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.


I've been writing these blogposts for the last few years (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015) and find them helpful to look back on and compare the plans I made, the decisions I took and how I've changed during in the process.

"Ultimately, I'll be glad to see the end of 2015 and have tentative hopes that 2016 will be less chaotic."

This is what I wrote at the end of last year's roundup and while 2016 has not been particularly smooth it was not as much of a struggle as 2015.

Some of the positive things I did in 2016:
  • In February, I presented at the joint Information Literacy (IL) Group and the Tinder Foundation event on sharing knowledge of digital literacy practice between universities and public libraries - my write-up of this.
  • I was a guest lecturer for UCL MA Library and Information Science students in March. I enjoyed this and will be doing another stint next year -  in the same Leadership and Management module but on a different topic.
  • I started and completed an accreditation  programme to gain FHEA status within the Higher Education Academy - I find out in February if I've passed
  • In May, I volunteered to offer mindfulness workshops at my workplace. I initially stepped in to cover a vacancy but now provide them once a month - my write-up at the start of this
  • In July, I presented at the CPD25 event on staff development, specifically the PTTLs qualification
  • I revalidated my Chartership again
  • I started the Aurora programme, a leadership development programme for women in higher education. I am finding this incredibly valuable.
  • I started a regular yoga practice again
  • I applied to work from home regularly - this means I am able to see more of my little person which has a huge impact on my happiness levels 
  • I took a proper holiday - not exactly relaxing due to the small child in attendance but still something completely different
  • I joined the Journal of Information Literacy team

Conscious ambition

Everything I've chosen to do this year has been selected consciously with one or more of the following reasons in mind:
  • they will further my career/open up options
  • they will improve my knowledge in an area that I wish to know more about
  • it is something I believe strongly in
  • they are fun/interesting
This has worked well so far, with the occasional feeling of sadness that I can't take on ALL THE THINGS, but this is fleeting. I will definitely continue with this approach and try to hone it even further .

A change of scenery over the summer

Asking for help

It's been almost two years since I had a full night's sleep so it is important I take extra care of myself to prevent crashing - literally and metaphorically. I've been told on several occasions throughout my life that I present myself as calm and as if I don't need any help but also that I should probably ask for some. I have endeavoured to take this on board and it has already proven rewarding both emotionally and socially.

Keeping hold of my self

It's not that I've let my self go, necessarily, but that some of it has been put on hold. The Aurora programme and various people in my life have kept it from disappearing completely and this year I hope to get some of it back by doing more of what I enjoy - reading, gardening, yoga, running and learning new things.

This post is long enough now so I'll leave it here. I'm hoping we've all learned something from this last year and I wish everyone a fabulous 2017! What are your plans? Feel free to leave comments below.

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:

Accreditation – The award and the letters show to others that I currently teach to the standard set by the Higher Education Academy. If I wish to continue working in ‘teaching and learning’, which I do, then this is a useful addition to my CV.

A closer relationship with the members of staff - A member of an academic division has observed a workshops, offered improvements and written me a glowing reference. Another has mentored me for the last nine months and she is now more aware of what my work involves. She has been incredible in her support. She also observed a workshop and provided an amazing reference. I generally find it quite challenging to accept help but this has encouraged me to do that.

Putting my own work into context – Teaching is a large percentage of my role:I deliver inductions for new students; workshops and lectures for a range of Social Science cohorts; mindfulness workshops, and social media workshops to faculty and students.I also co-ordinate and promote my workplace’s digital literacy programme. I am generally up to date with most of what’s happening in the education sector, however, this has been a timely reminder to remain aware of the impact of external factors on the way I enable students to learn. 

Ultimately, I think it has been worth the effort for the reasons above and because it has helped me to regain some of my confidence. Of course, the point of doing this is to keep improving and learning, so it’s not the end and I'm looking forward to developing further.

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

What I did

For this case study I focused on the use of two learning technologies in the class; Poll Everywhere, an online audience response system and Twitter. I started the session by introducing myself, the topic and the outcomes and providing students with the option of using Twitter via a module hashtag to ask questions throughout the class in case they felt nervous or too introverted to ask in public as, in my experience of working with Level 1 students, this has often been the case.

Why I did it

I used Poll Everywhere for a similar reason. In the first half of the session, I used this to determine what they already know; using Vygotsky’s scaffolding theory of building on what they already know and connecting their learning to previous experience. Once they had submitted their answers we then discussed them as a class, focusing on the pros and cons (currency, reliability, authority, authenticity and purpose), and how to access them.

The latter half was comprised of comparing and contrasting Google Scholar with the Library search engine and a specific subject related database. They were asked which they preferred, how they made them feel when using, which ones provided them with the most relevant results and how they would use them for future assignments.

The main reasons I used these tools was to firstly provide options for the students in how they responded in a classroom setting; to assess what they already knew so I could tailor the rest of my language within the session, for example, I could tell they weren’t used to using journals and databases based on their answers to the Poll Everywhere question so spent more time explaining what these were, and thirdly, to engage the students so they weren’t passive learners.

What impact it had

The use of these tools allowed me to continually assess their learning and knowledge throughout the class. According to feedback questionnaires at the end of the class, all the students found it useful and while they did not mention the use of the technologies the part they found most useful were the elements which included them i.e. “learning the variety of places I can get research from” “describing the differences between each source” “finding out precisely where to get information”.

Answers from L1 students using Poll Everywhere

Case Study 2: Group activities and peer-assisted Learning

What I did

For this case study, I focused on the use of group activities to encourage international students at Masters Level to collaborate and learn from each other as a form of peer-assisted learning. To complete the programme, students are expected to be able search for, gather and critically assess literature in their subject and develop effective, sustainable and independent learning skills and my session enables the students to meet these criteria.

I started by handing out post-its and asking students what problems they most wanted to address in the workshop. I then grouped the post-its by theme, ending with two columns - one was very much focused on specific resources students had heard of and the other on general issues of critical evaluation.

They were allocated ten minutes to discuss in groups the steps they take in dealing with an assignment and what tools they use. They had another ten minutes to feedback and discuss the pros and cons of each method, after which, I showed them how to locate journal articles via the Library search engine and pointed out how to get the best out of the various databases and search engines available to them. We discussed the nature of academic sources, how to critically examine them and use them ethically by referencing appropriately.

Why I did it

The first activity was designed so students would not feel pressured into discussing difficulties and would feel more confident when they saw how others faced similar challenges. My intention was this would feed into the next activity looking at how they approach an assignment and they would be willing to learn from each other. Social constructivism underpinned the teaching and learning philosophy and practice in this session as this approach emphasises dialogue and learning through interaction.

What impact it had
Fewer students turned up than expected which meant there was not as much group learning as I’d hoped; however, the ones who attended told me they were learning from each other; for example, one student mentioned using keywords which prompted another to utilise them  more selectively in future. Students were engaged throughout, asking questions and discussing their experiences. I was particularly proud of this is this cohort tend not to talk very much due to lack of confidence with their language abilities.

Ultimately, while I always take care to thoughtfully tailor my teaching sessions to different and diverse student cohorts, taking into account their prior knowledge and experiences, internal and external curriculum requirements and professional accreditation requirements, and the physical and IT resources available in the design and delivery of my teaching, planning and writing these case studies has given me the ‘permission’ to spend more time deeply reflecting on this.