Instruction Gone Wrong

A couple of months ago, I was slated to lead a class at the EPA-RTP Library about finding science information on the Web.  The class, which I called “Google Scholar and Beyond,” was planned out to the last moment a week before my presentation.  Then things started to go wrong.

Photo c/o Morguefile
Photo c/o Morguefile

Just before my walk through a week before my class, my library received notification from Elsevier that it would be shutting down Scirus, its unique science search engine (and my favorite part of my class).  Next, in the middle of my run-through, the entire interface of a web-based data bank I was demonstrating changed.  As in, the buttons moved.  Searching changed. For a Type-A person, these sort of changes can completely turn your plans upside down.  Based on my experience at the EPA (and a year and a half of teaching high school students), I want to share some tips for getting through the upending of your plans.

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“Overpreparing” is a thing I have learned this lesson the hard way.  A smooth presentation is ideal, but if your delivery is too smooth, you can’t account for being flexible with your users.  For example, if you have an introductory monologue prepared, but your patrons want to ask lots of questions right at the beginning, this will trip you up.  Don’t be your own worst enemy!

Stop Freaking Out This one is especially important if you are actively instructing when something changes.  It’s easy to go into full-blown panic mode, but more often than not, you can figure out what happened.  Particularly if an instruction session involves technology, there is a possibility that a button might move or search features might change.  Speak slowly and clearly — this will buy you time, and communicate authority to your students.

“Follow Up” is your friend Sometimes, the Internet breaks.  If something out of your control happens, tell you patrons that you’ll come back to it or follow up with it later.  Simply say that the webpage isn’t loading (or pinpoint whatever is going on), but don’t litter the session with excuses.  Tell them you’ll follow up, then do it.

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Hopefully you’ll find some of these tips helpful, but I’m interested to know how other instructors out there handle things “going wrong” in class sessions.  What do you do?

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