Vinyl Countdown

I had the final PGCPHE submission last Friday. As I worked to finish it, I worked my way through my record collection. That’s a study habit from university, and probably my schooldays before that. Build up a pile of music listened to, never repeating an album, as I revise or study or write. Vinyl’s especially good for this – it’s tactile, and appealing, and you have to get up from your desk regularly to turn the music over. By the end, I was down to the  last four or five unplayed records.

Four portfolios compiled over almost two years. So many hours reading, reflecting. Aspects of the course I never expected –  I knew there would be theory, but did not anticipate how useful it would be to ground my practice. Practical changes in how I teach and think about teaching. Greater confidence to teach, and to talk about my own teaching context with others.

And a lot of records listened to.


It was recently confirmed that following my completion of the first three parts of my PGCPHE I have been awarded full fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. What does that mean? A few letters after my name? Something to put on a CV? Maybe more. I’m first librarian at the institution to achieve this. In my youth, I was first of my family to go to university. As a child, it was something to aspire to from outside. Now, after it’s been my career for so long, I have an insider’s perspective. And the FHEA which took a lot of work and reflection to reach, is a reminder to me of my role – as librarian, but as teacher too. Of how I have learned on this course how I teach, but more importantly how my students learn. And how I can help them, as part of that community of teachers. My fellows.

What’s in a name?

In a discussion with a friend over on Twitter following my last post, the subject turned to what our research and information-seeking skills sessions are called. Timetables listing skills sessions as “refresher” or “drop-in” definitely hurts take-up. In part, we discussed, because students’ self-image can reject such. In a competitive area like law, attending a “refresher” session can imply to a student that they need additional support – something it is easy to reject. Needing or seeking training or support can seem to be a sign of weakness, even. How to reach past this barrier? My friend told me about a colleague who had taken to calling their sessions “research surgeries” with success. I myself run a short session for returning level five students which is essentially a refresher, or even a remedial skills class. It is timetabled as “Advanced Legal Research”. A white lie? Or sensitivity to the needs and motivations of adult learners?

Not needed

I had been asked to offer a research training session for LLM students undertaking dissertations. There wasn’t much take-up, but the programme leader asked to re-run it later – she felt the students would benefit. However, when she asked the students they felt that the two sessions I had already run with them – introductory and then in ore depth a little into the course – had been sufficient. So we cancelled the re-run session.

In one way this is a disappointment – I had prepared a class which wouldn’t be running. Also,  for my PGCPHE I’m looking at whether we have enough time or sessions with students to teach research and info lit. But then, it was a small(ish) cohort and these were students with whom I’d had two and a half hours in two sessions – so arguably, I had been able to reach all these students for as long as was needed.  They felt they had learned what they needed from those classes.

Research assessment

Covering for a sick colleague at our sister site across the river, this week I found myself unexpectedly overseeing library support for the PLR,  the practical legal research assessment for the LPC (solicitor training). We teach online and in-centre research classes and refreshers ahead of this, and then the students have some thirty hours real time to analyse, research and advise on a legal problem for a fictitious client. I think it’s a great assessment model (with certain reservations around the practicalities). I enjoyed writing on it as part of my second PGCPHE module.

Since undertaking the PGCPHE and learning more about how adults learn, I have taken to making reference to the PLR when teaching GDL (law conversion) students at my centre. These students undertake a long essay on a set topic, researching the law in the area. I have found it helps them understand the andragogical purpose, and why they are asked to do this – in part, they are learning the research methodology and skills they will need to apply under greater time pressure for the PLR, and this in turn is preparation for using these skills once in practice. I don’t talk to them about Situated Learning, and legitimate peripheral participation, but that’s what I’m thinking about.

Games club

At a local games club, I found myself introducing new players to Dungeons and Dragons. Something I have done many times before. After the session, though, I found myself reflecting on the experience as teaching adult learners. What was motivating them to engage with the complexities of the game? Where were the barriers to their learning and what helped enable it? How did their experience reflect theory? It was arguably situated learning, as they were new to this kind of game, undergoing the peripheral experience and became part of a community of practice and shared experience. There was an element of Connectivism in a player whose knowledge of D&D came from memes she had seen online – those prompted her choice of role, and her in-game learning experience made connections between the half-understood jokes and the game they were based on.

The phenomenon I have seen and try to encourage in teaching people new to a subject of learners interacting and supporting each other was certainly something that occured with these player-learners as they cohered into a group, learned how to play, saved the day and had fun.


Third module

I submitted the third module of the PGCPHE on December. On my birthday, as it happens. I received my mark and feedback a couple of months later. I had done well, despite feeling at the time that I was closer up against the deadline than I would have liked. my best mark so far. Why was that? In part, I think I am seeing how to put a portfolio together so that it has a coherent structure and isn’t just a set of disparate documents all saved as one pdf. There was a certain narrative there, and the evidence from the different elements supported each other and the portfolio as a whole.

Also, this module revisited the theory I had encountered in the foundation module but asked me to evaluate it critically and use it in my reflection. Which I found interesting – in many ways, I was reflecting on my own learning process in this teaching programme as much as I was on my learners’.

The theme of technology suited me as a teaching librarian – learning technology i something which informs a huge part of what I do, and evaluating user experience of it is something we do constantly as librarians.

Finally, the theme –  student learning and support – is easy to relate to HE libraries. It permeates our role, and transcends disciplines. As one of my team said the other day as we were discussing adjustments and the additional effort we needed to make to help a student having difficulties engaging with technology: “we support people; it’s what we  do”. That simple, sincere comment was a reminder to me of why I have chosen this career.

A teachable moment about teaching within a game

“You useless dogs! It’s simple! Simple! You’re useless, all of you!”
Saer turned his back on the bewildered Zelvorian volunteers he had been trying to train and stomped off angrily.
Ph’woar saw what had happened, asked his own class to keep up the swordplay exercises they’d been doing, and casually wandered over to his crewmate.
“Having trouble teaching them?”
Saer scoffed. “They know nothing!”
The Deltan thought, remembered his own training in his youth by the finest swordmasters his parents could afford, then asked: “did you always know what you do know about fighting? Do you remember what it was like to be like them?”
Saer would not have taken even this constructive criticism from many, but for all his foppish ways he respected Ph’woar for his ability to handle a blade.
He watched the Deltan as he worked with his class of novice warriors for a while. Saw how he used their eagerness to learn to fight, how he had them work together, how he explained and built each step in their training on what had gone before. Then he sat and thought how he himself had gone from an eager stripling to the seasoned warrior he was now. He reflected on how his knowledge and skill had been constructed out of his experiences, and how he had learned from others in his time. Thought about how he could help these Zelvorians do the same.
He got up. Stomped back to his rookie soldiers.
“Right, you lot! Who wants to put a bullet in a slaver? All of you? Great! And how do you think we are going to get ourselves ready to do that? First, we get comfortable handling weapons! Form up…”
The above is from my write-up of a scene in a science-fiction RPG I play in. I found it fascinating. “Saer” (or rather, his player) had failed a die roll to train some rookies. “Ph-woar” was played by a senior academic, a SFHEA, and his intervention was both in and out of character – I don’t think he could see a failed teaching without wishing to support his (fictional) colleague. I, being on my path to PGCPHE and FHEA, found myself relating the fictional scenario which had arisen to my reading and understanding of andragogical theory.

Teaching games

I met an old friend yesterday, and we played a few board games. The discussion turned, as it often does, to teaching. We have both become aware of a shift in how we teach games – from explaining mechanics to explaining concepts, engaging new players, and also how with more in-depth games we employ audio-visual resources like play-through videos, and work with players’ motivation to engage with the learning process in order to enjoy the game. But many of the games we play, we play for fun with less hardcore players. And we have noticed changes in our thinking about these. A move from “is it easy to play?” to “is it easy to learn?”, then “is it quick to teach?”. Then “is it easy to engage interest while teaching?”, which has now become “how do I engage interest while teaching?”

Second module

The second module of my PGCPHE to be completed was on quality assurance and enhancement, feedback and assessment. This proved the most challenging so far for me. Simply because as librarians we often teach outside the departmental frameworks around QA and QE, and especially lack input into module design and assessment.

I learned a lot from it, particularly in becoming more aware of the demands placed on full-time teaching staff and the work required to develop models of assessment. The portfolio required me to take part in peer observation as an observer. Watching a colleague in the health school work with a class I saw and understood more of how my own teaching followed or diverged from hers. One of the takeaways was that I do not have the luxury of forming an ongoing relationship with a cohort of students.  Each group might have only one session with a librarian teacher.

Thinking about the above, I have wondered how this impacts on teaching. We are dropped in as specialists, often outside the framework of the curriculum. We are not always embedded in the teaching team, either for delivery of teaching or for course development. Should we be? Is this something we should advocate for more strongly? This is an area I would like to explore in my final module research project.