Tag Archives: teaching

Another LILAC blog post: workshop on Hunting Assumptions

So last week I went to LILAC for the day, to present my MA dissertation research to a roomful of enthusiastic librarians, which you can read more about here. I spent the rest of the day being an enthusiastic librarian instead! I went to lots of other parallel sessions during the day, as well as the keynote speech, but for this post I want to focus on just one session I enjoyed, because otherwise this would get far too long and unwieldy.

The session was called “Hunting Assumptions: encouraging creativity and critical reflection through collaboration”. This was a two-pronged workshop – on one hand, it was a fun space to learn about activities that other people use in their teaching, and to swap ideas about how you could use them in your own teaching. There was also a more theoretical and challenging side to the workshop – the “hunting assumptions” bit. This was based on Stephen Brookfield’s 1995 book Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, and was all about being aware of your own assumptions about yourself or your learners – stuff like “this activity is too childish for my learners” or “all adults are self-directed learners”, which can stop you from considering new ideas or different ways of doing things. Once you identify your own assumptions you can start to challenge them, perhaps in collaboration with others who can bring a different perspective to what you’re doing. This idea of being critical and challenging your assumptions is, for me, an extension of what we were taught at library school about being reflective practitioners, looking deeper into the reasons behind the decisions we make and the bubbles we exist in. I’ve taken out a book from the uni library for the first time since graduating and am really looking forward to familiarising myself with Stephen Brookfield’s ideas and hopefully applying them to my own practice.

The practical part of the session centred around an activity called Thought Bombs. The idea is similar to “sinking ship” or “hot air balloon that’s too heavy” questions – you’ve got a certain number of people but can only save one and must decide who to save/kill. In small groups, you get a short description of each person and have to make a snap decision about which one you want to save. The difference with the Thought Bomb exercise is that after you’ve made your decision, the thought bombs start arriving – plastic balls with a bit of paper inside, with a statement about one of the people in it. Look:

This statement might be something trivial, like “Jane had a salad for lunch today”, or it might be something that might have more of an effect on your decision to kill/save that person, like “Jane’s future child will grow up to be an evil dictator”. Once you’ve received a thought bomb and read it, you can throw it over to a different group, so there’s thought bombs flying all over the room. These are intended to spark discussion between participants and get them to argue the merits of saving different people. It’s easy to see how this can a) get people thinking around a topic and b) be adapted for lots of different scenarios. You could go off in all sorts of directions with it – the inclusion of irrelevant statements in the thought bombs is a good starting point for a lesson on evaluating information, for example. We saw one example in the session which was geared towards researchers – the three people were researchers at different stages of their careers, using different methods to share their research (e.g. paywalled journal, open access journal, blog). The thought bombs were things like “Jane was caught bribing peer reviewers”. With a bit of tweaking, you could use this activity to get people thinking about the perceived “value” of different types of scholarly communication, and the different ways to reach an audience and have an impact. You don’t have to save/kill the researchers either! You could ask “who would you choose as your PhD supervisor?” or “who would you ask to collaborate on your research project?”.I really liked this activity, and since seeing the research examples I’ve been thinking of ways to incorporate it, or something like it, into the new “developing your research profile” session we are designing for our PhD students, as we really want it to be a discussion-based session and I think an activity like this would facilitate that. I just need to work out the details so it fits in with the messages we’re trying to get across.

I was really glad I went to this session as (apart from being fun!) it dovetailed nicely with what I’m focusing on at work at the moment, and I’m definitely going to try and think more critically about what I’m doing and why.


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Teaching or training? My LILAC presentation

Last week I went to LILAC for the day. If you haven’t heard of LILAC before, I will briefly explain: it’s a conference about information literacy, and is mostly attended by librarians and researchers. It’s my favourite (in my very limited experience) of all the big events and conferences I’ve been to, because it’s got a very friendly atmosphere and there’s a real sense that everyone’s really happy to be there, and excited to share new things and learn from each other. I went last year as a volunteer for CILIP Y&H and loved it, so when I was accepted to present my own research there this year I was thrilled. Plus, the conference was at my alma mater Newcastle University this time round, so that made it extra special!

I’m going to talk exclusively about my presentation in this blog post, but I will also be writing one about all the other sessions I went to, so keep an eye out for that later this week.

My MA dissertation research is not something I really wrote much about on this blog, because I was stressing out about it way too much at the time. Now that a year has passed since I had to start thinking about it, I am able to talk about it with enthusiasm again! I wanted to do some research into how librarians think about themselves and their teaching. There’s loads of case studies out there about how librarians are implementing different teaching theories and techniques and devising cool new teaching interventions. “Teacher-librarians” seem to be a big thing! However, this didn’t always chime with what I was experiencing in my workplace – not all the librarians I met would call themselves teachers or say that what they were doing was teaching, let alone be doing all this innovation and stuff. I decided that I’d use my dissertation to find out more about how librarians viewed themselves and their roles within the institutions/environments they worked in.

I used phenomenographic interviews to collect the data for my research. Phenomenography is all about getting deeper into what people are saying about things, to try and uncover their conceptions of things. You end up with a collection of different ways in which people experience or think about a certain phenomenon – in this case, themselves as teachers (or not teachers), their teaching, and information literacy. I created four categories, each of which describes a conception, and which is different/distinct from the other three. The idea is that librarians might be able to identify which category they most closely match, and this might help them understand their approach to the teaching they do and possibly identify ways to help them approach it differently (for example, go to a training session about teaching, to help you feel more confident about calling yourself a teacher, to help you feel more like the equal of other teaching staff at your workplace, to help you have a more productive relationship with them).

After writing up and submitting my dissertation, my supervisor Pam encouraged me to think about publishing it or developing it further. Having been to last year’s LILAC, I really wanted to go back, and as my research is all about librarians who teach information literacy, it was a good fit. As is now obvious, my application was accepted and I was invited to give a 20 minute talk at this year’s conference. Hooray!

The talk went really well – about 50 people watched! – and I was delighted by the number of people who came up afterwards to tell me and Pam how interesting they thought it was. It’s nice to think that my work is actually interesting to other people and not just me!

Lots of people have asked whether they can read my research. My dissertation will be published on Sheffield’s archive at some point soon (not sure exactly when). We are also submitting an edited version to a journal, so if/when it is accepted and published I will share that online as well. In the meantime, if you’d like to get a copy of my dissertation, you are very welcome to contact me and ask for it. I’ve also put my presentation on Slideshare and embedded it at the end of this post; if you want to see what I said on the day, view the presentation notes on the Slideshare website here – just scroll down under the presentation and click notes (circled in red in the screenshot below). Enjoy!

slideshare notes


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Get Career Ready with NLPN and CILIP

Outside of my job, I’m involved in “the profession” in various ways. I follow and talk to other library/information people on Twitter, I go to events and conferences, and I’m also on the committee for CILIP Yorkshire and Humberside Member Network. On Saturday, I linked up all of these activities: in my capacity as Student Liaison for CILIP Y&H, I collaborated with NLPN to put on an event in Sheffield for students and new professionals entitled “Get Career Ready” – and I livetweeted most of the day as well! (See #nlpnyh for tweets from me and other attendees).

The day was a resounding success; our five presenters all gave really interesting and engaging talks, and there was lots of lively discussion throughout the day. Lots of people have said they came away feeling very positive about their careers and about the profession, which is always nice to hear. There was also a lot of homemade cake consumed, which always helps!

Here’s a brief recap of what happened during the event:

Lisa Jeskins was our first speaker, talking about how people can get involved in special interest groups and committees and use this experience to improve their own skills as well as helping the group or organisation. She talked about her own experience of organising conferences and events (such as the LILAC conference next month) and encouraged us all to think about gaps in our skillset and what opportunities there might be for us to fill them. The talk also sparked a discussion about “yes-itis” – the danger of agreeing to do too much, and not being able to give enough time to each commitment.

Next, three NLPN members gave short presentations which they’d submitted following our call for papers. Holly Singleton talked about her first management role, giving practical tips on how to get a job as a manager and how to cope once you’re in it! Lyn Denny shared her dissertation research about the reading preferences of young children (especially young boys), and explained how she’d applied her findings in a school library, with a bonus cute picture of her daughters and niece dressed as pirates and Spiderman! Katherine Stephan’s presentation was all about how she switched from public libraries to academic libraries, and how even though they can seem very different, your skills from one sector can be useful in another. All three of these short presentations were fantastic and, again, there were lots of questions and ideas being shared afterwards.

After lunch, Darren Flynn explained how he teaches information literacy skills in his school library. He used an app that was new to most people in the room to deliver his presentation – it’s called Nearpod and it allows the presenter to share the presentation onto people’s devices, do polls and collect feedback. Darren explained how he can use Nearpod’s poll feature to assess the current knowledge level of the students in his class, and adjust his teaching accordingly. His presentation was very informative about things like differentiation and accommodating the needs of learners who may (for whatever reason) be uncomfortable with group work, paired work or standing up and speaking in front of the class. What was great was that Darren was really clear about how his tips and techniques can be used across any sector – my friend (a legal librarian)  and I were both thinking of lots of ways in which we could apply what he was saying to our own teaching/training activities.

The last hour of the day was for “speed networking”, with the attendees split into five groups, each of which sat at a table with a speaker who explained their role and answered any questions people might have. After ten minutes the groups moved round and met the next speaker. I was a last-minute addition to the list of speakers, and the others included Darren as well as a health information specialist, a legal knowledge manager, and a media manager for the BBC. I hope the attendees found this useful – obviously my experience of this was a bit different as I didn’t get to hear about the other speakers’ jobs. I think it was a great idea though, and was certainly a good way of quickly meeting a lot of people and introducing your line of work to them!

Overall, the day was absolutely brilliant and I’m really proud to have had a hand in organising it. Massive thanks go to NLPN for their extensive events organisation know-how and all their hard work ensuring it went without a hitch, and of course to all the speakers for giving up their Saturdays to come to Sheffield and present to us! I came away with lots of ideas and enthusiasm for librarianship/info work and from what I’ve seen on Twitter I think a lot of the other attendees did as well.

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Creating screencasts

Last term I went to a presentation about using screencasting technology in various ways to support teaching and learning. It was delivered by Dr Emma Mayhew, a lecturer from Reading University, and was mainly attended by lecturers and learning technologists from the arts and social sciences faculties here at Leeds. The talk was interesting on two levels: not only for the information on screencasting, but also because I haven’t spent very much time “mixing” with groups of academic staff, and it’s good to see things from a different point of view sometimes.

Emma’s presentation started off with the assertion that modern students suffer from information overload, need more flexibility in their learning and want to access information in different ways. To try to meet these needs she has started to use videos to support her teaching. So far she has created screencasts to advertise modules, to explain concepts in lectures, to describe things like essay marking criteria or plagiarism rules, and to give feedback on essays. She has even used them as substitutes for meetings with her colleagues! Here’s a collection of screencasts created by Emma and her colleagues from the University of Reading as part of their GRASS project.

In a nutshell, screencasts are videos of your computer screen, usually with a voiceover as well. You can record yourself clicking around the desktop or going through a full-screen presentation, and you can (depending on what software you use) record yourself using a webcam at the same time, so your face shows up in the final video. Most of the screencasts on the GRASS website are Prezis with voiceovers, but there’s also a PowerPoint one (with webcam) and one demonstrating a piece of chemistry software.

The (anonymised) essay feedback videos, which I found really interesting, were made by recording the desktop and a webcam feed simultaneously – so you could see the lecturer scrolling through the essay in her browser and speaking to you about it at the same time. These aren’t available online but you can read more about them here and a similar scheme from Cardiff Uni here.

Emma showed us lots of online resources you can use to create presentations or videos, including Prezi, Powtoon and Videoscribe (subscription-based with free trial). She uses Camtasia (subscription/free trial) to create her videos, although there are plenty of other services out there (including Jing, which is free but has limited features). Emma also pointed out a couple of websites where you can download pre-prepared backgrounds for Prezi, including Prezibase and Prezzip (doesn’t have many free ones). I was surprised by how willing she was to pay for templates and software subscriptions rather than relying on free alternatives, although I’m not sure if this is just me being a skinflint! I imagine some of the subscription costs (e.g. Camtasia) might be paid for out of the GRASS project fund.

I asked about accessibility, as I am currently creating my own videos and have been thinking about including transcripts or subtitles as an alternative for people who aren’t able to watch them. Currently the GRASS videos don’t come with transcripts or subtitles, but apparently they have considered filming someone doing British Sign Language to accompany some of their videos. I think this is an unusual approach and am slightly wary about not providing a text-based alternative to videos, as not everyone who can’t watch a video can use BSL. I was interested to hear that one of the lecturers involved in the project found video feedback really useful, as he is dyslexic and prefers speaking over writing. I had previously thought of videos as being quite time-consuming and a lot of effort for staff to create, so it was good to be reminded of situations where they are actually the easy option.

There was a discussion around licensing issues with screencasts and online presentations, and this was the bit where I found it really… interesting… to be the only librarian in a room full of academics! I’m not sure everyone in the room was on the same page about copyright, Creative Commons and “fair use”, and there were some quite dodgy statements being made. (N.B. I’m not accusing anyone involved with the GRASS project of any licence infringement!)

Someone also asked about how to get more “traditional” colleagues on board with this sort of thing. The recommendation was to get them to write a short script and then to offer to video/animate it yourself, removing some of the hassle. I quite liked this idea, although you can’t start offering to do everyone’s videos for them all the time, due to not actually having unlimited time. But it’d be a good start – saying, for example, “I’ll help you make this first one and show you how easy it can be, then you can try it for yourself”.

Although I have made short screencasts before, I thought this session was quite a good refresher, and I learned about some new (to me) resources. I’m currently working on short informational videos for my current job and have been feeling quite creative since I saw the sorts of things Emma and her colleagues have made. Hopefully I’ll be able to share the results with you soon!

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Last week I did my first teaching session as a professional librarian. It… was ok, I suppose? I shared the teaching with my colleague as she’s more familiar with the sessions than I am, so it was an opportunity for me to ease into teaching before going it alone at the end of the month.

The session was about bibliometrics, which is one of my main responsibilities, and involved a mixture of talking to the students, demonstrating websites to them, and getting them to have a go themselves. I did a lot of the talking bits, while my colleague did the demonstrations. I’m feeling a bit ambivalent about my “performance”; there were a couple of moments where my mouth ran away with itself, leaving my brain to catch up, making some of my explanations of statistics a little bit more jumbled than I would have liked. I think I could have been a lot clearer about what exactly some of the things I was talking about actually were, to make it all sound a bit less confusing. My worst bit was when I forgot I was talking about the Journal Impact Factor, which is a specific number calculated in a specific way, and started to talk about characteristics of journals which can be measured and demonstrated (but not necessarily by using the JIF).

The feedback forms from the session were positive, though, which I suppose is the main thing. I think my problem was that this is the first time I’ve ever given a presentation that I didn’t write (or co-write) myself, and therefore I didn’t know the material as thoroughly as I usually do. I don’t think it was actually a bad session, it just wasn’t as easy or polished as I’m used to. It’s just reinforced to me that I really need to learn the material and make sure I’m 100% familiar with it in time for my sessions in a couple of weeks’ time. Wish me luck!


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New job

As I mentioned in my last post, I have a new job! I’m now a Research Support Advisor, which so far involves teaching PhD students about stuff like literature searching and research impact, as well as answering enquiries about bibliometrics or referencing. So far I haven’t had a huge amount of stuff to actually do, but now that things are settling down and I’ve learned more about stuff I should be able to start getting on with things.


The team is practically brand-new; they were only formed in July and only actually started working in the same office as each other about a month ago. My fellow Advisors were mostly faculty support librarians (aka subject or liaison librarians) before they came to this team, which was set up as part of a wider restructuring process. As a result of all this change, nobody has quite worked out how the team operates, or whether everyone’s carrying equal weight in terms of their areas of responsibility, so it’s possible that my role might change slightly as the year goes on. Certainly at the moment I feel like I have a lot less work to do than the other Advisors, one of whom oversees the institutional repository and the e-thesis repository, and another of whom carries out expert literature searches for medical research teams.


We are each responsible for providing teaching sessions to PhD students in our faculties; my faculties are Biological Sciences and Environment, and I’m scheduled in to provide several sessions for those students between now and Spring 2015. I’ve already sat in on a few of my colleagues’ sessions and I’m starting to get ideas about what I might do during mine – we are delivering the same content but there’s scope for adapting it to your audience if necessary (e.g. science students and arts students search for different types of literature in different places online).


I’m also going to be helping my colleague with the expert searching service she provides, and at the moment I’m practising running a search through several different databases, to familiarise myself with the techniques. Although I’ve got experience of working with medical databases and using advanced searching techniques, the work I’ll be doing is extremely technical and methodical and it’s important that I learn to do the process exactly right. My colleague gave me a three-week deadline which I had initially thought was very generous – but almost a week has passed and I’ve only got through a tiny bit of what I need to. For an example of the type of detailed search strategies I will be using, see the appendices to this Cochrane Collaboration systematic review.

Although I haven’t done much yet, I’m sure I’ll have loads to do as I settle in and become more established in the team. There are ideas floating about to revamp our e-learning offering, which will generate quite a lot of work for me, and when the team becomes more well-known outside the library I will start to get more enquiries from staff and students. For now, I’m just getting used to my new environment and trying not to get too lost!


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First team-teaching session

I’m aware I haven’t updated the blog for a couple of weeks – I was struck down by a horrible flu and then went on a couple of weekend trips, and then Masterchef started, which all conspired to eat into precious blog-writing time. However, not much has happened in library life, so it’s not like anyone’s missed out on much.

The main thing that has happened is that I finally got to help teach an induction and infoskills session, trying out my presentation skills from our training back in December. I did the first part of the session on my own, which involved explaining the admin sort of stuff to the students, including usernames and passwords, printing and photocopying, and other thrilling IT-related things. I think I did quite well at this, although it’s quite hard to judge this when you’ve got a sea of blank faces staring at you. I said everything I wanted to say, and was able to answer the questions that were asked as well, so as far as that goes I’m happy with my performance. The only thing that I was unsure about was whether I was pitching the information at the right level. The thing about teaching, presenting and lecturing is that it’s not at all the same as having a conversation with someone; when you’re having a one-to-one conversation with another person, you’re getting simultaneous feedback – that’s all the nodding, “mm-hmm”, “yeah”, “right” sort of stuff that they’re doing while you’re talking. This helps you judge whether they’re understanding what you’re saying, and whether they’re still interested in hearing it or not. When you’re teaching or presenting to a roomful of people, it’s more than likely they’ll just sit still and listen without offering any of this feedback, which is part of why presenting can feel so disconcerting and scary. I found it really difficult to know whether I was going too fast or too slow and if I was explaining things in enough (or too much) detail. It’s something I think you just have to get used to, as there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. It was marginally useful to stop and ask “is that ok?” “are you ready to move on?” and other similar questions, but these were often met with silence anyway! I think the most useful thing we do here is to get students to fill in evaluation forms, so you do get feedback, albeit a little delayed.

For the rest of the session I was involved in the hands-on demonstrations, showing people how to use the catalogue, ebooks and databases. This is something I enjoy doing as I think it’s something I’m quite good at – I like explaining things and helping people to understand them, and it’s more instantly satisfying than giving a talk or presentation!

All in all, as a first taste of teaching and presenting to real live students, I think it went really well, and I’m definitely not put off by the experience. I’m itching to do some more, but opportunities are more limited at this end of the year. Fingers crossed…


Apart from the teaching, not a whole lot has happened recently at the library. We’ve just been plodding along! We had our busiest week last week, with over 1000 assignments due in, which meant students queueing up to use staplers, printers and laptops. It was only a tiny bit stressful in the end, as most of them were fairly well-prepared and hadn’t left everything until the very last minute. Of course, you always get one or two exceptions… This week is the start of the three-week Easter break for the majority of students (some run on a different calendar), so we’re getting about 30% of the visitors we had last week, and life on the issue counter is a bit more sedate. I’ve been working on a spreadsheet detailing our journals holdings (print and e-) and that’s been keeping me occupied for the last few weeks! The end is in sight, though, and I’m hoping I can get it finished before the long weekend, so I can start looking at some of the other stuff I want to do (more spreadsheets, mostly) next week. That’s about it for now, though – nothing super-exciting. I’m just looking forward to the Easter weekend – I really need the rest!

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