this exercise, they come up with their own criteria and make observations about the articles in each type of publication. Then they have a single “mystery” article in an envelope, without the journal packaging and more akin to what they might run across in a database, which they must judge to be a scholarly article or not. After this initial exercise, we have a brief full-class dialogue about how scholarly articles are produced, reviewed and published, with some cases of how the process can be corrupted, as with plagiarism or research misconduct. In particular, we look at the case of Hwang Woo Suk, the South Korean scientist whose groundbreaking work on cloning was pulled/retracted from the journal Science after allegations of research fraud. I end the session by taking a poll to see how many students had ever seen or read the Suk article which was implicated. They all say no. But then, they are surprised and delighted to learn they have all in fact seen it: as the mystery article in the envelope that they just examined and judged to be scholarly. The take-away is that surface-level indicators of an article’s merit are just that: surface-level.

Q: Name two things you would share with a librarian who is new to teaching.

A:

  1. Quality over quantity. Repeat it: Quality over quantity. Trying to cover ten things in an hour is as good as trying to cover zero.
  2. You probably read a lot of library instruction-related journals, books, and research. Expand your routine to include the literature of teaching and learning generally. One of my best recommendations for any new teacher is Visible Learning: The Science of How We Learn, a book by John Hattie and Gregory Yates. It’s a very accessible text which does a good job of summarizing and explaining in concise terms a great deal of educational research, with plenty of practical advice for teachers. Hattie has authored some other comprehensive research reviews which have helped me personally sort through what’s demonstrably effective practice and what’s just an educational fad.
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