I received my provisional marks and feedback for my last PGCPHE module recently. A good mark. Provisionally. I think I may be getting the hang of this portfolio assessment thing. There’s a strange uncertainty when you’ve submitted a piece of work. You’ve done what you can, you’ve tried to do a good job, you’re as satisfied with it as it can be – but you don’t know for certain how it will be received. My first portfolio was nervous, hesitant, discussing and rife with impostor syndrome. This one was confident, it had my voice, but it understood its context better too. A reflection on my journey as a learner – and a teacher? Perhaps – provisionally.
One of our students came into the library yesterday. He’d recently received his results. He excitedly told me his grades. A pass – a low pass in absolute terms, but to him an achievement. He shook my hand. He had, he reckoned, spent every weekend for a year working in our library, and wanted to say thank you “for all your care”. Which was a nice way of putting it, and a message I am proud to pass on to our team.
I discovered on the weekend that my friend and sometime collaborator Chris Rowell‘s book Social media in higher education has now been published. Including my chapter, on my personal journey and use of social media in my continuous professional development. It was almost two years ago that Chris invited me to contribute, and since then I’ve updated my draft, helped out with proof reading and referencing, and discussed the book’s progress with Chris over beers and at football matches. I certainly learned a lot about scholarly publishing as a process. There are lots of great contributions and interesting chapters in the work, and it’s something Chris can be proud of.
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.
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?
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.