Samantha’s LILAC 2014 Part 2: Bath bombs, employability and bite-size teaching

I’ve already blogged the conference overall, but there were three sessions that I particularly liked, so I thought I’d write them up in more detail.


Clarity in collaboration: making partnerships work in across-campus student skills support

Employability was a theme that permeated the conference this year, as it has in the past, and as we’ve just set up a new group looking at ways that we can use Library resources to support our students’ Employability skills, one particular session I went to was very timely.

This was by Jennie Blake and Karen Butterworth from the University of Manchester, and it covered how they built a partnership with their Careers service focusing on employability.  They provided space and sessions for students to foster their employability skills, which helped Careers by extending their reach and providing a more interactive teaching space, and helped the library promote their resources and knowledge whilst also cementing their innovative bookless Learning Commons space as a hub for skills support.

I was particularly interested in the approach they take to their teaching: they emphasise that they are fostering independent learning in the student, guiding them in their own learning and alerting them to the skills they’re developing.  They are signposting the student in the right direction for their personal development, not just telling/teaching them standalone skills.  Jennie and Karen were also very clear that the reason they do these collaborations is always for the benefit of students, every time.

In this session, we were able to do some brainstorming about how we could take this collaborative approach in our own institutions, and who with.  They also shared some of their successes with us – for instance, they found that teaching in the familiar space of the Learning Commons increased student engagement with the sessions.  In the past,  Careers had stopped drop-ins because no one came to them, whereas in the Commons they were madly popular.  They used the opportunity to do cross-promotion of each others’ services via websites and other media, too, which was a plus, and had some good marketing ideas – table-top stands were used in the Commons to advertise sessions, for instance.  I think this is a great idea that we could emulate.


Herbal magic: from tiny acorn to mighty oak – a case study in collaboration, outreach and information literacy development

This was definitely my favourite session, hands down, out of the whole conference.  And not just because I got a free bathbomb – though that did happen!  Whilst zillions of other attendees were at the very (rightly) popular TeachMeet, Aimee Cook, Gillian Johnston and Moira Bent from the Robinson Library at Newcastle University were telling us about their amazing Herbal Magic project.  It’s a cross-institution collaboration that saw the library use their special collections, in this case of Herbals, as a lever to engage academics and students in an academic department in a Widening Participation project with local primary schools.

Postgraduate students completed an assessed piece of work using library resources under instruction from librarians to create handouts for the Year 5 students.  Librarians and Widening Participation officers then taught the children about herbs and rare books by, amongst other things, having them create their own herbal bath bomb!  Aimee and Gillian started the session as if we were a group of Year 5 students and led us through the start of it.  This is how I, willing victim extraordinaire, ended up with a bath bomb:

Then they described their excellent project and outlined the benefits: to get the full details, have a look through the slides, but in short, it raised the library’s profile in terms of both teaching and resources with academic departments, professional services,  and local schools, and opened doors for them for further exciting projects, such as similar events with other departments, and collaboration with local resources like museums and gardens.


Little and often: exploring the potential of information literacy mini-lessons

Leah Emary, Clare McCluskey and Victoria Watt from York St John University presented a really interesting session on how they use several very short periods of time within core lectures to teach information literacy skills, instead of relying on one or two much longer lectures.  They called the technique ‘Bitesize’ and mentioned that librarians at other universities have done this too.  It was born from pragmatism, in that getting into the timetable for long library sessions that students turn up to can be very difficult, but it can be a very successful technique.

So, they explored the theory behind it: is little and often a better teaching technique than one longer session?  There’s certainly good evidence to back it up – slide 6 gives an overview of the literature:

They also found that using this technique, of having four or five ten minute sessions in other lectures, was successful in their actual practice, not just on paper – NSS Q16 scores for the courses went up dramatically, and lecturers noted great improvement in the breadth and appropriateness of the resources students used (see slides 9 and 10).  I recall that one presenter said that she felt it made her more visible, as well – they remembered who their librarian was because they saw her repeatedly, not just once at the start of term.  This is certainly a technique I’m keen to incorporate into my own teaching.


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