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

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.

Practical How-To Guide: Communicating and Collaborating with Faculty Instructors

By Melissa Barton / The majority of instruction sessions organized or led by librarians and archivists involve hosting either individual or multi-session visits from a longer credit course, whether graduate, undergraduate, or K-12 students. This How-To Guide provides advice and practical steps for librarians and archivists in collaborating with the instructors of those courses — referred to here as “faculty” but often graduate student instructors, high school teachers, and instructional leaders in other roles.

Getting Started Teaching with Document Cameras and Original Primary Sources

By Heather Smedberg / For those who teach with and about original primary sources, document cameras can be a powerful addition to your toolkit and can help you bring active learning techniques to your instruction even when a hands-on experience is not feasible. Document cameras are mounted cameras that take real-time images and/or video of an object for display on a screen, making it easier for students to see closely what you are referring to on a page. You can zoom in on details or show interesting 3D elements of books or artifacts, without having to create a slideshow of photos in advance. This live approach creates a more engaging experience. Document cameras can make a lecture hall feel smaller and used in online classes can bridge vast physical distances between students and collections. Even when a hands-on component is possible, you can use them to scaffold in useful content or skills to help students succeed during a subsequent in-class exercise or assignment. Students can also use your document camera to present their findings or lead a discussion with original materials. Document cameras often have built-in capability of capturing images or recording audio and video of your demonstration session, which can come in handy if you want to post a recording of your presentation whether for post-class assessment or to create online learning objects.