Pedagogy for librarians…some thoughts on assessment

Northern CollegeI went to Northern College in Yorkshire in December of 2016 to take a short, intensive course on pedagogy for librarians and learn practical tips, get ideas for activities, and also get a better sense of myself as a teacher. This course was heavily subsidised by CILIP at the time and I think they have discontinued it due to the cost, which is a shame, given how useful it was for the participants. (You can find another student’s 2015 take on the course here). Northern College provide a model of education which is founded on social purpose which gives extra meaning to the teaching methods that they foster there. My reason for attending the course was that the opportunity to learn practical skills in teaching amongst a warm and supportive group of like-minded librarians was too good to pass up. I’m now doubly grateful to have gone as it’s no longer being run – so the need to share is even greater! Most of us hadn’t realised there would be a large amount of follow-up work in completing a portfolio to obtain the cert in teaching. Having said that, the online portfolio (in Google sites) allowed me to reflect on my personal approach to teaching and what I learned from the course. It also served as a repository for my reflections which I can now use towards future teaching and learning goals.

I hoped to understand which things I do well (such as being supportive and respectful of students, and understanding many aspects of the research process and information use in academic contexts) while learning newer skills such as how to make my classes more meaningful and adapt them to each group and each learner. Our teacher (Jill Wilkens) was wonderful at introducing us to many practical tips and techniques for teaching in an interactive and engaging way. I came away from the course feeling more confident and more flexible in my teaching style. I haven’t had a chance to practice many of the methods we covered (there were a lot in a very short space of time!) but I felt after the course that I have a much better awareness of the range of resources and types of activities which can support my students and my-self as a teacher. It was also a rare gift to be able to reflect on my teaching in the company of fellow-librarians who encountered many of the same hiccups that I do in my role.

Understanding Assessment in Education & Training 

pexels-photo-462360.jpegThe two things that gave me light-bulb moments during the Pedagogy for Librarians course that are still reverberating for me in my work were differentiation and assessment. Differentiation and assessment for me both revolve around using your empathy, flexibility and responsiveness to engage with those that you teach – even if you only meet them once.  I have come to realise how important assessment is for teaching, and more importantly how important it is for learning. Being introduced to the work of Dylan Williams and Geoff Petty has really clarified how good teaching is not just related to assessment but is one and the same with it, and finding ways to foster that in your classroom, regardless of the limitations of your environment is a long-term goal to aim for. Having strategies and techniques to apply to the various situations that I find myself designing learning activities and content for makes me feel armed with supplies instead of vulnerable and under-prepared. While I imagine that it will take me a long time and much more experience to become expert at utilising this new knowledge, I am now consciously trying to incorporate strategies from the Assessment for Learning approach into my work: clarifying and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success; engineering effective classroom discussions, questions and tasks that elicit evidence of learning; providing feedback that moves learners forward; activating students as instructional resources for each other, and activating students as owners of their own learning. Some of these seem so common-sense that it’s hard to imagine teaching without them, but in my case (and I think for others too) it will take application, forethought, planning, confidence and articulation to bring them to life in your interactions with learners. Sometimes the simplest seeming objectives are the most beguiling or difficult to achieve!

While I had read quite a lot of academic literature about pedagogy, these grounding core principles spelled out and summed up for me what I learned on the course. In my experience, explicitly naming them in the stages of your planning encourages you to keep them front and centre of your intended learning outcomes and teaching methods. While in the past I have been somewhat negligent in terms of asking for feedback I have committed myself to asking participants in my workshops and classes to fill out evaluative feedback forms which not only tell me where I can improve the content and delivery of my sessions to benefit learners, as well as satisfying my curiosity about what the learners are taking away from the sessions I teach; but doing so also makes teaching immeasurably more satisfying.

I know I have much to learn about teaching but I have a genuine interest in other people and I think that’s a good foundation to start with.  I now generally try to think about how I can design activities and formative assessment in which we (myself and whoever I’m teaching) can learn from each-other and adjust the pace of sessions accordingly. I’m also trying to think of ways that I can use initial or diagnostic assessment to find out about learners needs before I take a class on – this can be hard to do in my context but it’s not impossible – it just takes a bit of early planning and collaboration with others who may have access to information that I don’t have.
The teaching terminology describing different types of assessment, which before sounded quite daunting to me, now make sense and seem more approachable. I’ve always liked facilitating a good group-brainstorm and have no problem with taking the lead and public speaking in other situations (such as in professional committees and situations) but now I understand that people are not arriving at my sessions with the sole purpose of judging my teaching skills (!). For the most part they want to learn and they want to be engaged – it’s just about finding ways to tap into what motivates them and what they find interesting and using those motivations to formulate and design a learning experience around. Much about formative assessment involves the skill and patience to listen, learn and act upon your insights – which are all things that I believe I’m capable of – especially when I’ve got something that I believe in that I want to share with other people. I now have the beginnings of a toolkit full of strategies and insights with which to approach future teaching sessions and the confidence to imagine designing a longer sequence of learning sessions such as a module. I also understand better the context that I’m working in – the pressures and challenges that student teachers and academics are working with, and the pleasure that comes from developing a successful learning event/environment.

 

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The role of the academic librarian

teachingThe role of academic librarian can mean multiple things depending on context (country, organisation, personal outlook) and most of us have a range of duties which overlap with and support our academic colleagues, institutions and students in reaching their teaching and learning goals. I’ve been a librarian for over ten years and have had elements of teaching in my work for as long as I can remember. Currently, I teach a mixture of information and digital literacy skills to education students at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. These are quite nebulous ‘soft’ skills or behaviours and dispositions and for that reason they can be difficult to teach and also difficult to articulate to colleagues and students who are not familiar with current directions in library and information science and library instruction/pedagogy. This is a fast-emerging field which is becoming increasingly critical of the status quo (traditionally reinforced by bad library management) which relegated library instruction to an ad-hoc, add-on, or administrative function of the library within academia (see Elmborg (2006) and Tewell (2015) for overviews of the literature on critical pedagogy and information literacy). I’ve written about some of the challenges of teaching in this environment/role before (see my post on the LAI Career Development Group blog on imposter syndrome and other lessons learned at LILAC 2016) so instead of writing about challenges again, I’m going to describe some of my strategies for and reflections on dealing with them.

Formal and informal training in teaching

Over the years I’ve undertaken informal training – from engaging in little communities of practice (such as the Career Development Group committee in the LAI, Rudai 23 courses run by the WRSLAI, and the newer L2L project which explores the NPD Framework for those who teach in HE including librarians), to more formal training such as an intensive week-long Pedagogy for Librarians course run by CILIP and now a Higher Diploma/M.Ed in Teaching & Learning in Higher Education run by TCD.

Why I’m writing about this

Inspired by the SoTL literature which insists that learning must be shared, and because I have found very few Irish academic librarians writing about this aspect of their role in a transparent way, I thought I would share some of my own learning experiences and beliefs about teaching here on my blog in the hope that they might be of use to other academic and teaching librarians – or even those new to teaching in Higher Education.

Future posts will include descriptions of the formal learning I’ve undertaken in teaching, and some of the reflexive journal entries that I’ve written during those periods – and also for my own professional development. They will sometimes point to further resources or sources which I have come across and may be of use in your professional development.

 

Reflective practice

I launched back into Rudai 23 last week later than I wanted to, fully determined to make the most of the experience as I got so much out of it when I completed the first round. R23 is an online course aimed at information professionals for up-skilling in the use of free web tools and online resources that can be used in a library environment for the purposes of continuing professional development and library advocacy.

I hate falling behind and had waves of FOMO wash over me as others completed their Things, but I’ve had to pace myself. Since my last R23 adventure I’ve moved jobs to a busier position in a smaller college with fewer library staff – and October is my silly-season for teaching classes, completing library orientation with new students, and making sure all of our systems are running smoothly. I’m also in the middle of a H.Dip in higher education, which has both demanded attention and made R23 more relevant than ever. The module I’m studying at the moment is all about reflective practice and the role of Web 2.0 in teaching & learning in H.E. We’re using Brookfield’s four lenses in a process of critical reflection: (1) the autobiographical lens, (2) the students’ eyes, (3) our colleagues’ experiences, and (4) theoretical literature.

So while the combination is making my brain feel a little fizzy, it’s also making fruitful connections between practical work, study/theory and professional development – I’m hoping they will all complement each-other in the long run. Most disciplines have blurred edges and this is particularly true of higher education and academic librarianship – theory and practice overlap in the form of praxis. It’s this idea that I’m using to draw all the disparate strands of work and study together into a coherent whole. Below you’ll find my progress through Things 3-5 for the Visual Communicator strand of the R23 course.

Description

Because I already had my blog up and running I was able to skip straight to Thing 3  (image banks). I re-explored sites that I use myself, some of which don’t require attribution, and some that do:

Google advanced image search

Flickr creative commons

Wikimedia commons

Morguefile

Creative commons

Pixabay

Pexels

FreeImages

A refresher on the subject was most welcome and for the purposes of Thing 3 I concentrated on Pixabay. For more about Thing 3, see here.

For Thing 4, again the theme of Visual Communication was super relevant and I chose to try an app I had never used before – I liked the sound of RIPL as user-friendly interfaces is top of my requirements when it comes to apps like this. I created and tweeted a Halloween library OH message and didn’t write a blog-piece for this Thing, but moved swiftly onto Thing 5 where I spent most of my time during the visual communicator section of the course. You can read more about the video presentations I created in Powtoon here.

Feelings

emojis 2
Emojis realizados by tobiaschames https://www.flickr.com/photos/137523715@N03/23229111789

Spending time in image banks felt useful because I had recently taught the first of two classes to a group of 1st year students on the use of different media in educational contexts (Communication for Education). Their assessment is focused on creating a poster on an educational topic so I concentrated on the use of images and text (other people’s research) to visually communicate a message.  This brought copyright and intellectual copyright into the fray – concepts which are hard even for librarians to navigate, never-mind first year undergraduate students and so I had to spend a good deal of time brushing up on the meaning of ‘fair dealing’ which can be applied in some educational contexts. I then spent an equal amount of time trying to distill this into a digestible format, angled in such a way that they could use for their assignment.

I think this is one of the main difficulties librarians have in their teaching roles – the majority of the time we are trying to integrate information skills into existing curricula (on very limited information) and demonstrate their applicability and relevance instead of having input into the shape and design of learning outcomes and assessments, so we’re coming into the process at the very end. I have learned through the H.Dip and talking with academic colleagues that this is often the case for new academics as well – but I think we can be even more removed from the loop which can cause problems with student engagement.

Applicability

Teachers working in a range of contexts from primary to adult education are now taxed with knowing which information/digital tools and media are appropriate for (and add value to) their work and I’m really interested in this relatively new area of exploration. Visual communication is (for obvious reasons) a huge part of teaching and while many  student teachers do a good job of incorporating digital tools/applications/media in their work, they sometimes lack the theoretical and practical knowledge to evaluate them in a critical way or to apply the academic conventions necessitated by their course. It is this critical lens that I’m trying to familiarise them with but as a librarian-educator I have in the past struggled with some of the pedagogical aspects of teaching and the limited amount of time and input we get with a group. As mentioned above, students do not always see the relevance of critical information skills as they are not directly tied to assessment.

Support/help

Two great sources of support that have helped me to build up my confidence and experience in this area are the H.Dip in H.E. where I’m working with a very mixed group of new and experienced educators to reflect on and refine our practice, and the communities of practice I’ve found within librarianship (such as R23, CILIP and the LAI).

Conclusion

Teaching concepts such as copyright or visual communication to student-teachers can be difficult as they are often excluded from the curriculum (or included as a footnote) but R23 provided a great chance to further explore the range of image banks/tools available, and what they allow, and why.  I also enjoyed re-introducing myself to PowToon and experimented with different templates such as infographic (although my heart remains with Canva for most visual communication purposes) and exporting my finished piece as a PDF as well as a video on Youtube. Export options are limited unless you pay.  I’m fairly sure I didn’t get the most out of Ripl and became a bit frustrated with PowToon pushing me to create and buy ‘AWESOME’ things – but knowing about all of these tools is useful and has multiple applications for information professionals and educators alike. I’m not entirely sure what the USP of tools like RIPL or Quik are, given the  existence of the original visual communication tools like Photoshop and Illustrator, and the proliferation of other user-friendly tools which layer text and filters over images/videos. I suppose they’re aimed at people (like me) who haven’t made time (and don’t have the funds) to learn how to use sophisticated programmes like Photoshop and Illustrator. These are still both on my (very) long-term list of professional tools to explore as I enjoy designing promotional and instructional materials, alongside learning about the more theoretical aspects of visual communication in a media-saturated world.

Freemium tools like RIPL, Quik and PowToon seem designed to profit from our desire for a quick fix – which definitely has it’s place in the toolkit of busy professionals like librarians and teachers. But I’m not sure that RIPL & Quik justify the download. A further cautionary note would be that teaching (or using) a particular tool can date your content very quickly, and could also make you accountable for time-consuming user-issues, so my emphasis going forward is always on the awareness of a variety of tools and the critical evaluation of each for your information need. I think it’s important to point out also that information literacy/digital literacy/media literacy means knowing that there is very often no simple solution to the range of information challenges you will face in your profession/studies.

 

Video Presentations

I’ve used PowToon before to make a video illustrating how to find a book and borrow it from the library (for new students). It’s cartoony nature makes it fun to work with but very often I find that these ‘freemium’ tools can be frustrating when they only allow you to use a small amount of the elements (images/animations/backgrounds/soundtracks) that you can search/see/sample. This sort of task usually falls into my Summer to-do list when I have a bit more time for experimenting with free tools and working on long-term projects.

So trying to make a new animated video for the purpose of refreshing my memory and seeing if anything had changed was a little bit trickier at this time of year as I find you usually need a block of free time to concentrate, rather than trying to edit video animations while working on the desk or other jobs. But my boss had recently supplied me with some statistics on the Library as the College has recently celebrated the milestone of reaching 1000 students, so I thought it would be a good platform for promoting some of the developments in the Library service achieved over the last 20 years. You can see my attempt created in PowToon, uploaded to our library Youtube channel and embedded below:

It took me a good two days (with other jobs in between) and I’m not completely happy with the result but it was a good re-introduction to the difficulties of working with free tools to create promotional materials and a chance to work on my visual communication skills. It’s only a minute long, as I think that’s probably about how long people will pay attention to something like this.

Below I’m embedding my last (more instructional) effort which I made during the Summer with a bit more time on my hands:

Image Banks

pixabay-2260342_1920

I’m always happy to be updated on copyright when it comes to using images  found on the internet, as well as the implications of different copyright licenses. I do some work teaching digital, media and information literacy to student-teachers and understanding copyright and intellectual property are important parts of learning how to use and re-use content on the internet for educational or professional purposes. They are also notoriously murky swamps of legal ambiguity, with the guidelines/rules for use of digital materials in Ireland needing serious revision since the advent and spread of digital media. I still get confused sometimes about how best to give attribution to creators when re-using digital content so using Pixabay images (which don’t require attribution) makes putting something together much easier – that’s where I found the Pixabay image I used above.

‘Fair dealing’ in Ireland is not as permissive as ‘fair use’ in the U.S and the balance is heavily tipped towards the copyright holder, as discussed in depth by Dr. Eoin O’Dell’s engaging call-to-arms here. He points out how “there are…many contexts in which copyright law is inept for the online and digital environment, dealing only with very great difficulty with derivative and transformative works…and failing to come to grips with file-sharing and private copying.” This is why Creative Commons has been such a welcome development, providing clarification where the copyright-holder doesn’t want to restrict all usage. In my own work (presentations, posters, infographics, etc.) I like to use vector graphics to illustrate points and get images from lots of places on the internet, with flaticon being one of my favourite sites. I also use HaikuDeck which can source copyright-free images for your slides and insert the relevant credit. More on that in the future!

Connecting everything…or not

In my last job I used Hootsuite to monitor library social media accounts (FB & Twitter) and to schedule posts in advance. That made keeping an eye on interactions with library users easier and made sure that feeds were updated regularly.

hootsuiteI’ve just downloaded the Hootsuite app to try to integrate some of my (many) other accounts into one feed. I contribute to 3 twitter accounts (my own, the committee I’m on, and the library twitter I manage for work) and I’m on LinkedIn, have a work FB account, a personal FB account, personal instagram account, personal Pinterest account, a WordPress blog (which you know because you’re reading it!) and the CDG blog that I contribute to….so in theory getting all my notifications into one place that I could check should make my life easier. More streamlined even. But it did not. So here is a list of the things that I have found annoying:

  • That you can only add three streams with a free account
  • That if somebody else has already connected to a communal Twitter account (or you have connected to a Twitter acc from an old Hootsuite acc) you can’t add it to new HS accounts
  • That the app will insist on trying to connect to whichever accounts you have on your phone
  • I’m having fierce trouble connecting my WordPress blog to Hootsuite – possibly because I manage two blogs from WordPress, but it’s too complicated and late on a Friday to figure out the convoluted instructions

Ultimately I think I’ll keep Hootsuite mostly for work purposes but I do like the fact that you can set up streams for Twitter searches – that’s going to make tweeting at conferences and events easier and quicker. Perhaps I’m just in a crankypants, anti social-media mood (that happens occasionally) or perhaps social-media aggregators have a ways to go to achieving the “social web” I keep hearing about? As Elise Moreau says in her web-article “Don’t go crazy and follow everyone and everything just because you can. Humans are strange creatures that feel the need to know everything, all the time – but if you don’t even realize that you’re missing out on something and it doesn’t affect your life in any significant way, do you really need to know about it? Probably not.”

librarianbook
I want to be a Librarian *

On another note this brings to a close my Rudai23 journey which I have thoroughly enjoyed and learned from. I’d like to thank the organisers for all their encouragement and hard work – I’ve really felt a part of something communal and library-oriented. I will be referring back to the R23 blog (and the blogs of other participants) whenever I need a little inspiration for a work project or a step-by-step guide to one of the many tools we’ve road-tested.

Thanks guys!

*see more great library-themed book covers on this Pinterest page retrieved from the ILN’s librarians in pop culture round-up 

 

 

 

 

Note-taking apps

I have had colleagues, bosses, friends (and a boyfriend) who found my compulsive note-taking amusing, endearing or bewildering, but if you don’t believe me see here for how taking notes makes your life better. I firmly believe that just writing a list of things that you haven’t finished or that you want to achieve allows you to relax and shelve work and professional activities until you have time to concentrate.

Evernote on my desktop

evernoteIn terms of my daily workflow, note-taking apps are the most useful and frequently used ‘mobile things’that help me keep organised. I constantly have Evernote open on my desktop while I work and it has become invaluable to me – I add notes and save interesting journal articles and webpages to my account, cross things off my to-do lists, and summarise meetings, agendas, minutes, (sometimes even draft blog posts!) as I go, tagging everything with subject headings and attaching relevant docs.

I now start to draft most projects there – from presentations to applications to important emails, and then cut and paste them into the appropriate format when the time is right. As I often have to work on different computers in work and at home, it’s one way to keep everything in one place without leaving bits of docs floating in my wake. It acts as a nice clean digital notepad.

The Evernote App

I use the app to check things when I’m on the move and add/edit notes while I’m out and about – text, camera, doc-camera, audio, attachments and reminders – you name it, Evernote can capture it. You could say I’m obsessed with Evernote. In fact I’m strongly considering signing up for a premium account if only because I get so much use out of it I feel like I should be paying SOMETHING for it! On top of that, a premium account allows you to save email into Evernote (would have been handy when I moved jobs!), search in office docs & attachments, turn notes into presentations, annotate attached PDFs, and scan and digitise business cards. How useful! If Evernote disappeared overnight I would cry salty, bitter tears of regret and frustration.  I’m still not fully recovered from when Google Reader was deemed dispensable by Google and closed down – no RSS feed reader rival has been able to take its place in my heart. Thanks ALOT, Google! *angriest librarian face I can muster*

OneNote

onenoteI’ve also tried the Microsoft version called OneNote which integrates nicely with Office products like Word and Powerpoint, but I’m too attached to Evernote to be able to fully commit to a similar note-taking app. Plus the Evernote interface wins hands-down for usability, functionality and aesthetics! But don’t listen to me – try them both out for yourself.

Cogi

During the wonderful 12 apps of Christmas programme I learned about Cogi, which cogisounds like a fantastic audio addition to my note-taking arsenal. I’ve been tinkering with it for a few weeks. I can immediately see how useful it could be for recording snippets or highlights of audio (for example at a conference where you are besieged by interesting ideas and do not have the mental capacity to process everything at once), add images (of whiteboards, speakers, slides, documents, etc.) to these snippets, and take tagged notes to remind you of the details. Equally if you were doing research in the field, recording interviews, etc. this app could save you a lot of trouble and keep you organised. For a fee, you can also turn your audio into transcripts. I hate to think about all the hours I spent transcribing interviews during my Masters – but I don’t know if I would have paid for it either! There are somewhat obvious caveats to using an app like this – it’s probably best to seek permission before recording people in meetings etc, but I think that I’ll definitely be trialling it at the next conference I attend. Once people are public-speaking there’s always the possibility of being recorded in some manner and in fact using a dictaphone or recording app reduces the chance of misrepresentation of their message.