25 January 2013

Reading Lists: Challenge or Opportunity? London, 17th Jan 2013

Early daffodils in Russell Square

I'm hugely relieved I managed to get to London and back for the most excellent CPD25 event last Thursday (17th Jan), given all the snow that's fallen since. It was a long day from Swansea but well worth it for such a comprehensive programme of everything reading-list-system related. As we are in the middle of getting one, I was keen to glean as much as possible from the other presenters as well as having a chance to say where we are with our own pilot project with the very shiny new Rebus:list.

The event was a great chance to get a feel for the different systems that are out there. Sadly I missed the opening talk - Hannah Young's session on their Refworks and Moodle connection but my train just couldn't get me there on time. There were two speakers (Anselm Nye and Richard Cross) who have Talis Aspire - no surprise as it has dominated the marketplace for some time. Alison Sharman probably made of all of us feel jealous of Huddersfield's in-house "MyReading" system! I came on at the end to say where we've got to with our Rebus:list implementation - our shiny new Blackboard widget was ready just in time for me to snap a screenshot!

I also very much appreciated two sessions that looked at the issue of encouraging academic reading beyond just a system. Gary Brewerton showed the results of Loughborough's surveys into the use of reading lists. Funnily enough, I had been looking at their Academic Reading project report (PDF) on the train and wishing we could run a similar survey. The fact that they got such a high response rate suggests that the topic strikes a chord with students. Emma Delaney and Jacqueline Chenin from UWE then outlined their strategic approach to student reading. This highlighted ways of engaging with the academics to get them to consider their reading strategy: looking at how many books a student was expected to buy across a programme (not just one module), asking them to make an explicit statement about what reading they expect. They have been using their NSS comments very effectively as ammunition when engaging academics and as a rough check to see if they are improving satisfaction with access to books.

Certain topics and themes ran through all the sessions: strategy to back up any implementation, engaging academics, improving the student experience, purchasing decision calculations... I learnt much but these were some of the finer details that I'd like to follow up on:
  • Any system or approach to reading lists must embrace the diversity of pedagogical approaches that the academic bring to list creation. There may be some weird and wonderful lists out there but we need to cope with all varieties. To this end, I really like Loughborough's suggestion to their academics that they include a statement of purpose with each list, to say how students are meant to use it. I'd like it if any reading list system made that easy to do - almost to enforce it. I also liked how Huddersfield had renamed their categories to make their meaning explicit e.g. "Essential" was "You must read this".
  • Something we haven't decided to implement is allowing students to rate or comment on lists yet Loughborough and Huddersfield were very positive about this social aspect. The issue of inappropriate comments having to be policed is a little daunting but I liked the idea of allowing a thumbs up or down on a book or letting students tag them as they wish. However, we have had tags in our library catalogue and they don't seem to have been that widely used.
  • Loughborough also had a feedback dashboard for academics where they could access stats on their lists and see how it related to borrowing activity. 
  • Richard Cross described how their library made a clear statement to the academics when the system was launched about what support they would offer: "we will do this to help you". 
  • Links to purchasing options? Amazon or a local bookshop?
  • I liked Huddersfield's main project aim: that "the provision of reading lists is a positive, managed experience for students". Says it all really!
I'm glad to say I've managed to fulfil a pledge from Thing 15 from CPD23 to get more, even if I STILL haven't managed to master Prezi...

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