Back from Immersion!

Gulf of MexicoSo I got back from ACRL’s Immersion program at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida late on Friday night and I’m still processing all of it. As anyone who’s been to Immersion will tell you, it’s intense.  It’s four and a half days of probably the most focused, hard thinking, never-slacking-off work I’ve done since…well, at least since the summer before I did my comps in grad school (the first time around, not the cheesy comps we did for our MLS).  Possibly not since college.  One person in my cohort described it as “imagine your worst week in college.”  That about captures it.

We were going from 8:15 or 8:30 in the morning,1 straight through the evening most days.  Monday we went right through until 9:00 pm; Tuesday we had some “free” time after dinner with some “optional” activities; Wednesday evening was a beach party2 — fun, but exhausting — and Thursday night we were all cramming to get our final projects done before the opening plenary at 8:30 on Friday morning.  I knew this going in, but I keep having to explain it to people:  it’s not like a conference, where you can decide to skip out on a session or two and go do something fun or relaxing, and you can’t just sit in the back of a presentation and mentally check out for a while.  They take their active learning damned seriously at Immersion, and for very good reason.

In at least one respect, the intensity was good, because it kept me distracted from the fact that I was about 1,200 miles from my husband and son for five and a half days, and that even though my parents came up to help out for a couple of days, Chris was really taking on a huge chunk of responsibility in order for me to do this thing.  I’m terribly grateful to him for enabling me to go, and I now know that I don’t want to spend that much time away from my family again for a long, long time.

A lot of librarians find Immersion to be a truly transformative experience:  they come out feeling like their whole idea of what good teaching looks like has been turned completely on its head — in a good way, though, and with the energy and enthusiasm to make that vision of good teaching happen on their campuses.  That didn’t happen for me, mostly because I had the terrific good fortune to work with Megan Oakleaf in my first post-MLS job, at the NCSU Libraries where Megan was the Instruction Coordinator at the time.  Megan is one of the Immersion faculty; she works primarily with the Assessment track, but has also done the Teacher and Program tracks.  So the core principles of Immersion — learning outcomes, authentic assessment, student-centered active learning — were already familiar to me going in.  My experience was more like an enrichment program, fleshing out the skeletal ideas I’d gotten from my “Immersion Lite” mentorship with Megan, and deepening my understanding of how to put it all together.

One thing that did surprise me, though, was how much I enjoyed some of the right-brain-y kinds of things we had to do:  one day we had to use crayons and pens to color a paper bag puppet of our most or least favorite student, and introduce him/her to the group.  On one of the first days, we had to choose the word that, for us, best matched “authentic” and then draw a picture of it.  Another day we used Play-Doh to sculpt “idea” and explain it to the group.  (This was my favorite, because I do love me some Play-Doh.)  I don’t have much patience for “woo-woo” stuff, so usually I take a very dim view of these kinds of activities.  But last week, I totally got into them, and I have no earthly idea why.  Maybe because all my left-side brain muscles were all worn out, I don’t know.  But I’m going to continue to think about them.  And maybe bring some Play-Doh to my instruction sessions….

I did some fun and new things too:  I took my first ever yoga class (interesting, both invigorating and relaxing, but not something I’m going to bend over backwards [har har] to fit into my schedule).  I put my feet in the Gulf of Mexico for the first time (unbelievably warm and not at all refreshing on a hot day) at the beach party.  I saw egrets, ibis, and a pelican3 — on campus — and lots of tiny little lizards.  I can now say I’ve been to Florida, and I can also say that I don’t exactly have a burning desire to go back.  I finally videotaped myself doing instruction (though I have yet to actually see the tape).  I rode in the back of a Ford Explorer, driven by a guy I’d never met whose name I didn’t even catch, on a harebrained run to CVS with seven other librarians.  I did not do karaoke.

But the important thing is, I have an action plan for things I can do immediately, with virtually no preparation, to make my instruction better.  And I have a list of larger things I can work on over the next semester or two, to make my instruction even better.  And I have a vision of what really really good instruction looks like, and the confidence and imprimatur of Immersion to say, “no really, I know this sounds crazy but I do know what I’m talking about.”

  1. Though I have to point out that when I looked at the schedule, my first thought was, “wait, you mean all I have to do by 7:45 in the morning is get up, get dressed, and go to the dining hall for breakfast?!??  This is luxurious!”  On an ordinary day, by 7:45 I’ve gotten both myself and James dressed, fed, out the door, and am on my way to work after dropping him off at daycare.  Mornings were a breeze for me.
  2. And let me tell you: you really haven’t lived ’till you’ve sung “YMCA” but substituted the letters “ACRL,” or seen a tattooed (female) librarian sing AC/DC’s “Big Balls.”
  3. One of the ibis actually wandered into a plenary on Thursday, poor thing.