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: Fu Zhuo
Institution: University of Missouri – Kansas City
Job Title: Teaching & Learning Librarian
Number of Years Teaching: 15
Are you a dogs or cats fan?
I didn’t know whether I was a cat person or a dog person until our family got a cat in 2015. It was my daughter who told us that having a pet at home would help her learn how to be a more responsible and reliable person. She promised that she would take very good care of it. Therefore Hammy, our first cat, came to our home during the holiday season as a gift for our daughter. Hammy has brought so much joy and fun to our whole family. Like when we raised our first child, we raised Hammy according to books. We read books about cats and watched cat videos on YouTube. In order to live in harmony with our cat Hammy, we have been trying to understand its body language all the time. Through more knowledge about cats and careful observations on Hammy’s behavior, I believe that I have become a cat person for sure. Today I have heard that some scientists are doing research on communications between humans and animals, and how I wish I could talk to and understand Hammy’s meows as well as needs directly!
What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time?
“Couch Potato” was a term that puzzled me when I first came to study in North America thirty years ago. Do potatoes grow out of couches and sofas, and not from the earth? With that question on my mind and also out of curiosity, I asked one of my classmates and learned the term actually was used to describe a person who spends little or no time exercising but a great deal of time watching television. I learned that “couch potato” is a perfect term to describe me because I cannot stop watching Seinfeld, Yan Can Cook, and Big Bang Theory. I still vividly remember some of the memorable scenes in Seinfeld like when George Costanza used a third person tone to express his unhappy feelings. “George is upset” instead of saying “I am upset.” Chef Martin Yan suddenly brought out a live crab on a fishing rod when he was demonstrating how to cook a crab soup. Laughter burst out as a result of their performances as well as humor. As a librarian, I want to bring the humor of George and Chef Yan to my job.
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 with students is for undergraduate level university students. I dress up like a Chinese chef and use real life analogies to teach the research process. This innovative way engages students so well that students have quickly grasped the key point of the library research process, such as topic selection (what dish to cook), choosing and evaluating sources (preparing ingredients), using qualitative or quantitative research methods (stirring, frying or steaming a dish), and citations (plate settings).
By wearing an apron with specific subject database names on it and a real chef’s cap, I found this analogy of the Chinese cooking process to be similar to a library research process. Students welcome this chef figure and they love to see a “chef” librarian to teach them library instruction class. They responded positively in their after-class evaluation forms. This activity has also won faculty praises. One of them even purchased and donated a real chef’s cap to me to help me replace my original shower cap.
What is your favorite class to teach and why?
My favorite class to teach is the Graduate Educational Research class. As better library research starts with better selection of search terms, I always point out some database subject term features to pick relevant search terms. For example, when doing research on “mentally handicapped children,” the student can find other possible terms such as “mentally disabled children” and “children with mental disability.” Utilizing subject terms will surely make library search results more relevant for graduate students.
Graduate students should be trained and more exposed to effective and complex search strategies. In addition to selecting proper subject terms, I tried to provide a quick evaluation of different research methods in articles in empirical, qualitative, and quantitative studies for the same topic. This process enables graduate students to see different options in writing their papers. It could also assist them in setting a research method for their future theses or dissertations.
Graduate students not only need library resources but quality ones. With that thinking in mind, I tried to direct them to search for articles with many citations in this class. I also shared how to find and check the most downloaded ones from high impact scholarly journals. Those citation and download numbers clearly indicate impact of research in a subject field. In an era of information overload, presenting quality and high impact examples will better support learning, searching, and teaching for graduate level students.
Name two things you would share with a librarian who is new to teaching.
1. Teach students in accordance with their aptitude: students are different in their aptitude, backgrounds, educational experiences, cognitive level, learning ability, and learning styles. Although we have good learning objectives based on the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, we should not expect that the same approach will always work and apply to each class for the same level. One of my ways to identify those active students as a strategy is to prepare three levels of questions in teaching. I would ask the medium level question first to build up students’ confidence. If they are comfortable with it, I would ask the most challenging one and stimulate students’ interest in learning. If they cannot answer it, I would ask the least difficult one to keep them engaged in my class.
2. Integration of the content you need to cover in the class: As teaching librarians, we always find it tempting to cram students’ minds with a lot of information in one session. However, our time is usually limited to one hour, or sometimes even less than one hour. This reality requires us to integrate what we are required to do by the faculty and what we think students should acquire. It involves many aspects of knowledge and principles to obtain a comprehensive and thorough understanding from us. A better learning from and understanding of the topic provided by the faculty will make our session focused, concise and meaningful to students. An emphasis on leading scholars as well as their theories can help students thoroughly understand the background and scope of that topic.