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Adult Students

Planning Instruction

Setting Yourself Up for Success Before You Ever Set Foot In the Library Classroom

Planning: Text

Getting Started Teaching

Employ an Intentional Planning Process


In the rush and excitement to get started, many new instructors (or even more experienced ones on a time crunch) take shortcuts in the planning process, or skip parts of it entirely. However, the planning stages of instruction make up some of the most critical components of teaching, and will save you time, effort, and potential difficulty once you're actually in the classroom. Lesson planning isn't optional, and without a plan in place, some of your students might still do alright, but many students won't - the best way to reach all of your student equitably is to not leave their learning up to chance. So before you jump into the classroom, take a step back and really examine your plans. Sometimes you may be working with existing lesson plans, adapting them, or starting from scratch. Wherever you come into the process, you'll need to complete some of the same pre-planning steps, beginning with a thorough examination of the learning context that you're about to enter.

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Know Your Learning Context

“A needs assessment at the beginning of your one-shot class…[is] fast and easy; demonstrates your respect for students, [and] enables you to become a more efficient instructor.” -Diana K. Wakimoto

(Oakleaf et al., 2012, p. 15)

Conducting a Community Analysis


By now, if you've read through the Philosophy page on learning theories, critical pedagogies, and best practices for creating an inclusive classroom climate, the importance of a learner-centered instructional approach should be clear. Students stand to benefit from an environment that centers their affective needs, uses culturally relevant material, actively engages them in cooperative learning strategies, and honors the expertise of their lived experiences. However, when you first start a new job or enter a new position, how do you begin situating yourself within that learning environment? How do you get to know the institution, your colleagues, the departments that you'll be liaising with, and the student communities that you'll be teaching? You can't expect to build relationships with those partners without getting to know them to some degree. In order to do so, you'll need to conduct a community analysis, needs assessment, or what some people call an environmental scan. Whatever you choose to call it, it's all about getting to know your learners, the environment in which you'll be teaching, and any other important situational factors you might need to consider. 

Goals of a Community Analysis:

  • Understanding your learners, their community, and the context for your instruction

  • Seeing and sustaining your learners' strengths and understanding and responding to their needs

This can occur on an individual/group level, for instance, if you will be working with a specific group of students on an ongoing basis (such as in the case of a course-embedded librarian), but more typically we're referring to getting to know your learners on a collective level. If your average interaction with students is on a one-off basis, such as through one-shot library instruction sessions, walk-up reference support, or one-time research consultations, it wouldn't be feasible to conduct full-scale needs analyses on each and every cohort of students. However, we'll also go through adaptations of planning measures for getting to know the needs of students when you have time-limited interactions with them, as well. 

When to Perform a Community Analysis:

Think of conducting a community analysis as consisting of a variety of exploratory, investigative tasks and activities that you conduct to varying degrees of depth (surface-level to full comprehensiveness). At its heart, your goals are going to remain the same- to find out more about your learners and their needs in order to respond to those needs in the most effective way possible. Whether you're doing that on a large, comprehensive scale, or a smaller, more time-limited one, you're going to scope up or down your efforts to match the appropriate level of depth needed for the task at hand. 

  • Initially: Whenever you start working at a new school or institution, in a new position or for a new program, when you start working with a new student group, community, department, subject, course, or other context. 

    • This initial community analysis or environmental scan should be one of the more comprehensive ones that you undertake relative to other scenarios. However, you don't have to take on this responsibility alone; in fact, leaning on others who are already situated within and familiar with your learning community and leveraging their knowledge and connections is a smart move. ​Taking the time to conduct a thoughtful, deep analysis of your community at the beginning demonstrates the care and commitment that you have to understanding and meeting the needs of your learners, and that will better inform your in-class teaching persona and the ways in which you interact with students. The genuineness and authenticity with which you approach relationship-building will be directly influenced by the information that you gather in this early stage, so don't rush through it; it'll reap dividends in the long-run. 

  • Intermittently: Whenever you see a shift in your learner community or the environment.

    • This can be reactive, meaning in responsive to observed changes that you have noticed in your learner community or the instructional context. For example, maybe after a surge of new instruction requests at the beginning of the fall semester, you notice a shift in the way that incoming first-year students have been responding to some of your learning activities that had previously gone over quite well in previous years. In addition to collecting assessment data, you might consider checking in on your community analysis.

    • However, you should also build in proactive checks at minimum intervals so that you don't miss out on changes in the learning environment or contextual factors that you might not have otherwise noticed. It's good practice to build in time to conduct such a "mini" refresher at the end or beginning of a new semester or academic year, or perhaps over winter or summer break. For example, your school may release a new class profile at the beginning of each academic year as they welcome in a new cohort of students. This can be a great jumping-off point to initiate your yearly refresher.

  • Regularly: Before each individual instruction session with a new class of students

    • Before you get overwhelmed by the prospect, hear me out! Think of each of instruction session as an opportunity to build a connection with a partner in teaching (typically, the faculty instructor of the class you'll be teaching, if it's a one-shot), get to know the class through their eyes, and leverage their existing relationship with their students and the rapport they've already developed to your advantage. Remember, "faculty are your friends!." (Michelle Milet in Oakleaf et al., 2012)


Components of a (Full) Community Analysis:

  • Who are your learners? Where do they come from? What groups do they represent or identify with?

    • You can gather demographic information and statistics from your institution, but don't let this be the only source of information about your learners - it only tells a small part of the story of who your students are, and often isn't representative of how they identify themselves​

    • Reach out to campus and community organizations, attend community events, read community publications, and talk to community members to see how they characterize themselves - self-portrayals and representations can tell us a lot more about communities than what can be gleaned from bird's eye view demographic information

  • What is the history, philosophy, and structure of your library's instruction program? How is it viewed by campus stakeholders - students, faculty, other campus departments and organizations? What does its outreach and marketing look like? 

  • What is the history of the college or university, how is it situated within the larger community, and how does your library fit into that picture? What are community perceptions of the library and the university like?

  • What are community needs that are currently being met by the library, or by your instruction program? What are pain points or areas of need that aren't currently being met, and how are those being expressed? Are there areas where the library has the potential to meet unmet needs, and if so, are there plans to fill those gaps?

  •  What are community assets or strengths (people, places, organizations) that can potentially help fulfill the library's, and your instructional program's, mission? What about potential collaborative partners (individual and institutional)? What strategies could you employ to reach these assets and partners to present possible collaborations?

  • Who is being served by your library and its instructional program, and who isn't? Who attends library instruction sessions, and who doesn't? Are they voluntary or required, or is this dependent on enrollment in a particular course? What is the instruction program's "reach," and is it meeting the needs of a particular population of students more so than another? Whose needs is it failing to meet?

*Note: Your community analysis shouldn't be considered a static, untouchable document. Just as our learners and our institutions change over time, so should our understanding of their characteristics and needs. Checking in and refreshing this document on a regular basis will ensure that you're working with the most current contextual information. Think of it as a living, breathing document - just like your students. 


Who to Partner With:

  • Other librarians, particularly ones with instruction responsibilities

  • Teaching faculty, especially future teaching partners

  • Administrators who have insight into institutional values, goals, and priorities

  • Students, student groups, student government (keeping in mind appropriate boundaries)

  • Other campus organizations that provide student and academic support services

Components of a (More Limited) Community Analysis: 

Think of this as part of your usual, pre-instruction session prep work. Instead of viewing the one-shot instruction session as a challenge because of the brief amount of time you get to spend with students, try to think of the advantages that it carries. You have a faculty instructor that has already spent some amount of time with their group of students, and they've already done some of the legwork for you- building relationships, developing rapport, and getting to know their students. Leverage that knowledge and use it to inform your instructional approach.

  • Demographics & Needs - What is the makeup of this particular class like? Are there particular strengths or challenges that would be helpful for you to be aware of? What about accessibility concerns or accommodation needs that you will need to prepare for?

  • Social - What's the classroom "culture" like within this particular cohort? What strategies has their instructor found to be successful for engaging with them? How about drawing out quieter students?

  • Schedule - Where in the progression of the semester are they, and what is the energy level like? Are they just coming off of a big assignment or test, or are they coming in fresh off of a break?

  • Assignment - Will they be working on a particular assignment, and if so, how far along will they be? What are the overall learning outcomes and objectives for this assignment more broadly, as well as for your instruction session in particular? What have they already covered of these objectives and outcomes in class? How will your instruction session support the larger learning outcomes for this assignment? How about the overarching learning outcomes for this course? What are expectations for participation and assessment?

It  is  crucial  that  instruction  librarians  build  relationships  with   their   colleagues—the   teaching  faculty—that  allow  for  the  integration  of  specific  programmatic  information  literacy  outcomes  at  all  points  in  the  design  of  assignments and courses, not just in library  instruction  sessions.  Relationships  with  faculty should extend beyond conversations  on  the  actual  content  for  the  day  of  the  library  instruction; they are about creating  ongoing     discussions,     substantial  collaborations, and deliberate strategies that  facilitate student learning. -Michelle Millet

(Oakleaf et al., 2012, p. 19)


Considering Other Situational Factors


So far, the focus has been on who we're teaching. However, there are other situational factors to take into consideration when you're planning instruction. We can actually use a rather simple strategy that many of us might have used in information literacy sessions previously to cover some of the other basics - the 5 W's. If you've ever encouraged students to use this while brainstorming possible research topics, or to expand the keywords that they employ when searching databases, it's as easy as that. Let's lay them out:

Who - Learners & Faculty

  • We've covered most of this in the community analysis section above. But don't forget that as much as you're catering to the needs of students here, you're also developing relationships with teaching faculty. They themselves may be "patrons" of the library at some point, either in a teaching capacity or as researchers, and any touchpoint that you have with them is an opportunity to build connections. Get to know them, let them know what resources and services the library has to offer (don't take for granted that they know!), and don't limit your interactions with them to directly before and after class. Not every instructor will be receptive to developing longer-term, deeper working relationships, but many won't realize the potential for collaborations that are impactful for students unless you advocate for them and demonstrate the breadth of instruction services that we can offer. 

Where - Classroom Environment

  • If you are teaching in-person and have a physical instruction classroom or lab, get to know it ahead of time. Familiarize yourself with the equipment, technology, and software available to you. Test out your materials and learning activities to see if you can "break" something - better to do so when you're on a test run than the first time you're teaching in front of a class! If you're visiting a departmental classroom, see if you have the opportunity to visit it ahead of time, or get information from the instructor on the specifics (layout, what kind of space you'll be working with, tech/equipment hook-ups, etc.). Some universities, like UNC-Chapel Hill, have specific resources on classroom tech where you can lookup classrooms in a directory. ​​

  • If you are teaching online, become familiar with which platform you're working with, what kind of access level you'll have (for example, with Zoom, will you be hosting a meeting, or using Zoom's webinar format?), as well as what level of access your students will have. Be aware of differences between running the desktop version of the program versus the web client versus the mobile version. Keep your software updated to the most recent version, and if there's been a new release, try to communicate with the instructor and any upcoming classes to prompt them to do the same. You'll need to do some extra prep in communicating with the class' instructor (or, at the beginning of your instruction session) to get a sense of how familiar your students will be with the technology being used (for more on best practices for working with tech tools and digital pedagogy, see: Tech Tools).





What - Subject Content & Context

  • Broadly speaking, this means familiarizing yourself with the programs and departments that you'll be supporting, the disciplinary context of your institution, the most common types of majors and degrees of study that students at your institution pursue, the general education curricular requirements that all students must complete, and with those topics in mind, ways that you might boost relevancy in your lesson plans. What has the greatest chance of resonating with your students based on what they have in common? 

  • More specifically, as was referenced above in the community analysis section regarding assignments, when you're preparing for an individual class section you'll want to gather as much information as you need to situate your own lesson within the educational context of the class. Syllabi, assignment instructions, specific goals and learning objectives, as well as what faculty hope their students will learn from your session will be useful in tailoring your lesson plan. If students have already selected topics, that's great. If not, spending some time at the beginning of class finding out what genuinely interests them shows that you care, and can shed some light on possible directions for their research. 


  • This one is pretty straightforward, but it's always worth considering how scheduling might affect how your session plays out (for both you and your students!). Self-awareness is an important factor here. Do you tend to be more of a morning or afternoon person? When do you feel like you're able to bring the most energy and enthusiasm to teaching? Does your teaching schedule and departmental structure allow you the freedom to choose when you teach, or schedule your own classes? Is your university's class schedule set up so that some class periods are longer than others, and if so, do you have control over the length of time you have with students?

  • For example, at UNC-CH some sections of the first-year writing class that come in for library instruction are on Mon/Wed/Fri and meet for 50 minutes, whereas the sections that are scheduled on Tu/Th meet for 75 minutes. This is a significant difference in duration which affects the amount of material we can move through, but we don't have control over those meeting times- however, being aware of that pattern allows us to plan around it and adjust our lessons accordingly!

Why and How

  • This last one can be a bit of a wildcard, because it speaks to personal motivation, purpose for instruction, and broader relevance and applicability, and that can be different for every single individual that comes through your classroom.

  • For you as an instructor of information literacy, your primary goals for students might surround conceptual understandings of research principles (a la the ACRL Framework), their practical applications, or even more simply, a basic awareness of what library services and resources are available to them as students at your institution.

  • For your students' faculty instructor, they may very well have a more limited idea of what they expect their students to gain during your session. Depending on their familiarity with concepts of information literacy, they may express a desire for you to "just teach them how to search the databases," or something similar. Faculty partners who have spent more time partnering and collaborating with librarians might have more of a snapshot of the bigger picture (but if not, part of your charge as an instruction librarian is to advocate for your role as an educator in your own right, and for the value that you bring to students in the long-term, bigger-picture- not just in the context of this one, single class). 

  • For your students, the class time that they spend with you may just be another day that they show up at that specified time and space. They may not have a well developed understanding of how your "guest lecture" will be different than what they typically receive from their instructor. They may only have a vague idea that you're going to be helping them with a research project or writing assignment. Their motivation could run the gambit; they could be taking this particular course because it's required and they need it to graduate, or it could be their favorite class within their chosen major. Regardless of the wide array of experiences and motivation levels, you'll still need to be able to appeal to each student in a way that is effective, engaging, and conveys why they should care about the material that you're covering. Grounding the content in why it's important and how it's going to be relevant and helpful to them in their broader academic pursuits, and in their lives outside of school, will ensure that the concepts that you explore together stick with them long after they leave your classroom.

For another helpful approach to examining situational factors before planning instruction, I appreciate the following resources:

  1. Full Work: Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses (Revised and Updated). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    1. *Note that the hyperlink above is a full-text link from Indiana University of Pennsylvania; I am not hosting nor distributing copies of this title myself and have no way of validating fair use of IUP's publicly searchable and available link above. Here is the full publisher link to this title.

  2. Abbreviated Design Guide: Fink, L.D. (2005). A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning(directly from author's site)

  3. Worksheet: Situational Factors to Consider. Fink, L.D. (2005). A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning. (p. 6-7)

Another set of teaching guides that I often refer to for inspiration and modeling purposes are by Vanderbilt University's Center for Teaching. See their subsection on Populations & Contexts for a variety of rich instructional resources on teaching to specific audiences and specific contexts. 

At UNC-Chapel Hill? See the following resources:

The Classroom Hotline

  • Classroom Info lookup tool

  • General Purpose Classroom Technology Tutorial

  • Full classroom support from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and limited support from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Mon - Fri. 919-962-6702 / 

The Center for Faculty Excellence

Planning: Body
Learning Context
Instructional Design

Universal Design

Making Instruction Universally Accessible


“In a classroom environment that conforms to Universal Design, the teacher is not required to specially modify [their] lectures when a student with a disability is present, nor do the course materials need to be "retrofitted" to any student.” (UNC ARS)

"Universal Design (UD) in teaching is the principle of creating a learning environment where everyone can learn without special concessions or treatment." (UNC ARS) The Center for Universal Design (1997) provides the following definition: "The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design." Many of the recommendations from the Best Practices page are derived from universal design principles. 

Universal Design has seven principles for creating equitable and accessible environments (Center for Universal Design, 1997):

  1. Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

  2. Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

  3. Simple and Intuitive Use: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.

  4. Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.

  5. Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

  6. Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.

  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use: Appropriate size and space [are] provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility. (“Copyright © 1997 NC State University, The Center for Universal Design.”)

CAST Universal Design for Learning Guidelines:

  1. Provide multiple means of engagement (reaching Affective Networks - the "WHY" of learning) - For purposeful, motivated learners, stimulate interest and motivation for learning.

  2. Provide multiple means of representation (reaching Recognition Networks - the "WHAT" of learning) - For resourceful, knowledgeable learners, present information and content in different ways.

  3. Provide multiple means of action and expression (reaching Strategic Networks - the "HOW" of learning) - For strategic, goal-directed learners, differentiate the ways that students can express what they know.

Universal Design for Instruction Categories (Burgstahler & Cory, 2010)

  1. Class Climate

  2. Interaction

  3. Physical Environments & Products

  4. Delivery Methods

  5. Information Resources & Technology

  6. Feedback

  7. Assessment

  8. Accommodation


  • “The Center for Universal Design (1997). The Principles of Universal Design, Version 2.0. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University.”

Burgstahler (2015) Characteristics of Universal Design

Characteristics of Universal Design (Burgstahler, 2015, p. 15)

Instructional Design

Applying Design Methodology to Instruction


When you sit down to put together a lesson plan, what do you typically think of first? Do you start brainstorming what databases you want your students to explore? Discussion topics you want to cover? Group activities that will be fun and engaging for the group? All of these can form important building blocks of what will end up in your final lesson plan, but how do you know where to start, and the organizational logic behind everything? Starting from scratch can be overwhelming, but even starting with an existing lesson plan "template" from another instructor, online toolkit or instruction book and attempting to adapt it can be challenging. Luckily, there is a methodology to approaching instructional design, and when it comes right down to it, the steps aren't as complicated as they can seem at first. The key is breaking the process down into its individual, component parts, making manageable, bite-sized chunks out of the larger whole- just like we do for students in the context of a longer class session! By examining each step in turn, along with the justification for why we approach the design phase in this order, you'll gradually become more comfortable with applying these steps in your own instruction program. First, let's explore what this approach is called and where it came from. 

Backward Design

Originally published in 1998 with an expanded 2nd edition in 2005, Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe) was a groundbreaking work in the field of education and instructional design that introduced the now widely accepted approach of Backward Design. The concept of backward design was so revolutionary because it is the exact opposite of what most novice instructors' first inclination is often to do - that is, jump right into what they are going to teach (content) or what students are going to do (activities) in the classroom. While these are definitely important components, structuring a cohesive lesson requires more than stringing together those elements, and focusing only on those can leave students feeling lost or overwhelmed. It also leaves instructors vulnerable to common pitfalls in lesson planning- covering too much material too quickly, failing to clearly draw connections between concepts, lacking strong overarching organization or methodology, or failing to clearly impress upon students the why behind the importance of the material (remember from the Foundations page that material is much more likely to "stick" when learners understand the why behind their learning!). 

Instead, backward design requires that instructors first ask themselves what they want to happen at the end of instruction - what are the goals, or results, they want to see achieved? Only once you have identified those goals, or learning outcomes, will you progress to the second step, which is determining how you will determine that the learning outcomes have been achieved- the evidence, or more typically, assessments or evaluations. The final stage in backward design (the one that we might have otherwise started with!) is planning the learning experiences and instruction that will best help students achieve the desired learning outcomes that we previously identified in step one. Throughout each step of the process, we are constantly referring back to the learning outcomes from step one to guide our planning. All of this can be summed up in the UbD (Understanding by Design) diagram below: Stages of Backward Design (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998). 


Identify Desired Results - Learning Outcomes

Determine Acceptable Evidence - Assessment & Evaluation

Plan Learning Experiences & Instruction

Wiggins & McTighe (1998) Three Stages of Backward Design
Universal Design
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