by Ruth Kitchin Tillman
previously published 2/11/14
Fixing What’s Broken: the Importance of Feedback
As I bid farewell to library school, I’ve been reflecting on aspects of my experience which were sub-optimal and what might be done to fix them. While the plural of anecdote isn’t data, I was able to glean certain similarities, through Twitter convos, across library schools in the area of how they teach technology. People talked about disjointed approaches, inappropriate focuses (I kid you not, one professor brought in someone who knew nothing about libraries and not very much about digitally-related things but did tell us that he’d heard Google was going to be digitizing some books…this was in 2010), either learning nothing or being taught too much, etc.
Now, one can just complain about such things and certainly library students often take to Twitter to blow off steam about impractical coursework (I’m not immune, although I’ve found it important to keep in mind that future employers may be seeing that). But when one gets beyond the point of needing to gripe as a coping mechanism, it’s important to look and see how we can improve our profession and our professional education.
So, from the perspective of someone who could’ve tested out of her basic tech classes, I wrote up some of the problems, possibilities, and an idea for one way people might approach classes like this. However, there’s a reason you’re reading this post and not that one. That reason is that, rather than just sending it in for publication, I asked for feedback.
And, boy howdy, did I get feedback. I chose to ask several people who had relevant experience in actually teaching the classes as well as a similarly tech-minded student to see if she thought this was too much/too little/etc. I got two types of feedback, and both ended up being quite helpful.
1) The first kind of feedback was what would generally be considered helpful/more what I was expecting. I got some good technological feedback on why my half-baked ideas weren’t done cooking yet. Since one person, even one who’s been thinking about this for a while, can’t think of everything, it was really good to get that feedback. I quickly became aware of some things that would have to be scrapped or changed in this idea and essentially put it on a mental back burner to simmer longer.
2) The second kind of feedback came from only one person and was…passionately angry. How dare I, a mere basically-student who clearly had a chip on my shoulder (maybe a bit, I don’t like being required to put time and money classes which I could’ve tested out of) whine about my experience when I have no experience teaching, how dare I suggest how other people might do their jobs, etc. etc. etc. I was a part of the group who love to whine because it’s in style, the vogueshly cynical. After I blinked a bit and had some coffee, I decided that this was actually useful feedback as well.
When writing or proposing ideas, it’s very good to have an idea of the water’s temperature before going in. At least for this person, such thought experiments were painful and angering. Even if I’d gone ahead with the post, if the tech ideas had been sound, I would have spent a great deal of time re-writing to check tone and probably consulted with others just to make sure I angered as few as possible. One cannot control one’s readers’ response, but one can be aware of how one approaches things for the best effect in reaching an audience vs. turning them off.
After my moment of shock, I realized this was a good learning moment concerning feedback. You don’t just want the feedback of your friends. You want the feedback of your audience, both because they’ll know more about the subject than you do and because they’ll give you a feel for the reaction. Even if this particular person hadn’t responded in the way they did, one reader might well have said “you know what, I think some people are going to be upset by this.” That is as good feedback as technical points. And it shows why feedback is so valuable to begin with. It’s valuable within the library community, and even more valuable when doing outreach to patrons.
And as for this particular idea? It continues to simmer on the back burner. Perhaps it’s not appropriate for a library course per say but for a self-driven external course of study which some students may want to do. Perhaps when I’m a few years out, I’ll look into working as an adjunct teaching one of these courses and start phasing in my ideas (perhaps not all at once, but in pieces).