The REF and the TEF

My trade union is the EIS-ULA, a Scottish lecturers’ union which also admits academic librarians.  Today I opened the December bulletin to find an update on the next REF (Research Excellence Framework), which takes place in 2021.  I’m surprised it is as far away as this!  I know there’s a new tranche of funding in 2018, so there’s something I’m not understanding here! Anyway, the 2021 REF will reportedly take into account the findings of the Stern Review, which was commissioned by the Scottish Funding Council.  It’s potentially of some interest to me, assuming I still have a research role five years from now.

There’s also a paragraph about the Teaching Excellence Framework, an English initiative which first ran this year.  It seems to be a matter of choice whether Scottish universities sign up to this, and I don’t know if my own institution has any plans yet.  What I do know, however, is that we are concerned about pedagogy – otherwise I wouldn’t be voluntarily doing the PGCert in Learning and Teaching.

I’m posting the link to the December bulletin to ensure that it’s here for reference later, should I need it.  I’ll also post it on my Resources (bibliography) page:-

Looking at the Evidence

I’m looking at library surveys to see what I can deduce about our user education – what we offer, what is taken up, what people want to know more (or less) about, the timing, etc.

I do actually have some documentation for each year from 2009-2016.  However, to make comparisons over eight years is perhaps less helpful than to focus on comments over the past couple of years. E-resource provision and usage has grown, and even looking at a survey from eight years ago would not reflect current practice.

Similarly, if I tabulate a whole lot of detail about the numbers of responses from different categories of reader (undergraduate, postgraduate, postdoctoral, international, Erasmus, full or part-time staff) across the eight years, it’s as much a history of how surveys were structured and answered, as a close analysis of what users’ information skills training needs are/were at any given time.

So, although I started by looking at the demographics, I’m beginning to think that a huge spreadsheet analysing responses to fifteen questions over eight years, along with a variable number of free-text responses, is not the best use of time.


It’s good to know that I can look at the basic data from our Survey Monkey account, because I’m interested to know whether undergraduates and postgraduates differ in their e-resource and other information requirements (eg checking the catalogue).  Unfortunately – but as I expected (because we send out a general survey), I can’t ascertain whether mature students’ experiences are different; whether they’re more demanding or just less experienced; whether they’re generally a little less aware of what’s available; and also, asking students to self-identify as under or postgraduates doesn’t tell us whether students on taught or research postgraduate courses have different requirements.  I’d expect MEd or taught MMus students perhaps to access more journal articles than, say, a doctoral composition student, but their whole information needs profile may well be a little different.  Also, we don’t know about their prior learning regarding library usage or e-resources.

Another interesting possibility is to compare the library questions asked, with the free-text responses.  The library has asked a variety of questions to establish what training students received (which is not quite the same as what might have been offered!) and whether they thought it was enough, at the right time, etc.  The free-text responses are, of course, individual responses, but these provide a more nuanced picture.

I’m inclined to see what I can establish from the 2016 survey, and ask further questions in my peer-group questionnaire of PGCert/MEd students.  I’d like to ask them to self-identify as ‘Definitely comfortable with e-resources’, ‘Fairly comfortable with’, ‘Not very comfortable with’, and ‘Definitely uncomfortable with’ e-resources.

Something else I’m intrigued to find out is whether ‘learning styles’ comes up in anyone’s comments.  Some experts favour using a variety of teaching styles and different media, to accomodate everyone’s learning styles.  Others are dismissive of the whole concept of learning styles – see,

Four neuromyths that are still prevalent in schools – debunked / Bradley Busch, The Guardian, 24.02.2016

After that, I propose to interview one of each category.  My fear is that everyone will say they’d like individual tuition at a convenient evening time!  There’s definitely going to be a balancing point between what the library can reasonably offer, and what might be each person’s ideal form of training.  (After all, even though Currys PC World has the Tech-Guys available during at least waking hours, they’re at the end of a phone and not available face-to-face all that time!  And there are more of them!)


2017: New Year’s Resolutions

My boss found a useful MOOC, so I’ve signed up!  After all, I’ve already got our surveys from 2009-2016 to look at, so this does seem more than relevant.  No time to blog about it now, but at least this ensures I won’t lose the link:-

Researching learners’ experiences and uses of technology using action research #LERMOOC

That idea didn’t work.  I had too much on my plate to commit to a Mooc as well as the PGCert.  Eventually worked out how to disentangle myself.

That Festive Dead-Beat Feeling

It’s that time of the year – and coming after a somewhat fraught six months, I now declare myself …

… Exhausted.

I don’t much want to do anything.  I don’t want to read, or sew, or cook.  Yesterday’s baking session was disastrous, but at least the piano’s still my friend.  I only need to get through the next week at work, and cajole my family into deciding what they want for Christmas.  Then hopefully, after a week and a bit’s holiday, I’ll be able to shake myself into some semblance of normality.  Oh, I do hope so.  There are things I need to do.  But the urge is just not there at the moment.

Gary West: Personal Chair in Ethnology


Quite apart from my getting a better understanding of what ethnology actually means to an ethnologist, there were some salutary reminders about interviewing subjects, reliable or unreliable witnesses, and the possibility that conflicting reports from the same person might stem from their own expectations of what the interviewer wanted to hear, as much as from whether they were reliving a moment – or reflecting back upon something from a more recent vantage point. (As, for example, a WW1 solder reflecting back about the Christmas Day truce, on one occasion talking about exchanging gifts, and on another disapproving of the fraternization.)  Gary spoke of further nuances, but this was the gist of his example.

Since I’ll be interviewing a few of my peers for my project, it was interesting to hear a professional from another discipline talking about an enormous batch of interviews made by a folksinger and transcribed over many decades, and how he, Gary, was now involved in publishing them and finding other ways to bring them to life – for example, in drama and song.

No time to write further … perhaps later!