26 Jun 2014

Teaching spaces – are we making the most of what we’ve got?

Guest post by Maura Flynn, Nursing & Midwifery Librarian at UCC

Another important component of teaching is the space you teach in. I feel that the space is often overlooked but it can have a huge impact on your delivery of a particular class. I personally always like to see a new space before I teach in it, but when I had gone to see a room previously I didn’t particularly think of what the space could be, rather I focused on assessing the software and functionality of the PC and noted the layout as it was.

As part of the course on Teaching and Learning we critically reflected on the spaces that we frequently taught in. I learned that many teaching spaces are far trickier than my own and that there are many ways to engage students regardless of the particular space. For example, even in a huge tiered lecture theatre, greater diversity can be employed than simply lecture style delivery.  In such a space there is scope to get students to do group work for a short period of time and a teacher can always move amongst the students, even if it’s just temporarily by walking up and down the stairs or walk way! The challenge to teachers is to renegotiate and redefine spaces to fit our purposes and engage students.

Computer Lab within University College Cork. Image credit: Maura Flynn
Presenter view of same computer Lab within University College Cork. Image credit: Maura Flynn

This room holds approximately seventy students. My classes in that particular room vary as I sometimes have small groups of about thirty in the class and sometimes have larger groups of about sixty five. I find this room to be more challenging to work in than smaller rooms. If I have a smaller class there other students who are not part of the class often wish to remain in an area of the room or come in during the class and use a PC. This can transpire not to be problematic if they are quiet and refrain from printing, but it is not my preferred scenario. The students can also have issues seeing the screens and hearing me due to the large size of the room. It can also be very difficult to engage and interact with each person in a large room.

Some basic strategies which I find helpful in this room include having a remote microphone to hand if it’s required by the students and enlarging the display of my own screen on occasion to ensure that the students at the back of the room can see. I also try to have a remote laser pointer with me to demonstrate specific components clearly and I hope in the future to source a remote to allow me to move through a PowerPoint while moving around the room. Before individual classes I have also sat in a number of seats around the room to determine the visibility of the screens projecting different resources and to determine how it will feel from a student perspective to attend a large class in that room.

For most classes I also prepare a sheet of specific tasks and exercises for each individual to complete at various times during the class. I feel that it’s important that the students have an opportunity to independently practice what is being demonstrated and communicated, rather than exclusively just either watching me demonstrating or expecting them to follow along in real time. In a large class particularly it can be difficult to make sure that everyone is following the required processes and steps, but using such an approach is helpful. It gives me a chance to walk around, engage with students and view direct evidence of understanding. Students often ask me questions when I walk around the room amongst their desks, which I doubt would always be shared if I continued to present relentlessly!

Upon reflection though, I have realised that I had previously been far too reliant on the students using the PCs. Because of the presence of the computers I hadn’t given sufficient thought to using the teaching time and space differently in order to engage a greater variety of learning styles. In large classes particularly I had overlooked and underutilised a lot of other tools, even some which involve multimedia (which ironically I think I would have been more likely to utilise occasionally in a traditional lecture style presentation set up).  I also underutilised group work and props when teaching large groups and focused primarily on the students using their PCs for the entire class. Within my own classes, some students tell me that they are not very comfortable using computers and do not routinely use them, so I think that diversifying the classes more would be beneficial for these students. For example, using group exercises which involve the students planning their literature searching strategy efficiently, prior to using a particular database could easily be done using pen and paper or indeed colourful sticky notes. I feel that this may make it easier for any student struggling with computer literacy to conceptualise the process involved and encourage teamwork and peer support amongst the students.

Another space within which I frequently teach is a smaller computer training room based within the Library.

Information Skills Training Room within UCC Library. Photo credit: Maura Flynn

Information Skills Training Room within UCC Library. Photo credit: Maura Flynn

This is by far my preferred room. The capacity of this room is fourteen. Each person has their own PC and they have good visibility of a large screen and there are no issues with any students being able to hear me clearly. This room is very pleasant to work in. I feel that the small capacity enables me to provide more individual attention and interact more easily with the students. Interestingly, I have always experimented far more with different approaches in this particular room than in the larger room.

I’m cognisant that some of the issues I’ve raised above relate also to the group size as I feel that it is undoubtedly easier to facilitate active learning with smaller groups rather than larger groups. McGuinness (2011) provides many suggestions for engaging larger groups, including: buzz groups; think-pair-share and structured note-taking, which can be done in virtually any teaching space. Such exercises can allow students to stop and reflect on their learning and raise questions. It allows a teacher to determine direct evidence of student learning and helps one to determine key points which may not have been understood of which may have been misunderstood. They also allow us to provide feedback to students, which can be tricky in a large group.

Essentially my own learning in this regard has been that planning and preparation for each class should include a thorough assessment of the space available with a view to creating a dynamic teaching space rather than simply using the existing teaching space in the most obvious way. Secondly, although a lot of the teaching that I do will involve using students learning how to use electronic databases, the classes do not have to consist exclusively of computer work. Indeed depending on the individuals being taught, short breaks from the computer work to work in small groups, standing up and using props such as flipcharts and sticky notes may be more effective. Thirdly, I am more aware now that even within large groups and large spaces there is plenty of scope to use the space differently and dedicate some time to different activities to allow students time to stop, reflect and question things which they do not understand and provide teachers with direct evidence of learning.

I would love to hear about ways in which you reconceptualise teaching spaces.

[McGuinness, C. (2011). Becoming Confident Teachers: A guide for academic librarians. Oxford : Chandos Publishing]
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2014 | Categories: ,

18 Jun 2014

MLIS Graduates, jobs, internships and the future of the profession

This post is one I published a number of months back on my personal blog. I believe the issues are still as relevant and have decided to publish now on Libfocus.

A number of years back I attended a one day Library Association of Ireland Seminar. It was during our good days, the Celtic Tiger years, and we still believed we were well off and the country still had money. Our libraries were still, relatively, well funded. New librarians were still being hired and working librarians were still being promoted.
I was especially looking forward to hearing one of the Seminar speakers. She was brought over from one of the big UK Library Schools. She talked in passionate depth about the Library courses her college ran. It was all excellent inspirational punched hands in the air stuff. Would almost have encouraged one to go back to school to get another LIS qualification. But it is her answer to one of the audience questions post talk that I still think of. She was asked would there be enough librarian positions to go round for all the LIS graduates that Library schools were and are exponentially producing. Her brutally honest answer? It was not their concern - she argued library schools role is solely to craft educated, qualified, high functioning graduates capable of successfully working in the current and future Library and Information Science field. She stated it isn’t the Departments job to find or create employment for them. Which to be fair, seems to be role of universities today – create strong graduates and send them out into the world to find their own way.
This answer stuck with me. Long after all the other talks, talkers and ideas from that day have faded from my mind, long after the easy money and the plethora of library job advertisements have disappeared it is her answer I remember. I bring this up now because of a recent discussion on Twitter with working librarians and current and recently graduated MLIS students. The discussion has to do with the number of library job-bridge schemes being advertised, as opposed to actual paid library employment. Nine month Internships as opposed to Real jobs if you wish – and if recent news reports are to be believed – soon to be 18 month internships. Recently there was a spate of job bridge adverts for work in the library field. A quick look on Twitter through #jobbridge or #jobfairy or on Libraryjobs.ie will show the number of library ‘jobs’ being advertised.
And this for me leads to a number of questions:
It creates a dilemma for recent graduates. Do they apply for one of these programmes, get much needed experience and knowledge in the field, build networks and perhaps, ideally they hope, turn the internship into a real job. Or do they wait and see if any ‘real’ jobs appear? Do they allow their skills and learning to be used as cheap labour or do they hold back and perhaps never get the experience required to get a real secure job. Do they not do the internship, not build experience, not create networks and make contacts? And when a job does come up will their peer who took the internship get the job because they have the experience etc.
This is just one question raised by the use of interns in the library profession.
Should there be a profession wide discussion on the use of interns in libraries? Because there doesn’t seem to be any discussion at present. Except amongst a few over active Twitter users. It is not a black and white issue – many angles need to be looked at and many voices heard. We need to look at dwindling library budgets, the public sector embargo on hiring, current library staff, soon to be retiring library staff, unions, current unemployed graduates, future graduates, the ethos and philosophy of the profession, the role of the professional bodies, library schools. All these, and others and surely other aspects, need to be included in any nuanced discussion of the issue.
And to finish this post I will ask a few questions:
1 – if there are no library jobs out there, and seemingly not much prospect in the near future, is it worth somebody’s while undertaking library school and getting a library qualification?
2 – if there are no jobs is it ‘moral’ for university departments to keep taking in graduates and taking their money when there doesn't seem to be any realistic chance of a job afterwards?
3 – should libraries be hiring interns for nine months (or soon to be 18 months)?
4 – If interns keep plugging the gaps in the libraries will ‘real’ sustainable jobs ever be offered again?
5 – Are there enough unemployed MLIS graduates looking for employment to enable gap plugging for many years?
6 - Do the people doing the hiring believe that libraries can be staffed solely with interns as some job bridge adverts are advertising? Can a para or non professional qualified person run a library service to the same standard as a qualified experienced professional librarian?
7 - If non qualified staff can run libraries then why bother getting a qualification at all? Why waste your money or time getting the qualification when it is not needed?
8 – what do all these questions say about where we, as a profession are, in 2014? And where do we go?
As to answers? I do some have ideas and thoughts on these questions - but I will hold them off till another post. Don't want to outstay my welcome. In the meantime I would love to hear what other working librarians, recently qualified Grads - employed, unemployed, Interns - library managers have to say on, or think about, this issue.

15 Jun 2014

Maximising the impact of your library service - MAXIM e-learning course

I think this is a really interesting and innovative training opportunity being organised by the LAI (and possibly the first time this kind of format has been offered here in Ireland?). Details below are courtesy of Eva Hornung, Chair of the LAI A&SL Committee  The programme is open to everyone (not just LAI members), and A&SL and HSLG members can also apply for a number of part-bursaries.

The joint committees of HSLG and A&SL are delighted to confirm that the “MAXIM” Course, postponed earlier this year, will now take place at the end of June. Just a reminder on what it is: Folio “MAXIM” (maximising the impact of your service) is an e-learning course, managed and certified by the University of Sheffield. We are awaiting confirmation of accreditation from the LAI.

The University of Sheffield have years of experience in online learning, and we are very fortunate that they are working with us on this highly relevant interactive course. Attached is an outline of the course schedule. Please note that the course features some papers of specifically Irish interest.

Start date: 30th June 2014

Course break: 28th July – 1st August

Course finishes: 12th September (including one week at the
end to prepare and submit your work portfolio).

Cost: €245 per person
HSLG are offering part-bursaries of €145 to members who wish to participate. If you’re in receipt of a bursary but cannot complete the course for unforeseen circumstances, please advise the Committee – otherwise you may have to refund the bursary.

The AS&L is offering part-bursaries of €145 to ten A&SL members on a first come, first served basis. We will reimburse you on successful completion of the course only. Please register with Eva at hornunge@tcd.ie if you are interested in one of the bursaries.

We are aware that the timing coincides with summer holidays, but there are two weeks built into the programme – in the middle and at the end – to allow you time to catch up. It will hopefully be a quieter time work wise for most people.

HSLG members: please register your interest by emailing the undersigned by 18th June 2014 (lunchtime), specifying whether you will require a bursary.

13 Jun 2014

ANTLC Seminar - Phil Bradley: Using Multimedia Resources Report

Guest Post by Teresa O Driscoll Senior Library Assistant,  Arts & Humanities, Boole Library, UCC.
Another ANTLC seminar was held on Friday 11.04.2014 in the Library Training Room 1, DIT Aungier St. Dublin 2. The Course title was Using Multimedia Tools and the presenter was Phil Bradley.
Phil Bradley is an information and internet consultant, a webpage writer and designer and has authored several books. He also runs courses on various aspects of the internet.

The programme included tips and guidelines on graphics, screen-casting, presentation software, podcasts, and many other tools, all of which are free online.

The workshop started at 09.30 and attendees were taken on a roller coaster ride through the free online tools that can be used to enhance presentations, manipulate photos, create tag clouds, make personalised calendars, and develop pod casts and so on.

Prior knowledge of the subject was “not required or expected”. It was a day of discovery and by 16.00, we felt a bit overwhelmed by the vast amount of information we had absorbed.  Phil’s enthusiasm for his subject was evident from the start and didn’t flag much even towards the end of an action-packed day. 

Phil began by introducing us to Pearltrees  an organisational tool that allows users to curate and share URLs.  

It is a powerful tool for gathering all your information on one site and allows “graceful” movement from one topic to the next. All of his relevant links and webpages are stored here and throughout the day we hopped, “gracefully” from branch to branch of the Phil Bradley Pearltree as we explored resources.
We had some fun with BigHugeLabs where you can be creative with photos by making Jigsaws, CD covers, Calendars, Posters, and Badges etc. It works with Flickr images or images stored on your computer.

Library staff might be interested in making a customised Calendar featuring photos of the library.    However, this site is perhaps of more use to the Public or School library and definitely a good one for personal use.

We were shown some photographic manipulation software such as Aviary and PicMonkey This lets you resize, sharpen, crop and add colour to and photo and if you want to add captions then Wigflip is an easy tool to use. 
Here’s a photo I took of a bike shop in Cork, enhanced using Picmonkey and caption added using Wigflip




I never realised it was so easy to create word clouds but it is. Turn your words, text, news articles, slogans etc.  into a visual word cloud in a shape of your choosing. Each word is individually sized to highlight the frequency of occurrence within the body of the text.

There are a lot available but the two most highly regarded, according to Phil, are Wordle  and  Tagzedo

The word cloud here was created using Tagxedo. I simply copied and pasted a URL from our library website and picked a shape to suit.

We explored lots of other resources on the day, screen-casting, presentation, Sticky note and podcast software but that’s for another blog.

7 Jun 2014

Teaching and learning: how do I know that I know something?

Guest post by Maura Flynn, Nursing & Midwifery Librarian at UCC

During the Teaching and Learning course that I have recently completed we were asked as a class to reflect on the question of how do I know that I know something? Initially I was somewhat taken aback at this question. But interestingly, reflecting on something that I felt that I knew well proved very useful in helping me to think about the complexities of learning in a new way. When we looked at this as a class many common themes emerged, such as: practice; trial and error; experience; confidence; reading; learning from others; conducting research; teaching it and asking questions.

For example if you feel that you make a wonderful chocolate cake (although this is not a claim that I can in good faith make!) how do you know that know-how-to? Some examples might include: that you watched a cooking show and sourced what looked like a wonderful recipe from that, that you have practiced it and that you have shared the cake and indeed the method/recipe with others. In addition to sharing a recipe, you may also change and adapt a recipe as required, which demonstrates a great flexibility in your learning. For example, you could experiment with the original recipe and subsequently using the ingredients, ideas or techniques to create something entirely new and different from the original chocolate cake (e.g. a raw avocado and cocoa cake versus the original baked chocolate fudge cake).

In this example, seeing a demonstration of a recipe, sourcing that same recipe and experience of hands-on practice all contribute toward learning and skill acquisition. Similarly a sharing and teaching component was mentioned and can confirm that the knowledge is well understood. Indeed I often find myself that preparing for a teaching session on a topic area is a wonderful way to ensure that you know the topic exceptionally well. In addition, in teaching the recipe to someone else and answering any questions or issues that they may have you can often see the same subject matter from a different perspective. Flexibility in using the recipe, ingredients and techniques were also alluded to in the example above, which is a central component to true and deep learning.

One common thread amongst many of these ways of knowing (i.e. having learnt) is that many are active. This particular exercise again supports an active learning approach whereby students are engaged in learning in a practical or experiential capacity and are given opportunities to practice their newly acquired knowledge and skills. Again this is linked to the performance aspect of the Teaching for Understanding framework. To me this emphasises the importance of incorporating practice and hands-on components in a significant and meaningful way within information literacy classes. Learning from others is another facet that was mentioned and I feel that we can sometimes underestimate the value of group work and peer learning. I think that when teaching information literacy we must continually emphasise that it is a lifelong skill and can be used in a number of ways.  For example, within health sciences, I emphasise to students that learning how to conduct a literature review can be useful at a later stage to support an argument to change clinical practice in line with evidence. I think emphasising the relevance of information literacy both in personal and professional lives is vital to help students to develop a well-rounded understanding.

Thinking about my own knowledge in this way also reminds me to be patient as in many instances I know things which I have: observed; repeated; read about; undergone training on; discussed; debated; researched; or even taught.  When I encounter students it may well be their first time to be exposed to the content being taught. And I must reflect upon how many of these experiences of learning do I facilitate within my classes and try to identify additional opportunities to do so where possible.

I’d be very interested in your own insights as to how you know that you know something and whether this exercise might be useful to you in planning a class.
Posted on Saturday, June 07, 2014 | Categories: ,