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.
Name: Rachel Wishkoski
Utah State University
Reference & Instruction Librarian
Number of Years Teaching:
5 as a professional librarian, plus 4 during graduate programs
What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time?
I’m lucky to live in a really beautiful place for outdoor recreation in all seasons. When I’m not working, I’m happiest outside hiking or running a trail, or at a nearby reservoir swimming or paddle boarding. The chance to connect with the natural world is restorative and helps me keep perspective.
Where do you do your best thinking?
While I can definitely get in the zone when working on a project or writing, a lot of thinking where I connect the dots or come up with a strategy happens away from my laptop and away from work. When I’m trying to solve a tricky problem or generate ideas, answers usually emerge when I’m on a walk or run and I’ve shifted my frame of mind.
Describe a favorite activity that you use with students (this could be for a face-to-face class, online, or hybrid class).
For library sessions where the instructor has asked for a general orientation to library resources in a discipline, one strategy I like using is the jJigsaw method. While it’s not anything new, I find this activity balances the instructor’s desire for coverage of material with my desire to have students teaching and learning from each other rather than me lecturing and doing database demos.
For this exercise, students work in small “expert” groups learning the ins and outs of a particular research tool. They explore the resource and document their findings on a matrix worksheet that has one resource per column. Guiding questions ask them to investigate the scope of the tool, the types of information found there, the creators of that information, options for searching, challenges or limitations of the tool, and something unique or particularly useful about the resource. While listening, students can fill out the empty columns on their matrix with notes they can refer to later in their research process. We wrap up class with a large group discussion.
I enjoy teaching opportunities that allow me to facilitate sessions that include active learning, peer feedback, and individual reflection. The sessions I enjoy most – and hopefully, help students most – give students an opportunity to practice things that are implicit expectations in a lot of research assignments. For example, I have a lesson that unpacks the ingredients of an annotation and engages students in writing and reviewing entries in a collaborative annotated bibliography. In general, making space for student voices is something I value.
How has your teaching practice changed over time?
My teaching has changed a lot over time, and it will always have room to grow. I am much more flexible in the classroom than I was when I began teaching as a graduate student. I’ve realized how important flexibility is for being present in a teaching interaction and meeting learners where they are. The teaching practice I am actively working to cultivate is constructivist, student-centered, and inclusive. For me, becoming a teacher has meant learning how much I still have to learn. Some areas I’m currently exploring include trauma-informed pedagogies and culturally responsive teaching.
In addition to observing and learning from other teachers, expanding the ways I teach has been helpful in developing my practice. Opportunities beyond the traditional library instruction session have helped me discover more about students at my university and understand how what I offer as a librarian might fit into their experiences. Some examples of unique teaching opportunities have included teaching an established course in the core curriculum for one of my liaison departments as the instructor of record for a semester, co-leading a book group in our Honors program, co-leading a professional development workshop for faculty focused on assignment design, serving as a reviewer for our student research grants (which requires providing constructive feedback on proposals), and organizing a panel discussion series with our Center for Intersectional Gender Studies & Research. I’ve also collaborated with instructors on Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) research in their courses. Each of these opportunities has given me a slightly different lens with which to view teaching, learning, and community that I can bring back into my work.
Name two things you would share with a librarian who is new to teaching.
If I had to condense my advice, I’d probably focus on two values: curiosity and collaboration. One of my favorite aspects of being a librarian is that I get to join students as they get curious about their research topics; getting to co-learn with students about something they’re passionate about is such a rewarding experience. Cultivating your own sense of curiosity – through reading, watching, and listening widely, attending events, and connecting to campus and community conversations – prepares you to show up authentically with students.
Learning how to teach in a way that’s inclusive, relevant, and engaging means being willing to explore, experiment, challenge assumptions, receive feedback, and reflect. For me at least, this work of teaching can’t be done in a vacuum, and I rely on my community of trusted colleagues at my workplace and in the profession to support my continued growth. Finding mentors and collaborators is vital to sustain you in your work, providing a sounding board for ideas, space to process challenges, and celebration for successes large and small.