On the subject of my subject

A great example of a librarian becoming more engaged with the subject, the staff and students that they’re supporting.

The Lovely Librarian

My name is Sarah, I’m the subject librarian for architecture at Cardiff University and since 2010 I’ve attended, of my own volition and in my own time, lectures at the Welsh School of Architecture. Here’s how and why…

The lectures

In 2008, after much extolling of the virtues of information literacy to academics, I succeeded in introducing into a module entitled Architecture since 1940 an assessed annotated and critical bibliography exercise, preceding first year students’ first essay

My appalling sketch of an iconic building from notes made during the Architecture since 1940 lectures My appalling sketch of an iconic building from notes made during the Architecture since 1940 lectures

submission. It quickly became apparent that some underpinning knowledge would help my marking of students’ work. Students’ claims that source material analysed “an iconic building” would be easier to assess if I knew something about the architect.

Though I believed from the outset that lecture attendance would go beyond mere knowledge acquisition, allowing me to better integrate within the School and understand…

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Falling over my feet to keep up!

Mary reminds us that we need to upload our context setting studies by Friday.  Because I’ve been to a conference, done a Palm Sunday choral extravaganza, had an awful migraine, been to visit a librarianship mentee, and done a couple of days’ work, I now have just 49.5 hours left in which to write my context setting study.  Gulp.  I really take my hat off to people doing part-time or distance learning courses with a cohort of other students.  Keeping up can be quite a challenge.  Compare this with doing a PhD, when the pressure of doctoral studies might be intense, but there’s no worry about keeping pace with your peers.

I had a great Skype chat with Andrew this evening, and we did touch upon some aspects of my work that I can include in the study.  However, I can’t do that until Friday – it’s too late tonight, and tomorrow it’s choir practice…

Telling the World about Teaching Artistry

Breakfast at Fitzwilliam College!

I went to the IAML UK and Ireland Annual Study Weekend in Cambridge last weekend. (That’s the International Association of Music Libraries, UK and Ireland branch).  We began with an academic music librarians’ seminar, and I was the first speaker.  I talked about our course!   (I had spent much of my annual leave doing my teaching plan and theoretical study, so that I would be able to talk about it at this seminar.)  Unbeknown to me, another librarian there made a Storify page about the session, so here we are for all the world to see!   I think you’ll agree I must have said the right things, to judge by the way Edith reported it.

My own PowerPoint is here.


I’ve embedded my Word document, but I am not very confident that it will look presentable in blog form.  Here goes … (You can follow comments from our shared space by clicking HERE.)


 CLASS DETAILS (adapt headings in this section to suit your learning / teaching context)

Programme / Course Title : Research Degrees at Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Project / Topic  Lesson is linked to (if relevant):
Learning Outcome Lesson is linked to: Research Skills


Student Group: Doctoral and MPhil Students
Level (eg: P5 / S1) or context (Intergenerational..) SCQF Levels 11-12, Masters and Doctoral Degrees.
No. of students in Session 8-10


Venue / Room: Research Lab, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Learning Materials / Resources Online databases (RCS subscriptions and others that are freely available)
Equipment 2 x PCs, and students’ own laptops
Learning Technologies Various interactions with online databases




Lesson Title: Research and Bibliographic Skills
Context: Annual seminar providing instruction on research and bibliographic skills to the research students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Monday 19th May, 6-7 pm.  Although one of a series of evening events run for our research community, this particular session is not publicly advertised, but is offered to students engaged in research. It is stand-alone, insofar as it does not fit into a formal curriculum or structured series of classes.
Lesson Learning Outcomes* The verbs used to describe the learning outcome should be appropriate to the level and stage of development of the learners the lesson is for (Use CfE Outcomes / SCQF level descriptors or other Indicators as appropriate). SCQF Characteristic 2 (PRACTICE: APPLIED KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS AND UNDERSTANDING) requiresstudents at Levels 11 and 12 to demonstrate competence ‘in applying a range of standard and specialised research and/or equivalent instruments and techniques of enquiry.’The research students will explore some key databases and bibliographic tools, and learn to exploit them as techniques of enquiry and documentation.
By the end of this session students should be able to:  
Recognise key research resources and freely available bibliographic citation software
Devise search strategies to retrieve relevant research literature
Compile a bibliography suitable for scholarly writing.
  1. .
Recognise these research capabilities as essential for a future academic career, but also as employability skills in the wider sense.
Time Available: 60’


Tutor will email research students in advance of the seminar, advising them of the topics to be covered, and inviting them to come prepared to discuss web applications and methodologies that they have already encountered.


Lesson Structure*


Estimated Time for Completion Teacher Activity Learner Activity Resources/Notes
17.00-17.05 Introduction to the learning outcomes and structure of the seminar
17.05-17.10 Overview of some key sources
17.10-17.20 Tutor moves between pairs, inviting students to use computers as appropriate to demonstrate resources they already know Students discuss in pairs: share with each other one research database you find useful; the steps you have taken to begin your bibliography; any concerns about using e-resources PCs and laptops
17.20-17.30 Tutor calls group back, inviting each pair to introduce each other’s favourite web resource and bibliographic methodology, and any concerns about e-resources Students describe each other’s favourite web resource and bibliographic methodology, and any concerns about e-resources PCs and laptops
17.30-17.40 Tutor picks up and addresses issues arising from the discussion. Students’ earlier observations direct the nature of the discussion. Students are invited to suggest topics for demo searches PCs and laptops
17.40-17.55 Tutor demonstrates her own use of Mendeley as a bibliographic tool, and introduces Zotero. Also Diigo; and a low-tech alternative to online technologies for bibliography. Any student using Zotero invited to demo how they use it. PC
17.55-18.00 Summary: recap on topics covered in this session.To conclude, explain that tutor will email all students to follow-up this session; further training can be arranged if requested directly or via Research Lecturer. Students invited to identify which of these resources they might find worthy of further exploration.Any questions?


* Your Lesson structure should include:


Time to introduce tasks/activities to the group

Time for students to engage in the activities (either independently, or in groups).

Time for formative assessment/feedback (to check learning and understanding).

Time to link lesson to other activities and time to set out any independent learning tasks learners are expected to engage in before your next session with them.


Contexts for Learning, and Positive Changes

Context: Library or Classroom-based, but not formally assessed

Looking at my own practice, I am trying to think about the context in which ‘my’ students are learning.  This has always been slightly problematical in library teaching, because attendance is not mandatory.  Until a couple of years ago, new students had a tour of the library and a hands-on demonstration of how to use the catalogue.  A lecture was also provided for music students, to introduce them to key e-resources, such as Oxford Music Online (the world’s most prestigious music encyclopedia) and the streamed music services. (There are also a number of leaflets offering guidance to different aspects of the library service.)

Realising that for most students, this was too much, too soon, the library induction package was un-packed, so that new students got a basic library tour in the first week, and then we liaised with course-leaders to provide more detailed, tailored instruction later.  The theory behind this was that students would be better able to take in what they were being shown, if it wasn’t all thrown at them at once; and when they were beginning to need more resources, they’d be more motivated to come and listen.

Some course-leaders were admirably pro-active, whilst others didn’t take up the offer, or provided informal tours of their own, quietly ignoring the e-resources offer.  Moreover, we have no control over whether individual students attend or not.  The context, then, is basically on-site provision of training (we’ve no way of knowing whether students found their way to the Moodle podcast that Gordon made for us a couple of years ago), but without the formality of a fully academically endorsed (or assessed) course component.  We get the impression that library induction and training is viewed by the students as “not really part of the course”, and “not really necessary”.

With the seminars I provide for research students, it’s a smaller group.  Students are encouraged to attend, but are not always available to attend on the day/time allotted by Research Dept staff.  However, those that do attend are always keen to participate and share their opinion, so although it’s still not mandatory, there’s more enthusiasm and appreciation!  By this stage, students have realised that proper academic discourse requires them to read widely and cite correctly, so there’s an awareness that the instruction I provide may be useful to them as they write their dissertation.  (Also, strangely, there’s respect for me amongst researchers who know I’ve ‘been there’ and am now engaged on postdoctoral work, whereas I guess undergraduates perceive me as ‘just a librarian’, and not to be taken as seriously as their tutors.   Librarians universally hate their fuddy-duddy stereotype!)

So, what positive changes could I make?  For new students, I still think the library tour is worthwhile. It’s quick and cheerful, and just tries to convey the most basic information about the library, but more importantly, it introduces students to the subject librarians.  For the more detailed e-resource instruction,  I still think these resources need to be demonstrated, much as an experiment might be demonstrated in a science lab.   By way of a parallel, you don’t say, “here’s a bunsen burner and few chemicals, do try them out!”, but after demonstrating them, pupils might then try them out under supervision.  Similarly, our new undergraduates need to be shown WHAT is available and how they work, and then invited to try them.  Unless each entire class of new students is allocated time in the IT suite, though, we have to content ourselves with telling them about the resources, giving the handouts, and hoping that some of the information will be remembered.

I’m beginning to wonder if there might be any mileage in emailing student groups later, to follow up the session and get some kind of feed-back. I am uncertain about mounting quizzes etc, because not many students will do a quiz that is not part of their assessed work.  (Backwash, as Biggs says.)  How does one constructively align teaching that is not assessed, but regarded as supplementary and optional?   One is informing the students about what is on offer, and directly pointing out resources that are likely to be useful.  Tasks can’t be set for later submission – it is all rather frustrating!

With the research students, there are fewer individuals, and the direct email follow-up might be even more effective.  I could also use social media, though I’d first have to persuade students to “follow” the library on Twitter, or subscribe to the Whittaker Live blog. Only two people have ever bothered to subscribe (though the blog has plenty of drop-in traffic) – this doesn’t look a very effective way of getting targeted information to them.  I would need more advice before I ventured to start discussion on Moodle or Mahara.  It seems a sensible idea, but if research students don’t “hang out” there, then it wouldn’t have much practical effect.  our Teaching Artist collaborative space works so well that it would be great if all the research students had a space like this of their own.  Maybe Marius could advise me if they do?

Gagné’s 9 Events of Instruction

The University of Florida. Center for Instructional Technology & Training, ‘Gagné’s 9 Events of Instruction‘ (from Robert Gagné’s 1965 book, The Conditions of Learning)

This is a useful list of the nine events of instruction, based on the ‘information processing model’.  It is described on our Moodle page as ‘a behaviourist model which also draws from the cognitive approach.’  It seems very logical, though perhaps less interactive than other approaches I’ve been reading about.  In my own context, I have difficulty with some of the nine events – not a theoretical difficulty, but a difficulty in their application, as I shall explore herewith.

I would instinctively begin by telling a class what I was going to be talking about with them.  In a library context, this would tend to be along the lines of, “help you to use the catalogue more effectively so you can find the materials you need for your studies”; “give you an oversight of the many electronic resources available to you here in RCS, and help you decide which might be most useful to you”; or – for my postgraduate researchers, “help you to work out an effective strategy to keep on top of your citations and bibliography,” in the context of the bundle of useful transferable skills that a doctoral student can be expected to acquire.  There’s a very useful website called Vitae (realising the potential of researchers), from which I use their Vitae Researcher Development Framework as the broad context for my work.

Stimulating recall of prior learning is not quite so easy when you’re giving one-off classes.  The best one can do is to prompt contributions from individual students about how they themselves have, for example, kept on top of their bibliographical references – or relate my cautionary tale of the girl who had a great quotation, with no idea where it came from, and see if anyone else has any other ‘dissertation nightmares’ that they’re brave enough to share.

As I’ve mentioned earlier today, I am hoping to invite students to come ready to share with their peers any ‘good practice’ of their own, so although I’ll obviously be presenting content (step 4), I am hoping not to stand delivering a monologue.  ‘Learning guidance’ (5) in this context will entail demonstrating some key tools.  In an hour, I hadn’t envisaged offering hands-on experience (6), which couldn’t be done in much depth.  I plan for the session to be more one of shared experience, than a computer-based workshop.

As a consequence, Gagne’s events 7 and 8 are not quite applicable to my purposes.  Instead of providing feedback and assessing performance, I would prefer to initiate a discussion, summing up some of the conclusions we’d reached, and encouraging students to come and see me individually if they wanted to explore any particular aspect or technique in greater depth.  I would then follow up a day or two later with an email asking if the session had been helpful; if there were any points I could clarify or expand upon; or any suggestions for future sessions.  This would be how I interpret event 9, since ‘enhance retention and transfer to the job’, whilst desirable, is something I have little control over.

Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction

  1. Gain attention

  2. Inform learners of objectives

  3. Stimulate recall of prior learning

  4. Present the content

  5. Provide “learning guidance”

  6. Elicit performance (practice).

  7. Provide feedback

  8. Assess performance

  9. Enhance retention and transfer to the job

I'm a musicologist disguised as a librarian. I've been writing this blog as part of my PG Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Arts Education, at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Teaching Artist short course, Spring 2014