9 September 2014

Thinking about library inductions (Part 4): International Students

We have just had a brilliant experience involving some of our international (and home) students in a video to mark the centenary of Dylan Thomas (a big thing here in Swansea). The library has a collection of translations of his work and we had the idea to get students to read one poem (the famous "Do not go gentle into that good night") in their own languages. Some amazing students came on board to direct it and star in it and the end results was really rather special. We were lucky enough to be able to premier it at the Dylan Unchained conference which took place last week on campus.

If I have to walk anywhere with an international student, I always ask them where they are from. If it's not weird, I'll ask them about their libraries back home. Always learn something interesting and they seem to like talking about it. My best teaching experiences have all been with international students. The Brazilians on the day after That World Cup Match, the English Learners who came with their tutor, the 3rd year Business dissertation class who LOVED all the resources we had (but why didn't we tell them about them sooner?), the excitement buzz when I told a group of Chinese students that they filmed Doctor Who in our library and showed them our collection of "Friends" DVDs...

My subject area has a massive international percentage so I have been focussing on how best to teach with that in mind. The most useful things I've found to date:

  1. If you read one thing on international students...great article on "Library Shock" (PDF) and what we can do about it. 
  2. SCONUL's "Library Services for International Students" (PDF) is the most comprehensive bit of advice aimed at the overall library service. 
  3. The HEA's "Engaging home and international students: a guide for new lecturers" (PDF) has good teaching ideas. 
  4. Thank goodness for blogs. Love Gemma Bayliss' 10 reflections / tips and Exeter Uni Business Library report from a BLA event were extremely useful. More of these needed (and less of this big whinge of an article. How many international students have "demanded" "exclusive services" from your library? Indeed. Not helpful.)
Ideas for the future?
  1. Have a "Global Champion" who takes a special interest in the international student experience and reminds us of their distinct needs when discussing service developments as well as being proactive in ideas to embrace our international community.
  2. Find out our biggest cohorts and explore their particular education systems and culture in more detail.
  3. Should we offer specific cohorts their own library introductory sessions? Not sure about this one.

5 September 2014

Thinking about library inductions (Part 3) - making sparks fly

As we plan for this year's round of library inductions, this is just one of a series of short posts on things that I'm pondering. Apologies for it not really going anywhere - just throwing it out there!

The NSS may have its faults as a tool for assessing the worth of universities but, at the start of the year, it's good to be reminded what university teachers (that's us too) are being judged on:

  1. Staff are good at explaining things.
  2. Staff have made the subject interesting.
  3. Staff are enthusiastic about what they are teaching.
  4. The course (or, in our case, class) is intellectually stimulating.
It struck me those are pretty good aims to have when preparing any form of teaching. No.1 is pretty basic (explain things well) but the other three are things I think about a lot. The last point is perhaps the one not often at the forefront of my mind when planning a class - it can be easy to worry about overwhelming or overcomplicating but this shouldn't be at the expense of challenging students and making them think, not in a superior or patronising way, but hopefully stimulating ideas and creativity and inspiration in how they can tackle their assignments and research. We want to make lights go on. Too often I worry I'm turning them off!

11 August 2014

Thinking about library inductions (Pt. 2)

In no particular order, these are things that I have been coming back to now it's time to start thinking about inductions again:

1. Getting in the right head space for 1st year students:  Tacit knowledge and the students researcher by Barbara Fister - a reminder of assumptions that may need more explanation.

2. A caution: Library search tools. Could we make them harder to use? A great blog post on the first impression we could create (if we're not careful).

3. The kind of experience an induction could be: 10 things that learners pay attention to (and how to use them in e-learning). They're useful and relevant in any kind of learning. I'm trying to think how I could incorporate some of these in induction classes.

4.  Something along the lines of this from JISC or anything similar that is saying how young people do this and that. How about telling learners what is being said about them (e.g. their "impatience in search and navigation and zero tolerance for any delay in satisfying their information needs") and seeing how they would respond? It would start a dialogue, rather than working from a potentially patronising "I know what you're really like" kind of assumption...

5. Sheffield Uni's page on Employability and Information Literacy - stuff here could help persuade why the stuff we're talking about could be real-life important. (I teach Business students so this is particularly relevant).

6. Three simple marketing rules all libraries should live by - from Ned Potter, which puts the focus clearly on the sort of messages we should be seeking to convey. Plus this tweet from him as well:

5 August 2014

DARTS4 - Research Support Conference (par excellence!)

(This is a very belated publishing of a post! Better late than never...)

One of the amazing trees in the churchyard at Dartington Hall

In June I was lucky enough to go to the ARLG SW DARTS4 Conference at the lovely Dartington Hall near Totnes. The program looked excellent and I came home with a head full of information and ideas. There wasn't a duff session and the whole spectrum of research support was covered. Whilst I'm not a Research Librarian, it is one of our key priorities and part of my role. Things I was hoping for before I went:
  • How to support our researchers better - to understand their needs and find better ways to communicate with them
  • To get up to speed with Open Access - I am probably half way up to speed but it's a complex and fast-changing area at the moment
  • To get up to speed with Research Data management - I have a very basic knowledge as a starting point!
  • To pick up some ideas of new things to do or new ways of doing old things
Quick overview of the sessions:

Sheila Corrall (University of Pittsburg) - "From Reading Rooms to Research Commons. Context is Critical."
This focussed on the relationship between libraries (as physical spaces) and researchers but the slides contain a whole conference worth of information on where we are with research support generally. There was some amazing US examples of research spaces which most of us could only look on with (budget) envy!

Jenni Crossley (UWE) - "Research Data Management - where are we now?"
A useful overview of how the original research data enthusiasts from UWE's JISC project have fared since the initial event. We used clickers to survey the people in the room - it was reassuring to see that we weren't the only ones possibly at the less-engaged end of the spectrum. You can see the results in the slides - I am keen to try out the questions back at work and see how we benchmark as a starting position. 

Miggie Pickton (Northampton) - "Designing Practitioner Research for Impact"
Slides 3-14 give a brilliant overview of the topic of Research Impact (generally) and then slides 15 onwards deal with (library) practitioner research. I felt re-enthused to try and find the time and support to do some.

Yvonne Budden (Warwick) - "Open Access at the coalface"
I listened to this intently as we are busy revving up and promoting our institutional repository. Plenty of ideas for promotion and training and service development.

Katie Fraser and Nathan Rush (De Montford) "Communication with Research Students"
Finding out what PhD students really do and how we can help them. Opened my eyes to the full research process involved (didn't work like that in my day...) and got me thinking where our interventions could be most effective.

Leigh Garrett (UCA) - "Stuff and Data: challenges for research data management in the visual arts"
Is it impossible not to be interesting when talking about visual arts? Or are creative arts librarians particularly wonderful at doing talks? Probably a bit of both! We were all rapt at hearing about the kind of data generated by visual artists and had a go thinking about a pot and a chair and research processes and how you would record them.

Neil Jacobs (JISC) - "Open access: recalibrating the relationships"
Neil gave an overview of the work JISC is currently looking at to try and simplify some of the complexities of the current open access situation. Take a look at his slide 12 to see how complex it is! His slide 3 also gave me a fleeting longing for smarties...

And there was more...we also submitted ideas / problems for discussion - these are recorded here - and the outcomes or possible solutions can be viewed here. Just talking to people informally gave a wealth of idea and also reassurance that we weren't the only place not managing to keep up with, well, everything. I reaffirmed that I am completely unable to live tweet anything but enjoyed having that back channel both before, during and after the event. 

1 August 2014

Thinking about library inductions (Pt.1)

Here's the thing. We have at best about 45 minutes. That's 45 minutes to justify our existence with the people who matter the most. To persuade them that we're worth our wages (subsidised from their fees) for the value we can bring to their studies. To persuade them that it's in their interests to engage with us, to come back and talk to us. We need to get them interested in visiting our building and using its contents. The building may be at the centre of campus but our online spaces are completely off their information map, unless we can get them to remember to look for them. This assumes our online resources justify being looked for, can be easily found and easily used. They cost a whole lot more than our wages.

We don't have a lot to work with: a computer and a projector at the front of a big room, often full of computers they can hide behind or surf on. Then there are clickers they can vote with, voices they may or may not choose to use, phones and tablets they may prefer to focus on, friends both inside and outside the room who may distract them. If we're REALLY lucky we may have the real life* or virtual support of a tutor, telling them they need to listen to us. We have our enthusiasm, friendliness and knowledge. They may bring apathy, interest, confusion, enthusiasm, language barriers, disabilities both seen and unseen, immense talent, enormous real life problems we know nothing about...or indeed all of these in just one student. 

So that's the challenge. What the hell are we going to do about it?  

* This only happened to me once. It was the most enjoyable session I've ever taught.

12 February 2014

Why don't students read more?

Photo Credit: umjanedoan via Compfight cc

Last year I did a round table session at our Swansea Academy of Learning & Teaching conference 2013. It was a bit scary but I gave it a go in the spirit of starting a debate and tackling a common problem, namely the generally perceived lack of enthusiasm that students have for wider reading.

The topic came about as part of work I was doing on our new reading list system - lots of places have tied this kind of launch into wider work on encouraging students to read more. This is something most academics feel is A Good Thing and surely most librarians would agree with them as without readers we are pretty much out of business.

I have a bibliography in a Google Doc dating from the research I did back then (helped immensely by my colleague Susan Glen @lbglens) and below is the deck of slides I put together. It wasn't designed to be a presentation - as it says on one of the slides, I printed them off back to back so you had the perceived reason for lack of reading on one side (with a few provocative quotes) and some potential solutions on the other. Then in the session people could just pick up what interested them and discuss it. I think this would have worked better if the round table hadn't had a big hole in the middle! I'd kind of imagined that they would get circulated more easily but it wasn't a disaster. Drawing from all the literature I'd read, I was able to identify the following key issues :
  • Assumptions about students' reading ability 
  • Lack of time
  • Students not understanding what reading is expected of them
  • Boredom
  • Students perceive a poor "return on investment"
  • Subject differences 
  • Language
  • Digital Lives
The aim was to have some that would be expected (lack of time, boredom) and some that weren't (reading ability).

On the day my table was swamped! Lots of people had lots to say about this subject and it was great to see real interest in some of the suggestions proposed. I put post-its on the table for feedback and got some great comments, ranging from requests for more info to candid honesty ("I’m not sure I read as much as I should do so how do students differ?").

Not sure why it's taken me this long to get round to blogging it (prompted by the announcement of the 2014 conference!) but - belatedly - here it is:

28 September 2013

ModPo MOOC Avalanche!

So here I am again, a student on another MOOC - this time Coursera's "Modern American Poetry" (ModPo). First off, let me say that it is just brilliant. I was all for giving it a miss as I thought the timing was impossible (start of term) but I got completely hooked on the first week. I love the poetry, I love the discussions to watch, I love the whole world of meaning that is teased out of every line. Unfortunately real life term has indeed started with a vengeance meaning lots of teaching and weariness (not to mention family & kids etc.) and now by the end of Week 3 I am hanging on to my MOOC by the very slenderest thread.

Talking about this to my husband (who also did a MOOC a while back), we stalled on the question "who are MOOCs for?"

ModPo clearly states it is "fast paced" and that it requires 4-6 hours a week. Yet this week just gone there were 14 poems (by 4 authors) to study with at least one video discussion to watch of each (usually about 15-20 minutes) plus additional audio to listen to. There was also a wider discussion of Imagism and an additional painting discussion. You have 2 quizzes and this week there were 4 peer evaluations to complete on the work we did the week before as well as being required to participate in forum discussions. Who has the time to do all this to any kind of depth? Is it just people not working or full time students? Spending an hour per poem might be a reasonable average if you include learning the most basic facts about the poet and perhaps a few new technical terms per poem. The whole business of studying poetry - the joy of it - is the mulling and the re-reading. The way the course is run seems to prevent the kind of deeper enjoyment and reflection that should be the whole point. Never mind participation in the monster forums which buzz with ideas and conversation.

I don't really know who is the target audience when MOOCs get designed but I'd recommend a bit of flexibility and compassion - how about a reasonable-sized "core" each week with further reading and activities for those with the time? Also, keeping the focus of each week clear so you can immerse yourself in it fully, rather than trying to deal, in this case, with multiple new poets and ideas. Sure, I could just forget about completing ModPo and enjoy it at my own pace, but part of the beauty of the MOOC is feeling you're in step with all the others & meeting the deadlines. I also hate to be a quitter but this time I'm just going to have to get over that...