The one shot isn’t quite dead yet.

Written by: Sara Miller

Primary Source: Information Literacy Resources

I’ve just returned from the ACRL 2015 conference in Portland, where it was great to see so many infolit librarians energized and speaking up for critical pedagogy and thinking about new possibilities presented by the ACRL Framework and threshold concepts. Throughout the sessions, one theme in particular held my attention: the resounding death knell for the humble one-shot instruction session. Our old mainstay seemed to have its coffin nailed securely shut by claims of pedagogical disingenuity. While I was raising my idealistic inner fist in solidarity, that pesky pragmatic side held me back from getting completely carried away.

Some background: I am a huge fan of critical pedagogy, am completely intrigued by the threshold concept model, especially notions of the liminal space, and nearly leaped for joy – scaring my husband half to death – when I read the first draft of the Framework. In short, I’m all about #teamframework. Like Jessica Critten (in her excellent Friday presentation with Kevin Seeber)(1), I have also been known to drool over Friere and bell hooks on occasion. I’m also a firm believer that the form of instruction matters as much, if not more so, than the content and am really eager to see what groundbreaking new forms of information literacy instruction and integration develop as a result of our focus on frames over proficiencies.

However – I’m not ready to put the one-shot into the ground just yet.

While I agree that it’s probably not the most optimal form for information literacy learning, for some librarians it’s the only shot they’ve got. Much of the great work on pedagogy and instructional design that’s been done among librarians since the original Standards were published has come as a result of our work in one shot sessions. Setting the stage for the new Framework has taken place largely through librarians’ learned experience through teaching one-shots. Not to mention that I have seen some fabulously done one-shots in my day, designed from beginning to end with a critical pedagogical lens and targeted to threshold concepts before we all knew what those threshold concepts were.

I’d hate to see the one-shot share in the ignominy of its cousin, the dreaded lecture. Lecture as a form of teaching is often maligned (and at times rightly so) among active learning aficionados, however – it still has its usefulness, and there are a multitude of ways to make lectures better and more engaging as Ken Bain (2) and others have written. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater in the case of one-shots, or worse, cause librarians who either have no other instruction options outside of the one-shot or else have an appropriate, effective use for it – to be perceived as inferior teachers. I have often advised librarians to take small steps to improve teaching by sharing tips on more effective lecturing, or by suggesting turning a database demo over to students in the form of a group activity. Sometimes these small steps are scary, and if I responded to requests for teaching advice with a megaphone and waving a “Ditch the Demo!” banner, all I’d encounter would be completely understandable resistance, not to mention missing the chance to help librarians to grow into their own teaching potential. (I’ll try not to go all Parker Palmer on you here).

Yes, the one-shot is overused, and we’re over-reliant on it. Yes, it’s come to be expected from us more than it should be. But let’s accept the challenge to its effectiveness and build upon it instead of discarding it altogether. Let’s mine the depths of our new Framework to develop a new, larger palette of options and forms for information literacy learning. And let’s not forget that we are all working together to help students learn, and to that end, becoming better teachers ourselves.

(1) Critten, J., & Seeber, K. (2015, March). Process, Not Product: Teaching and Assessing the Critical Process of Information Literacy. Presentation presented at the ACRL 2015, Portland, OR.

(2) Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Harvard University Press.

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Sara Miller
Sara D. Miller is Librarian for Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning Initiatives, supporting and facilitating the teaching work of MSU librarians across campus. She also provides information literacy instruction to students enrolled in First Year Writing courses. After receiving her MLIS from Wayne State University in 2005, Sara’s pursuits at MSU have included participating as a Lilly Teaching Fellow, heading the Libraries’ Information Literacy Unit, and publishing and presenting internationally with disciplinary faculty. She is also a proud MSU College of Music alumna with a degree in oboe performance.