Death Cafe Reflections…

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(Image taken from Margate Sands, June 20th 2018 – day before the Solstice. Copyright K Dolman, 2018).

Every year, Sheffield Hallam University hosts an event as part of ‘Dying Matters Awareness Week‘. The Death Café event, held at the Heart of the Campus at Collegiate Campus, takes place in May and the Palliative Care Team encourages us to have a library stall at the event. I’ve been involved since 2015 when they approached us to have a stall, and I gained the honour owing to my working with the team as part of the Radiotherapy & Oncology (RONC) department.

Themes for the event have varied over the years, but a stand out one was on ‘Digital Legacy’, something I am very interested in as I spend a lot of time on social media (for development purposes, of course!). This one was interesting to explore as it came at a time when this subject was gaining media attention (Facebook introducing commemorative pages, David Bowie’s swansong Blackstar, etc). Owing to my interest in this topic and having a good knowledge of the environment and the issues concerned, I was able to make a few suggestions of my own, which were met with approval by the team.

I’m responsible for organising our physical presence at the event and normally get someone to help on the day. We do the usual; taking along the banner and pamphlets, plus the usual assorted library giveaway goodies, etc. I also take a couple of laptops to demo resources and to have our promo videos showing on a loop. And as well as organising the physical stall I also put together a list of resources for the event. This resource list is always linked into the promo website for the event and I use our reading list software to produce it.

The event has been open to the public and so providing resources as a University Library is a little challenging. Initial planning revealed that we had to make sure that the resources the staff suggested were either open access or freely available and ensuring the staff were aware of the policies around use of material and copyright. This entailed quite a bit of work for me – and also was a learning curve – as I am by no means an expert on these issues!

To the event itself: although it is always well attended, in the initial years we struggled to get people to come and talk to us. So we had to do some thinking about how we could improve this and hit upon the idea of cake, being the great Leveller that it is (no pun intended!). Therefore, at the initial planning meeting in January 2017, I asked if there were plans to have break-outs this time. Indeed there are, was the reply. Well, said I, if we were to have our stall in the break out area with, possibly, some cake, it might encourage people to speak to us. My wing-person was also engaged with the idea of cake (I am odd – I don’t like cake!). The planning team thought this was a good idea too. We’ll see, I thought…

And it worked! This year we had many more people come to speak with us and we got through all of our own cake and then some. We had students signing up to drop in sessions on topics such as referencing, etc, and promoted some new resources to both staff and students. And, best of all, I got to meet some of the students on our collaborative and work-based learning course whom I would never meet otherwise!

This year’s event is currently in the initial planning stages and I am very much aiming to repeat the success of last year. I may even include biscuits this time…watch this space…

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Teachmeet Triumph!

UPDATE: 26.6.18 – Part of this post went towards a blog post for our staff blog, to promote the Teachmeet to our wider audience within the SHU academic and professional team.

So, it has come to pass again. I have been remiss in keeping up on my blog, through no real fault of my own though…Life, as usual, has a habit of getting in the way and it’s got in the way quite a lot recently.

There have been a few camping trips (memorably at Easter when we nearly got snowed in at Kielder!) and some weekends away…and a broken hand. This was due to a complete lack of attention when exiting a route, a lack of anything resembling balance and co-ordination, a small red bug and only one hand on the bars…this happened to be the right hand, which promptly decided – without any apparent consultation with my higher faculties (which I give leave to doubt I have, after this debarcle!) – to pull the front brake. This precipitated flight over the handlebars, landing on the path and cartwheeling into a puddle. The visit to Wrexham A&E involved a nurse suggesting knitting might be a more salubrious pastime for someone of my obviously debilitating co-ordination skills, a large bandage and six weeks off my bike…let that be a lesson to you all. Dont let your right hand do your thinking for you!

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(Photo of muddy me, pre-breaking of hand. New helmet was required also. The bike is unscathed. Copyright K Dolman, 2018)

But I am now back at work and back at the Chartership. So having had a few things to pick up on, I decided that one of the things I would like to reflect on was being part of the organising team for our first Teachmeet at SHU.

None of the planning team has ever organised such an event. If you aren’t familiar with the Teachmeet ethos it’s a platform to share ideas and experience, in an informal way, with a few presenters and much audience participation – the idea is about sharing. I have attended quite a few in the last few years and invariably find them fonts of information. Also, I do struggle with formal networking and the Teachmeet ethos is helpful with this as it’s really very informal and so feels a bit more relaxed.

We have been planning the event since just after Xmas. Initially we had to decide on a theme and decided we would look at supporting students who study at a distance. This doesn’t just mean traditional distance learning: it can be commuter students (as I was), placement students, students on practice based learning courses and students who may not fit these models but, for whatever reason, struggle to access their course in the traditional, campus-based way.

My job on the team was admin: I am the only full-time member of the team and so my contact details were given out when we sent out the invites. I was also responsible for feeding information to presenters and delegates and collating all of their info back to the team. This was really quite easy to manage, since we used Eventbrite to manage the bookings (really good: if you are organising anything that you need to book people on to, I recommend using it. It will even allow you to print badges of your delegates, which I didn’t find out about until it was too late!). Now we are post-event, my job is to make sure that the resources are spread more widely. We’ve put all of the information and resources into a Libguide which I’ve shared to LIS networks in the wider profession.

One of the first things we discussed was who we would like to present at the Teachmeet. We didn’t just want it to be Librarians and Academic Skills advisors; we wanted to widen it out to staff and students and their experiences too. We didn’t manage to get any students but we did get one member of staff willing to share her methods of supporting distance learning. She happens to be one of my Radiotherapists and so I was tasked with organising her slot. When we met to discuss it, she kindly volunteered to do it remotely, from home, using the software she uses to video-conference with her students. This is a product called Zoom and it is remarkably easy to use! We had a couple of trial runs and then in the morning we did a test to ensure it was all working. As well as working with Sue on this, I had to make sure that the room we were in was suitable and had all the technology we needed. This was easily achieved by contacting IT and a helpful gentleman sorted out what I needed and showed me how to use it.

The presentation went really well and everyone was impressed with both the technology and how our staff use it. I’ve had lots of requests for more information about it from the delegates and Sue got lots of questions. I was very happy about this as she had kindly volunteered up her time during her busy marking period to do this for us. So I really wanted it to be valuable time for her too. The upshot of this is that I am now being asked to deliver info-lit sessions on her DL courses, as she had a conversation with her team about the fact that I was happy to become involved! So, from September, I will be a part of the DL courses in Radiotherapy and Oncology.

As part of the day I was also responsible for helping with twitter, and we asked one of our skills team, Kirsty, to tweet on the day for us. As we only have one twitter account, and normally our Management Services manage it, I hit upon the idea of asking them if we could take over for the day. I really didn’t expect them to be so happy for us to do it! So Kirsty and I organised this and we had a really good twitter response. I created the hashtag (#SHUTeachmeet) and emailed the networks the day before to try to get the conversation more widely exposed. We did get a few people involved but not many. I’m also trying to keep the conversation going by tweeting a few things to the hashtag (this post will be one of them!).

The upshot of hijacking the twitter feed has been that our Management Services asked for volunteers to form a ‘social media group’ which met for the first time in early June. I have volunteered to represent our team as this is something I used to do at MMU and also I have a great interest in social media. It may all change after the next restructure, but we are making a start at reappraising our game plan: looking at examples of good practice and trying not to be too dry in what we do.

Back to the Teachmeet though: the day was a complete success! We all really enjoyed it and the conversations were really good. Lots of good practice was shared: one of the great things was a structured table discussion after lunch where the planning team took a table each and directed discussions about how we support our learners and what approaches we take. These ranged from very simple resources-in-module-sites type approaches, to more extreme online methods of support, such as video conferencing. These have been collated and added to the Teachmeet Libguide in the sharing platter.

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(Photo of table discussion – me attempting to hide behind the water bottle, not successfully! Lots of good discussion going on.)

All in all, a great day. We had a fantastic experience both organising and executing it and we already have plans to run another one. We have a debrief session coming up, where, hopefully we will be beginning to think about where to go next. For me, this was a chance to utilise some dormant skills (organisation of resources, staff and management skills) and to help to facilitate sharing information on a subject that, with the fees conversation still ongoing and looking to stay that way, will no doubt become more of the norm for participating in HE. Watch this space…