Sunday, 28 October 2012

SLA Europe - Personal resilience workshop

On Monday 15th October I attended my first SLA Europe event since I won the Early Career Conference Award (ECCA). It seemed like forever since I had last seen everyone but in reality it had only been three months and it was lovely to meet some of the members again. The session was led by Cathy Lawson and Russell Thackeray from Continuum, and was held at the Lexis Nexis building in Chancery Lane

I had missed the previous SLA Europe meeting due to a clash with my teaching schedule and this one piqued my interest. Its main premise was that during the challenging pressures many of us are experiencing at the moment, we need to be able to cope with stress and ‘bounce back’ from adversity. I attended the event for a couple of reasons; I had only attended one training session before and I had really liked the set up of the small group and really learning from other’s experiences so I thought this might be similar. Another reason was that even though I am generally a resilient, persevering type of person who has had a decent amount of adversity to deal with, I had been feeling a little overwhelmed by life recently and thought a few extra tips might be quite useful.

Cathy and Russell were engaging speakers and explained to us that Continuum provide an eight day course where all the topics they were going to introduce us to are covered in a lot more detail and that this was a 1.5 hr version of this. Unfortunately, this meant it felt quite rushed, however, I think they got their main points across.

We were told that personal resilience was a step on from emotional intelligence, something I am particularly interested in due to various personal reasons and had read more about recently in Daniel Goleman’s book - Primal Leadership: Learning to lead with emotional intelligence as part of Jo Alcock'slibrary leadership reading group. Resilience is the ability to recover from adversity and to perform effectively under pressure. A balance of positive and energy is needed to do this, an example given by Russell was that an introverted person can still present well but the energy required is greater in that person than in an extroverted person.

The continuum model of personal resilience focuses on cognition, personality, emotion, physiology - if all these are at their most optimum then one can become a ‘business athlete’. We very quickly ran through some of these, spending quite a lot of time focusing on nutrition and exercise. Being someone who already appreciates green tea and an hour of yoga but knows when to balance it with a spot of chocolate and red wine, I do wish we had spent a little more time on the some of the others.

We had to write down a few items we were worried about and figure out which ones we could control and which we couldn’t. Once we had done this, we were then told that people generally worry about things they have no or very little control over and that letting go of these types of anxieties would help strengthen our resilience. There was a gentle murmur across the room at this point, whether this was in agreement over Russell’s point or recognition of the difficulty of doing this, I’m not sure. We all bemoan the state of the world at some point and who is to say we have no control over it? I guess the main point is not to become overburdened. At work, I am very good at knowing what I can and cannot control, however, I discovered that on a personal level I don't do this so well - so this is something I am trying to rectify.

One thing which struck me after the workshop while we were all enjoying some very lovely canap├ęs courtesy of Lexis Nexis was something a fellow SLAChicago attendee said about finding the time to eat healthily, do exercise and still have fun. It reinforced something that has been niggling away for a little while. I generally make sensible life style options, however, sometimes I just really need to chill out more and have some fun and not feel guilty for relaxing.

Overall, I’m not sure I got anything new out from the session. I did get rather angry that people’s emotions were being played with by people who didn’t know those in the room but it also did encourage me to think about the things I enjoy doing of which I’m not doing enough of.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Library Camp UK 2012

Early mornings, swearing and gaming...

On Saturday 13th October, I awoke at 4am to attend my second Birmingham Library Camp, this time at the Signing Tree Conference Centre. For those not in the know a Library Camp is an unconference attended by people interested in libraries. I had been unsure about whether to go for several reasons; one of which was that my promise to 'just say no' didn't seem to be going too well…

Last year I went up the evening before and regret not doing that this time as firstly I was very tired and secondly, I didn't get as much chance to chat and catch up with people as I would have liked to.

Due to late running trains, I arrived just as the pitches were occurring. I had decided not to pitch this time as last year I had had a specific issue to discuss (HE in FE) but this time I just wanted to find out more about general issues affecting Higher Education.

I'm not going to give an overview of everything I attended as a lot of people will be doing that, however, I have mentioned a couple of the most interesting and/or useful below:

Image by Sasha Taylor

Swearing in libraries:

This session was about dealing with aggressive people in libraries not about swearing librarians. Perhaps it was the early start but I wasn't very happy with this session. I get that people need to let off steam but there seemed to be a lot of anger directed at students (for being angry & sweary) and management (for seemingly doing nothing about it and not taking it seriously) and less focus on tips to deal with it.

I think a lot can depend on your organisation’s approach - has every rule got to be enforced regardless of whether it makes sense, if the rules do make sense do people know what the reasons are - there's nothing more ridiculous than someone saying "I know it's a silly rule but my bosses say we have to do it".

It's also about personality - if you don't feel good inside after helping someone find what they need in a library and you see every visitor as a potential villain rather than someone you can help then you probably shouldn't be anywhere near a customer - facing role!

Being nice, staying calm and taking someone's concerns seriously doesn't mean being a pushover and it doesn't make it okay for people to be abusive, however, it can create a better overall atmosphere to work in, to be in generally and will often stop potential situations escalating. It also helps management/ community support officers take situations, when they do happen, seriously - it is important to have a good relationship with them. Some of the best tips were from people who had to deal with serious safety issues in libraries, e.g. in a prison library. Focusing on things like body language and your own prejudgements can really make a difference.

Gaming in libraries:

I really enjoyed this session. Not being a gamer, but having seen the competitive instinct that gets into students through quizzes I have used in the past, I thought this would be a good session to attend. Andrew Walsh @andywalsh999 from University of Huddersfield introduced us to an information literacy card game which I could really see the value of in a small setting, especially for younger pupils. I was surprised that the university students didn't feel patronised by it and he did say that the feedback from the students suggested that they were initially apprehensive but did go on to enjoy it. For larger groups games can be trickier; there are voting systems like 'who wants to be a millionaire' but these can be fiddly and awkward to use and I know some people use Poll Everywhere, which seems to go down well. This is something I would definitely like to pay more attention to in my own teaching sessions.

Issues in academic libraries:

This session was led by Christina Harbour @tinalpool and covered the perennial problems of IT and library staff working together and how this can affect the seamless approach to customer service students want, staff and students not knowing they are using the library because they use the electronic resources, the rise of tuition fees and how to manage changing student expectations while also dealing with substantial budget cuts. There was a discussion about branding the information access pages to make it clearer to the students that they were using paid for resources but the general consensus was that this would a negative impact on access.

We spoke about students not knowing what was available to them and I argued that we should be going to the academics and promoting that what we do can benefit both them and their students rather than waiting for them to come to us. This has the added value of them in turn telling their students about what is available and them, consequentally, seeing the benefit of their information literacy skills sessions.

Because we were discussing drawing people’s attention to the value of academic libraries, Liz Jolly referred to the JISC Library Impact Data Project, which sets out to demonstrate a ‘statistically significant correlation between library usage and student attainment’ and has proven, to a degree, that using library print and electronic resources is intrinsically linked to students performance at university.

Despite my initial reservations, I was glad I attended. I didn’t really learn anything new but it was good to see a few familiar faces and put other faces to familiar Twitter names. A few of us got the impression that not a lot of action was coming out the sessions but having recently looked at the Library Camp homepage that seems to have been rectified.

My plans:
  • Possibly promote mindfulness and empathy in the workplace
  • Look at alternative ways of promoting library resources and information literacy 
  • Look into creating information literacy games for students in large lecture halls

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Teaching students how to learn - a day at Bloomberg

I attended a Bloomberg symposium at their headquarters in Finsbury Square, London on Thursday 20th September. Due to the role I do I need to be able to support my Economics & Finance students in accessing financial data so I thought this might be useful.

I arrived in time for breakfast at 8am at the very swanky premises - there was already a buzz and even the vast tanks of tropical fish seemed to be animated. This might have had something to do with the amount of neon and fluorescence in the building though. I didn't take any photos as I didn't want to risk being floored by the security guards, of which there were many.

There were a range of speakers including those who worked for Bloomberg, city recruitment companies and academics. The audience was a range of economics and business lecturers with a few careers officers and a smattering of librarians.  

I didn't really know what to expect from the day, thinking perhaps it would be either a training session or a big sales pitch. It was mainly the latter with some discussion about the nature of education thrown in for good measure.

Richard Hong from Bloomberg started the program off by announcing that in the last twelve months ten UK universities had subscribed to Bloomberg with a total of 108 terminals and that despite being asked for simulated material to help train students he was instead offering the real thing. They have started offering more training to universities and are currently rolling out a Bloomberg aptitude test. I found out my institution already delivers this so I am currently trying to find out a bit more about the process.

Throughout the day, we listened to a speech about the purpose of higher education, given an overview of the Bloomberg terminals, told about the Bloomberg Aptitude Test and Bloomberg’s recruitment policy but the most interesting element turned out to be a panel discussion which started off by looking at what companies looked for in students when recruiting to the differences in UK and US higher education systems.

 The main points I took away from it were: 

·         Bloomberg is seen as the 'Microsoft office ' of financial professionals' so it is expected that students have some knowledge of it

·         Universities are still expected to teach students how to learn, to subject arguments to intellectual rigour, to use context, self-management and professional communication & etiquette - if universities do this then the industry will teach them the technical skills

·         The company has a flat structure with no handholding so workers are expected to use their initiative – we should therefore be encouraging this in our students

·         Enthusiasm, talent and hard work will prepare you for most things in life, including the workplace. When thinking about teaching employability skills staff should bear this in mind.

 My yoga teacher used to say "we are all human beings not human doings" and at the event I heard that phrase from someone I least expected - an economist! Something to remember…


Monday, 1 October 2012

Emerging technologies and authentic learning

On Monday 17th September, I attended a guest lecture entitled Emerging technologies and Authentic Learning by Vivienne Bozalek. It was hosted by the School of Health and Social Care at Brunel University and was held in the rather swish premises of the Mary Seacole Building.
Professor Vivienne Bozalek is the Director of Teaching and Learning at University of the Western Cape in South Africa and she was discussing the project she was currently involved in.
Her lecture was split into three parts: emerging technologies, qualitative outcomes and authentic learning.

Emerging technologies: 
In the first part she explained that an emerging technology wasn’t necessarily a brand new tool, in fact it may have been around for many years; for example, Facebook, twitter or virtual learning environments (vle). What made it ‘emerging’ was the way it was being used, i.e. being used as a self-directing, student-centred and flexible tool. 
She went on to elaborate that students are often using completely different tools to the ones they are encouraged to by their tutors, e.g. using Facebook and Twitter rather than the wikis set up for collaborative working within the vles. If institutions decide to ‘be where the user is’ then this will lead to more engagement but they must be careful not to get into ‘creepy tree-house’ territory. According to Vivienne “the ideal situation would be to utilise the potential of the tools without destroying what makes them special to their users”.
The Gartner Hype cycle, illustrated below, highlights the journey people and institutions go through when considering and taking on new technologies
Vivienne also referred to the Annual Horizon Report, a ten year project which investigates the impact emerging technologies have on teaching and learning identifies the techologies being used and explains how institutions are doing so – I didn’t know about this but think it is worth paying attention to see where we are in terms of our development. According to the report “mobile apps and tablet computing as technologies expected to enter mainstream use in the first horizon of one year or less. Game-based learning and learning analytics are seen in the second horizon of two to three years; gesture-based computing and the Internet of Things are seen emerging in the third horizon of four to five years”.
Ulitmately, the consequences of not being involved and of not showing an interest is that the gaps between effectual and ineffectual teaching and learning will increase as students continually disengage.

Qualitative outcomes: 
In the second instalment of her lecture, Vivienne started by explaining that the qualitative outcomes of the project were stimulating learning environments where students felt safe to express themselves without fear of humiliation and rebuke and where there is space to try out new things and experiment. This led to a discussion amongst the attendees about the types of rules, just like classroom rules, which should be in place to ensure students know how to conduct themselves in a virtual learning space. There tends to be the perception that because students are younger and seem to know what they are doing that they don’t need guidance on this. I think the social rules of the internet need to be taught – people don’t automatically pick up social skills even when they can do quite technical things, like designing apps.  

Authentic learning:

According to Vivienne, authentic learning consists of learners meeting the same content in many different contexts and with varying perspectives. Students need to be immersed in what they are learning and content should not be broken down for them to access readily, instead they should experience it holistically as they will use it in the real world, e.g. tests shouldn’t be multiple choice as people rarely use multiple choice in their everyday, real working lives.
Some of the main things I took away from this are that:
  • My institution is doing reasonably well on the emerging technology front as it engages with students through a multitude of social media platforms – although there may be some tendency to be ‘creepy tree-house’
  • Sometimes people think they are engaging with students by using emerging technologies, however, they are just delivering the same content in the same way but online. To use a soundbite - Technology doesn’t equal transformation
  • There are still serious concerns over online identities and a lack of digital literacy amongst students
  • Reflection and articulation are important for learning but vles are not generally conducive to this. It is up to staff to implement it as part of their programs

If anyone is interested in learning more about the project it can be found at
For those interested in emerging technologies, the Annual Horizon Report is worth a read.
If anyone would like to know more about web safety, you may find these JISC resources useful. There will also be a web safety in higher and further education presentation, held by the Academic and Research Libraries Group, London and South East Committee (ARLG LASEC) on 12th December 2012.
If anyone is interested in Big Data or the Internet of Things, some of the emerging technologies which, according to the Horizon Report will be used fully in a couple of years, there is a strong possibility of there being a conference focusing on them next July, held by the London Information and Knowledge Exchange.