Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016: Reflections and the year ahead

"Which paths will you pursue, and which will you abandon? Which relationships will you prioritise, during your shockingly limited lifespan, and who will you resign yourself to disappointing? What matters?" (Burkeman, 2016)

Lots of reflective articles do the rounds at this time of year - out of all the recent ones I found the one above most pertinent. I started 2016 on a similar note by reading Reasons to stay alive by Matt Haigh Both discuss the fragility of life and the choices we make with the time we have. I've had enough personal experiences to know the truth of this, yet still feel that it can't be said or read enough.

Monday, 19 December 2016

The end of Fellowship?

This is the final part of my series of blog posts on gaining Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy.

If you’ve already read last week’s post you’ll know that I have completed my FHEA accreditation portfolio. I am very happy about this. Students and other staff may not know or care about it but it is a process I have found valuable and if it is accepted (I find out in February) then I will get a few extra letters after my name.

At the beginning of 2016, I decided to look into what gaining accreditation for my teaching involved. As my confidence had taken a nose-dive after various personal issues, I felt I needed to ‘prove’ myself again.

Rather than repeat everything I’ve done for it, here are a few links to the process I went through:
  • Embarking on Fellowship: More reasons as to why I started the process, an outline of the different types of accreditation the Higher Education Academy provides and the various route my institution provides to gain the award.
  • Choosing an FHEA mentor: I was required to have a mentor who was absolutely marvellous. This post covers what traits are required in a mentor and how I chose mine.
  • FHEA progress to date: Reflective Assessment Portfolio. I was required to write and collate a portfolio. This post contains information about what that consisted of and a more detailed look at the core knowledge and professional values I needed to demonstrate across the five small and two large case studies, as well as the professional development plan.
  • Technologies, peer-assisted learning, FHEA case studies...with a touch of Frost. This post goes into more detail about the two larger case studies submitted in the portfolio. The workshops were observed by academics at my institution, one of whom was my mentor. They offered feedback on improvements and used them to inform the references they provided – another requirement of the accreditation.

While it’s felt like quite a long process, I actually completed it ahead of my deadline by three months. As I took the Open route the deadline is chosen by the participant rather than the institution so there was no need to set this particular time – although it does feel nice to have submitted before Christmas.

So, these are the advantages I've found in doing this:

Monday, 12 December 2016

Technologies, peer-assisted learning, FHEA case studies...with a touch of Frost.

This is part of my series of blog posts on gaining Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy.

Reader, I submitted my portfolio! My blog posts on this topic have been intermittent but in case you were wondering whether I’d given it up entirely; while the thought did cross my mind, I am a finisher so I’ve been plugging away at it and finally got it all in.

As I was thinking about my case studies at the end of the last blog post, I’ll write about those here and then write one more which sums up the entire process later.

So, as you are aware by now, if you’ve been reading this, there are several roads to accreditation and I took the one less travelled…actually, I took the APEX Open route which is reasonably well worn by academics and professional staff at my institution. This involved, along with all the other bits I’ve previously mentioned, two large case studies. I chose to focus on the use of technology in the workshop for my first one and, for the second, looked at peer-assisted learning.

Case Study One: Poll Everywhere and Twitter

Friday, 12 August 2016

FHEA progress to date: Reflective Assessment Portfolio

This is part of my series of blogposts on gaining Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy.

The route I am taking to gain Fellowship is through my work and is called APEX Open. This involves creating an electronic portfolio comprised of the following:
  • A 2000 word Reflective Assessment Portfolio (RAP)
  • Two 750 word case studies
  • A 500 word Professional Development Portfolio (PDP)
  • Two teaching observations
  •  Two references
  •  and a Student Evaluation Summary (SES)


Where I am right now

Friday, 22 July 2016

Approaches to staff development. Write up of #cpd25_rlt event

On 8th June I made my way down (pretty much) the entire length of the Metropolitan line to give a presentation at CPD25’s alternative approaches to library staff development and accreditation event. Cpd25 is the Staff Development and Training programme of the M25 Consortium of Academic Libraries which aims to provide training for library staff of institutions within the M25 region. The day was designed to give attendees a flavour of the various development routes staff working in higher education had taken that were considered out of the ‘norm’ or not specifically designed with librarians in mind. The norm being: attending University staff training days; LIS qualifications; CILIP chartership and qualifications; and conferences.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with going down the usual route of staff development and in one way it seems perfectly sensible to do so because when applying for jobs others will recognise what you’ve done and the value implicit within it. However, staff developments budgets are getting smaller, even in higher education which normally has much more money to play around with than their poorer further education counterparts. As a result of this, it seems sensible to consider alternatives to see if these could be beneficial too. 
The day itself:
After lunch, attendees learned how Elizabeth Charles from Birkbeck University had become a CMALT (chartered membership of Association for Learning Technology) holder - a portfolio- based open to anyone with strong interest in learning technology, not only learning technologists. Marina Burroughs from UEL talking about Associate Fellowship of Higher Education Academy (AFHEA) and how all library assistants, including shelvers, were able to complete this as they all met the criteria, despite not directly teaching students in workshop or lecture sessions. Finally, Paul Allchin, from the British Library, talked about his Erasmus work exchange to the Austrian National Library and how this had helped improve his German language skills. 
Flowers featured heavily in my presentation because.. well, PTTLs. Also, growing.

My bit:
I spoke about my experience doing a PTTLS (Preparing to teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector) in a previous job. It is a City and Guilds Course, now renamed as Level 3 Award in Teaching and Learning, and is aimed at those teaching adults. I completed this course because it was the only teaching qualification financially open to me at the time and I wanted to discover specific tips on teaching techniques, as well as a qualification to improve my job prospects. 
This practical, portfolio based course provided me with everything I set out to achieve, including ideas for lesson planning and structure. It improved my confidence and skills and provided my with the qualification I needed to land a job in higher education. Now, alongside my day to day offering of workshops and lectures to students and staff, I have a teaching and learning functional role and am working on my FHEA accreditation submission.
My presentation is available via HaikuDeck
What else is available?
Ultimately, these courses referred to were only a snapshot of some of the staff development opportunities available. While organisations have a responsibility to train their staff (and I’d recommend checking out what is on offer at your workplace as sometimes it can be quite hidden) , it is worth knowing what else is available that could be cheaper (or free) and more accessible than the ones mentioned, e.g. 
  • CILIP’s special interest groups provide training opportunities as well as bursaries to more traditional events, including the CILIP Information Literacy Group version of the PTTLS course
  • the excellent #UKLibChat is a great way of learn about a subject and network with peers while at home/on a train/wrangling small children/eating dinner
  • reading blogs and journal articles
  • Webinars, Youtube, groups on LinkedIn etc and, one I’ve personally found amazing, my peer group on Twitter

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Mindfulness workshops in higher education

I’ve been involved in some mindfulness workshops at work recently and, as several people have expressed an interest and because it's Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I would blog about them.

Some context

I’d been very stressed: I’d recently returned from a short maternity leave, too many deadlines and too little sleep had led to a small car accident, and I knew that I had to find some time for self-care or I was going to combust. My workplace has a well-being programme which includes meditation, mindfulness and relaxation. I’ve been interested in this area for quite a few years, having received mindfulness-based CBT for PTSD in the past, taught customer service/mindfulness sessions as part of staff-development at a previous workplace, as well as being a keen (amateur) yogi. I decided to pay them a visit.

How I got involved

The classes were, and still are, great and really help me cope with the tantrums and negativity, and not just those from the little one. One of the team was leaving and, knowing some of my background, I was asked by the organiser if I wanted to step in. I jumped at the opportunity – it would be a chance to pass on some of what I’d learned and hopefully help them benefit in the same way I had.

What I do

By the end of the academic term, I will have delivered three workshops. They are on mindfulness and how it can be used in everyday situations. At several of the workshops I have attended I’d noted that people say this was their ‘me time’ and their time away from the stress of the office or studies. As it’s not always possible to attend workshops I wanted to see if there was a way I could help people carry their practice with them.

The workshops last thirty minutes and are attended by students and staff. The numbers can vary between five and twenty. I’ve themed my three workshops into Eating, Noticing the Environment, and Communication. Each one includes two guided activities, a discussion after each one, followed by some optional homework.


As this was my first one, I explained my background and that I am very much a learner as is everyone else. The first exercise was quite a well-known one and can be found easily online. It features a raisin and participants are guided to view it as if for the first time, taking time to really see and feel the shapes and textures , to smell it and, finally, to taste it. The second was very similar and featured dark chocolate.

Flowers for the 'noticing' meditation exercise


This theme was about noticing what’s happening both internally and externally to ourselves. The first exercise, focused on awareness and the labelling of thoughts. Awareness is not the same as thought – it’s more like a vessel which can hold and contain our thinking, helping us to see our thoughts. Jon Kabat- Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course, describes it as a soup pot holding all the chopped vegetables. The second exercise was designed to connect us that little bit more with the natural environment and involved the flowers in the picture above – each person chose one and focused on the texture, the colours and the smell.


The next workshop will focus on observing rather than being controlled by our emotions, especially when communicating with others. They are not about self-censorship but instead focus on using emotional intelligence and choosing the most appropriate response for the situation. The exercises will concentrate on how to listen and speak with compassion, kindness and awareness in a bid to transform and strengthen our relationships.

What next?

So far the feedback has been great and participants have told me they have benefited. I don't know yet whether I'll be asked back next academic term; however, it's been an enlightening and interesting experience and I feel like I've learned a lot too. I'm currently reading The Mindful Librarian by Richard Moniz and am looking forward to finding out how I can combine this with teaching in higher education.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Choosing an FHEA mentor.

This is part of my series of blogposts on gaining Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy.
As I mentioned in my last blog post on PebblePad, students following the APEX routes to gain accreditation from the Higher Education Academy are strongly encouraged to have a mentor. This person will be the one completing the two classroom observations required in the portfolio and can offer guidance and encouragement throughout the process.
 According to those running the course, ideally a mentor is someone:
  • whose advice and feedback you will welcome and respond to
  • in your own subject area
  • who is a fellow or senior fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • who has attended or will soon attend the Mentoring for APEX workshop
They also say that "mentors should be able to help you to develop a subject specific view of the literature on learning and teaching in higher education and to help you locate and understand discipline specific pedagogic literature".
Image: Perfect Petals.Found on
 This is how I see a mentor - someone who nurtures and helps a person develop and grow
In my role as Subject Liaison Librarian I look after Social Sciences, although the makeup of this has altered significantly over the last four years due to a University restructure. Currently, this includes the subjects Anthropology, Sociology and Communications, Games Design, Film and TV, and Journalism.
The Sociology division is overhauling its undergraduate programme and I am doing my best to persuade them that subject librarians can help with providing the skills and attributes they require their students to leave University with. I am hoping to teach the vast majority of the first year skills workshops in addition to a social media module which has been mooted. I have chosen a mentor from this division, not only because she is excellent at what she does but also so that I can understand more about what the students in this area needs.
We have met once and have decided to aim for submission a year from now, with the allowance of a few extra spring/summer months as contingency in case life throws any more curveballs at me...

Friday, 18 March 2016

PebblePad - ing my way to Fellowship

This is the second in a  series of blogposts on gaining Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy.
The route I am taking to gain Fellowship is through my work and is called APEX Open. This involves creating an electronic portfolio comprised of the following:
  • A 2000 word Reflective Assessment Portfolio (RAP)
  • Two 750 word case studies
  • A 500 word Professional Development Portfolio (PDP)
  • Two teaching observations
  • Two references
  • and a Student Evaluation Summary (SES)
We will be using a web-based portfolio system called PebblePad, which will be accessed through Blackboard, the University's Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). This tends to be used by cohorts who need to produce evidence of a journey and is used mainly by Education students and those completing the APEX courses. The last time I had to do anything like this was for my CILIP Chartership portfolio in 2012 and at the time they still had a paper system. I did have a brief foray into Mahara in a previous job but since then I have never had to use any sort of electronic portfolio system. It does look a little fiddly but with a little playing around with it does get easier.
One of the advantages of using an electronic portfolio like this is that it can easily be shared with mentors. Participants in APEX are strongly recommended to have a mentor (more of which in my next post), although it isn't required in order to be validated directly by the HEA. My mentor for Chartership had to rely on what I was saying to them and only briefly saw my portfolio once it was about to be submitted, whereas with this my mentor will be able to view it as I go along. This means they will be able to view it in advance of meetings so hopefully they will be more productive.
One of the best bits about PebblePad I have discovered so far is that the front page is customisable. I have set mine in a wood; I love walking in them whenever I get the opportunity as they clear my head and make me feel calm. it's the first thing I see when I log in so I'm hoping it will help put me in the right frame of mind to fill it in!

Monday, 7 March 2016

Embarking on Fellowship

"The road must be trod, but it will be very hard" -   J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.

As mentioned previously in my 2015 Reflection blog post, I am beginning the process of gaining FHEA accreditation. This means I would become a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA). I have been teaching in the academic sector for almost six years and I want this to be recognised, especially as it is becoming a prerequisite for many jobs. It means I would be on an equal footing when discussing teaching and learning with my academic colleagues.and, although it is not currently mentioned, there's always the possibility it could be one of the criteria for the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) in future.

I do have a PTTLS teaching qualification but this is different in that it is not teaching you how to teach but is recognition that you teach at a standard that befits the Higher Education Academy. It is very similar in practice to other professional bodies who want a Masters, professional work experience and a portfolio before providing professional recognition. The portfolio process is very similar to that of CILIP Chartership, for those who have done that.

A seal of approval ;) Found on

I'm going to be blogging my progress of working towards the accreditation mainly for my own reflective purposes, but also for anyone else who might be considering doing it and wonders what it is like.

The HEA describes itself as 'the national body which champions teaching quality'. It provides a 'benchmark for standards' called the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) and it is made up of four categories designed to match a person's level of knowledge and teaching experience within Higher Education.

  • Associate Fellow (AFHEA) - for those who don't teach much but do support students
  • Fellow (FHEA) - for those who teach, on average, about six hours a week
  • Senior Fellow (SFHEA) - for those who impact on students' learning through management of teaching teams
  • Principal Fellow (PFHEA) - for those with substantial strategic responsibilities for teaching within higher education

There are several ways to gain accreditation:

You can apply directly to the HEA by completing an essay based on your professional practice, paying a fee, and including two references. Or, you can follow a route set by an accredited institution - which is what I am going to do.

My workplace is an accredited institution and it has a route called the Academic Practice and Professional Excellence Framework (APEX), which has several strands to choose from:

  • APEX 1 - a one year programme for research postgraduates with a significant and ongoing teaching commitment. Participants are required to attend compulsory workshops and create a portfolio of evidence, including reflections on practice; reports on teaching observations; a case study; and a development plan. 
  • APEX 2 - a two year programme for probationary academic staff who attend compulsory workshops and are required to produce a portfolio of evidence.
  • APEX Open - for those who already contribute to learning and teaching - there is no set time-frame for this route; no compulsory workshops; and the same portfolio of evidence is required.

The APEX Open route to Fellow is the one most suitable to my experience and what I currently do so this is the one I have chosen and will be writing about. I have had my induction which broadly explained the purpose of APEX and the HEA. There weren't many attendees as new staff will choose APEX 2 and others already have the qualifications - we were told there are already 66,366 total UK fellows at September 2015, so I will be joining a very large cohort.

I have high hopes for this programme. I found that CILIP Chartership, and subsequent revalidations, helped me to raise my game and to continue with professional development in all the right areas, not just the ones I find easy. I trust that this, alongside recognising my current practice, will do the same.

Every time I think about Fellowship, I think of Tolkein's. The quote at the top seems fitting as I'm at the beginning of this journey (and I still remember what Chartership was like) but I've gone through a heck of a lot worse than creating a portfolio so I'm sure it won't be that bad!

Friday, 12 February 2016

Digital literacy: sharing good practice

Finding myself last Thursday (Feb 4th) inside a very sleek, clean building located right in the prime location of London's Finsbury Square, with toilets which wouldn't have been out of place in a hotel, I thought I couldn't possibly be in a university - but luckily I was, otherwise I would have been very lost! I was in the University of Liverpool, London Campus to present at the joint Information Literacy (IL) Group and the Tinder Foundation event and a very swish looking place it was indeed.

This was a free event, designed for public librarians and those in the Higher and Further education sectors to share knowledge regarding the library's increasing role in improving the digital literacy of its users. Jane Secker, opening the day's programme, explained how both the IL Group and the Tinder Foundation shared concerns over the digital literacy of the UK public in a landscape where there is increased emphasis to apply for jobs, benefits and pay bills online and yet, according to the UK Digital Inclusion Charter,  11 million people lack basic digital skills. Having spent a lot of time supporting digital literacy in colleges and universities, librarians in the academic sector are in a very good position to be able to share with those working in the public sector what works, what doesn't and can help them save both valuable time and resources.


There were three speakers in the morning and again in the afternoon, followed by themed discussions after each trio had presented. The speakers came from a variety of Universities, myself included, and spoke enthusiastically for ten minutes on topics ranging from a demonstration of Aurasma, as well as Vines, digital footprint workshops, Libguides and big data. I spoke about the social media masterclasses I had set up in my own workplace and what I had learned from them, as well as how they had also been integrated into the subject librarians' digital literacy programme. My ten minutes zoomed by but there was chance for plenty of conversation over lunch and despite the struggles public library staff are facing they seemed genuinely excited and motivated to be there and to be picking up tips they could use.

The discussion tables in the room consisted of a speaker, a facilitator who took notes and then the rest of the attendees moved round in turn. I'd thought initially that we might be discussing the presentations and how they could be utilised in a public library setting; however, we were each given a theme to consider and ours was welfare reform.

Welfare Reform

Throughout the day, public library staff from Islington, Coventry, Worcester, Lambeth, Hampshire, and Richmond libraries engaged in conversation about how Universal Credit and changes in applications for other benefits, such as Freedom Passes, were affecting their workload. Unanimously, and unsurprisingly, human resources were said to be the main issue staff faced due to an increased demand from users being directed to the Library, not always with the staff members' knowledge, and a lack of skills to deal with the advice users were asking for when filling out the paperwork. I was surprised that very few mentioned a lack of computers and having to charge for pcs because I remember quite clearly when my husband was out of work and we didn't have a computer he hated having to spend money to fill out long application forms on the public library pcs, which would invariably crash as he went to click send!

To deal with the issues, some said they recruited volunteers who signed up to a code of practice, others decided to signpost help rather than refer (and made the distinction between those two terms very clear), and others spoke to services such as the Job Centre to tell them to stop sending people to them and refrain from offering false promises that the Library staff could not possibly fulfil. One Library staff member tried to focus on the positive of more feet through the door can't be bad and adopted a 'let's show them what we have while they are here' approach.

Volunteers, ethics and a trusted brand

The majority of the public library staff there said they were using volunteers to deal with the human resource issues, and this led to a question of responsibilities and the importance of them being provided with oversight, training, and ethics guidance, especially in light of staff possibly being provided with personal information about claimants when helping them to fill out forms. Ethics was also raised as a concern with the arrival of Halifax and Barclay staff providing IT lessons in libraries and how this could potentially tarnish the reputation of a public library as a safe, neutral environment as it becomes associated with corporations and commercial advertising.


While I'm not sure anyone discovered a solution to relieve the turmoil public library staff are experiencing, there did seem to be a lot of hope in the room. Although I keep up to date with what is going on in public libraries and even though my family and I are regular users of several near us, it was nevertheless still enlightening to hear of front line experiences and led me to appreciate even further the effort the staff put in and the motivation they have to provide the best service they can. It felt like a really worthwhile day for me personally as I was asked quite a few questions about what we provide at Brunel University London for students and I was exceptionally pleased to think it had been useful.

I would like to thank the Information Literacy Group and Tinder Foundation for inviting me to this and I hope they continue to work together. Some huge topics were very quickly touched upon on the day and therefore in this blogpost. If you are interested in following up any of the themes mentioned, I would recommend the following links:

Lauren Smith's  list of what public library staff do
Ian Anstice's Pros and cons of commercial involvement with libraries
Ian Clark's post asking Why are Barclay's in our libraries?