Tag Archives: Seminars

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!





After watching Howard Gardner’s video clip about multiple intelligences, I decided to do the quiz to find out about my own learning styles.  Actually, it was both accurate and predictable.  My principle learning style was linguistic, followed by musical and then interpersonal – the typical scholarly type, with a strong dose of music in there too!  However, it was certainly interesting to read about other learning styles and intelligences.  In the context of the kinds of teaching that I do, I am perhaps a little constrained in the scope of how I could address differing learning styles; school-teachers and teachers of undergraduates might have more opportunities to take these ideas into consideration.   Additionally, whilst I fully embrace the aspiration to attempt to vary learning activities so that students with differing intelligences are not disadvantaged, that is easier in the context of broader module or unit design, than within one single computer-based seminar.

Kenny MacGlashan's powerpoint on Learning Styles
Kenny MacGlashan’s powerpoint on Learning Styles, RCS, April 2014

If I’m teaching postgraduates research and bibliographic skills, then it is possibly quite likely (although not inevitable) that they too will favour the lingImageuistic approach to learning.  Furthermore, anyone undertaking practice-based music research is probably quite likely to have musical intelligences, too.  I find it more important that I should adopt the cognitive, constructivist approach to teaching, ensuring that students get hands-on experience of research and bibliographical resources, and the opportunity to learn from one another by interaction during and hopefully after the class.  (My reflections on reading about constructive alignment can be found on my blogpost, Constructive Alignment – a logical teaching theory,  2 April 2014.  I found this theory made good sense to me.)

The question of the formal lecture has occasioned reflective blogposts on several occasions during my Teaching Artist studies.  If I am at a conference, then formal lectures are one of the main activities.   (See my reflective journal posting, ‘The RMA Presentation‘, 17 March 2014).  There may be other opportunities for more interactive work, but in a conference lecture presentation, I am not required to ‘teach’ the delegates as I would a class of undergraduates.  There will have been no requirement for them to prepare beforehand, nor to provide any form of submission for assessment afterwards.

However, during the course of my regular employment, the situation is rather different.  I now realise that some of the impediments to a successful outcome are entirely outwith my control; a one-off lecturing opportunity inevitably lacks much of the context that a series of classes will inherently have.   (See my reflections on Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction, 4 April 2014, in which I identify ‘events’ that I can, or cannot influence.)

Furthermore, I cannot set assessed assignments; and lastly, drawing upon my understanding of deep, surface and strategic learning, (Lublin, n.d.) it is clear that students will pay less attention to a skill that they perceive as periferal.  Students at a conservatoire are motivated to act, produce, dance, sing, play, improvise, compose, conduct or analyse, but undergraduates are unlikely to regards database use as high priority, unless their course leaders encourage it.  (One would imagine that research students would be more aware of the important of research and bibliographic skills.)

Nonetheless, the more opportunity I have to contextualise my ‘lecture’ – and indeed to query whether it has to be a lecture, or whether there might be opportunities to ‘flip the classroom’ and make the session a more interactive seminar – the better for all concerned.  (Khan, 2012)  If I can avoid formal lectures and strive to get students more actively involved, then this will be all to the good.  I can also email class groups in advance, or have their course leader contact them, to tell them what I’ll be talking about, and perhaps suggest some familiarisation action they might do beforehand.  And I can also send follow-up emails urging students to let me know if they’d like to know more about anything we’ve discussed.  Such ‘framing’ is a reasonable substitute for the kind of context inherent in a longer series of classes.  Contemplating the kind of teaching I’ve done recently or am about to do, it is helpful to draw upon Bloom’s Taxonomy.  I blogged about this in my post, More Reading – Bloom’s Taxonomy, 4 April 2014, observing that in something as apparently dry as research or bibliographical skills training, engaging the students’ affective domain first (ie, feelings, emotions and behaviour), might be the best way to bring them to a point of realising that there are advantages in adopting a systematic, and preferably digital approach.

I have reflected at length about teaching in the library context, in my blogpost, Contexts for Learning, and Positive Changes, 5 April 2014.

The Teaching Artist course has given me much food for thought, and it is clear to me that, whilst my work with groups of students is certainly teaching (albeit more akin to study skills or academic knowledge than practical, creative artistry), my work with my church choir is rehearsing, or musical direction, but it is is not teaching in the classroom sense.  (I began to reflect on being a reflective teacher in my own situation, vis-a-vis being a choral trainer, on 17th March in my reflective journal: Time for Some Reading.)
If I want singers to learn a choral piece, this is hardly the same as learning an intellectual concept or even a database-searching technique.  Working with a group of singers with varying abilities at sight-reading and indeed, music-reading, means that repetition and a degree of learning by rote is wholly appropriate and almost unavoidable.


Khan, S. (2012). The one world schoolhouse : education reimagined  (London : Hodder & Stoughton, 2012