Active Learning and Reflection in a Strategic Management Course

It was the fall of 1998 and I was a first-year student at California State University, Northridge. Thanks to a federal work-study program at the Delmar T. Oviatt Library, I’d gotten my first job as a library student assistant, where I worked under the late Karin Durán. Watching her deliver library instruction left a lasting impression on me and all those lucky enough to sit in any of her lectures. Whether leading a workshop or answering customer queries, Karen remained kind, articulate, and always ready to serve. In terms of style, her look was iconic. She loved fashion and was known to wear her hair in tight, quaffed buns. I often marveled at her majesty, as she seemed to glide across the library’s floor with authentic ease.

This past fall semester, I walked into 26 different classrooms for library instruction with up to 25 students in each session. I didn’t feel anything like Karin Durán leading these workshops. She’d made it look easy. But in reality, presenting to a room full of strangers can feel a lot like preparing for a gun fight in a Wild West movie. According to authors Gardner and Leak, teaching anxiety refers to “anxiety experienced in relation to teaching activities that involve the preparation and execution of classroom activities.” I begin by taking deep breaths and acknowledging the natural fears that I might be feeling at the moment. Some feelings that I have experienced are nervousness, fear, panic, turmoil, and worry. One strategy that I use to settle these feelings is to connect with the first person I meet and to ask them something about themselves.

Requesting Library Instruction

Throughout the year, course instructors place library instruction requests through our online form, managed by the library’s Reference and Instruction team. Instructional librarians look at these requests and select them based on set criteria:

  • Whether librarians have been assigned as liaisons to that specific campus department
  • Whether librarians have subject matter expertise in that specific discipline
  • If the instructor requested a specific librarian
  • If there are previously established workshops
  • Staff availability

Instructional workshops must be requested at least two weeks in advance, giving us the opportunity to prepare.

Preparing for Library Instruction

Prior to any workshop, I reach out to the instructor and ask for the course syllabus. I request an assignment prompt to customize the workshop in a way that focuses on the students’ research needs. I then design a lesson plan with objectives and an outline, which includes the technology and resources being used, databases being introduced, activity being presented, and a breakdown of the time allotted. I try to incorporate active learning into my instruction, which can be described as instructional strategies that promote students’ active participation in knowledge construction processes. Active learning is a huge benefit to students as it allows them to immediately process what they are learning from lectures or course material such as textbooks, through thinking, reflecting, talking, and problem solving.

Library Instruction for a Strategic Management Course

students building a tower with timer in backgroundOne of my most memorable library workshops from the fall 2022 semester was an in-class 90-minute library workshop for two strategic management courses in the College of Business Administration, taught by Marcus Crews, assistant professor of entrepreneurship and strategy. These workshops introduced students to business databases, news aggregators, financial, and market research tools accessible through the library. Students’ research projects required them to choose a company and conduct original research and analysis on the key issues and current situations facing the company that they selected. I also incorporated the “To Build a Tower” activity from Kristin Arnold’s book, “Team Energizers: Fifty Practical Team Activities.” The activity is meant to demonstrate the value of strategic planning and teamwork. The team of students had to build a freestanding tower using the materials provided. They had 15 minutes to plan and seven minutes to build the tower. At the end of the activity, the class was asked 10 questions designed to help them reflect on their experience.

For one of the questions (Who in your group emerged as the group leader(s)?), one group replied: “We didn’t have a leader.” Professor Crews responded:

“So in this group, a leader did not appear to emerge, someone who had authority over others in the group. Instead, they adopted a decentralized organizational structure – which is often helpful when you have to navigate uncertain environments but, if you have to rely on consensus decision making to approve a course of action, it can also slow you down which is something this group experienced today.

That is actually one of the limited benefits of having a centralized decision-making structure because authority is concentrated into one group, or one individual. They’re able to move things pretty quickly. And when you extend that idea or those dynamics to the national level, that is one of China’s strengths vs. democratic economies such as the U.S. and Europe. When China needs to build new hospitals or buildings or factories, their government is highly centralized, so when President Xi Jinping says; “We’re building hospitals, were building them now.” A month later, there are new hospitals in China.

Here in the U.S., where our system prizes checks and balances – we have to go through red tape, we have to go through departments, we have to attract the capital to build it, we have to find a suitable location to make sure it complies with zoning laws, etc. And it takes much longer to get the same output constructed.”

One of the students in the library workshop, a senior management major named Josh, provided his reflection on the activity:

[The] “To Build a Tower” activity was a fun way to engage with the concepts we were learning in class on collaboration and effective teamwork. I’ve done a team-building activity like this before but this one was different because we were prompted to apply what we learned about effective collaboration to a real situation.

During this activity, we had some time to plan and then time to execute and deliver our product. If a team didn’t plan effectively, then they experienced failure as a result of their poor planning during the short time we had to actually build the tower. This goes to show that strategic planning allows teams to get things done in a fraction of the time that it may otherwise take to do the same tasks without planning. My biggest takeaway from this activity was that it’s better to over plan than to go into a challenge with no idea on how to begin a project. Planning = Effectiveness and Efficiency.”

students building tall vertical towerOne of our primary roles as instruction librarians is to create educational experiences. We design instructional materials and develop learning objectives, assessment tools, and learning outcomes in different learning environments. I love being a librarian and couldn’t be more proud of the fact that I get to learn and teach something new every day. And as I move into my second decade in the profession, I couldn’t be more confident in my ability to provide effective library instruction across multiple disciplines, including those in the College of Business Administration. From my countless mentors to the students who continue to inspire, my experiences have allowed me to develop innovative teaching methods, meant to engage and educate attendees both in face-to-face and virtual environments. I’m always inspired looking back and tracing my academic journey, especially when I remember devoted, life-long educators like Instruction Librarian Karin Durán. Working and learning alongside her was an honor and career highlight.