Finally…

 

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Serene sands at Shell Island. Photo Karen Dolman, 2019

This post is a bit retrospective as it’s a bit late. I actually pressed the submit button three weeks ago, but have been so busy with life, holidays and work that I havent had a chance to do this! (And not that I have been procrastinating, perish the thought!).

So. I. Did. It. I pressed the button. There was much faff that day, but it was worth the rechecking as, somewhere along the line, somehow, I had managed to lose my CV. Poof. Disappeared. Gone. Where??? I have no clue. But fortunately, rather than my usual laissez faire attitude, I decided to do one last, thorough, check…good job. THE crucial piece of evidence, MIA. Or missing, presumed fed, to quote my idol.

I managed eventually to find the latest version in an email to my mentor, fortunately, and re-uploaded it, much to my relief. Everything else was in order, so it was time…I paid the fee, which was accepted, and there was no more messing. “Just push the button”, said my colleague, who had put up with me mithering and dithering for most of the day. So, I did. And I have to admit, the feelings that washed over me where…unexpected. First there was accomplishment: I had done it! Finally! After all this time, effort and procrastination, I had submitted. Then, the fall. What will I do now? What’s next…? At this point, I felt like bursting into tears (blame my age…if you dont value your life…), which I hadnt expected at all. It was as if I had lost some vital part of my life, life-changing in fact…

So, I am now waiting to hear from CILIP as to whether my submission has been successful. I got the acceptance email the following day, which was a relief, so I know they have it. I just have to wait, but am filling my time with other stuff (such as holidays) to keep my mind off it (I’ve just seen an email pop up about buying books from a colleague: we’ve been given some money to spend on Books on Prescription and Mood Boosting Books so that is what we are spending today doing – or writing blog posts. Sorry…).

But I keep thinking that I have invested such a huge amount of effort and life into this process and now they are making me wait? It’s a killer, I tell you. Is it worth it, I think…?

Yes, it was all worth it, every last bit of it, is the answer. All the worry, doubt, screaming habdabs, the lot. It’s all going to be worth it for my career, my job satisfaction, my sense of personal accomplishment. And it was worth it for one absolutely crucial thing that needed to happen…

Yes, we were going to the pub! 🙂

The Intelligent Library – some thoughts and reflections on AI and the future Library

 

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(Image of Radcliffe Camera, on a wall in Oxford. Copyright Karen Dolman, 2018).

Recently, at home, we signed up for the Hive system for our heating. As part of the deal, we now have an ‘Alexa’ device, which has been a bit of an eye-opener for us both. My partner is very techy, but not very digital, and I’ve had to have a few ‘Librarian’ moments with him in terms of using it correctly (for example, he asked her to ‘play Peatbog Faeries’ and she didn’t understand. I asked her to ‘play music by the Peatbog Faeries’ and she understood, rewarding us with some very good tracks!).

So, this little issue made me think about how this technology will impact on how we teach students and also how it will impact on how they access information – we already have issues when trying to explain how to use key terms and words; how much more difficult will this be when we have to try to explain how to get the best from an AI system? As Librarians, we are used to the language of key terms, concepts, controlled vocabulary and, in Health and Medicine, MeSH Headings. However, this is something that not everyone will understand or develop and this leads me to wonder how we can develop these skills to make sure our students, and the populace at large, are accessing correct, relevant and appropriate information?

I saw a conference advertised a while ago, at which one of the presentations was ‘Skills for the future academic library‘. I couldn’t attend due to staffing demands, but my manager went and said this was a very interesting presentation. I immediately followed up with this and realised that, apart from being a future consideration, AI in libraries is already here. The presentation highlights that such systems as ‘Deakin Genie’, ‘Revision Assistant (Turnitin)’ and chatbots are already in use and becoming accepted as a way of communicating and disseminating information.

At Hallam, we don’t have any automated systems as yet, but we have recently introduced a new portal, MyHallam, which has a knowledge-base for students to search. The idea is that they should be able to find answers to their queries within this system, only coming to seek help should they not find an answer within the system. The knowledge-base will grow with enquiries that come in, and, eventually, students should find answers to all of their questions, as well as interacting with us via this portal. It’s not really AI, but I envision that we wont be long in subscribing to one of the above-mentioned systems. We already have access to an online 24 hour academic feedback service, so we are definitely moving in that direction.

Returning to the research issue: one comment is particularly telling in the presentation. A researcher points out that AI may make journal publications obsolete as a way of communicating research as, rather than subscribing to many different journals, researchers could just subscribe to a filtering service which will tailor their research strategies to personal need and the algorithms will do all the work for them. Hmmm, interesting.

For me, this begs the question: how do you know you are getting the best results? I may be being naĂŻve here, but the elephant has to be grasped by the trunk. When I construct a research strategy and apply it to the database, I can be flexible enough to have the opportunity to do the initial scanning of articles myself, in order to eliminate any that may not be peer-reviewed or of appropriate provenance etc…I am not sure, given the rigid nature of algorithms, that a filtering service would allow this flexibility and also that it would give me the best results every time, with this in mind. A conversation with a colleague about this also raised the issue that algorithms are constructed by people and therefore could reflect the biases and opinions of those people – ie white, middle-class and male. This is another issue that I think affects the validity of such systems and which is exactly why they are unreliable in my view. People make mistakes.

Look at Facebook: it works on algorithms, the same as any other system, but at certain points it seems to get stuck in a loop – I regularly have to go in and change my settings to make it do what I want. And I only see consistently the results that I interact with, which generates more of the same results, which I interact with, and so on. Applying this to a research methodology – how can I be sure that this isn’t also happening with a filtering service? Given that, when conducting research, the idea (especially in my areas) is that we need to find as much of the body of literature that is available as possible, then select the most appropriate using screening methods and evaluation tools. How can a filtering system manage that, given these algorithmic limitations? Indeed, one of the issues raised about the use of AI in the presentation is that of accuracy and validity.

However, I also realise that a lot of these systems are ‘learning’ systems (heuristics, for example), but I still beg leave to doubt, as there are questions about whether these still will give the best results. The possibilities inherent in these systems are infinite, but I think, for me, there needs to be more evidence of their effectiveness before I subscribe wholeheartedly. We need to make sure our students (and staff!) understand the value of good research techniques, as well as the systems out there designed to help them find the appropriate resources and how to use them effectively, and their place in the research process. As a Librarian, I am all about saving the time of the user, but there is a definite ‘cutting corners’ feel to these systems that I am rather wary of. Watch this space…

Back to the original subject however, Alexa has proved to be a hit in our home, although we still can’t make her talk to the heating system…I’ll leave that to the technician in the family.

References:

Cox A, Pinfield, S & Rutter, S. (2018). Skills for the intelligent library. CILIP Briefing: Skills for the future academic library. London: CILIP

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 CafĂ© 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…

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…

 

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 naĂŻve…?

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.

In the Summertime, when the weather is fine…and other TEL adventures!

Margate in the sun

(Image taken Margate Sands, August, 2017. Copyright K Dolman, 2017)

So, over the past few weeks I’ve had a bit of a hiatus as I’ve been away on holiday, as you can see from the photo above. It was so lovely to see one of the places I love best and have some incredibly happy memories from, come back to life after quite a long time in the doldrums. The regeneration of the SE coast seems to be going well and to see so many people enjoying the lovely weather and each others’ company brought back many happy memories of my childhood, youth and young womanhood that I was blown sideways a few times. Goes to show what you can do when you put your mind to it…

However, it was back to work and the work still progresses as we are currently working on preparing teaching materials for the new Academic Year…particularly as we have changed our teaching offer to the faculty and are now working towards a more ‘flipped classroom’ model. I piloted this with two of my departments last year, with some success. Having the academics on board and reinforcing the need to do the prep work also helped!

My pilot involved turning our one hour introductory information skills lecture for the first year undergrads into two short videos that they needed to watch before coming to the sessions. On the whole, the students did this work and for this year I have suggested to my Radiotherapy lead that we include this in the induction sessions (waiting for a response, still). The technology I used to create the videos is called Camtasia, and I have to admit I struggled a little with it…however, that said, it does create very polished videos! Last year I merely sent the videos out as an mp4 link, but this year – after a bit of faff that included the dialogue going missing in transit –  we’ve uploaded it to youtube. So I am a youtube star! (Well, a little fame and all that…). You can view it in all its Brummie-sounding glory here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpFHkG0VT7

So next week I am going to be using another TEL platform called Adobe Spark to create a couple of very quick videos for referencing and evaluating information. I’ve just come from a quick update with a colleague on how to use it and have to say that it is remarkably easier to use than Camtasia, and, as it isn’t a licensed product (yet…), I don’t have to use a special machine. I can simply find somewhere quiet to go and record it! 🙂

I’m really looking forward to doing these now, after putting it off and procrastinating because I thought I would have to fight with Camtasia again. Now that I have mastered the technology (I am as a god!), I just need some elocution lessons to sort the accent out. Watch this space…