PG Cert Project Proposal

PGCert Project proposal latest version 2017-01-30

At time of writing, the word-count is 1,994 words.


The author is a Performing Arts Librarian in the Information Services Department at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.  The institution is committed to equality of opportunity for students of any nationality, or with disabilities, or different learning situations eg distance learners and mature students.

The librarians deliver library induction and user education to higher education students at all levels, encountering several challenges:-

  1. Initial orientation must avoid information overload.
  2. Subsequent instruction is arranged with course leaders; duration and venue are determined by timetabling and room-bookings.
  3. These circumstances often inhibit good pedagogical practice, eg active or collaborative learning, or constructive alignment.
  4. Parachuted into classes for one-off sessions, the teaching-librarian neither knows the students, nor what they have already learned.

The present project endeavours to establish the most effective ways in which user education can be delivered, given these constraints.

This project focuses on a small cohort, namely the students engaged upon PGCert or MEd studies.  These distance learners are particularly dependent on e-resources, so extra assistance will be welcome.

Research Context

The context of this project falls within a teaching librarian’s responsibilities; good examples of best practice feature in the Standing Conference of National and University Libraries’ online journal SCONUL Focus issue 67 on professional development (SCONUL, 2016), as noted by the present author:-

Student engagement is vital. The literature offers examples in the wider institution, and within the library.  The social identity approach particularly appeals, creating a shared identity and inculcating a sense of being part of a peer-group.  (Bowskill, 2013)  A workshop in York in July 2016, The Shared Thinking: Student Induction Event, was live-tweeted by librarian Sue House.  The present author collated these tweets into a Storify posting.  However, the social identity approach as outlined in Bowskill’s training manual involves using voting clickers and student group activities impracticable for conservatoire library induction tours – or in a brief talk during an academic lecture. The project author reflected upon the approach:-

By contrast, better student engagement at Limerick University Library is discussed by Smalle (2016), suggesting the advantages of employing slightly more experienced students for peer-supported training of new students.  The Whittaker Library experimented with employing older students thus for library tours; however, handing over responsibility sometimes led to key messages being omitted.

Professional literature also considers technologies.  The learning potential of podcasts is explored by Starak (2005/2014), whilst Brabazon (2006) discusses podcasting and vlogs (video logs).  Neither are in the context of library training, but raise the possibility of designing interventions to compare the efficacy of the two media.  The present author blogged about these approaches:-

Social media offers the opportunity to discuss issues with the wider scholarly community.  In a ResearchGate conversation about good postgraduate library induction, the present author engaged in brief discussion with American librarian, William Badke, who shared his own information literacy website containing  courses, Prezis and Powerpoints, and other writings, but no podcasts or vlogs. Badke works in a university setting (Badke, n.d.), possibly responsible for more user education than is required at RCS.

Whilst broader issues of information literacy concern librarians and educationalists, students and their course leaders worry about the practicalities of access to subscribed e-resources, or how to handle referencing and citation; some kind of intervention might be welcomed.  A new app, RefME, has much to recommend it, but the present author found significant setbacks.  Contrast a commissioned report (El Hakim, Yaz, et al, 2016) with the present author’s observations:-

Training must be concise.  In an online ResearchGate discussion, the present author asserted that librarians should remember that they are training students to use the library, but not to become library scientists:-

Methodologies for conducting surveys were usefully discussed at a study-day for the PG Certificate and MEd students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (Autumn 2016); additionally, a SEMPRE Study Day poster about discourse analysis suggests that close attention should be paid to interview responses, in seeking to identify respondents’ reactions and deeper anxieties about library induction received.  (Shirley, 2015)

In a comparatively small sample of students, it is possible that equality and diversity are addressed less rigorously than a larger survey would permit.  Eg, few international students will be questioned in this cohort; however, the suggested interventions, capable of being replayed, should be beneficial to all.

Students with disabilities, particularly hidden disabilities such as deafness, visual impairment, dyslexia or mental health issues, may struggle to use e-resources both in terms of following group instruction, and using e-resources or the catalogue independently.  The questionnaire must allow such students to self-identify if they wish, eg by asking if respondents had any particular difficulty using resources due to a disability.

Pragmatically, using this particular cohort lessens the risk of survey-fatigue amongst the whole student body.  Additionally, this group will understand the importance of engagement, since everyone has a project to complete. The cohort already receives a distance-learning seminar on library resources. The project may identify whether some students have tried and failed to use e-resources, giving up rather than seek help.  Many of these students are mature students returning to higher education after a break, perhaps lacking confidence with e-resources.

Professional Aims

Many students would benefit from one-to-one tuition; this is impossible for an entire cohort and their teachers.  Taking as a given that initial class-based tuition will be provided in most circumstances, the overall aim of this project is to devise ways of supplementing class-based tuition with self-help materials such as including podcasts/vodcasts or other digital media.  To achieve this aim, the following goals must be met:-

  • To explore the most effective means of informing students about library resources;
  • To ensure that the pedagogical skills gained during the Postgraduate Certificate course are balanced and supplemented by the ability to devise appropriate interventions to enable students to get maximum benefit from facilities offered;
  • To further the present author’s knowledge of using technology to engage students in learning;
  • To share new insights with librarian colleagues.

Research Question(s)

How can class-based user education in e-resource use best be supplemented with self-help interventions available online at point of need?

To this end, secondary questions must be posed:-

  1. Where are the stumbling blocks? Existing data from student surveys will be examined to establish where stumbling blocks appear to occur; do particular databases or types of database (eg, e-journals, or bibliographic citation) cause particular anxiety, or pose specific problems?  This will inform the development or one or two interventions as described above.
  2. Do the interventions help? Students in the identified cohort will be asked to try these interventions and to provide feedback by means of a questionnaire, to establish whether they found them helpful, or where improvements could be made.
  3. Does the student’s level of confidence predetermine how they will approach self-help materials? At the end of the questionnaire, students will be invited to self-identify as very confident, quite confident, lacking in confidence and averse to using library resources, and to state whether they are willing to be interviewed. To this end, four brief interviews will be conducted with one student from each category, if such can be identified.  If only three categories of students volunteer, the interviews will still be conducted.  In the event of two or fewer volunteers, the course leader will be requested to help by emailing the cohort appealing for the appropriate number of volunteers.


Research Tools

This research project will use a qualitative approach using thematic analysis.  Clarke and Braun’s most basic definition of qualitative research is that words are used as data, as opposed to a quantitative approach using numbers and statistics. (Clarke and Braun, 2013)

  1. Analyse 2016 Whittaker Library survey, identifying responses about e-resources and seeking out free-text commentary about user education and e-resource use, to inform the intervention;
  2. Build intervention and share with PGCert/MEd cohort (one or two interventions such as audio podcasts or some form of video instruction);
  3. Short questionnaire to the PGCert/MEd cohort – firstly about their experience of library instruction and e-resource use, secondly to invite the cohort to trial the intervention, then provide brief feedback  and their response to the intervention; lastly asking them to identify as “very confident”, through “fairly confident”, “not very confident” and “avoid using the library and/or its e-resources”
  4. Interview one of each of these categories of student, assuming at least one of each category does self-identify and express willingness to be interviewed;
  5. Analysis and conclusions.  These will hopefully suggest future directions and interventions that the present author and fellow librarian colleagues might useful pursue.


Approximately 90 students are enrolled on a variety of postgraduate teaching courses, and will be sent the questionnaire inviting them to trial the intervention(s) :-

  • MALTGA2 – 4 students
  • MSLTGA4 – 4 students
  • MEDLTPA1 – 38 students
  • MEDLTPA2 – 21 students
  • MEDLTPA3 – 4 students
  • PGCert1 – 10 students
  • PGCert2 – 6 students

Relevant Information

It is anticipated that it will take 4-6 months to conduct the initial analysis of the 2016 library user survey; devise the intervention(s), get ethical clearance; survey the postgraduate teaching cohort; conduct and transcribe four brief interviews; and finally collate and analyse the findings.

The library user survey data is available; and permission has been granted by the Head of Information Services to interrogate this data.

GANTT Project Management Chart


Ethical and Moral Issues

Ethical guidelines for educational research are available through the British Educational Research Association.  (BERA, 2014).  In the context of the present project, these criteria are met, as follows:-

  1. Responsibilities to Participants:- voluntary, informed consent will be ensured; openness and disclosure require that there will be no subterfuge; participants will be advised that they have the right to withdraw; there will be no children, vulnerable young people or vulnerable adults in the sample; there will be no incentives offered; neither will participants suffer any detriment by participation. Confidentiality and anonymity will be assured, and identities will not be disclosed; individuals interviewed will be identified as A, B, C and D.
  2. Responsibilities to Sponsors of Research:- this research is not sponsored or funded, but is part of a postgraduate qualification. The researcher retains the right to publish articles arising from the research on the strict understanding that confidentiality is assured.
  3. Responsibilities to the Community of Educational Researchers, and to Education Professionals, Policy-Makers and the General Public :- the findings of this research will be communicated openly and appropriately in accordance with the above code of practice.


The present project is an opportunity to reflect upon student responses to Whittaker Library user education; to gain the experience of devising one or two interventions in different formats; to survey a cohort; and to interview a few students, with the aim of finding out which approaches are most accepted and effective; and to use the results to inform and improve subsequent user education across the Conservatoire student community.



Badke, William (n.d.), ‘Badke Teaching Resources’ [website]

BERA (2014), Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research [website][ (accessed 2017-01-28)

Bowskill, Nicholas (2013), Student-generated induction: a social identity approach. A Staff development guide.  (Nicholas Bowskill)

Brabazon, Tara (2006), ‘Press learning: the potential of podcasting through pause, record, play and stop’ (Knowledge Management and E-Learning 8 (3), 430-443. Press Learning: the potential of podcasting through pause, record, play and stop

Clarke, V. and Braun, V. (2013) Successful qualitative research: A practical guide for beginners. London: Sage. ISBN 9781847875815  Pdf available from University of West of England repository:- (accessed 2017-01-28)

El Hakim, Yaz, et al (2016), ‘The impact of RefME on the student experience’, report on research by University of Greenwich and Sheffield Hallam University

SCONUL (2016), SCONUL Focus, 67 [online, accessed 2017-01-20]

Shirley, Rachel (2015), ‘‘Not an ogre’: adult music learners and their teachers, a corpus-based discourse analysis’, [Poster presented at the SEMPRE Postgraduate Study Day (2015)]

Smalle, Michael (2016), ‘Better Engagement = Better Results’, Panlibus.  Issue 40, Summer, 4-5. [Online, via Issuu]

Starak, Yaro (2005/2014),’What is a Podcast’ [website:]


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