Photograph of a classroom from 1890

Teaching without Walls

By Ron McColl / The pandemic and the institutional mandates accompanying it have posed unique challenges for special collections librarians and archivists who teach with primary sources. At West Chester University Libraries Special Collections, our initial plans to host smaller classes and ensure safe handling practices were rendered moot when students did not return to campus in the fall.

Screenshot of one question from a Fall 2020 semester synchronous Close Looking primary source analysis activity using Zoom and Google Documents. Activity instructions in bold, with in-class student responses below.

Structured Close Looking: Modifying a Primary Source Analysis Activity for Asynchronous & Synchronous Remote Teaching

By Blake Spitz / Teaching primary source analysis is a major component of my job as an archivist and educator and often the focus of one-shot instruction for undergraduate students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I love discussing analytic and emotional frameworks for engaging primary sources because I believe those encounters are potent moments, as each new person’s reaction and dialogue with a source is unique to them.

Phillis Wheatley editions used in this lesson

Some Thoughts on Online Rare Books “Speed Dating”

By Colleen Barrett / Last fall, I worked with Dr. Regina Hamilton to reimagine a previously in-person rare books active learning exercise for her Introduction to African American Studies course. This in-person activity asked students to examine a variety of 18th and 19th century African American materials in small groups during short periods of time alongside a worksheet that asked questions about the provenance and paratextual aspects of the items

First Time with the First-Years

By Christie Lutz / Archivists and special collections librarians who provide instruction at the undergraduate level are experts in the “one-off” class. Often at the request of teaching faculty, we offer sessions that introduce students to our repositories, present show-and-tell arrays of primary resources, or simply pull and display materials requested by faculty and stand by for classroom assistance. For those of us who wish to deepen and extend our instruction practice and reach and engage students in more meaningful ways, the one-off scenario is lacking.

Medicine Buddha statue

Thinking about Object-based Teaching and Learning

By Rachel M. Straughn-Navarro, PhD / The Medicine Buddha is an artwork that makes viewers move around it to look at it from different angles or rub their fingers together as they imagine the texture of the conical curls on his head. With younger viewers, he often makes them sit on the ground, squirming in attempt to cross their legs with the soles of their feet towards the ceiling or craning their necks to see how his eyes are ever so slightly open, looking down as if seeing something beyond the physical world. His size, at three and a half feet tall, sparks awe and amazement while his elongated earlobes, the bump at the top of his head, and other features less well-known in our western culture incite wonder and curiosity.

Space and Place in Special Collections Instruction

By Juli McLoone / The physical attributes of a classroom can seem invisible, merely the background against which the action takes place. However, just as the layout of a website affects its usability, so too does the arrangement of physical space affect people’s experience. Given how central materiality is to special collections, it is all the more important to reflect on how our instruction spaces can enhance our lesson plans.

Plug-and-Play Instruction Modules

By Cynthia Bachhuber / Those of us who teach with primary sources may feel like we operate in a very specialized arena. Our class sessions seem necessarily unique to each group with little that transfers from one to another. The class on mid-20th century Chicana activism simply can’t use the materials and lesson plan developed for the class on economic history in the early American colonies…except maybe it can.