It’s my feedback and I’ll cry if I want to

pink cry

Working in a relatively assessment-less field (we rarely, if ever, I dare say, as librarians, formally assess students at my institution), it’s easy for me to forget the torment of submitting work informally, just for it to be ripped to shreds by a lecturer.  I suppose my situation is made awkward by the fact that my current educational endeavours are being measured by people I often work or collaborate with in my role as an academic librarian, but then again, it’s quite convenient to be the person in charge of purchasing books for my own course…

For the past seven-ish months, I’ve been ever-so-slowly progressing through my Developing Education Practice module in which I’ve had to produce an action research proposal with which I’ll (eventually) have to translate into a research report.  I think my attitude and procrastination throughout the module are best summed up in the scene from Wet Hot American Summer where Andy (Paul Rudd) reluctantly cleans up after himself in the mess hall.  Don’t get me wrong- I think action research is interesting and I’ve been excited about using it in conjunction with the LSP sessions I’ve been running, but I’ve found the process of producing a quality proposal challenging.

andywhas
There’s nothing like sitting through multiple tutorials in which you are called out on all of your BS, nonsensical ramblings to put you in your place about what you have, and in my case have NOT, accomplished throughout the module thus far.  That being said, feedback is important, if not crucial to developing as a student, and therefore I thought it might be worth discussing some points (for myself, if anything) to keep in mind about receiving feedback and how to use it to your own advantage.

  1. Don’t take it personally
    Your lecturer is not having a go at you, your intelligence, or your ability to produce quality work- they are trying to ensure that you’re able to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding in a format that can be examined and measured with regard to the module competencies and criteria.  If anything, they’re checking to make sure that the way they are teaching matches their intended outcomes for the module they worked so hard on to be validated and included as part of the course.  If you’re not showing them that you understand, that’s feedback to them about how they deliver the course- which is (should be) highly important to them.
  2. Be prepared for your confidence to take a beating
    Much like the previous point, it is vital that you remember that your lecturer is on your side, or, if anything, on the side which results in you writing a good paper.  You’ve got to remember that it’s okay to not always arrive fully formed or perfect in your writing.  As a professional who doubles as a student, I’m used to being the one telling others that they’ll be alright and that their work will come together, so when I’m suddenly on the opposite end of that conversation, it’s easy to feel vulnerable.  I think it’s moments like that where you have to remember that you DO understand the content you’re dealing with and that, even though you may not have it packaged up nicely yet, you’ll eventually figure out how to express yourself- and when you do, it’s going to be brilliant.
  3. Start owning it.
    We all have certain deficits or weaknesses in our skill sets.  I write long, convoluted sentences and often struggle with making the leap from conversational “talk” in my head to intelligible writing in my assignments.  I agonise over sentences as though I’m writing legal documents and often waste hours hand-writing my essays because otherwise, I’ll stare at a blank screen.  If it weren’t for the critical guidance and support of my lecturers, I’d likely continue to shortchange myself (and my marks) by submitting work that was unclear and overcomplicated.  Having a lecturer who will point out your skill “flaws” helps you be more honest with yourself and encourages you to address the issues you struggle with.
  4. Realise that you’d do the same
    When you start to wonder if your lecturer is just “out to get you,” or that they are just trying to find things to be critical about, stop and think about how you would treat the situation if you were the one reviewing it.  I’ve got an eagle eye for typos (as long as they aren’t mine) and often litter any article I read with annotations questioning how statements fail to meet the authors stated objectives.  I think that when we read someone else’s work, it’s easy to pick up on mistakes or make suggestions because we’re not invested in the work the same way we are as authors.  Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind that someone else reading your work may be able to pick up on idiosyncrasies you overlooked- but that’s a good thing!  After all, what’s more embarrassing than submitting work with avoidable mistakes?!
  5. (don’t) Follow blindly
    Ultimately, your work is just that- YOUR work.  If, after meeting for a tutorial and revising your work, you feel like you’ve lost your “voice,” it may be worth thinking about the difference between seriously considering the points made by your lecturer and merely making changes to work in an attempt to appease or avoid confrontation.  Obviously, this doesn’t mean that you should completely disregard the suggestions made, but rather, you should think about how the advice given could enhance your message and help you better express the points you are attempting to discuss.  This is why meeting your lecturer for a tutorial is infinitely better than just submitting your work and hoping for the best.  Discussing your work with your lecturer also allows you to communicate your understanding, thoughts and ideas of the content in an alternative way that may not be apparent in your writing.
  6. Think of the alternative
    About half way through receiving critical feedback, it’s easy to start thinking about how much you wish your lecturer would just back off and let you figure out the best way to proceed with your work, but it’s precisely this point that should be thanking your lucky stars that this person (who will likely evaluate the finished product) has taken time to review your work and offer support.  As students, we neglect to consider the time and effort that goes into the feedback process, let alone how that process extends not only to us, but to the rest of the students on the module.  We’re responsible for producing one piece of work, while our lecturers are responsible for both reading and providing adequate, quality feedback for ALL of it.  So, although you may feel like you’re being raked over the coals, try to imagine the alternative where you can’t even get your lecturer to reply to an email about page numbering.

Let’s face it- receiving negative or challenging feedback about our work is difficult- whether it’s part of a graded, summative assessment or a project we’re involved in professionally.  We become attached and personally invested in the content we produce, and therefore, when it doesn’t appear to meet the expectations of others, our pride and confidence may feel fragile and fractured.  To me, this is just part of learning and developing.  Of course it isn’t always easy- but how do we ever truly expect to master our discipline without encountering moments by which our knowledge and understanding is shaken to its core, leaving us wondering, contemplating, and ruminating on something deeper?  Without feedback, we further isolate ourselves and our development- a concept far worse, to me, than an uncomfortable 30 minutes with a lecturer who, ultimately, wants to see us succeed.

Images:
Crying Girl, available at: http://weheartit.com/entry/160140431Wet Hot American Summer (2002) is owned by Universal Studios and the image available from http://hellogiggles.com/five-ways-wet-hot-american-summer-ruined-my-life will be removed upon request by owner.
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Going all in(clusive, that is)

I wasn’t planning to undertake the Special Educational Needs and Inclusion module as part of my MA course in Learning and Teaching- not for any particular reason, other than thinking I wouldn’t have time, but about a week before the first session, I changed my mind decided to go all in.  After all, as part of my role within the university, I’m expected to have an understanding and knowledge base of issues that may arise as a result of supporting students with learning difficulties or disabilities, and if I’m working toward becoming a better teacher, having a better grasp of what inclusion “means” would only serve to benefit me.  Well, okay, I’m sure it would benefit the students, themselves, as well.

SEN is a sensitive subject for me.  Not because I feel awkward around those with special educational needs or because I have a personal connection (which I do…don’t we all?).  It’s slightly the opposite.  Growing up, I was always told how clever or smart I was and never felt like there were barriers to achieving academically.  School and homework was nothing to fear and report card day was always a celebration.  I was oblivious to the challenges those with SEN face- in all it’s myriad forms.  You may be rolling your eyes at me by this point, but please bear with me- this IS going somewhere.

During the first lecture of the module, we spent some time talking about labels- discussing both the positive and negative aspects of labeling those with educational needs.  It may sound self-centered, but I started thinking about how receiving the “gifted” label affected me throughout my academic life.  Again, I’m sure you’re all getting your imaginary violins out for me, but it struck me as highly interesting to be able to empathise with those who, for all my life, seemed so different.  I found myself engaging more with the lecturers than I previously assumed, and, once beginning my case study assignment (I chose to look at the way students with Asperger’s were identified and provided support within higher education) became both engrossed and emotionally attached to the SEN aspect of education within this country.

I don’t suppose I’ll ever fully understand what it is like to have a special educational need- and better yet- to not have those needs acknowledged or met.  However, after participating in this module, I am more confident in my ability to look at the way I design my sessions or engage with learners individually.

Below is a link to a presentation given as part of our assessment in which we were asked to choose a logo, image, drawing, etc. that represented how we see inclusion in education.  After staring, day in and day out at a Kandinsky print on my wall at home, I started thinking about how what I understood as inclusion was represented in the painting.

ethNOTgraphy in libraries: cherry picking for success

ExamWhy does it matter that we look at how students are using their libraries? It doesn’t. You read that right- considering ethnography in libraries is a waste of time. Truth is, libraries haven’t been been paying much attention to the “whys,” “whats” and other cultural mumbo-jumbo of their users for centuries, and yet, here they are in 2014, still going strong. Obviously, considering the ethnographic implications associated with library and information services is merely a flash in the pan and will likely be considered passe by the time registration for the Cambridge UX Conference opens. I’m afraid that ship has sailed. Oh wait. Did you say you were actually interested in providing a personalised service aimed at offering users the support they need to grow academically, professionally and intellectually? Well that, my friend, is an entirely different story.

As librarians (however you choose to define yourself), we spend a great deal of time trying to justify the importance of our role within our institutions and communities. We try to find ways to better communicate with those using the space, asking for feedback about seemingly mundane aspects of service and support, or foolishly, for many of us, often more by force than desire, distribute surveys with the hope that, if anything, our response rate will be large enough to publicise the results. Of course, meaningful feedback would be appreciated, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

Many of us are caught in a vicious cycle of survey distribution, collection, and analysis- followed by explanations, excuses and theories to defend ourselves for getting it “wrong.” It’s not us, it’s them. They just don’t have enough information to see all the great things we do and have for them. If they came in for a session we could clear the whole thing up. Oh, how naive we all are! It IS us. Not only is it us, we’re not even giving our users a chance for it to be them.

We think we’re listening and asking the right questions to our users in order to gauge the type and level of support they need, but, in doing so, we’re (unknowingly) setting ourselves up for failure. It’s improv night and suddenly we’ve given them a script. We want them to spill their guts, but have constructed the parameters in which they can do so.

And if that weren’t bad enough, we’re also guilty of vetting what students we talk to when we collect data. Of course our intentions are not to only gather information that sheds a positive light on what we’re doing- let’s face it, we all know a handful of students who would be “perfect” for a project we’re working on- and so we are more likely to contact them, knowing they either have an engaged relationship with the library, or at least don’t have a bone to pick about mounting overdue fines. We feel more at ease with how we’re going to progress with our data collection, we feel more secure- only we’ve now lost the point of collecting information in the first place because we’ve set ourselves up for success by deciding who gets to participate. Don’t be too hard on yourselves now, I know you’re doing your best, but you may want to consider that engaging with your regular library users, although more common place in our practice, is lazy. Not only that, it’s misleading- and we’re only fooling ourselves.

So how do we move past this? What is the most effective way to go about gathering information about users that represents an accurate sample? We can’t just ask people who come in to the library to participate in our projects, as that discounts those who don’t frequent the physical space. We can’t send an email to all students within the university, asking them to participate because that is both annoying and ineffective. I think our only option here is to just try several approaches, fail miserably at them and then try something else. You were probably looking for a more useful answer, but I’m afraid this is all new territory for me, so whilst I have plenty of bad ideas for gathering information, I’ve yet to devise a particularly good idea to share. Aren’t you glad you read all the way through this now?

Ultimately, my point is that, if we continue to look for “love in all the wrong places,” we’ll continue to recycle ineffective practice- which you may be fine with. Truly exploring the experiences and cultural behaviours of our users is taxing, takes a lot of time and doesn’t present an immediate, quantifiable impact of what we do (and what some of us live for) as a library/information service- which is why I understand criticism about integrating ethnographic methods into library practice. So if you are still of the opinion that none of this matters, that perhaps some of us have too much time on our hands, let me ask this: would you rather know how many times The World as Will and Representation has been borrowed, or how users discover texts like that when they aren’t included on a module reading list- and what answer tells you more about your own service, practice and influence on the development of those engaging with your collection and space?

We think we can justify ourselves, our jobs and the validity of libraries within our institutions if we are armed with statistics- but I fail to see how much of it will matter if we can’t even share the stories of our users- all because we fail to venture past their cover page.

 

image, Exam by Alberto G. available from Flickr CC BY 2.0

Let’s make things physical

I swear, the strangest and yet, often most hilarious ideas come to me when I run on the treadmill.  This week, listening to Tegan & Sara’s Closer, a song I’ve heard thousands of times, it occurred to me- it completely translates to information literacy and using the library!  Isn’t that fantastic!?!

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Do me a favour and listen to the song– following my lyric notes- then tell me I’m crazy!  Amirite!

“Closer”
All I want to get is a little bit closer (To understanding how the library works)
All I want to know is, can you come a little closer? (I live off-campus and hate driving in)
Here comes the breath before we get a little bit closer (That sigh before you start getting hard to work)
Here comes the rush before we touch, come a little closer (OMG that book I reserved is FINALLY in!)
The doors are open, the wind is really blowing (There’s no Air Con in the library, afterall)
The night sky is changing overhead (Have I really spent the entire day in the library?)
It’s not just all physical (We have electronic resources too, don’t you know!)
I’m the type who won’t get oh so critical (I mean, I prefer a print copy, but electronic will do)
So let’s make things physical (I’ll just print these journal articles out to make annotations)
I won’t treat you like you’re oh so typical (It says you’re peer-reviewed. That’s good, right?)
I won’t treat you like you’re oh so typical (I know this was published in 1960, but it’s a definitive work!)
All you think of lately is getting underneath me (As I fall asleep on top of a stack of papers)
All I dream of lately is how to get you underneath me (That’s 4 articles under my belt, only 10 more to go!)
Here comes the heat before we meet a little bit closer (Love feeling a hot stack of papers from the copier in my hand)
Here comes the spark before the dark, come a little closer (When you finally understand something you read moments before you fall asleep)
The lights are off and the sun is finally setting (Why can’t the library be opened 24/7?)
The night sky is changing overhead (I’ll be back the moment they open in the morning)
It’s not just all physical (We have electronic resources too, don’t you know!)
I’m the type who won’t get oh so critical (I mean, I prefer a print copy, but electronic will do)
So let’s make things physical (I’ll just print these journal articles out to make annotations)
I won’t treat you like you’re oh so typical (It says you’re peer-reviewed. That’s good, right?)
I want you close, I want you (I need all of my library books on the desk for easy reference)
I won’t treat you like you’re typical (You’re a reference book, so I’ll make sure not to earmark any pages)
I want you close, I want you (Someone STILL hasn’t returned the book I need?)
I won’t treat you like you’re typical (I’ll return my books to the librarians rather than the returns bin)
Here come the dreams of you and me
Here come the dreams
Here come the dreams of you and me (I really want a 1st or a 2:1)
Here come the dreams
All I want to get is a little bit closer (To knowing how to access all the library resources)
All I want to know is, can you come a little closer? (So I can use everything you offer)

 

The image in this post belongs to Warner Bros. and will be removed by request

 

this.is.serious.

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For those of you who know me best or even slightly more than a little, I am pretty good at pretending to be “serious.”  I almost always wear heels at work, pants (excuse me, trousers) are for the weekend, lunch breaks are for the birds, and play has no place indoors and certainly not as a teaching/learning tool.  I am a grown woman.  I do not “play.”

Oh, how wrong I have been!  In my previous blogpost I mentioned the i2c2 conference (and have since gone on about to anyone within earshot as though I were selling stock in it), but purposely left out my experience attending the Lego Serious Play (LSP) session so that I could fully reflect on it and, more importantly, try to connect the dots between feeling utterly lacking in confidence (how will I possibly build something that is a metaphor for what I do?) to researching the science behind it in order to develop a paper, asking for funding to incorporate it into our library teaching sessions.  Truth be told, and believe me, I’ve told everyone, I wanted nothing to do with LSP and wrote it off as another fad librarians were waxing on about in an attempt to build a case for legitimacy.  Unfortunately for me, my preconceptions were no match for the brilliant team (Meg Westbury, Andy Priestner and Matt Borg) facilitating the session at i2c2.

Like holding a glass of wine at a party where you hardly know anyone, having something to do with my hands, such as touch, build and modify bricks of Lego within a group setting at i2c2 completely alleviated the pressure I so often feel in presenting myself as a competent, interesting individual with at least some grasp of the English language.  My doorbell had been rung.  Not only that, I had the feeling that there was more (much more), perhaps even a “science,” if you will, that would be able to explain what happened between my hands and brain that gave me a different way of seeing that which I considered problematic within my profession.  Further investigation was going to be necessary.

The majority of documentation related to LSP has now been made open source, with both the User Requirements with Lego and The Science of Lego Serious Play, outlining the basic philosophy and design methods for activities, made freely available to the public; however, Dr. Alison James has gone further in the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education to show how the mechanics of utilising LSP infuses learning theory and reflective practice, focusing on how the marriage of play and creativity allow for students to think differently, regardless of their course area.  

Although Dr. James explains engagement with LSP within a creative arts context, the article perfectly describes my own experience and offers explanations as to why LSP provides more than merely an opportunity to try something unconventional for the purpose of ticking some boxes related to a university teaching and learning strategy.  A big believer in the validity of constructivist educational philosophy, it makes perfect sense to me that, as Dr. James explains, our hands are central to learning and thinking often starts with our hands.  Therefore, using our hands to build with Lego, regardless of the end product, provides a more rich experience that directly connects our sense of touch and cognitive processes that thinking alone simply does not measure up to.  

Not only does LSP confront the idea that learning activities do not necessarily have to equate to more traditional academic activities, such as writing or data analysis, but that LSP is something anyone can do- even this very “serious” librarian.  LSP also reiterates more divergent outcomes for learning- that there is not one single “right” answer- a concept many students struggle with upon entering university.  

So how will we use LSP to help students within the library setting?  My colleague, Sarah Robinson and I are not completely sure- BUT we are beginning to look the types of skills and support our students and academics frequently request sessions for and start from there.  We’d like to figure out a way in which LSP could be incorporated to teach referencing and plagiarism, but also, perhaps developing sessions in which students could build models describing challenges they face writing their dissertation, specifically- finding information for literature reviews.  It’s all very exciting and I intend to keep everyone informed of our progress as we, well, progress.  Once we secure a few funds for training and actual Lego kits (oh yeah, we’ll probably need those), we’ll be set to start building our framework.  Who knows, I may even wear my dusty old Chuck Taylors (circa 2003) to our inaugural session!  

i, 2, c the future and it is full of promise…2

future

OH what a difference a year makes!  At this point last year, my first year working as a professional librarian, I barely scratched the surface of going to conferences and treated them like exercises in being a proper adult whose task it was to gather and compile as much data about the sessions I attended as possible in order to report back to the big boss.  It was as though, upon my return, I would be expected to provide a full report of the conference, in order to justify the money spent to send me.  It was all very serious- for a very serious person.

Bad news, everyone…i2c2 (innovation, inspiration and creativity conference) has unlocked the Pandora’s box of my personality and I.am.ready.to.rock!  I greatly looked forward to going to this conference and was ecstatic when I was given the go-ahead to book a place.   The programme offered a number of sessions that sounded right up my alley (as well as those I would be terrified to participate in) and the buzz about the group activities seemed more exciting than the typical before-lunch-session, which are usually light on content and not particularly satisfying.

I don’t particularly want to talk about the specific sessions or speakers from the conference- they were all brilliant and never disappointed.  Rather, I want to discuss two of the important experiences I encountered during my two days in Manchester: learning to network in an honest way and keeping up the momentum of the conference “high” once the conference is over.

This was the first conference I’ve been to where the curse of being an introvert was overrun by my desire to find out more about the people I was coming in contact with.  Whilst my execution was not always perfect (probably gave off weird fan girl vibes at times), I was propelled by the excitement of meeting other librarians that seemed to be speaking my language.  I met so many people who seemed genuinely interested in what they do for a living, rather than interested in talking about all of the obstacles they face, making it impossible to be interested.  It was incredibly refreshing to be around others who were willing to engage in conversation about possible solutions to challenges in a way that seemed feasible, possible and effective.  At one point, I imagined what it would be like to work with the brilliant people I encountered at i2c2 and felt strangely sad when it was time to say good-bye.  Two days started to feel too short, and with all of the inspiring things people discussed in that time, it seemed like a crime that we all weren’t working on something important together!

As I sit back at my desk in Ipswich, I think about what I plan to do next- as a result of my experience at i2c2.  There were a number of sound bytes I keep playing in my head and reading on the twitter feed- specifically Ginger Williams’ comment about blogging when/if you have time to give it the proper attention.  I typically go months without posting anything in my blog because I don’t always consider my thoughts an effective use of the blogosphere, but I’m starting to think that my attitude doesn’t exactly help.  I’m still “young” in the profession.  I have a lot to learn and a lot of time to, as Matt Borg put it, “ask for forgiveness rather than permission.”

With regard to following up on networking and collaborating, I very much look forward to staying in touch with the people I met at this conference and am very interested in seeking their opinions, advice and feedback in the future- especially those who live overseas.  In addition to paying more attention to nurturing the professional relationships established at i2c2, I feel like there is a great deal of potential for collaborating more with those at my own institution.  To date, there have been some opportunities for collaborating on projects with other teams- but I was always asked to do so.  From now on, I’m taking.  There are likely to be a number of skills, talent and ideas from other teams I’ve yet to take advantage of.

To keep the momentum from this conference going, I’ve resolved to keep up with Twitter more, blog more (especially when it is something that may be useful to others) and continue to reflect on some of the questions presented during the conference.  I’m ready to make everyone love and hate me for being good at what I do and look forward to continuing to grow as a professional – keeping a specific eye on what I can achieve between now and LILAC.

Look what the cat dragged in!

ImageA great deal has been going for me in the past couple of months, hence my inability to follow up on my blog.  One of the major updates to report is that, as you may have noticed by the name change for the blog itself, I have completed my PgCHEP module and have been awarded the status of Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.  Coasting on the waves of motivation, I decided to keep up my momentum and started a Masters course in Learning and Teaching, to commence in January.  I very much look forward to the opportunity to continue my journey of developing as an educator, along with first love, librarianship.

Some other exciting (at least to me) news to report is that both my short paper and poster applications sent to LILAC have been accepted.  Therefore, come April, I will be presenting a paper on the development of the assignment toolkit here at UCS, including collaboration with our other Academic Development teams, Elevate and Learning Development at the Librarians Information Literacy Annual Conference at Sheffield Hallam University.  My poster presentation, to be displayed during the conference will demonstrate the various tools our library has used to promote information literacy without breaking the bank.  I am beyond excited and am very much looking forward to this experience and am grateful for the opportunity.

Speaking of the toolkit, it is coming together slowly but surely!  We now have our Essay, Presentation and Dissertation sections live for student (and public) use.  Unfortunately, we are a bit behind schedule, but I have been using every opportunity I have to edit, amend and add content.  One of the most difficult elements of transferring content to the CMS used is the need to make the tool consistent- therefore, when our wonderful guys in Learning Development send content for me to add, I usually end up spending a few hours working with the information so that the overall presentation reflects other sections of the toolkit.  Not to mention the challenge of making the toolkit as visually stimulating as possible.  I say challenge because I have never been one to consider the added value of utilising visual elements to say something rather than using words.  Being encouraged to do so has been, dare I say, an experiment in my sanity- however, I absolutely welcome it and am grateful for being challenged to think in a different way than I’m used to.  Work on the toolkit will continue for the next few months, and hopefully, the main assignment elements will be complete by Easter!

Conferences- I’ve already mentioned that I’ll be heading north for the LILAC conference in April, but there are also a number of additional workshops and conferences I’m having the privilege to attend.  There is a Librarian Teachmeet in March (also at Sheffield Hallam) where I’ll be talking with other librarians about teaching strategies and experiences- which I hope I can incorporate into my experience on the MALT course.  The ic2c conference in Manchester takes place the same week- 6-7 March.  This conference is all about innovation, inspiration and creativity within libraries.  I’ve taken a look at the programme, and whilst I’m sure doing “serious play” with LEGOs for two hours would be tons of fun, there are a few other sessions running at the same time I think would be more suitable for my role here at UCS.  I’ve recently applied for a free place at this conference and look forward to hearing back at the end of February.  The Information Literacy: Future Trends, Scenarios & Learning Activities workshop is 3 April, and ARLG is sometime in April- although I am unsure if I will attend.  In short, there are numerous activities going on this Spring- all of which I very much look forward to.  I think my perspective will be slightly different at conferences this year, as opposed to last year- my first year, when I was concentrating mostly on the content, and did not socialise much with other delegates.  It’s occurred to me since then, the importance of making connections with other librarians and sharing ideas.

Other projects happening with the library include the development of a digital literacy suite of modules, to be discussed in a future blog, as well as work with reading lists.

Finally, I’ll be reviewing a book to be published in the LIR (Library & Information Research) newsletter called The Information Society.

I’m a busy bee as usual and wouldn’t have it any other way!