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.