Last week I attended a course at De Montfort University in Leicester titled “Focus on your teaching: revisiting current practice and sharing new ideas. An event for librarians teaching in HE institutions” – catchy title! 😉 In keeping with the wordy title, I will warn you that this blog post is a long post, but is separated into the different presentations. I was intending to live blog the event but the room wasn’t really set up for that.

Teaching is one of the parts of my job as an academic librarian that I most enjoy, and so I was really looking forward to this event. The venue was good, and the food was excellent (for those who judge a course on the quality of it’s buffet this one is definitely up there as one of the best!). Even better was the opportunity to share ideas with other HE librarians, although I wish there had been more opportunity for networking. The day started with an introduction from Jo Webb, who I hadn’t met before and was really inspiring. The morning session was a number of presentations which gave the opportunity for librarians to showcase innovative teaching methods they wanted to share – I’ll go into more detail on each one as I’m sure they will be of interest to others.

Teaching referencing and citation (Amanda Poulton, De Montfort University)

Amanda spoke about how DMU approach their teaching of referencing and citation. She made a clear distinction between plagiarism and bad academic practice, explaining that successful teaching of referencing and citation skills can help prevent bad academic practice. DMU have a number of different referencing styles used for different academic schools; even if they use Harvard, many schools have slight adjustments so there is no standardised referencing style across the University.

DMU have a collaborative approach to teaching referencing skills – the Centre for Learning and Study Support (CLASS) teach writing skills including paraphrasing and summarising, whilst library staff teach students how to create bibliographies and the correct format of in-text citations. The referencing and citation sessions take the form of:

  1. Presentation on principles of referencing (including key elements of a reference for different types of resources)
  2. Contextualised examples
  3. Practical exercise in groups

The need for a subject specific focus and contextualised examples was emphasised throughout (e.g. images for Art and Design students, reports for Education/Health students, DVDs for Performing Arts students etc.). Amanda also spoke about the theoretical context and the advantages of the peer learning approach which can help increase student retention rates and encourage a deep approach to learning.

Delivering library skills for law students via a VLE (Angela Donaldson, Nottingham Trent University)

Angela spoke about a self-paced tutorial on Nottingham Trent’s VLE which she has designed for first year law undergraduates. This replaces a physical workbook which was marked by lecturers. She has structured the content into a large number of small areas to enable students to drop into the content rather than having fewer larger sections.

The tutorial content will be available to all law students (as well as any students taking a law module), but the target audience is first year students who will be required to complete the online self-assessment at some point during their first year. Students can take the test as many times as they want and can complete at any point in the year. It will be introduced to students at an introductory lecture alongside the library induction, and Angela will hold 1 or 2 workshops which students can sign up to if they are interested. If they do not complete the assessment, this will be taken into account when deciding their mark for the year.

An information evaluation framework for online learners (Kaye Towlson, De Montfort University)

Kaye spoke about her work on a project with academics to develop a framework for evaluating information sources. Students were asked to find information about a certain topic, and add 5 relevant references to a wiki. They attended a session on information evaluation as a skill for life using examples such as choosing which University to apply to, which house to buy etc. This including information about the 5Ws (who, what, where, when and why) and the 4Cs (consideration, comparison, confidence and commitment) to help students evaluate information sources. They were then asked to develop the wiki and write an article based on the wiki material. These articles were then evaluated by peers. Anecdotal evidence revealed an improvement in the quality of material posted, so the 5Ws were used to develop an Information Source Evaluation Matrix (ISEM).

In order to assess the ISEM, they ran workshops (with student incentives) where students were asked to complete a self-assessment questionnaire of their evaluation skills, then had a refresher of the 5Ws, were introduced to the ISEM, asked to use the ISEM to evaluate subject specific material, and then complete another self-assessment questionnaire. Use of the ISEM was positively received by both undergraduate and postgraduate workshops; all engaged with the matrix, its purpose and its application. Students were asked for feedback on the ISEM, and some suggestions for improvement included different weightings (e.g. is the who sometimes more important than the when?), use of colour coding, and inclusion of space for annotations and a citation. They are hoping to make some minor improvements and then make the ISEM available on the VLE.

We received paper copies of the ISEM but it’s not something I can easily share (it’s a complex table), although I imagine Kaye would be willing to share if you would like to see a copy.

Evaluating the impact of technologies on transitions into HE (Richard Hall, De Montfort University)

Richard gave a brief introduction to the work he is involved in with e-learning at DMU including the Connecting Transitions and Independent Learning (CoTIL) project which looks at social tools that can be used at level 1 to aid the transition from FE to HE. Richard focused on the work they have been doing on a mentoring project, where level 2 students provide support for level 1 students using whatever tools they wish. You can see the slides for more details but the data is currently still being analysed. The mentor feedback has been analysed and show frustrations similar to some of those experienced by academic and library staff utilising social tools, mainly that no one wants to be the first to comment on any form of communication and that the mentors felt that they were continually having to prompt mentees into participating.

The CoTIL project is part of the HEA e-learning Research Observatory and it will certainly be interesting to see the findings of the projects involved in this. You can see more information on the work being done into e-learning at DMU at their Learning Exchanges website.

Using Captivate for Information Skills Tutorials (Emma Butler and Catherine Varney, Derby University)

Emma and Catherine spoke about Derby University’s work on providing library tutorials using Adobe Captivate. I was particularly interested in this talk as we have been using Captivate at University of Wolverhampton although currently its use is only from interested librarians who are self-taught and there are no generic tutorials for all students as yet, but it is something I imagine we will investigate further in future.

At Derby University they have a two year project to rejuvenate their Electronic Library provision (e.g. simplify web navigation, encourage use of online resources, improve support of online resources and develop student skills). They established three working groups for the project which were open to all library staff; the subject approach group, the navigation group (physical and virtual navigation), and the information skills group. Emma and Catherine were both part of the information skills group whose remit was to make the Electronic Library more relevant to their students. This included developing and enhancing student skills, improving 24/7 support of electronic resources, ensuring consistency with HE practice and exploiting the use of new technologies. One of the main areas of focus were Captivate tutorials (for anyone who is unaware of Captivate, it is screen capture software which you can add captions and voiceover to).

The group decided to try using Captivate to augment and supplement their face-to-face sessions. From the beginning of the project, the group realised the importance of providing a consistent message, and developed sets of standards, including:

  • Recording standards
  • Standard slides (start slide, how to use slide, and end slide is always the same)
  • Navigation route standards (standard way of getting to electronic resources, also reflected in print guides)
  • Style standards (font, colour, size etc.)
  • Language standards (e.g. use of consistent terms – OPAC or Library Catalogue? Periodicals or Journals? Click on or Select? Also used male and female voices on alternate slides to keep interest)

They produced 2 tutorials and then evaluated them using Surveymonkey online questionnaire. The feedback from this survey helped shape the standards (e.g. they found that black text on white background was too much of a contrast so now use blue text on a while background).

Now that the standards are finalised, the group rolled out their findings and guidelines to library staff (subject librarians), and offered support in producing the tutorials. Subject librarians will take responsibility for producing their own guides but the group will offer assistance where necessary. The group also held sessions to introduce the academic staff to the tutorials to raise awareness and promote the resources. They are encouraging liaison with subject librarians for suggestions of further tutorials.

It was really interesting to hear about the experiences of Derby University, and particularly about the standards developed – its certainly something I am hoping to produce for my place of work with regards Captivate tutorials as well as any other information guides (e.g. consistent use of language and style in leaflets and on website).

Tour of De Montfort University Kimberlin Library and Eric Wood Learning Zone

At lunchtime, there was an optional tour of De Montford Kimberlin library and the Eric Wood Learning Zone adjacent to the library. This was especially useful for me, as we are currently fact finding for our new Learning Centre which is currently in the design stages. Interestingly, many of the ideas we are hoping to implement have already been implemented at DMU so it was a really interesting and worthwhile tour. I found a presentation on Slideshare which has some great photos and stats of the new areas at DMU:

Afternoon workshop (Chris Powis, Northampton University)

The afternoon session was very interesting, Chris began by presenting about students of today and how we need to approach our teaching so that they will get the most out of it. He talked about how librarians are tool/search focused but most students are result/content focused. I think this is a really important point – it’s no good setting a task for students to construct how they would go about a search without getting them to do the search as students are motivated to get the result. In today’s world most of us learn by making mistakes so we might perform a search, realise the results are not what we had hoped to get, and then adjust accordingly. The ultimate goal for a student is to get to the content (e.g. the journal article), they’re generally not too bothered how they got there (which keywords or database was used). A quote Chris used to emphasise this point, which I really liked, was:

“Librarians love to search, everyone else likes to find”
Eric Lease Morgan, Notre Dame University

Chris also highlighted the importance of the learner when teaching; sessions should be designed with the learner in mind. Obviously it is necessary to take into account the needs of the lecturer and yourself, but the primary focus of the session should be the learners themselves.

The afternoon activity got us to think about how we could make a session more interesting and innovative whilst taking into account all we’d learnt from the day. My group spent most of our time discussing different ideas and didn’t get very far on planning our ideal teaching session, but our main idea was to challenge the prejudice that many academics have towards Google and Wikipedia. I have to admit that there are times when I use Google Scholar over our paid-for services (e.g. if I don’t know a subject very well or if a student is after an article they know partial details of), and with our article linker it really can be an excellent service and helps students get to the full text of scholarly articles. OK so it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of an in-depth information enquiry on a specialised database, but for first year students who just need to get hold of an article, I think it can be a really useful tool and something we shouldn’t be so scared of.

The event was certainly useful, it made me think about my teaching and how I can make it more interesting and relevant for my students. The main lessons I took from the day were to focus on the learner and their needs in the first instance and to ensure that any examples are subject specific for the particular group of students – all subject disciplines have very different needs.

  • Long, but very interesting, thanks so much for posting. I was wondering if there was any discussion of running something like this on an annual / biannual basis? It seems to me that there are so many examples of interesting teaching which we never get the chance to discuss / share.

    • Glad you found it interesting.

      There wasn’t any talk of how to continue these sort of discussions/sharing as far as I am aware, I agree that there should be more opportunity to do so ideally. This event focused on East Mids but it would be good if there was a similar national event, I guess LILAC is the main event for sharing innovative teaching methods.

  • Kaye Towlson

    Thanks Joeyanne, I’m glad you found it interesting and useful. It always great to share experience and practice, very fruitful.

    I shall post my slides on slide share.

    • Thanks Kaye, I’ve edited the post to include the slides. 🙂