Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Another New Challenge

I've recently taken on the role of Social Media Editor with the New Review of Academic Librarianship. Having been involved with social media for some time both through work and volunteering commitments this was something I was keen to do to test my skills on the next level. I've been tasked with starting the journal's social media presence almost from scratch and I'm excited for the challenge. 

Part of my motivation for taking on this role is to help demystify the publication process for those who want to get involved with academic publishing but maybe think it isn't for them. I don't want the social media channels to turn into purely an advertising resource - I want to have a conversation with people and share what the Editorial Board does. Time will tell if I succeed with this! My work with the Board will also give me a chance to explore the scholarly communication process from another angle, something which will fit in with my current role.

If you are interested in reading more I recently gave an interview to Taylor and Francis on how I will be approaching things which can be found here. I hope it proves an interesting read (and apologies for the smug photograph - I'm not that smug in real life, I promise!).

Monday, 9 May 2016

The Road to IFLA

Thanks to CILIP and my participation in the Leadership Programme I have been given the chance to attend the IFLA World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) in Columbus, Ohio. With just under one hundred days to go until the conference I wanted to share what will be the first in a series of blog posts looking at the experience. Hopefully I can help to shed some light on the process of attending a conference like this and encourage others to aim for the same experience.

Now that the shock of winning the grant has finally worn off I'm deep in planning mode. I've never attended a conference overseas before and I hadn't realised quite how much I would need to arrange - flights, accommodation, paperwork, getting to and from the airport .... The most complex my conference attendance has ever gotten before is working out which platform my train leaves from! IFLA have produced a checklist of things you need to prepare before the conference but it's a little sparse for an over-planner like me. It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks but I think I finally have everything in place.

With the boring but necessary stuff out of the way it's time to think about which sessions I will attend at the actual conference. The final programme has only recently been released and is still being updated but IFLA released a list of session themes a while ago. I'm especially interested in attending the sessions which focus on professional development for librarians. My role has responsibility for training Cambridge library staff and there are many of them with different needs so I want to see what colleagues around the world are doing in terms of staff development. Hopefully I can find some ideas to bring back and use in my current role. I'm also interested in attending sessions which look at scholarly communication issues. Even though I've been in my current role for six months now (where has the time gone!) I'm still quite new to the world of scholarly communication and there is much to learn. Finally I want to attend some sessions which have absolutely nothing to do with my role. It's been my experience from attending previous conferences that many sessions which don't sound relevant end up producing the most unexpected results. We can learn a lot from other sectors which we can then adapt to our own. Hopefully I will attend some interesting lessons as a result. With a conference as large as IFLA there are many sessions on offer and working out which ones to attend can be overwhelming. The conference has it's own online planner which allows you to put together a bespoke schedule of sessions and either print it out or export it to your calendar. Hopefully this will help me find my way around at the actual event.

There is also some downtime built into the week including tours and visits which I plan to take advantage of. I've booked a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archive (because how could I not?!) and I hope to take one of the conference tours of Columbus as it would be a shame to go all that way and not see the sights. There is also a conference social event at COSI - Center of Science and Industry - which should provide a good chance to network in a less formal way.

I'm aiming to share what I learn from this conference experience in a number of ways - a series of blog posts, live tweeting sessions and I've finally registered for Instagram so I can share images. I hope people find this useful and that it encourages them to apply for similar opportunities. If there is anything people want to know about/would like me to watch out for then hit the comment button below.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Teaching Forum 2016

Queens' College, Cambridge
Yesterday I attended the inaugural Teaching Forum organised by the newly launched Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning. In it's own words the Teaching Forum aims to bring together staff across the University to discuss all aspects of education. The aims of the Centre include:
  • supporting those who teach in Cambridge to contribute more broadly to the Cambridge experience
  • to encourage innovation within teaching and
  • to provide a useful focus for issues in higher education
After a welcome from Professor Graham Virgo, the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education, we moved into the first of several parallel sessions.

Dr Lisa Jardine-Wright: Understanding first year undergraduates Physics performance by gender
Dr. Jardine-Wright talked about the differences between male and female students when it came to attaining top grades in Physics and suggested possible reasons for this. I won't go into too much detail as she asked that results not be shared in that way but I got a lot out of the session. Dr. Jardine-Wright talked about the importance of helping students transition from A-level to university level education and highlighted the successful work of the Isaac Physics project which helps students of physics prepare for the transition to studying at a higher level.

This got me thinking about helping students through the transition to university, something libraries can have a key role in. It has always struck me that from secondary school through to A-level many students are taught to answer exam papers and then when they arrive at university they are suddenly expected to manage their own learning, often with little or no preparation. What is the role of the library here? I think many libraries help students when they first arrive by teaching them information management skills and instilling good habits but I wonder what else we could or should we be doing? Are we already doing too much or is this something we can contribute to? I don't have a definitive answer but I'm open to suggestions.

Dr Sonia Ilie: Capturing excellent education outcomes: measuring students learning gain
This presentation outlined the work so far on HEFCE commissioned research to test and evaluate methods of learning gain. Learning gain is becoming an increasingly important method of measuring the outcomes of education and is one of the metrics used in the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework. Dr. Ilie defined learning gain as the progress in knowledge, skills and competencies made by students during their higher education experience. As with all concepts like this it proves complex to measure as it needs to take into account elements such as the differences across disciplines and sectors. A hastily snapped picture of the slide explaining the model so far is below.

Slide from Dr Sonia Ilie

It will be interesting to see where this research goes. I was lucky enough to be invited along to discuss CILIP's response to the Green Paper outlining the TEF last year and it's definitely something information professional should keep an eye on. Where is our place as teachers and will we be subject to the same measures should the TEF come into force (as looks likely)?

From a more personal perspective measuring learning outcomes is something I have been thinking about a lot in my current role as I prepare to implement the next phase of our Research Ambassador training programme. How do I measure what participants have learnt in an effective way without resorting to formal assessment (not in the budget at the moment). I'm looking into options for self and peer assessment but this presentation has given me other options to explore.

Dr Sue Kroeger: Inclusive teaching: design and practice
Dr. Kroeger from the University of Arizona talked about the importance of thinking about the student when planning educational programmes. Her research focuses on the needs of disabled students but her points can be generalised to all students. When planning a lesson teachers need to think about making the class accessible for all - how do you design it so that you don't have to make adjustments for people since you have already made it accessible to all? Thinking about students who have different needs this is an important point and can help everyone feel included in the education experience. It also has applications for areas such as library service and building design.

One thing that Dr. Kroeger said which really stuck with me was that we need to stop thinking about what we want to teach students but instead focus on what they want to learn. We can then use this as a basis for planning. Decisions about the content of a course are traditionally made by the teacher as the expert in the room but why not have guidance from students? This can then help them to engage with the content and take some ownership rather than just having knowledge thrown at them. This is definitely an approach I recognise in my own teaching and this talk has made me consider things from a new perspective. Trying to persuade people to attend training sessions is proving challenging at times so I'm going to try to take a different approach and think about what I want my learners to have as an outcome and take it from there.

Dr Amy Ludlow and Dr Ruth Armstrong: Educational partnerships between universities and prisons: how Learning Together can be individually, socially and institutionally transformative
This presentation followed on from the theme of coproduction in the previous session. It outlined the Learning Together project which brings students in prisons and universities together to study degree level material within the prison environment. In this example the students were studying Criminology material and then discussing it together. Both groups have been transformed by the experience and it was wonderful to see such a positive outcome. Past students wanted to continue their involvement as mentors to new students and the scheme seems to be working well. There was a lot of interest in the project at the Forum and invitations were issued to the presenters to enter into further discussions.

Following on from the previous presentation the talk looked at the theme of coproduction in learning - letting students contribute their voice to the learning experience. This was a recurring theme of the day for me and definitely something to think about as it adds so much to learning.

There were many themes coming out of the day which I will take away but the main one for me was the recurring theme of the importance of coproduction - letting students contribute their voice to the learning experience. There are implications for me in the way that I think about my own teaching practice and I want to explore these a bit more.

One thing that really struck me about the event was the number of library staff present. The Forum wasn't badged as an event for librarians but many of us attended anyway. I think this shows the strong emphasis placed on teaching by the Cambridge library community which is something I hope to see much more of in the future. 

photo credit: Queens' College via photopin (license)     

Monday, 4 April 2016

No 'I' in Team!

Every year in Cambridge we have a number of festivals featuring talks and events that range from the serious to the downright silly. One of the major events in the calendar is the Science Festival which showcases new discoveries and thinking from across the University. One of the talks that caught my eye was entitled How Teams Work. Since starting the CILIP Leadership Programme last year I've become very interested in all things leadership related. Add this to the fact that I've recently joined a new team at work and was looking for some insights it seemed like a good idea to book myself a ticket!
The talk was given by Lezlie Wallace who explained her research on teamwork which took place in the building sector. During her research she found a total of forty-eight factors which can lead to a successful team. Lezlie chose to focus on what she considered the top eight of these for her talk.

Common aim
Working towards a shared goal or a collective mission is the fundamental purpose of any team. Everyone contributes towards this goal in their own way but they must contribute for the team to be a success. The problems can start when team members differ on what the goal actually is. All teams are subject to the needs of their stakeholders but it's worth remembering that individual team members are stakeholders too and their needs need to be thought of. Lezlie advised that the best thing to do was allow everyone to have input into the mission followed by discussion. It's inevitable that not everyone will agree but at least you will be able to get people to understand what the mission is and take it from there.

Open dialogue
Once you have established the mission of the team it's important to promote an open atmosphere between team members. To do this communication needs to be multi-directional rather than just from the top down. If team members feel that they are actually being listened to rather than being dictated to they are likely to feel more valued. I'm sure we have all been in teams where we have had no input and it's not a good thing. It can cause a lot of bad feeling and undermine what the team is trying to do.

Team spirit
Give me a T, give me an E... Seriously, you don't have to get your cheerleader pom-poms out but having team spirit can be a real asset to the team. Lezlie pointed out that in an ideal situation this exists between all members although it seldom happens naturally. Teams are made up of individuals and this can cause friction as everyone has their own priorities. Building from her two previous points Lezlie showed that working towards a common goal and maintaining open communication can go a long way to creating team spirit.

All contribute
Much like members of the victorious Boat Race team (go Cambridge!!) everyone has to contribute to the effort for the team to succeed. This is where having a common goal comes in handy as everyone knows that they are aiming for. Team members need to be prepared to pitch in and help each other when they need to which means that they need to be flexible. I'm sure we've all been involved in situations where it is all hands to the deck to get something done to deadline. It doesn't hurt to go the extra mile for your colleagues once in a while.

Problem solving
Lezlie argued that one of the key benefits of team working is synergy - the team as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is particularly evident when it comes to problem solving as it can help to come up with creative solutions that would not be possible individually. Of course there will be conflict (unless you work in Stepford and everyone agrees with everything!) but this is a natural part of the creative process. People need to come up with wild ideas sometimes to create something new and exciting. Remember that Henry Ford said when asked how he had thought of the Model T: "if I had asked them what they wanted, they would have said faster horses"!

Mutual trust and respect
Following on from earlier points, Lezlie showed that this needs to exist between individuals in a team. It takes time and effort to create and can require compromise between members but it's well worth aiming for. Unfortunately there is no magic wand to wave to make it happen but by building on the steps outlined above it can be achieved in time.

Non-adversarial atmosphere
Conflict in any team is inevitable and as Lezlie pointed out it can be a benefit. The danger starts when teams move from constructive conflict into a toxic atmosphere. The solution to this is to have an authority figure who can lead negotiations over various issues. As the team becomes a more cohesive unit conflict will reduce, although never disappear completely. Lezlie also pointed out that negotiation doesn't mean eliminating certain viewpoints but rather incorporating all viewpoints into something people can accept. This is something I will definitely remember as it's all too easy to overlook when trying to get your point across.

Win/win outcome
The final factor was the outcome that is in the best interests of the team. At this point the team achieves its goals and the team members have a positive experience. This is the ideal but it can take a lot of work to get there! However at least if you have something to aim for you know when you're getting close.
My main takeaway from the talk was that although there are many different ways to work in or lead a team, the same factors need to be taken into consideration to ensure success. I've studied many different leadership models over the past few months and I can see patterns starting to form which gives me hope that they know what they're talking about! It may take time to get all of these interconnecting cogs to work but hopefully it will be worth it to create a strong team which gets the job done.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Top Tips for Presenting: Storify

As part of my new role I'm working on putting together a presentation skills course for library staff. This is a very wide-ranging topic and fitting in everything I want to say is a challenge! I decided one way to get round this was to crowd source top tips from librarians on Twitter. 

There were several themes coming out of the discussion which will feed my plans going forward. For those interested or wanting to pick up some tips themselves I've produced a quick Storify which can be found below:

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

So, What Do You Do?

Just before Christmas I started my new role in the Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC) here at Cambridge. I'm still based in the University Library which is nice as it provides some continuity but my role now is very different to any that I have had before. One of the most common questions I've been asked is what my new job title is. The answer: Research Skills Coordinator. This is usually followed by the question "so, what does that mean?". This blog post is my attempt at an answer.

The basic answer is that I am working on developing and delivering training to library staff from across Cambridge in the area of scholarly communication. Since I've spent a good share of my in and out of work time over the past few years working on training others this is a good fit for me! In addition to this I am helping the OSC deliver training to the Cambridge academic community and assisting in outreach to the wider world. 

I've written before about job titles and their meanings so I understand the confusion around names in general. I think a lot of job titles now are more on the generic than the specific side to allow for adapting the role as needed. This is something that applies outside the library and information sector too! My job is actually a brand new role, not just for me but for the Library as well. This is an added bonus for me as I will be able to shape it. Having previously worked only on temporary or part-time contracts I was unsure of how much of myself to invest in a job that I would hand back in a few months. I always felt like a place holder for the 'real thing' so being able to mould my role is a challenge I'm looking forward to.

So, what do I actually do all day?
  • A large portion of my day is spent looking at/organising/running/attending training events as part of the Supporting Researchers in the 21st Century initiative. These can be aimed at either librarians or the wider academic community and we try to tailor the sessions as much as possible. As anyone who knows me will know I love doing some CPD so this is right up my street! 
  • As part of this I'm getting out of the Library and visiting various departments. Researchers are very busy people so it makes sense to take the training to them rather than making them come to us. Despite having been born in Cambridge and working at the University for more years than I would like to admit there are many departments I have never visited. One of the things I like most about working in a library is the chance to interact with people and I was starting to miss it.
  • I'm managing the Research Ambassador Programme which aims to educate library staff in the area of scholarly communication and prepare them for going out and delivering the content to others. The aim is to release a cohort of Ambassadors into the wild at the end of this term before we start all over again! Further information on the Programme can be found here.
  • A lot of learning! Although I've had an interest in this area for a while and attended a lot of training events this is all still pretty new to me. I'm learning about various areas which make up scholarly communication as I go along and although it's a steep learning curve I love it. I've always liked learning about new areas and for once I get a chance to put what I've learnt into practice.
  • Finally I'm getting used to a new way of working. This is something that happens whenever you move jobs but it is still an adjustment after so many years working in the same department (albeit on and off). Luckily I had some practice of this when I moved to a temporary secondment in the Reader Services Department last year and my new colleagues are all lovely. Although they may only be like that as I keep baking them cakes.....

So in a nutshell this is what I do. It has only really been a few weeks so I have every expectation that this the above will change and develop. Hopefully this will give me more reasons to blog as I realise I have been neglecting it recently. I'm very much looking forward to 2016!

photo credit: DSC02603 via photopin (license)

Friday, 18 December 2015

Research Ambassadors Programme

As some people will know I recently moved to a new role within the Office of Scholarly Communication at Cambridge (further blog posts on that in the new year). One of my first priorities has been to manage the Research Ambassadors Programme which aims to encourage staff from across the libraries to get involved in teaching and training other staff and users. I have taken part in the Programme as a participant and am really looking forward to seeing it from a new perspective. 

In the meantime I have written a guest post on our department blog on the Programme and there is also a corresponding view from the outside. If you are interested in reading about the Programme then start here (see if you can spot me in the photo) and I will post more in 2016!