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Writing Across the Curriculum


Holloway Hall

The One Shot
Stephen Ford
Blackwell Library

Imagine this: your task is to fit all of your accumulated professional knowledge into a single 50 minute instruction session. That’s it; you will get no more classroom time with your students. So then, what do you teach and how do you teach it? Will it be relevant to your students? Will they get it and, more importantly, will they use it?

Now step back from your own musings to see this as a major dilemma for academic librarians. We call these “one shot” instruction sessions, a slang term for formal instruction given in a single session instead of extended over several class periods. To many librarians they are a bane and a blessing.

Library instruction, or user instruction or bibliographic instruction (or any number of other labels), has a long and evolved history in the profession. First beginning as simple tours of library buildings and ultimately ending up changing the very status of librarians to faculty in most institutions of higher learning.

Teaching has become a large part of the everyday activity for most librarians and the one shot is the major vehicle. Typically, a one shot session simply replaces a normal 50 minute class period in any credit-bearing course, through which librarians attempt to inject information literacy skills and concepts. As information literacy itself becomes more widely understood and required in universities, the number of instruction sessions tends to increase.

My usual experience at the start of the semester is a mixture of excitement and anxiety. It starts with optimism at creating that perfectly fun, enlightening, entertaining and substantive learning experience, but is quickly tempered by my own self-imposed pressure to cram everything I know into that absorbent student brain, in 50 minutes or less.

One shot instruction is frustrating because I want so much for students to understand how an academic library is organized; where resources are located; how research mechanisms function; how to find information effectively, evaluate it critically and use it appropriately; the need to investigate a topic objectively; and how to cite properly, to list just a few concepts that are quite difficult to get across, in an in-depth conceptual manner, in 50 minutes or less. We are also discouraged because too often the one shot is not scheduled at the best time in the course, when students have a pressing need for it, when they can actively learn.

At the same time, the one shot model is truly wonderful because I get to work closely with a wide variety of faculty from different disciplines; touch the lives of so many students; am allowed to think deeply about my learning objectives for my involvement with courses; can be creative in how I teach and in the mechanisms through which I teach; do not have to grade students (and all the giddy joy that sidesteps); and play a huge part in teaching students to be information literate, which they will carry with them the rest of their lives.

Although the one shot is the dominant mode of teaching library instruction, it is not the only one. Some librarians expand their course involvement with multiple sessions throughout the term. Still other librarians co-teach courses as a way to be more involved directly with students. And librarians create self-help tools to meet students at their point of need on any number of topics. Some campuses have created credit-bearing information literacy courses. And other schools attempt a campus-wide integration of information literacy concepts throughout course content by educating faculty or even by reworking the entire curriculum.

In the long view, all of my periodic ups and downs over one shot instruction may simply end, because of the continuing evolution of library instruction on academic campuses. I can imagine that. But then again, who knows, I might also one day have the pleasure of trying to cram all of my knowledge into 50 seconds, or less.


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