Featured Teaching Librarian: Amber Willenborg

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.

portrait of Amber Willenborg

Name: Amber Willenborg

Institution: University of Louisville

Job Title: Online & Undergraduate Learning Coordinator

Number of years teaching: 6

What are you reading right now?

My house is full of books and everyone who visits assumes they’re mine, but I’m one of those terrible librarians who isn’t that into reading. My husband is an engineer and is one of the most voracious readers I’ve ever met, so he’s the reason for all of the bookshelves on every wall. I am really into comforting reality television, though, and have recently been watching The Great British Bake Off (for the twelfth time) and the many variations of Below Deck.

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

Ice cream is my favorite food and one of my hobbies is finding new ice cream brands and flavors to try. A classic flavor I love is Graeter’s black raspberry chip, but some recent delicious brands I’ve tried are Milk Bar (go for the cornflake crunch) and Van Leeuwen. Ben and Jerry’s is always coming out with great new flavors and I’m super excited to try Dirt Cake Topped! I could go on, but I probably shouldn’t say more about ice cream than teaching.

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

My favorite activity to use with students is stolen from Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew’s lateral reading study. I usually incorporate some conversation around evaluating credibility into the classes I teach, and I ask students to talk to a classmate and post on Padlet about how they were taught to evaluate the credibility of information. Inevitably, multiple students will bring up that .orgs are credible. I tell them to open the two websites from the study, acpeds.org and aap.org, and see what they can find out about these organizations. It always shocks students to learn that the American College of Pediatricians, a group of doctors with a .org website, is a fringe hate group. The professors are also always engaged with this activity as well. It takes maybe five minutes and illustrates to students that lateral reading is a simple tool for evaluating unfamiliar sources.

Tell us about your favorite teaching tools (e.g. cool apps, clickers, etc.).

For in-person classes, Padlet is my go-to teaching tool. I usually have students work on an activity in groups and post their group’s responses in Padlet. As they work, I can get a feel for where students are with completing the questions and what types of responses they’re giving so I feel more prepared when we move to the discussion. It gives students a chance to put their thoughts on paper before we move to the larger group discussion. I also have professors every semester ask me about Padlet after seeing it in an instruction session. For online classes, I love Mentimeter. I wish I had the paid version! It’s a great tool for having your presentation and interactive pieces all in one place. It’s basic, but I also create a LibGuide for every class I teach so students have a takeaway with important links that they can refer back to after class.

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

1. Always make sure students know why they’re in a library instruction session. Be very explicit at the beginning of the class about the learning objectives and how those objectives are tied to the class or, better yet, the students’ specific research assignment. The biggest mistake I see new teaching librarians make is jumping right into teaching without putting the class in context for students. If they don’t know why they’re there and how it’s going to benefit them, why should they care about what you have to say?

2. Building rapport with students will make the class a lot more comfortable for you and for them. Don’t be afraid to say hi to students as they come into the classroom, or comment on the weather or some other mundane topic. It can feel weird to be familiar with students you’ve never met, but it’s a lot less weird that standing silently at the front of the room.

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