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Teach Meet held at Leeds Metropolitan University – 8th Feburary 2013.

I find Leeds impossible to navigate. I thought I would overcome this by catching the train instead, and promptly managed to make a fifteen minute walk last forty-five.  I need to work on my sense of direction.

I’d never been to a Teach Meet before, but the concept appealed to me a lot. The teaching element of being a Librarian is probably one of the most challenging aspects of the job for me, whilst I enjoy it I also find it rather daunting and I’d like to feel more confident about it generally.

The Teach Meet is informal and flexibly structured. It really is a bit like having a slightly organised conversation. I was initially intimidated by the idea of having to “have something to discuss or present for five minutes or so” – I had a question at hand but certainly nothing as long as five minutes, fortunately however this really is just a rough guide to keep things ticking over and most people just had one or two minute questions. The conversation was dominated by the answers and discussion the questions provoked, very beneficial indeed.

Interestingly a few questions came up which have been issues for me as well, I had imagined that the issues I was facing (staff liason, classroom management) were ‘teething problems’ that new librarians face – it seems these issues tend to hang around however!

I’m going to do a brief summary of the core issues that cropped up (and some suggested solutions) as a lot of these I imagine are fairly universal issues.

Enhancing Delivery
Overcoming nerves and making inductions more interesting is a challenge for all librarians I would suspect. Whilst repetition does make it easier, I think an element of nerves is definitely a good thing to keep you on your toes. A few techniques used for inductions include;

–          Using scenarios to hook students in – demonstrate immediate relevance to them
–          Trails/quizzes/crosswords – just be careful with these though, some students can feel patronised and disgruntled if presented with such things
–          QR Codes – obviously requires a smartphone, but can be used in interesting ways when dotted around the library
–          ‘Library Bingo’ – students can circle a word once the Librarian says it, they win a chocolate bar.
–          Bribery seems to be a big winner!
–          Remember to focus on the students rather than how you are feeling, remember how irrelevant you are to them!
–          Lecturers have similar nerves, it’s not because you’re no good, it’s because of the situation – it’s inherently nerve-wracking!
–          Focus on the friendly faces, they’ll help you get by.
–          It can be useful to co-teach, if you start to flail or lose your way they can help set you right.
–          Ice breaker sessions – ‘Choose your Information Seeking Behaviour Animal’ sheet by Philip Ashton.

Class Management

This is a big issue for everyone. Teaching in a class for one, perhaps two, sessions, makes it very difficult to foster the dynamic of engagement and authority which is desired, but there were a few suggestions for this;

–          Competition fostering is certainly a big tactic, challenging students against each other appears to work a treat. Unfortunately it’s not always possible, but where it is it appears to get results.
–          Bribery is also a big winner.
–          Reading up on and attending courses for Managing Challenging Behaviour can be incredibly useful.  (Indeed one attendee said it was the best thing she’s ever done for her teaching practice)
–          Be bold. Courage and firmness will go a long way.
–          Remember that students don’t like naughty students and will appreciate you settling them down.
–          The Lecturers role is undefined and can be intrusive and unhelpful at times. How do you manage that? You just smile and get on with it mainly!

Peer Review

Peer Review can be one of the most useful ways to improve your performance, however constructive feedback from peers can be difficult to get. What sort of Peer Review system is in place, if any? It can be difficult to get colleagues on board with the idea due to various reasons, including discomfort at having to be critical yet helpful or fear of having to receive such feedback. Be mindful of very informal peer review; the individual receiving the feedback may not respond to it if it is felt to be unfair, even if the feedback would in fact be useful to their practice.

–          It’s possible to deflect the attention from the teaching element to cover everything produced; web pages, subject guides, helpsheets – taking the pressure off the teaching element (which can be a sensitive issue if it isn’t where your confidence lies) can allow the system to develop a sense of usefulness and value without jumping straight in to an intimidating exchange about teaching practice.  Making this a routine can also decrease the ‘threat’ element, if it’s a systematic occurrence staff are less likely to feel targeted.
–          Consider Peers from other areas in the institution; ‘exchange of experiences’ as a rebranding exercise can have surprising results.
–          A buddying system – ‘co-teaching’ can be a good middle ground to offer support and develop practice.
–          “Train the Trainer” courses were highlighted as a useful pursuit

Staff Liason

Try moving the library about a bit, take an iPad and a banner and be elsewhere in the institution for a while! Just be around and remind staff you are there.

It’s a challenge for everyone, teaching staff can be tough cookies to break.

Show them new, exciting things they might be interested in to draw them in.

Send a subject-specialised newsletter twice a year highlighting new titles, new technology, things the library can offer and so on – make it as relevant to them as possible.

ESOL Students

A graded helpsheet can be useful here so they can progress where they feel able.

There may be a need to be firm about the amount of help offered, otherwise it may be dominated and sent off track to the detriment of others in the group.

The Library Language dictionary resource at Bradford is really good.

The Going Global 2012 Conference offered some interesting student perspectives – always need to keep their view in mind.

May be worth being more explicit about everything, “the author’s name is the family name of the person who wrote the book” etc.

Are students changing?

This is something which I will perhaps be touching upon for my dissertation (I’m waiting to hear back from my tutor before launching in to a grand discussion of my hopes for it!) Have students changed due to their constant use of mobile technology and the internet? Whilst their approaches and comfort levels with technology may have changed, I’m not sure their information skills have necessarily improved. Many appear to be under the illusion that they “know it all already” but this is not often really the case. Highlighting this to the students can be a struggle– one technique is to challenge them to find an article for the cheapest possible fee. This suggestion came from someone who works in a specialist library I believe, and so has very specific audience in mind, but when they return with £XX amount, it must be satisfying to show how they actually access it for free.

Using 1-1 online support for distance learning students?

Nobody is really doing this! Jing screen casts are used more instead, tutorials to show the basics of what we would do in a session. ‘Google hang out’ has been mentioned but not used to enormous success really. Nobody used live chat when the option is there – students just apparently don’t view the technology as being useful in this way.

Donna Irvine has used Skype with students to some success, may be worth a chat with her.

Desktop sharing software seems to be much more useful as with Skype there isn’t that function and it may as well be a phone call.

Measuring impact and evaluating successes

Measuring impact can be incredibly difficult. One way to achieve this is to use a post-it note for individuals to mark when they feel they’ve learned something new. This encourages them to engage, it measurable and totally anonymous. Obviously it won’t work with every circumstance, but can be very useful indeed. Just be careful it doesn’t encourage ‘fact-loading’ of the session so you get to see lots of marks!

Megan Oakleaf gave an interesting presentation on this at LILAC 2012 apparently.

Wallwisher can be a useful tool for feedback on the session.

Should short sessions be evaluated? How to do this? Email? Verbally? Good approach is to use the tutor, did the students grade improve following library sessions? Use Socrative – a smartphone app, get students to share if they don’t all have smartphones.

Useful resources

This was a long post!