Category Archives: Teaching

Retrospective? Introspective? Prospective?

elderly-woman-311971_1280As a rule, I tend to think I’m too old to wax all introspective about my career trajectory.  So, why the sudden bout of introspection?  I’m about to celebrate my sixtieth birthday.  I don’t know how most people feel about the event, but for me, it leaves me questioning what I’ve done with my life, and whether I’ve fulfilled the potential I might once have been thought to have had.

I’ve written often enough about how I chose music librarianship before completing my first attempt at a PhD (a big mistake!  It never got completed).  I’ve been a music librarian for 33 years, but 19 years into the long haul, I registered for another doctorate.

The maths didn’t really stack up.  First time round, it was full-time research, then a diversion via a library graduate traineeship, followed by a postgraduate Diploma in Librarianship – with a Distinction in the Diploma, but no PhD.  Second time round, I was working full-time whilst raising a family, but I did complete the part-time PhD in five years, and I’ve since attained a PGCert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Arts Education, along with a couple of Fellowships.

The student who was expected to get a PhD in some aspect of mediaeval English music at the age of 24, never did.  To be honest, I had spent a summer teaching English at a language summer school immediately after getting my first degree, and after that experience, I couldn’t imagine myself standing in front of a lecture theatre, leading a seminar or taking a tutorial.  (Teaching English to a lively mixed assortment of teenagers and adults who were combining a foreign holiday with language classes, bore no resemblance to any kind of learning experience that I myself had ever had!)  And during my mediaeval scholarship years, I never wrote an article, gave a paper or had the chance to try any kind of academic teaching.  I do regret that these opportunities never arose.  On the positive side, I became the first music postgrad to collaborate with the Computer Science department in terms of a statistical analysis of some plainsong repertoire.  That felt quite good.  And I did a one-week course in Basic – an early programming language.  That was quite fun, too.

Academic librarianship seemed a good way to continue a career that was at least related to subject specialism.  But it didn’t take long for me to realise that someone who once might have completed a PhD, was actually just someone without one.  It didn’t compare with those of my peers who had actually gone and got one, and no-one was remotely interested in the polyphonic cantus firmus research that never got completed!  (Indeed, my first music librarianship post was in a public library, where I suspect I might not have got the job if anyone had asked just what my later university years had actually been devoted to.)

‘What does a librarian want with a PhD?’, someone once asked in a meeting.  I wasn’t at that meeting – I was told this years later, after I’d successfully completed my second attempt at the age of 51.  I just wanted to do research again, and most of all, I wanted to prove to myself that I could complete a PhD!  The subject seemed relevant to the institution where I work, and I could achieve most of my research without leaving Scotland. That was important, given the other pressures on my time.

Second time round, I’ve published a book and a number of articles (not to mention the social media and blogging); I’ve given papers on my subject specialism, I’ve talked about various aspects of the research process – and I’ve done no end of sessions about online-searching and bibliographic software!  The PGCert was the final validation for the timid music graduate who couldn’t see herself teaching in any kind of group situation.  Stand up in front of a group?  Well, yes – no problem!

Right now, I’m combining librarianship with a second postdoctoral research secondment, so I’ve moved in the right direction.  I successfully applied for a research grant – my first attempt.  I’m achieving quite a bit.  But a little voice inside me still nags at me.  Could I have achieved more?   I stayed in the same library job.  A colleague who didn’t stay long, said that you weren’t successful if you didn’t keep moving onwards and upwards.  Does that mean I failed, spectacularly and resoundingly?  Juggling working parenthood and other responsibilities, staying put seemed both pragmatic for myself, and fair to the family.  Someone else without those responsibilities really has no idea of the way one is tugged in all directions as a working mother.

I haven’t make it to a full academic position.   Does that count as failure?  I’ve got three music degrees, but the only performance I do is as a church organist.  That might be seen as failure, too.  Am  I even entitled to aspire to achieve greater things?  Does anyone expect me to?

A stupid, trivial occurrence yesterday was the final straw.  I went to see about getting a concessionary bus-pass, and that meant getting a photo.  The photo-booth didn’t seem to be working, and the enquiry desk man was derisive.  “Do you want me to come and look at it for you?  Sorry, folks, I’ll be back in five minutes. THIS LADY can’t work the photo-booth.”  So that’s it, is it? A wee, late-middle-aged lady who can’t even take her own photo, fit only to be humiliated in front of a queue of people?  Is that who people see?

Deflated, I took a little perverse satisfaction in the fact that THAT YOUNGER MAN couldn’t work the spanking-new, just-installed booth either.  (Truth to tell, I should have looked round the back to see if it was even turned on, but by this stage I was just a little irritated!)   I did manage to work the second photo-booth (I’m good at second-time-around opportunities, after all!).  Indeed, the machine refused to take payment – how good is that?

My concessionary bus-pass might even lure me off the trains and onto the buses for future research trips – I won’t be going on pensioners’ mystery trips “Doon the Watter” for a good while yet.  Bingo on the way to Blackpool? Not on your life!  I’d sooner spend a summer picking strawberries!

Meanwhile, folks, please don’t write older colleagues off as finished just because we’re sixty.  You might be surprised by what we achieve in the years that the government has determined will still be our mature working lives.

 

 

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Writing, writing …

temporal-distance-917364_640I’m playing the waiting game – I have had a veritable splurge of writing, and now I have to wait to see if anything is accepted.  I sandwiched two Georgian-era musicology pieces with a couple of pedagogical ones about teaching online research skills – this is what happens when a music librarian does a musicology PhD then a postgraduate certificate in higher arts education!

  • Earlier this Spring, I collaborated on an article about women and music in the Napoleonic era.  We’re waiting to hear …
  • More recently, I wrote up and submitted my PGCert project as a rather long article.  Again, I’m waiting for feedback.
  • I immediately followed that up with a shorter, more informal article about a recent teaching session I organised for our B.Ed students.  To date, this latter one has been accepted, so it should appear later this year.
  • And lastly, I wrote and submitted a book review over the weekend.

More news in due course ….

Graduating: Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Arts Education

Technically, this post finally completes the purpose of the blog.  It began when I started the distance-learning Teaching Artist short course with my own employers, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.  And I continued it when I took my studies to the next level for the PGCert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Arts Education.

Next week, I graduate with my Postgraduate Certificate, which qualifies me as a teacher and will also make me a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy – kind of ironic, for the scholar who in 1984 took refuge in librarianship because she couldn’t imagine herself standing in front of a class.  Ironic too, because my parents were both teachers – and I was sure I would never be one.

1984-5 were pivotal years for me.  I did a Graduate traineeship in a university library, followed by a Postgraduate Diploma in Librarianship, got a Distinction, got a job, then another job, then achieved chartership with my professional association, and conceded that I’d never finish the PhD that I had begun with such hope.  I couldn’t see myself as an academic, had had no opportunities to try, and was assured by everyone that there weren’t any jobs out there anyway.  Then finally burned my boats by abandoning the PhD.  If someone had sat me down and asked why, or tried to persuade me otherwise, would I have listened?  Who knows.

Fast-forward to 2009.  I got a PhD the hard way, part-time, on a different subject which I found totally absorbing.

And fast-forward again to today.  After years of delivering user education in the library, lectures about bibliography and electronic resources and papers about a wide variety of research topics, I’ve proved to myself that I can do it, and next week I’ll have a PGCert as my reminder!

I’m not going to close down this blog, though I may only add to it infrequently.  I’ve read a massive amount of literature about educational matters, and it would be shame to lose all that commentary.  But I’d also like to leave this post with an admonition for those who have followed it:

Don’t say you can’t do something until you’ve tried.  Don’t abandon ambitions because they seem too high.

I have seven years until I can claim my pension – meanwhile, I have a lot of catching up to do!

(If you’ve enjoyed following me on this blog, you might be interested see what I’m up to now – visit ClaimedFromStationersHall.wordpress.com/– it’s the research network that I’ve recently founded, studying British early legal deposit music.)

Blending Librarianship With Research and Pedagogy (SCONUL Focus 69, 56-59)

SCONUL is the Standing Conference of National and University Librarians.  SCONUL Focus online is an open access publication.  Vol.69 is dedicated to articles by librarians engaged in various aspects of research.  My line-manager suggested I should contribute something – this is it.
Karen McAulay, ‘Blending Librarianship with Research and Pedagogy‘, SCONUL 69, 56-59 (July 2017)
ABSTRACT: I contend that the combination of librarianship with research is beneficial both on a personal level and to the library and institution, but that the addition of a third element – pedagogy – brings even stronger benefits.

A ResearchGate Discussion on user Education

On 7th June last year, a Zimbabwean researcher asked the following question:-

How effective is user education provided to students at academic libraries?

There is a problem that most academic library users after introduced to the library and educated about the library use and services the library offers among other things, but still they find it difficult to use the library. What really might be the cause?

I immediately jumped in.  The conversation still continues, fitfully.  (I can copy my response here, but unless I have permission from everyone in the discussion, I can’t ethically share the whole conversation.  It wasn’t until this evening that  I realised that maybe I could ask everyone if they would object to the conversation being copied into Storify, so it would be openly available and not within the ResearchGate walls.)

Anyway, I’ll share my response of 13th June, and then I’ll wait to see what the others say.  If necessary, I suppose I could ask individuals for their permission to quote them.

Can I (modestly) reference a paper I wrote last year?  Library Review
Vol.64, Iss.1/2, (2015), 154-161, ‘Sexy Bibliography (and Revealing Paratext)’
http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/LR-09-2014-0104

I have also blogged about library user education as part of my studies for a postgraduate certificate in teaching and learning in higher education https://karenmcaulay.wordpress.com/e-portfolio/ and I am continuing this study in a project for submission next year.

Can I briefly make a few points here?

  • Firstly, we’re not teaching new undergraduates “library science”. They just want to know where to get started in the library.  Don’t start by trying to turn them into mini-librarians!
  • Secondly, students learn best at the time of need.  So we provide regular training working in collaboration with teaching staff, and with one eye on the teaching and submission schedules.  If students have their first essay coming up, they will be more motivated to listen and learn from us!
  • Thirdly, make the teaching relevant.  They are going to write about Prokofiev? Find examples of electronic resources that you have ensured WILL FIND appropriate information on Prokofiev!
  • Lastly, flip the classroom.  Embrace good pedagogical practice and involve the students rather than lecturing them. Ask what they think/recommend.  Build on what they know (This is called a “constructivist approach”)  Use multimedia to engage.  I could go on, but maybe I’d better stop for now!
5 / 0 ·

How effective is user education provided to students at academic libraries? – ResearchGate. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/post/How_effective_is_user_education_provided_to_students_at_academic_libraries#58715ff45b49529a6b48ff14 [accessed Jan 7, 2017].

Interestingly, the last lines- the citation – were added automatically by ResearchGate when I copied the text. Maybe they’ve taken care of it that way!  I still worry that ResearchGate participants might be the only ones able to open the link.  Could someone check the link for me, please?

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:-

https://www.eis.org.uk/images/ula/bulletins/BulletinDec16.pdf

Lectures versus active learning

Pickles, Matt (2016), ‘Shouldn’t lectures be obsolete by now?’, BBC News: Business, 23rd November 2016 (oneline) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-38058477 [accessed 23.11.2016]

I read an article on the BBC News Business pages today.  The author, Matt Pickles, expresses surprise that the lecture format persists, despite demonstrable evidence that they’re often not the most effective way of teaching students, and that active learning works much better.  Some universities are catching on, but it seems others aren’t bothered, because they’re more concerned about their scholars’ research profile than their teaching skills.

That’s not true at my institution – for a start, we’re a conservatoire, so whether you “do research” or are an expert practitioner and perhaps don’t consider your practice as research, much of the work is practice-based in any case.  And secondly – we wouldn’t be studying for PGCerts if we didn’t think teaching was important!

I’m a bit atypical in being a musicologist, and although I like to get my research performed, my research isn’t actually in performance or composition.  I’m also atypical (oh, I love being a nonconformist!) in studying for a PGCert with the aim of improving my teaching for the librarianship side of my work first and foremost. My research takes place on one day a week, and any spare home time I can fling at it, but I only get rare opportunities to teach my research interest.

But what I can say is that I much prefer to speak to groups small enough to be able to converse with students rather than lecture them.  And if I’m teaching how to use e-resources, or bibliographic /referencing skills, it’s infinitely easier with a group or even a single student.  You can’t converse in a lecture, and my minor hearing impairment makes it even more difficult.  (Why would I pose a question to people at the back of a lecture theatre, when I probably couldn’t hear their reply?!)