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. 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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Nice to know I’m doing something right…

This week has seen a roll of drop ins and workshops that I have been running for the students and staff. For the students I am engaged in dissertation support and I received some feedback from their module lead on Friday: “Dear Karen
Just thought you’d like to know that several students commented in tutorial sessions yesterday how helpful they’d found your sessions.
Best wishes”
[Module Lead]

It’s always good to know that the students find the sessions helpful and interesting! It’s balm for my soul as sometimes I wonder how I ended up doing this. I often question whether I am best placed to answer these questions so when someone finds something I have said or suggested useful, I feel a small sense of justification!

Another piece of feedback was from a member of staff after I had done a piece of work for her: “Hi Karen
That’s brilliant, thank you for taking the time to do this, it’s much appreciated
Best”
[Academic Staff Member]

So again I feel very happy that someone is finding what I do useful and that I have helped, in however small a way. This also shows my commitment to engaging with the academic staff and that I am always happy to help! Institutional context is important for Chartership and this piece of evidence, along with others in a similar vein, highlights that I don’t just sit at my desk, ordering books and stamping them. It shows just how valuable we are in our faculties and that we are appreciated and our job is important. It’s not always the case, but I am lucky in the area that I work in, that I’m not just seen as an add-on. I’m a valued member of the University and someone that the staff and students feel comfortable and happy to approach! There will probably be more on this subject; watch this space…

Reflections of a conference-goer part deux!

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(Little me, in the middle of the photo, standing next to David in his blue shirt!)

The other thing that happened recently is that I presented, with my line manager Alison, at the Northern Collaboration event on using TEL in our work (conference abstract: parallel session 3). There’s a few tweets about our presentation which can be found here and here: and the picture above, with little me in it, is kindly taken from the NC twitter feed.

Our presentation was on the use of Articulate Storyline to develop an online teaching tool for referencing. Our presentation was good, and we had quite a few attendees and questions too! (All a bit daunting, but we got there!). In the course of the previous presentation though, we found that some Universities have done with Articulate as they don’t find it useful. I must admit, learning to use it was a little arduous, but once you master the basics, it really is quite intuitive. And I am certainly not going down the road of one librarian and learning how to programme to do this sort of thing! 😦

The day was really good though: as well as presenting, there were many opportunities for collaboration and knowledge-exchange, as well as catching up with old friends and making new ones. I also bumped into the Mentor Co-ordinator for the NW and spoke with her about becoming a mentor once I am fully chartered myself. This stems from a desire to do some staff development which I always enjoyed as part of my management role. As I don’t line manage anyone any more, this seems like a good way of keeping my skills up to date, without the nasty PDR and sickness monitoring etc that comes with being a manager…I suppose it’s a bit like being a Grannie – you get to do the nice things and give them back when they do something icky…

The other upshot of the day is that I am now going on a knowledge exchange to MMU (you cant keep me away! :)) about reading for pleasure outside the academic texts. This has come from attending one workshop with a staff member from MMU who talked about their project working with Manchester Public Libraries to promote their collection and to get students to read for pleasure and mental wellbeing. Well, this struck a chord right away, what with me leading our bookgroup this year and the work I have been doing with our student wellbeing service in providing access to their books via the library catalogue! So Gopal has kindly invited me for a jolly over on the 15th November to speak with likeminded colleagues about this. It also gives me a chance to catch up with the MMU lot! I’m really looking forward to talking about something that is very close to my heart – the therapeutic benefit of reading for pleasure on mental wellbeing. More will definitely be coming on this subject so watch this space…

Update: 29.11.17: I went along to the knowledge exchange with Gopal – I had two hours to talk about how they are promoting reading for pleasure and to talk about my reading group. My reflection on this is contained in the blog post ‘Reading for Pleasure: it’s not just about academic books!’.

To Google…NO!

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The above quote comes from that amazing advocate of all things library, Neil Gaiman. I researched extensively to ensure that the quote does originate from him and the answer seems to be a resounding yes. How did I do my research? On Google, of course. Who wouldn’t?

On Sunday last, the other half and I watched a film called AntiMatter, a film about a PhD student at a certain University in the UK who discovers how to move matter – wormhole technology, apparently (that’s the simplistic, non-scientific explanation because I don’t understand it!). If you want to know more, watch the film. It’s really very good.

The reason I have injected this non sequitur is that there is a scene in the film where the main protagonist (we’ll call her PhD 1, to align with the film’s scientific theme) asks a fellow student (PhD 2, D’oh!) a question about where to find some research on a neuroscience topic. Let’s set the scene: PhD 1 and PhD 2 are in the library. We know it’s a library because there are books on the shelf. This, in and of itself, doesn’t necessarily mean that they definitively are in a library, but we know that they are because of several other defining features on the set:

  1. They are both holding books…
  2. There are lots of books on the shelves…
  3. There are other students looking at books…
  4. There is a card catalogue next to PhD 2…

Hold on…a card catalogue? Either this is a very hard-up library (and, given the institution, I doubt that very much!) or the director of the film has a very narrow view of what a library is. But that aside, much as it annoyed me and then annoyed the other half because I ranted, the worst thing about this scene is the answer PhD 2 gives PhD 1 about finding neuroscience research…I’m hoping you guessed it? Yes, she says ‘have you tried Google?’.

Again, this just goes to show that the director, script writer, whomever has no concept of the information landscape or the resources we offer as libraries. Ok, if you are doing some generic research on a particular subject, Google et al would be good places to start. However, neuroscience research would be supported by the most up to date resources imaginable, available via the library and provided to the students through database and journal subs. It would contain authoritative and evidence-based information that Google can’t access as it’s hidden behind the passwords that are provided to staff and students to access the University resources.

So. An example I use with my first year students when trying (sometimes even successfully!) to get them to think outside the Googlebox (see what I did there? I’ll get my coat…) is, think of the web as an iceberg. The bit you can see is the bit that Google etc can see. But this is just a little bit of the information that is out there in the digital environment. Think of all the staff intranets around the world; all the company resources that are provided for staff; all of the medical information contained in secure online repositories, ad infinitum. The majority of this isnt available to search engines because they cant ‘see’ it. It’s hidden.

And that is just it; for these two, Google definitely isn’t the answer. What I would have liked to see would’ve been PhD 2 to sit down at one of the (non-existent) computers and say ‘hey, why don’t you try PubMed?’.

This is why so much of my job is teaching information literacy, or information skills, if you like. So that people (staff, students, users, etc) know how to access the most authoritative information for their research or information need. It’s not all about Google, although it can, as I have stated, be a good place to start and it definitely has its place. But it’s a real eye-opener for some students when they see that they can do so much more with our resources than with normal searching. And it adds such value to their studies too. I think more on this will be forthcoming: watch this space…

Some TEL Reflections…

Next week is my last full week before the new students begin arriving (feels like two minutes since they were finishing). After that, I’m off on a holiday – the last for quite some time! I’m really looking forward to my holiday and intend to relax and refresh after a busy academic year and what feels like an even busier summer! But we don’t really get a summer here at Collegiate as we have students all year round, with March intakes still being on campus until well into August…

So I’m well into prepping for next academic year, and have most of my teaching booked in (a few fingers are being waved at certain folk!). And I am also getting to grips with the TEL applications I am going to use to support my staff and students, but not without problems.

I’ve been using Storyline to create a resource to support our level 6 students; however, as this is a licensed product, we purchase a certain amount to be spread across the university and recently, in the middle of using the product, IT services decided to remove all of the licenses from our department for no apparent reason. Our very wonderful systems team and TEL person are working hard to get them back but it is going to be a very tight schedule to get this finished and up and running for the start of term. My approach to addressing this has been two-pronged: to make sure all of my material is ready to be put into the product when it comes back online; and to ensure we have a fall back resource, in this case I have put together a playlist in Lynda.com that we can direct students to should the worst happen and we don’t have it ready. I really have no idea why IT would do this and no explanation has been forthcoming, either to us or to systems. When they asked, they were told there had been some communication breakdown (cue song…) and the message that our staff were using the product and on a tight schedule had been missed…This is always an issue in a large organisation but surely there should have been some comms from IT going out to staff to enquire about usage? Or is that just me being naïve…?

But I have also had some success with TEL. My video on youtube now has it’s subtitles and I only need to correct a little bit of it. In spite of my fear that the voice recognition software wouldn’t understand my accent, it has proven me (mostly!) wrong. I have to edit the part where I am talking about alternative names (it’s a cob!) as the VR software cant seem to get its AI around the term ‘barmcake’ (bomcake) or ‘teacake’ (tk)! 🙂 Oh how I laughed!

Another success this year, is I began using an app as part of my teaching at level 5 (2nd year). We do a lecture for these students and we talk about identifying the type of academic literature they may encounter, namely primary versus secondary. Previously we have just put up a powerpoint slide and the students shout out what that type of literature is (systematic review = secondary, etc). One of my colleagues discovered Kahoot and so we trialled using it for this activity – with great success! It’s an absolutely hysterical exercise (well, in my class it is!) with the students either discussing it with each other, or, more realistically, taking light relief in gentle banter with their friends (aka taking the mick!). I had two learning points with this though, after the first time:

  1. Make sure you explain the technology properly! The question comes up on the main screen NOT on the students (players) devices. This led to the first question being a non-starter, so I am going to amend the quiz for this year to include a test question.
  2. Tell the students to use a nickname (ok) but remember to tell them to keep it clean and family-friendly! Naughty students! 🙂

One of the reasons for using Kahoot is that it is (apparently) easy to use and understand. It’s very easy to create content, so for a dinosaur like me, it’s an absolute godsend.

Next up is an adventure with Adobe Spark which I am using to create a quick video on why you need to reference material and also one with Screencastify; an add on in Chrome that allows you to record your desktop live, with audio, and upload it as a video to wherever. Much excitement! Watch this space…

Update: 29.11.17: we had a group meeting to discuss the end of the project. The outcomes were that we felt we needed a facilitator to oversee the project who was not directly involved; more generic content and responsibility divided between the team for creating this; earlier at-elbow support for the technology and to gather all resources and information before you begin to create the package. I felt that I went around in circles a bit because I had forgotten what I had done and spent a lot of time covering ground that had already been covered.

A Little Bit of What You Fancy…2

So, I am very, very excited. As I mentioned before, I’ve been attending the Occupational Therapy book group this academic year and, although the turnout hasn’t been brilliant, it’s been a fantastic insight into what my OTs think, do, work with, are up against, ad infinitum…However, due to how our courses work, the current lead is now on placement and will be leaving at the end of this academic year. Boo…

But, the other day, I got a message from the lead, asking me if I would be willing to take over facilitating the book group. WOW! was my immediate reaction (one of the lecturers had asked her to ask me if I’d be willing). I’m incredibly humbled and thrilled to have been asked, but had reservations about whether it would fit into my remit or not…So I answered that I would be privileged to take over, but would have to discuss with my manager about time, relevance, etc.

My manager was likewise thrilled and asked me a few questions about how much time it would take etc. As it’s already established, it shouldn’t be too much trouble to hand over and after that it is simply about doing the admin and promotion (which I have in the bag as our management services team agreed to tweet/disseminate through our comms channels at my instigation a couple of months ago…). So I have the go-ahead to try it for this year.

Immediately, though, my librarian head kicked in and I began thinking of how I could support this. I searched for some information on running a successful book group and found a very interesting Radio 4 site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/book-club/running-a-club/ which I am going to investigate before I begin. There’s lots of other stuff on the web, but it is mainly about target audiences and the idea for us is that we open it out to people who aren’t necessarily Health and Wellbeing folk, but who are interested in reading as therapy and mental health issues…quite difficult. I think the first thing I need to do is to either find the remit (which the handover with the current lead may contain) or to write one…(poss with help!).

Anyway…it’s all quite exciting and I talked with my manager about how it reaffirms our role in the University, how it can help me create greater links within my faculty area (they’re good, but could do with being better) and how it also links us in with the wider profession (coming from a Public Library background I have much experience with Reader Development activities – I can bring in my previous experience of working with reading groups in my branch library days!). But first, have to get a meeting together with the lead…hopefully the Chinese curse doesn’t hold true – May you live in interesting times – because it is getting very interesting around here, with the new Uni strategy and my extra-curricular activities! Watch this space…