Category Archives: Books

Recent Reading

books-21849_640I thought I’d glance through my Diigo and Mendeley accounts to track recent serendipitous reading.  Here goes!  These all reflect my professional preoccupations, not surprisingly – information literacy, online learning, point-of-need ‘learning experiences’ – whether a podcast, blog, screencast or whatever – learning styles, distance learners …


  • CILIP Information Literacy Group: a forthcoming event in Aston (2017-07-12) that comes too late for my project, but maybe I might come across a similar one in Scotland some day:- ‘Supporting online learners, what works? A discussion of innovative methods in providing distance learners with information literacy and library skills.’ An Aston University Library Teachmeet.
  • Earp, Jo, Classroom layout – what does the research say? (Teacher Magazine), 2017-03-16 [Australia]  My annotation:- About collaborative learning spaces, in schools.  A couple of times, Earp cites an earlier scholarly article:- Fernandes, A. C., Huang, J., & Rinaldo, V. (2011). Does where a student sits really matter? The impact of seating locations on student classroom learning. International Journal of Applied Educational Studies, 10(1), 66-77.  Perhaps not surprisingly, seating arrangements contribute to different environments – in rows, to paying attention and not much interaction.  In groups for collaboration and engagement in an activity.  Other factors, eg draughts, daylight/overhead lighting, even seating position in a classroom where pupils sit in rows, can have an effect.  However, as I’ve mentioned before, I generally have no say in room arrangement, and only limited opportunities to encourage collaborative group work.
  • Amy Mollett, Cheryl Brumley, Chris Gilson and Sierra Williams, By producing podcasts you can reach wider audiences, occupy your niche and create new items of research (London School of Economics blog), 2017-05-16 – My annotation:- a podcast is basically ‘on-demand audio’, and enjoyed a renaissance with a radio podcast, Serial, itself a spin-off from an American radio programme, This American Life.  Everyone has a mobile phone so potentially large audience.  Here’s a summary of reasons why to podcast research:- LSE why you should podcast your research image Now, I sometimes worry that I’m too prone to be negative.  I don’t see myself as negative so much as just tending to spot where things might go wrong/ not be an ideal fit.  However, whilst I can see the value of an audio podcast for my research, I can’t see it working well when I’m teaching students how to access an online resource, construct a citation, or practice search skills.  I need the visual element.  Moreover, some of the comments in my project survey quite specifically ask for more visual formats, cartoons, video, webcasts, etc.  The authors cite ‘what writer Chris Anderson calls the “long tail”, with a plethora of novice and niche podcasts sitting at the tail end of digital audio offerings.’  So, we’re looking at podcasts as having a place in a diversity of audio formats, and reaching out to new audiences.  There was also mention of the podcast interview as a form of research in itself, an interesting idea but not applicable in the present context.
  • Pun, Raymond and Meggan Houlihan,  Game On: Gamification in the Library (Credo Reference Blog, 2017-02-19) – My annotation:-  I often read about activities like these – quite complex, and involving quite a lot of preparation –  and reflect that it would be difficult to construct a game that could be included in a 15 minute presentation in our usual live delivery context – a lecture theatre or seminar room.  Firstly, I can’t set assignments.  I couldn’t imagine students willingly doing a collaborative project using Googledocs, uploading answers and photos, all in the name of gaining information literacy skills.  Secondly, I have a much wider remit than the author of the article, who is responsible for first year student engagement, whilst I am responsible for the information needs of any musicians in the entire institution, and anyone else who needs my assistance.  And thirdly, I still recall the year when I was persuaded to set up a library quiz using QR codes, all tucked into copies of textbooks on the library shelves.  When it came to it, I wasn’t left enough time to get the students to upload QR code readers to their phones, so by the time we got to the library, no-one was able to access the QR codes to make a start on the treasure-hunt.  Am I being negative, or realistic?!  And yet, I don’t deny that these are innovative and modern ways of tackling longstanding problems.
  • Rempel,  Hannah Gascho and Anne-Marie Deitering, Sparking Curiosity – Librarians’ Role in Encouraging Exploration – In the Library with the Lead Pipe (blogpost), 2017-02-22  – My annotation:- about information literacy, students selecting topics, referencing, writing style.  This is written in the context of American first year students selecting a research topic for their rhetoric and composition class.  However, our students don’t have a written ‘composition’ component (think essay, not music) and don’t study rhetoric.  The paper is interesting and well-written, but doesn’t really sit comfortably alongside the kind of learning expected of our students, or the kind of information skills teaching expected of the librarians.
  • Screencast-o-matic – recommended by our learning technologist, whom I consulted when one of my survey respondents said that the links were very big to download. My annotation:- Fred suggested that another time, he could render the videos into “best quality”, average, and small-size file, so users would have a choice.  Another respondent asked for more technically complex videos than I had produced, so I sought advice to help me make a better product next time.  Despite my feeling that a powerpoint-with-commentary would be technically straightforward and much more informative than a podcast, it seems that some readers have more demanding requirements – they wanted to see my face simultaneously; they wanted cartoons or animation; and they wanted screencasts of search techniques or using bibliographic software. All good suggestions for future “learning experiences”, so this link should prove very useful:- Help Tutorials:
  • Tech skills are seriously lacking in universities – take it from the IT guy | Higher Education Network | The Guardian 2017-05-26  (By an anonymous learning technologist, includes concept of gamification.)  My annotation:- I think I would need to collaborate with our learning technologist, and I’d first need to work out one particular problem that would lend itself to experimental gamification.  (A game about using bibliographical referencing tools?  I’d have a ball, but the mind boggles when it comes to getting the students to join in collaboratively in a game-like way.)  The author is right about there only being pockets of interest in technical solutions.  I like the summary at the end of this article, especially the very last sentence:-

“Alongside the reading list, how about a list of games to play? I have not yet thought of a subject that could not be taught through games. Instead of an essay submitted in Microsoft Word, how about an Adobe Spark digital multimedia story? When degree programmes are being developed, how about having a technology adviser present from the start?

“Get technology at the heart of every programme specification, and get students and lecturers using it every day. Only then will skills truly develop.”

  • Weale, Sally, Teachers must ditch ‘neuromyth’ of learning styles, say scientists (The Guardian. Teaching.  2016-03-13)  My annotation:- If learning styles are a myth – and they might well be – then the concept is deeply embedded into many teachers’ and learners’ psyches now.  I note that from the responses to my survey, with learners stating that they learn best if they imbue information a particular way or in a particular medium.  In a sense, we can’t argue with individual preferences.  However, I’ve always thought that we probably all benefit from a blend of different learning experiences, depending on the topic, setting and circumstances.  It is a little alarming, if learning styles have become a ‘neuromyth’ – pop psychology, if you like.

Excuses, Excuses

Falling over my own shadow

This week didn’t go quite according to plan.  Thursday morning saw me flying gracelessly accidentemergencyn_2276103bthrough the air and landing awkwardly on one hand and the opposite knee, as I was walking along the side of my workplace. I survived work (because I didn’t want to take time off), took a choir practice, spent four hours in A&E, and walked home at 2 am with my hand in a splint.  Somewhat sleep-deprived, I got through Friday at work and did spend some time over the weekend revising my not-yet-complete project proposal, but not as much as I hoped.  All I can face now is to reread the instructions for the project proposal and familiarize myself with exactly what’s needed under each remaining heading.

Inspired by a TED talk: Nancy Duarte

I have, however, watched an interested TED talk by the author of one of our new library books that I catalogued on Friday.  Nancy Duarte’s The Secret Structure of Great Talks might not be of much relevance to e-resource interventions, but it is certainly informative as regards delivering inspirational presentations, so it it was time well-spent.  (I watched it three times!)  The basic message seems to be, contrasting “how it is now” with “how it will be with my great idea”, and ending up with “the bliss”, ie positive high-note to finish on.  I’ve been pondering how to incorporate this into the talk I’m booked to give at the University of Oxford next month.  The talk is virtually written, but I’ll be revising it! I always try to write my talks sufficiently early to be able to put them aside then revisit them a few days later, and I still have to put a PowerPoint together.

New book-stock for Education students

I’ll list my new cataloguing below – it might be useful to someone!  I ordered one of the books on Amazon for myself, as it looked so interesting, but I can’t go buying them all, so I might just borrow the Duarte book tomorrow!

Did you know, the homepage of our catalogue has a link to our latest books:- click the link at the bottom of the pink square:-

  • Catmull, Edwin, Creativity, Inc: overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration (2014)
  • Cron, Lisa, Wired for story: the writer’s guide to using brain science to hook readers from the very first sentence (2012)
  • Duarte, Nancy, Resonate: present visual stories that transform audiences (2010)
  • Gilbert, Elizabeth, Big magic: creative living beyond fear (2015)
  • Griffith, Andy, Engaging Learners (2012)
  • Griffith, Andy, Teaching Backwards (2014)


Taking Stock: Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle

PGCert blog books 1At this stage in the year, it’s time to take stock.  I need to reflect on the materials in my bibliography – I’ve read all of them at some stage, and commented on some of them, albeit quite a long time ago.  I need to think again about challenges that arose in my assessed lessons; then, in the light of those challenges, I shall see if particular books in the current  Teaching Artist Reading List might help me work out where I might have done things differently.  Essentially, I’m trying to show critical understanding of my reading, to pick out what it is that is relevant in these sources; and to ensure I’m embedding appropriate teaching and learning theories when I provide instruction to our students.  This will also enable me to justify my own practice in the particular context of library, bibliographic and research/study skills, and a historic approach to Scottish song and other tune-books.

First of all, there are three particular areas that I’d like to remind myself of: Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle; the Constructivist theoretical approach; and the ‘flipped classroom’ as outlined in the One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan.


I found a useful e-book which has chapters on experiential learning:-

Clawson, James G. S. and Mark E. Haskins, Teaching Management (Cambridge University Press,2006) ;  Online Publication Date: February 2010

Online ISBN-13: 9780511617850
Hardback ISBN-13: 9780521869751
Book DOI:

I’m going to focus on two particular chapters, and look at another one in a different context later:-

  • 2. Levels of Learning – one, two and three (Re Experiential Learning) /James G. S. Clawson and Mark E. Haskins, pp.26-33
  • 13. Experiential methods / By Clawson, pp.212-227
  • 14. Enhancing the conversation: audiovisual tools and techniques / Clawson and Haskins, pp.228-241

In Chapter 2, we’re introduced to three different levels of learning:- Visible Behaviour, Conscious Thought (“the things that people are aware they’re thinking but that they do not choose to reveal at Level One”); and “the Values, Assumptions, Beliefs, and Expectations (VABEs) that people hold about the way the world should be. VABEs are often “preconscious” or “semiconscious,” yet they often reveal themselves at Level One.” (p.26)

Teachers need to decide which level to aim at.  If they’re trying to effect learning at the level of conscious thought, are they also expecting the learning to evidence itself as visible behaviour, or as changes to the “VABES” their students hold? 

This reminds me of discussions held many years ago at job evaluation training, when it was asserted that lecturers influence “hearts and minds”, whereas instructors impart practical skills. I find this a rather fine distinction.  I do understand that teaching a student to interpret a Mozart piano concerto cadenza, or analyse a playscript, is a more complex process than showing them how to find a book in a catalogue or access and electronic journal.  There’s much more discernment and choice involved in the former than the latter activities.  However, if I’ve taught a student how to access and cite information, and convinced them that this is the best, most effective way and a good way to go about research in the future, then I have arguably also changed their minds.  Values?  Yes, if they understand the value of doing a good information search.  Assumptions and beliefs?  Yes, if they can appreciate that whilst Wikipedia is good, all the quality resources offered by the library represent a far wider array from which to choose, and the certainty that the authors are experts in their fields.  In other words, they no longer believe that Wikipedia and Google can meet all their study requirements.  I would argue that I’ve therefore influenced the students’ VABES albeit in a different way.

The authors argue that level 1 involves “doing” something, whilst at level 2 people may – but not necessarily – be conscious of doing it.  Sometimes they’re not conscious of doing something until level 3, and the authors also make the point that habit-forming occurs at all three levels. 

The distinction between levels does seem a little blurred, to me. However,  I do see that insight can’t come into the equation until at least level 2.

At this point, the authors refer to Kolb’s cycle.  There’s a diagram, but unfortunately the text is obscured on screen. Still, the narrative explains all. (p.28)   Kolb argues that daily life involves going through the learning cycle many times, in this order:- “Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation.” In other words, until someone has absorbed the general principles, they can’t apply it to other situations.  The authors say that some teachers argue it’s not their place to influence their students’ values and beliefs, but they (the authors) think this final level of learning is what we should be aiming at.

I agree with this.  If I’m showing students different electronic resources, for example, then at the end of the session, I want them to leave thinking, “hey, that gave me some ideas for information-finding skills for my next assignment.”  I would be less happy if they left just with the vague impression that I had shown them some cool websites.

The authors say that to engage with people’s core beliefs, ie level 3, we should ask them directly what they believe about {whatever the subject is we’re teaching them}.  This could go up on the board as the basis for discussion.

Well, what a surprise! That is exactly what I did in my two teaching sessions where I asked students to write their little “dictionary definitions” of traditional music and nationalism in music.  It’s good to see I did something theoretically right, though my reason for doing this was (in my mind) a constructivist approach, by establishing what the students knew before I started leading the session forward. 

If you’re targeting level 1 learning, then you’re targeting behaviours, say the authors. Although they say that sometimes “cognitive analytical skills” are needed before the behavioural skills can be learned. 

Trying to relate this to teaching information skills, I imagine this would apply to showing students how to decide on the best search terms, the ones most likely to be fruitful, before they start searching for materials.  It is harder to separate out distinct steps in classes like the ones I taught about historic Scottish music.  (“How to” is different from “Let’s explore and synthesise our findings”.)

The authors say that experiential programmes (they cite active, outward-bound, team-building exercises, or in a classroom situation, learning to “listen actively”) are generally aimed at level 1, but if the experience affects students on a deeper level by, eg, confidence-building, then level 2 or 3 learning may have taken place. This fits in with my understanding that “how to” instruction is not the same as learning about the history of a genre and how to interpret scores of different eras.

In terms of the Scottish music classes, I think the students who most engaged with the exercises, probably did get the most out of them.  The minority that were restless or impatient, are unlikely to have had their “values, assumptions, beliefs and expectations” changed very much and they would only have learned at the middle level, if they were paying sufficient attention.  Or should that be, if I had managed to engage their attention sufficiently?

“Targeting L2 means attempting to change the way people think. Indeed, that seems to be where most educational effort is expended. Vast lecture halls, textbooks, problem sets, and presentation preparation are largely about augmenting or refining the students’ thought processes”, say the authors (p.31).  To me, this seems fairly obvious.  And then they go on to say that lecturers who influence their students’ VABEs (Level 3) will have the most long-lasting effect, because this will change the way students see a subject, possibly for a lifetime.  Clawson and Haskins also cite McGill and Slocum (1993) who flagged up that an individual’s openness to new ideas is an important factor. 

The paper concludes by expressing the hope that if teachers understand the different levels of learning and what is going on, unseen, in students’ minds, this should help us plan more effective teaching.  I think I can agree with this.  My only slight objection is not with the theory of different levels of learning, but that I have noticed some students are more difficult to “engage” with than others. I’m not sure this is always connected with the experiential learning cycle, but might be for totally different reasons that make the student disinclined to learn at a particular class – whether for physical reasons (health, tiredness, uncomfortable surroundings) or disinterest in the subject.  It is incumbent on the teacher to try to engage the student, but the student is not just a passive empty vessel, so must accept some responsibility.  The student who does not want to learn, is not going to learn at the higher conceptual levels.




Different Spheres? Thinking about Women and Song

While taking a few days leave, I finally finished a great book about 18th century women composers of songs, by Leslie Ritchie.

There’s loads of fascinating information there, most particularly about the literary side of song-writing.  I think it’s fair to say that the author’s strength is on the literary, “song-writing”, rather than the musical composition of songs.  My interest in literary matters has been lifelong, but my own academic background is from a musicology discipline rather than literature, so I devoured the book enthusiastically, but didn’t gain as much from the music point of view.  I didn’t always agree with the interpretation of the analysis (though the harmonic analysis itself wasn’t faulty) – and I’m off to inspect a copy of Ann [Anne] Young’s Elements of Music this afternoon because I don’t think the “songs” about or by women were actually songs at all. They look like dance tunes to me.  And I rather suspect that when the former owner of the British Library’s later edition marked one item as “a woman” and another as “a man”, she might just have been noting someone connected with the dance,  or someone she heard play it, rather than whoever wrote it.  Either way, dedicating a dance-tune to a woman or calling it “Lady Whatsit’s Favourite”, has no real significance. You named tunes after people to pay them a compliment.

But enough of my nitpicking. The other interesting idea appeared early on in Ritchie’s book, and that was an attempt to unpack the idea of “separate spheres of influence”.  To understand that, I had to read the introduction and first article in another book, No more separate spheres! : a next wave American studies reader, edited by Davidson and Hatcher (2002).  There I learned that the idea arose in 19th century America, thanks to a writer named Alexis deTocqueville (Democracy in America, 1840).

Suffice to say here that we would be wrong to declare that all women moved in the domestic sphere, and all men in the public, commercial sphere, for two or even three reasons: firstly, there is a continuum. It’s not one or the other. Secondly, if we continue to think along these lines, we’re continuing a concept that is now very outdated. And thirdly, although we say “all women”, in this context there’s the tendency to mean fairly well-educated white, middle-class women … but their “sphere” or area of influence was very different from women of other classes and ethnicities.

Having said all that, I’m left with one observation.  Who used the songs in the University of St Andrews’ early music legal deposit collection? Notwithstanding all these very valuable and thought-provoking observations, I put it to you thus: even if they just sang the songs, they were people who could read, and whoever played the piano/harp part could also read music.  They borrowed the music by the kind offices of the university professors.  White, middle-class, educated women borrowing music?  In Georgian times, in St Andrews? In all probability, yes.

A Headful of Theory and a File Full of Notes: Gagnon and Collay, Constructivist Learning Design

This was the gloriously free weekend when I was going to tie up two lesson plans, two theoretical accounts, and find the Peer Observer Assessment Template.

As it is, I have two lesson plans, a couple of documents retrieved from my IMG_20151206_221509Teaching Artist short course, no notes on a book that I realised was not going to help me; and notes on an entire book – one that I chose from a publishers’ catalogue:-

Gagnon, George W., Jr. and Michelle Collay, Constructivist Learning Design: Key Questions for Teaching to Standards (Thousand Oaks, CA.: Corwin Press, 2006.

As regards the Constructivist Learning Design, it was excellent.  Indeed, since the co-author is a music teacher, I was sure I was with kindred spirits.  However, the subtitle betrays a slant that I hadn’t expected: it was primarily aimed at American schoolteachers teaching to standards and set curricula.  Moreover, to make the book have general appeal, there wasn’t really any music input apart from a final chapter on incorporating dance.  (Ask my Traditional Music students to DANCE their collaboratively reached conclusions at the end of an hour’s seminar? No, I don’t think so!)

Nonetheless, if I wanted a breakdown of how constructivist learning works in practice, then I was in the right place.  I took fairly detailed notes until I reached the point where I felt I was going to have too much material to take in, let alone use.

The other book would be useful to someone interested in the psychology of learning, but it wasn’t going to tell me anything about how to teach, so after dipping into the initial chapters several times over the past couple of weeks, I finally put it aside:-

Carey, Benedict, How we learn: the surprising truth about when, where, and why it happens (New York: Random House, 2014)

So far, so good.  I haven’t written up my theoretical accounts, but my teaching plans are looking quite convincing.  A glitch with my favourite referencing software, Mendeley, used up an hour or two yesterday – to my annoyance – and of course there was all the usual domesticity, and a leaky roof after Storm Desmond.  Maybe that’s why I didn’t complete all I’d set out to do.

So, let’s see if I can find my Peer Observer Assessment Template, then I’ll call it a day.