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Engaging Information Studies students with law and policy: Part 2

In a previous blog post, I discussed my first experience teaching independently, and the pedagogical techniques I tried to apply. The course in question was GLIS 690 Information Policy, a class that aims to help library and information studies students navigate legal, policy, and ethical issues around information. I taught this course in Fall 2018 to 19 Master of Information Studies students, with varied backgrounds and career goals. In this course, I attempted to scaffold students’ exposure to legal and policy concepts while also implementing active learning strategies I learned in AGSEM and TLS workshops. Course feedback was overall positive, although some student evaluations were negative and/or offered me constructive criticism. Apparently, one challenge I faced was finding the right balance between lecturing and active learning activities during class time. An additional challenge was course alignment, particularly aligning content, outcomes, and assessments. I address lessons I learned below.

First, I note that – despite working hard to incorporate frequent breaks, questions for students, think-pair-shares, and hypotheticals – some student evaluations noted that the bulk of my classes were still lecture-intensive. That was disappointing for me, as I thought I had avoided lecturing too much. However, I guess that, even when you think you’re not lecturing too much, you probably are. (Maybe it’s an academic rule of thumb, like that – even when you think doing citations for an assignment won’t take too long – you’re wrong, and they will.) I was not deterred by negative feedback, but will strive to improve this area in future iterations of the course. However, thinking about how to cut lecturing further made me realize that I also struggled somewhat with course alignment. To expand and optimize in-class, active learning activities that will help students apply course concepts, I think I first need to tweak my course alignment.

Alignment, as I have learned through TLS, is the linkage between course goals, learning objectives, activities, and assessment. I struggled with this, as – while preparing to teach Information Policy – I focused on learning a lot of substantive content so that I could teach all those subjects to my students. While I worked hard on articulating my learning objectives in the syllabus and on developing in-class activities, my assessments were not as well thought-out as they could be. I also did not put enough time into connecting different elements of the course, including content, objectives, in-class activities, and assessments. Students, in course evaluations, sometimes pointed out that there was a mismatch between these elements. Now that I know the content I need to teach, I can invest more time in aligning these elements and in preparing students for assessments in future iterations of the course.

There was also a bit of a mismatch between the assessments, the content I was trying to teach, and the level I was teaching. Some student evaluations noted that my mid-term assignment was somewhat easy – and misaimed – for a class of graduate-level students. I am currently thinking of ways to make this assignment more challenging and innovative, while ensuring it helps students practice and apply course concepts. For example, inspired by another TLS workshop I attended in December 2018, I am considering an assignment in which I ask students to apply Canadian copyright law and policy to a hypothetical social media posting on behalf of an organization. This new assignment would ask students not just to make an argument about copyright, but to cite the law and justify a specific course of action on behalf of their organization. 

Further, while my final Information Policy assignment may have interested students more, some students pointed out that I could have laid better groundwork to complete it. The final assignment asked students to design an information policy of their own for a hypothetical organization. I assumed students would be able to design their proposed policy by having studied relevant Canadian laws and example policies from different organizations. However, some evaluations pointed out that grounding my class in the policy development process – the how, not just the what of specific, substantive topics, such as copyright or privacy – would have been appreciated. This is an oversight which I will address with future classes.

In conclusion, I have been told that teaching requires reflective practice. I see now that it does, and that designing and teaching effective courses is not just a reflective and iterative process. It should also be a dialogue between students, instructors and, ideally, other educators (such as my thesis supervisor and TLS) who can help with pedagogical development. I am grateful for the teaching opportunities I have in my PhD program, and hope to deliver an even stronger version of this course in future semesters. 

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