Center of Excellence for Teaching & Learning

CETL Podcast - Episode 2 - Caitlin Gerrity

Tony Pellegrini: Okay! Good afternoon! Tony Pellegrini here; I have got Caitlin Gerrity from the library at SUU here to visit with us on our Teaching and Learning Series at SUU and we want to take a few minutes with Caitlin this afternoon to visit with her about her teaching at SUU—some of the fun that she has, some of the exciting things that she does with her learners. I've had the opportunity to observe in Caitlin's class and kids are engaged. So, Caitlin, would you mind starting for us to give us a little bit of background information about yourself: why you're at SUU and maybe just a moment or two to introduce yourself?

Caitlin Gerrity: Sure! And thanks for having me! So, hi everyone! I'm professor Caitlin Gerrity and I work in the field of information literacy and also teacher librarian preparation. I got my masters in library information science at Drexel and my K-12 teaching endorsement. So I'm actually a former K-12 educator, which I think informs much of my teaching style here at the University. What drew me to SUU was the smaller teaching style University; I love that I get to interact and get to know all my students here. Happy to be here!

TP: Fantastic! We're happy to have you as well and I know many of your students are as well. Talk to us for a couple of minutes, Caitlin, about how you experiment with new approaches and new behaviors. Information literacy is a little bit different than five or even ten years ago isn't it? What are some ways that you experiment with new approaches, new behaviors to be able to learn or engage your learners in learning?

CG: Absolutely! A strategy that I think is really important, like you mentioned, information literacy is always changing. Lifelong learning is key to me, so a strategy for me is to remain a student myself. If I know everything there is to know about effective teaching, then it's time to hang up my hat, and I'm pretty early on in my career so we don't want that to happen yet. So I'm always looking to learn new strategies and try them out, whether that's through reading on my own, attending conferences for professional development, and I love that SUU is extremely supportive of those endeavors.

TP: How have your students connected with that? Can you give us maybe a little peek or an example of something you pulled from a conference or a workshop this last year or two and how you implement it or put it into your teaching?

CG: Absolutely. So something I've really been focusing on lately in my teaching is active learning. I really want my students to be actively participating in learning activities rather than passively listening. I don't often lecture for entire class periods; I prefer that "guide on the side" teaching style as opposed to what we all know the "sage on the stage." And one method that's consistently worked well for me, and I believe also for my learners, is to spend just about 15 to 20 minutes learning some new content and then following that up with a reinforcement activity that allows the students to kind of get their hands dirty practicing my new skill or idea.

TP: Certainly that kind of pushes their comfort level just a little bit; how do you encourage your learner's to maybe step outside of that comfort zone—not too far they feel they're going to fall off the end, but just enough where they're learning and pushing a little bit beyond their comfort zone?

CG: Absolutely. I think that's essential for being a learner and a lifelong learner. We are never going to be ready for everything that comes our way so instead I encourage my students to just be ready to learn. So that's kind of the nutshell there: you're not gonna be ready for every opportunity that comes your way, but if you're ready to learn about what that opportunity has to teach you, then you'll be able to handle it.

TP: I love that! I love that engagement that enthusiasm that you provide to your learners. Certainly when they're ready to learn that they're going to learn, but how do you work with them as they've learned a new concept, a new principle, to maybe reflect on what they've learned and how they can put it into practice within your content area or the university activities?

CG: Absolutely. So something I always try to build into my courses is that reflection piece and giving students a bit of space to internalize: what have we learned? Because a lot of times we're taking many classes, learning many new things, just trying to keep up, and so giving students a chance to think about how they might apply that in the future has been really powerful in my experience. It's when I can connect with the students having that "aha" moment and seeing that theory move towards practice.

TP: That "aha" moment it's kind of why we teach. My background's in K-12 as well and we get that joy or, if I can use the word, passion when we see that "oh my goodness, I've connected with that." Talk to us for a moment or two about how you've discovered your passion in these areas, and maybe you've taken that learning about a "passion for learning" and infused it or encouraged your learners to discover their passions.

CG: Sure. I've always been excited about learning, but I've also worked with plenty of students who aren't. They're maybe intimidated or scared about the learning process and that's when we can have those sort of teachable moments where being outside of our comfort zone or not understanding something is part of that process and it's okay, and trying to ease students' anxiety about the learning process. So for me I think a lot about how to ease that learning anxiety and it comes in two phases: the first, behind-the-scene planning—what am I doing to make sure that I'm prepared to make that learning experience as positive as possible? And then second, the actual delivery. So I could talk a little bit more about those if you'd like.

TP: Please go right ahead! Go right ahead! I did have an idea, but I want to hear what you have to say about that. Please, I'd love that.

CG: Sure. So behind the scenes when I'm thinking about making sure that my students are having a positive learning experience and thinking about, "what's the end goal?" And so the model by Wiggins and McTighe called "Backward Design" has been really transformative in designing learning. I'm making sure we—you know we can all get really caught up in an exciting or an engaging lesson activity, but how do we know that our students are really reaching that end goal that we want them to take away? So backward design helps you identify what you want your learner's to end up knowing at the end of that lesson before designing that appropriate learning activity, and that has been huge for me and my learners.

TP: One of the things that I really just wanted to reflect with you on is that vision that you have that there really is a two-step process. I really believe that with creating, with learning, we do it first in our mind. We create first to our mind and then after we ponder, and think, and reflect on it, that may be (*snap*) that fast, wondering, and it may be longer than that. But after thinking about it we've moved to putting it into action, we've moved to making things happen and then we could experiment and see. Do some—maybe our students aren't saying formative assessments but they're formatively assessing, "How did that work? How did that go?" and reflecting on that process. I really connect with what you said there. Any last minute words of wisdom, counsel, that you might have for our learners or our faculty—we're lifelong learners, we're all, even faculty are learners. Anything, words of wisdom that you might want to share kind of in closing, Caitlin?

CG: Well, you know one thing I just love about teaching at SUU is that I have the privilege and opportunity to get to know my students. One activity that I just started trying last semester that I think is so important for relationship building—and for kind of our ethos here at SUU of having that teacher-student relationship: I ask my students at the beginning of the semester to write down one thing they'd like me to know about them, and I give them permission to let it be as silly or as serious as they like. Sometimes I get really funny responses, and sometimes I get really, you know, something that might be weighing on the students' mind at the start of the semester, something in their busy life that's happening, and it's been a wonderful way to break down barriers really quickly and send the message that I want my students to receive which is "You're more than a name on a roster to me."

TP: That is a wonderful approach! Great approach to be able to take the learners, to be able to sense, "yes I'm teaching information literacy, but you're a human being," and we want to connect on that human level

CG: Absolutely.

TP: I appreciate you Caitlin. Thanks so much for coming and helping me out, having this short conversation and for all that you do to contribute to teaching and learning at SUU. You make it a great semester and we'll see you around, okay?

CG: Thanks so much for including me!

TP: Thank you! Have a good day.