This weeks #LTHEchat was all about visuals. To be precise the title was: What do you see? Using visual media to communicate our teaching and research. As some of you may know I like taking photos and I like to use those photos in my teaching and research. In my PhD I made all my own diagrams so they could look exactly as I wanted with all the same typeface and font size. Anyway this meant I went into the tweetchat feeling fairly confident I could contribute.
One of the first conversations that got me thinking was a discussion about images in the VLE. Are they really helping teaching or do they just make the page look pretty? I have added more and more images to my Moodle page. They are all relevant to the topic but do they really teach students anything? No, probably not but they do appear to hook the students, make them delve deeper into the page probably partly just by breaking up all the text! In this case does it matter if they are not teaching per se, if they are engaging students with learning?
I have a found a common theme coming out of work I have been doing over the last few weeks and that is networks. I think it started at the SEDA conference in Brighton. I attended the excellent workshop called ‘From Conundrum to Collaboration, Conversation to Connection: Using Networks to Innovate’. It was run by Andrew Middleton and Sue Moron-Garcia and Andrew has produced a Storify of the #SEDA_NETS tweetchat that was embedded into the workshop. I thought I was good at multi-tasking until I tried to participate in a tweetchat and face to face workshop simultaneously… This session naturally brought to mind two of the networks I value – the informal #LTHEchat and the more formal membership of a professional association such as SEDA, the latter going hand in hand with the SEDA JISCmail list. If I have time to follow some of the debates on the mail-list they can be quite thought provoking but I have also found it a fountain of information when I have been researching strategies, procedures and policies. And sometimes it is just nice to know others are having some of the same problems as me and sharing our different approaches to the current issues facing HE.
These are examples of external networks to my institution but I had also recently been asked to reflect on a Leadership and Management course that institution had put on. I was part of the first cohort that undertook the course that included managing yourself, managing teams and managing institutional strategy. We took part in 4 days of workshops as well as project work. When I thought about it one of the most useful aspects of the course was working with other managers from both academic and professional departments and the way a network had developed between us. I had a much better idea of who I needed to go and see to solve problems within the institution and we have actively sort each other out to share ideas. Of course there are also networks within departments and for many of us the important one is the network between staff and students.
I thought the title of Sue and Andrew’s workshop was great. To me developing networks is about connecting with people, once you have connected you have opportunity to collaborate and to form a community. I realised that where I have a well developed network it makes me feel part of a community. It got me to thinking about how the two are inter-related – so I looked it up in the dictionary.
According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (1995)
Network: ‘A group of people who exchange information, contacts and experience for professional or social purposes‘
Community: ‘A body of people having a religion, a profession etc. in common‘ or ‘a fellowship of interest‘
It raises some interesting questions, can you have one without the other, is a community a more established or bonded group than a network? How do we encourage students to form networks and communities that will help them learn content, skills and gain employment. I think that is important from the prospective of promoting learning but for those of us expected to pay attention to student satisfaction it is also going to be topical with the community question within the NSS. All I know is that I will continue to work towards expanding my network and hopefully I will continue to feel part of a community, form some exciting collaborations and develop my practice along the way.
Why did I choose the topic of the library as guest on the #LTHEchat last week?
I had been invited to take part in the #LTHEchat as a guest by Chrissi a while ago. When I knew I was doing it this term my initial thought was to do something about accessibility. It seemed topical with the changes to the disabled students allowance (DSA) but on looking back though there had been a similar topic in February. It was only a short jump from accessibility to the library. Why? One of the pieces of work we have done in response to the DSA changes was to look at alternative formats of information to printed paper. Ensuring students can access material that can be enlarged, converted to speech and uses a bookmarking framework to helps those with disabilities and others who struggle with reading to make use of the information.
I have recently made the transition from a lecturer to a leadership role as Head of Learning and Teaching. Within this remit I am responsible for strategic management of the library. As an academic my use of the library had become almost entirely virtual with the rise of online journals and e-books. However, I was still very aware of the value of the physical library as a learning tool. I started to think about whether we maximise the integration between subject teaching and the library? Do academics utilise the library to its full extent or just accept it is there? How has students and academics use of the library changed over time?
WUC library today
The original WUC library
The six questions I chose to ask during the #LTHEchat were:
Q1 What does a 21st century university library look like?
Q2 Do today’s students still need reading lists?
Q3 How can we help students develop information literacy skills?
Q4 How can we use libraries to help nontraditional students achieve?
Q5 How do we ensure information is available & accessible to all learners whatever their background?
Q6 How can we ensure students get maximum benefit from the library?
My experience of being a guest on the #LTHEchat
I was quite nervous before the chat. I am not really sure why. What happens if nobody responds to my questions? What happens if people think my questions are dull? My fears were unfounded. The chat flowed so much I could hardly keep up with it! There were also lots of positive comments. On reflection the only change I would have made is the question about non-traditional students. I had recently read an article that referred to ‘traditional’ university students that were successful through reading and provision of didactic lectures. I think we do have to be very careful about putting labels on students and I think perhaps this question could be have been reworded to ‘How can libraries aid provide a more interactive learning environment to benefit learners?’
The storify of the #LTHEchat can be found here.
How will I change my practice as a result of the #LTHEchat on the library?
I have already suggested that our academic liaison librarian needs to spend more time out of the library talking to students and academics. Although we still need core reading lists to ensure that core texts are available in the library I do think they could be more dynamic with students as co-creators. An action to come out of the chat is that I am going to trial an ‘Amazon’ style review activity where students write reviews of the different resources and give a star rating on how good they think it is. This will help them reflect on the source but will also provide a useful resource for future students.
After a very thought provoking joint #LTHEchat #HEAchat on Wednesday evening I decided to set myself some actions.
Ensure all new lecturers are assigned a learning and teaching mentor, and make sure the mentor gets the appropriate training and support
We assign buddies that help all new staff find their feet and mentors once a new lecturer starts the PG Cert but what about the interim or if they don’t do the PG Cert straight away. Thinking about who is the mentor is important to, someone who has gone through the process recently and who the new lecturer will feel they are able to ask what they feel might be silly questions. Making sure that the mentor has the appropriate skills via training and support is also key to success.
Finish the New to Lecturing Survival Guide
Everyone is super keen to provide support to new lecturers at the beginning of the semester but as the new lecturer gets into the swing of things they can get forgotten and nobody tells them about the double marking procedure or something similar! One of the ideas from the #LTHEchat #HEAchat was a survival guide. I am already preparing a 10 topic guide on Moodle to support new lecturers and so have decided to rename it – a survival guide. Why online? Not all lecturers start at the same time to attend a face to face programme. Also it will provide a great resource to go back to.
Promote learning and teaching community within and outside the institution
At every institution I have worked at I have rapidly felt part of a disciplinary or departmental community but what about a learning and teaching community. These should be across the whole institution. We tried to promote ours by meeting in a physical place but finding a convenient time led to problems. So now even within the institution it has become an online community, sharing ideas via email and making use of the @writtleL_and_T twitter account. New lecturers also need to be aware of wider learning and teaching community outside the institution and what better way to begin than through taking part in the #LTHEchat and #HEAchat.
Make use of the new ideas and innovations that new lecturers bring
Listen to how new lecturers challenge conventional wisdom. I remember my own frustration as a new lecturer when told I could not add interactive learning activities to the VLE as students wouldn’t use them. But it also reminds me of an interview I heard with Prof. Peter Higgs on the radio. His research that led to the naming of the Higgs boson was possible because he had completed his PhD in a different area and the subject conventions (what people thought were already knowns) were easier for him to challenge. The same applies to teaching. Ideas and theories need to continue to evolve and we need to remember that new lecturers can often be the source!