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Course & Subject Guides

Information Literacy Fundamentals @ Pitt: Negotiating a Class

This guide defines information literacy and discusses strategies to incorporate information literacy into sessions for students.

Negotiating the Class

From the moment you’re asked to teach a class, you have the opportunity to build a teaching relationship with that instructor.  It’s your responsibility as a liaison to make this class reasonable within your work schedule, as well as a valuable learning experience for the students. 

Start by asking for . . .

  • Reasonable lead time to plan – 2 weeks is a fair minimum.  Keep in mind that planning a lesson generally takes approximately 3 hours, and add more time to that if you have to learn new resources.
  • Three possible class dates – This encourages the instructor to be flexible around your work schedule and the planning of the lesson.
  • Syllabus – The syllabus lets you see the scope of the entire class, and also lets you start building a library of common class syllabi for that discipline.
  • Any assignments that the class is intended to address – Knowing the context of the class will help you plan solid learning objectives, and aid you in planning any assignments or exercises.

Negotiate the Class Content

  • What is essential?  Beware the “kitchen sink” class requests! Some instructors will assume that you can cover a variety of topics in a single class. Decide what’s most important for the students to know, and craft your class around those objectives.
  • What has already been covered? – Find out what skills have been covered in this class, or in earlier classes within the program.
  • What should they know?  -- Knowing what information literacy skills are required within the discipline or profession can help you focus your planning. Find out of there are any information literacy competencies that have been identified by the discipline or profession.
  • Exercises – Exercises are in-class activities designed to reinforce learning.  Exercises can also show you quick evidence of skill acquisition.
  • Assignments – Assignments are designed to be completed outside of teaching.  An assignment can help the students focus on your class because they will need to apply class learning to complete a graded assignment.   Assignments can reinforce or even extend your teaching, and are a good opportunity for evidence based assessment. 

Last Minute Instruction Requests

It can be a challenge to think through what to do when you have a last minute request for an instruction session. We've made a few notes here to help you decide how to negotiate the session.

Let's say you are approached by a professor who you've been wanting to work with, but you have 2 days notice to prepare for a 15 min session and don’t know much about the assignment or course. Here are some ideas to use while preparing as well as during class. 

  • If possible, ask the professor to talk briefly to discuss the class, even if its a very quick meeting or phone call.
  • If possible, either by email or arriving early, explain to the professor that the students report that it is helpful if the professor jumps in and describes how the articles/reports/search strategies/etc are particularly useful to their assignment. This lets him/her know that you don’t mind being interrupted and that you’re interested in a collaborative approach.
  • If you are up for it, while you are presenting, ask the students what their paper/project topics are, and what kind of information they think they need. Even though you don’t have time for more than 1 or 2 quick responses, it will help you understand the assignment. The students may or may not understand what their professor wants-- both situations provide a nice opportunity.
    • You may get to hear the students describing their information needs in their own words.
    • If the professor sees the students aren't clear, then the professor may summarize for the students, and explain the value of the resources you are showing them, and how using them will help them get a better grade. This might mean your session goes a bit longer, but if your schedule permits, see how it goes.
    • You may get blank stares, which is fine, just give them a minute to think, then pose the question in a different way. It may be that they haven't read the assignment yet, which is an opportunity to discuss later with the professor how youmight time the presentation differently next term.
  • When deciding which sources to demonstrate, there may not be a perfect answer. Use your best judgement on which resource to begin searching first, knowing that it might merely be an educated guess. Prepare a search example that allows you to demonstrate crucial aspects of the resource (such as narrowing to scholarly articles only, targeting a specific date range, etc.)
  • As you demonstrate your search, either with your search terms or with a student's, pause and ask the professor to comment on the information you’re finding. “Would you like to point anything out here? Is this the kind of thing that will help them complete the assignment?” etc.
  • Try creating a quick LibGuide that will cover many of their basic needs, knowing that you can make changes after your presentation, next semester, etc. This is an opportunity to promote the LibGuide in the session. (This tool will get you started on your research at 2am when I’m not checking you send me your research questions, I will tweak this to help you find what you need...) You don’t need to take a lot of time to promote it, just return to it frequently. Know that you can make changes to the guide after the class, and as you get to know the students needs.
  • Ask a colleague how they would approach a class like this.