Category Archives: Workshops

Practising What I Preach

A week tomorrow, I’m visiting a class of third year Trad Music students to talk about their research projects, and to see if the library has any resources that might prove useful to them.

I have a conviction that “parachute lecturers” – people like me, asked to give one-off teaching sessions – need to work harder to create context for their lessons. Therefore, I’ve just sent a MailChimp message to everyone, to give advance warning of what I’ll be talking about.  This way, I hope the students will be prepared to share their initial thoughts about these projects, and might come armed with questions about any resources they’ve already tried.

This is not exactly part of my PGCert project, but I’m logging it in case I need it as “evidence” later on!


I’m coming along to talk to you about your research projects – so I can see if the library can help you with any useful materials, any e-resources you might not have thought of, and maybe offer a few tips about keeping track of your research “journey” along the way.

I just thought I’d send this email to ask you each to be prepared to tell me briefly what the project is about.  If there’s anything you’d like to give me advance warning about, just drop me an email: ~~~~~~~~~~~~

And if there are any online resources you’ve tried but had difficulty with, let me know, and we can have a look at them together.  (Here’s the library’s webpage:

Shared Thinking

Yesterday, I saw on my Twitter feed that royal_york_hotelUniversity of South Wales librarian Sue House (whom I don’t know, apart from following her on Twitter!) was attending a conference about student induction, in York, run by a company called Shared Thinking.

When I realised she was sharing lots of references to names I’d never heard of, about things that might be relevant to my teaching practice, I decided I’d need to keep a note of them.  After all, she mentioned buzzwords like experiential learning, and student engagement and so on.

I decided I needed to hoover up as many relevant tweets from that conference as possible. I don’t know if others there were tweeting, but I think I have enough information to be going on with!   Bits of paper get lost, even saved Word documents can be forgotten. So this time I saved the whole thing to Storify and can go back to it relatively easily, as well as sharing with other people.  (I also looked up most of Sue’s citations and posted links to them. Might save time for me or someone else later on!)  Here it is:-

Shared Thinking: Student Induction Event (mainly as reported by Sue House)

(I might add that this actually validates much of my social media activity, because I am often thinking about quite serious professional issues as I tweet or react to tweets!)



I passed my Teaching Artist module! Big relief.

However, I’m not finished yet.  Now I must think about the project.  Friends, if you know of a music library – anywhere *In The World* – where their user education is excellent and firmly grounded on good pedagogical principles – please let me know.  I need examples of good practice – not just ‘fun stuff’, but sessions where goals, methodology and outcomes are thoroughly thought through.  Preferably in the context of a music library!

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.




Opportunity Knocks

This time last week, I was at the IAML(UK & Ireland) Annual Study Weekend.  (It’s the highlight of the year for music librarians.)  I had a comparatively last-minute opportunity to give a paper on my historic legal deposit music research, so I took a week’s holiday between Palm Sunday and Easter, during which I blitzed both the paper and an encyclopedia article that I’d promised elsewhere.  So far, so good.

Now, we also have an academic librarians’ seminar before the Annual Study Weekend formally starts, but I hadn’t offered to present anything there.  I worry about “hogging the stage”, so I tend to hang back in the hope someone else will seize the opportunity.  To no avail, this time – I was offered an even more last-minute opportunity to lead a session at the seminar, and now I really had no time in which to write anything!  And then it dawned on me that if I used the technique I’ve tried in my Teaching Artist assignments –  encouraging everyone else to join in, and NOT holding forth myself, then I really wouldn’t have too much to prepare.

In recent weeks, I have pondered how I could encourage students to engage with our library special collections materials.  There’s a background to this: I attended a lunchtime seminar at St Andrews over a year ago – before I started my research there – when a ‘library choir’ performed some of their special collections music, and they also blogged about what they been working on.  This had been part of a longer series of blogs in which different ‘instruction manuals’ were explored, tried out and blogged about – the  music posting was just one of many.

Much more recently, Jerwood Library of the Performing Arts posted a blogpost about a recent event in their library: “Performing Special Collections: Jerwood Library Catch and Glee Club“.

And then, literally the weekend before our ASW, I spotted on Twitter that Dr Menaka PP Bora, Affiliated Artist at the Bodleian Libraries – a specialist in Indian dance – was to perform the collections at an event in Oxford.  I wish I could have been there!  I have since made contact with her, so maybe I might one day hear more about her research.  In the first two of these sessions, I know that academic staff were also involved, and faculty endorsement does seem to be key in making such events successful.  I don’t really know much about the third, since I only saw the promotional web-page in advance of the event.

Anyway, I shared these three very different, but equally successful ventures with my fellow academic librarians, and then asked for examples of their own practice.  I had already emailed the list flagging up this single question – I’m a great believer in setting the scene and getting people thinking about what they’d like to share, before they actually arrive.

I got some great examples from a variety of music libraries.  Activities in the Royal College of Music, the British Library, Trinity College Dublin, and the Irish Traditional Music Archive were particularly relevant, and of course, we were due to go to the Royal Northern College of Music to see some of their Archive treasures and then to hear a recital of violin and piano music with particular RNCM associations.  Librarians and archivists love sharing exciting things from their collections, so it came as no surprise that my ‘guided discussion’ got a good response.

I have recently had the opportunity to acquire a very rare set of parts for an 18th century string quartet for the Whittaker Library, and after I’d led this discussion session – and heard a presentation by the RNCM archivist – I was beginning to formulate an idea to incorporate this old string quartet into a library concert.  This would not only showcase a new acquisition, but also offer the chance to impart some techniques for researching early printed music, both with performers and then with an audience.  Watch this space – I’m still watching for the postman to deliver the parts!