Teaching Philosophy: Building good foundations

I love talking about teaching and more specifically innovative teaching practices. One of my goals this year is to actually sit down and write an official teaching philosophy. A teaching philosophy helps you define your values, goals, and beliefs regarding both teaching and learning. This is really challenging! So I’ve spent the last few months reflecting on my teaching philosophy.

As library professionals working in higher education, we often over estimate what students in university know about research. There is nothing wrong with students needing to build up their skills, that’s why people come to university!

Telling Stories

Telling stories is not my forte, but here it goes. Have you ever heard of Ocean Tower? It’s a popular building, but if you haven’t heard of it don’t worry. I’ll summarize some of the key takeaways here.

Concept art for Ocean Tower, San Padre, Texas.

Ocean Tower is this beautiful 31-story luxury condominium in South Padre Island in Texas. The condominium features 147 residences, a gym, swimming pools, a spa, and a media room. Ocean Tower stands an impressive 136m tall and is the tallest structure in the Rio Grande Valley and can withstand extreme winds with three massively reinforced core walls. The tower also features views across the Gulf of Mexico and the Laguna Madre. Units retail in this tower for about $2,000,000.

It’s a world-famous building.

Sad Truth

Unfortunately, after two years of construction, the builders noticed that cracks in the building foundation started to form. You can see those cracks in the photo below. It turns out, that the base of the tower had sunk by almost 16 inches.

Crack in the foundation, held together with plastic wrap.

While the luxury condo looked great on paper, the skyscraper became known as “The Leaning Tower of South Padre”. The construction team hoped they could fix it, but the damage was already done. Engineers analyzed the problem, but they announced that the renovation work would be too expensive and uneconomical to repair.

In December 2009 they did a controlled implosion of the building. At the time, the $75 million building was the largest concrete structure to ever be imploded. 

Ocean Tower demolition in December 2019.

Turning demolition into teaching philosophy

So I might have mislead my readers speaking as if the tower was finished, however, Ocean Tower is a metaphor for what happens when a foundation turns out to be “not good”. The foundations of buildings are not sexy or glamorous, but they are integral to a building. The same can be said for foundational information literacy instruction.

Years ago, I attended an event put on by LANCR (Library Association of the National Capital Region) and I sat next to a systems librarian from the Library of Parliament. The conversation turned to open source LMS (Library Management Software). He was talking about why he liked it. In a closed software environment, coding tends to get messy. In open source software, that coding tends to be cleaner as anyone can go into the code and “fix” it. 

“It doesn’t matter how beautiful the faucet is if the plumbing is a mess”.

Systems Librarian at LANCR event

Holding onto that philosophy

That line has resonated with me for over a decade. It has become fundamental in my approach to teaching and how I approach librarianship. Consider the story of Ocean Tower, 147 residences, a gym, swimming pools, a spa, and a media room featuring views across the Gulf of Mexico and the Laguna Madre all at a price tag of approximately $2,000,000 per unit. None of that mattered because the foundation was flawed.

Many people want to jump right into Boolean Operators, advanced search functionality, peer-review, literature reviews, and subject specific databases, but I caution people to slow down. Lay a good foundation and build skills from the ground up. Your students and faculty will thank you!

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