In April I had the opportunity to attend my first LILAC conference, which was hosted this year by Sheffield Hallam University. It was a much bigger event than any I’d been to before, spanning three full days of presentations, social events and networking. I was pretty exhausted by the end of the three days, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself – everyone at LILAC was very friendly and it was really easy to meet and chat with new people. It was also great to run into some familiar faces and catch up with people whom I hadn’t seen in a while!
I think that a three day conference is far too much to condense into a single blog post, so this will be the first of a series of posts about my experiences at LILAC.
LILAC – Day One
This was a good year to attend LILAC as the conference was celebrating its 10 year anniversary. Upon arrival, all the delegates were presented with a purple goodie bag containing the conference programme and various freebies, as well as our tickets to the LILAC evening networking event and conference dinner. The programme informed us that each day would feature a key note speech in addition to the presentation sessions that we had pre-registered to attend. Below are some short summaries of the sessions that I attended on the first day of LILAC.
Creating and Implementing an Information Literacy Curriculum Map: Integrating Information Literacy into the Curriculum
The first session that I attended was about using an information literacy (IL) curriculum map as a means of embedding IL into the higher education curriculum. The presenter, Leslin Charles, argued that in order to demonstrate the importance of IL teaching, librarians should ensure that their IL curriculum map aligned the learning outcomes of library instruction programmes with the goals of the institution. This would make it easier to communicate the relevance of IL instruction to academic staff and to integrate IL teaching into existing courses. She also argued for the importance of creating a viable assessment plan to complement the IL map, which ought to include defined assessment cycles and strategies.
In order to begin to embed an IL map within existing courses, Leslin recommended first identifying a small number of courses and partnering with these in order to run an initial pilot of the project. She stressed the importance of communication with both academic and administrative staff with regard to implementation, to ensure that new lecturers would be told to consult with their librarian if they were teaching a course that was on the IL map.
Leslin argued that one of the main benefits of having an IL map was to prevent students from being taught the same IL material at different points throughout their course. Unintentionally repetitious presentations would be reduced, thus decreasing student frustration. Having an IL map that was also embedded within the curriculum would also increase the level of thoroughness and consistency with which IL was taught. Leslin pointed out that online tutorials and interactive tools would play an important part in IL instruction once a project of this type expanded, due to inevitable restrictions on the number of library staff available to teach courses face-to-face.
Within my own institution, the library launched its first programme of information literacy workshops at the start of this academic year. The workshops were developed and delivered by library staff, including myself, and students were able to sign-up to attend on a voluntary basis. We are not quite yet at the stage where we are able to start embedding an IL programme within our taught courses, but this presentation did give me some useful ideas to think about for the future.
Keynote Presentation: Bill Thompson – Information Science and the 10 Cultures
Bill Thompson spoke about what he saw as the modern division between those who had an understanding of computer coding and those who merely used the technology without having any knowledge of how it worked. The title of Bill’s presentation was intended as a pun in binary code and referred to these two (as opposed to ten) cultures that exist within the ongoing digital revolution.
Bill argued that as librarians, it was important for us to have an awareness of the electronic systems that supported our lives. He proposed that the people who understood binary were the ones who could write the laws of our society, and therefore it was important to have an appreciation of coding in order to be able to critique the electronic systems that we all use and rely on. He suggested that this should now be seen as a key component of being information literate.
Bill argued that democracy and power were both linked to information literacy, particularly given that the design of electronic systems could be influenced by politics. He gave an example of the use of electronic passports at airports and questioned how much we really knew about what was being checked and what algorithms were being used to identify people in the context of immigration laws. He also gave the example of the Heartbleed bug which would have left those who didn’t understand the implications of this flawed code vulnerable to attack from hackers.
Bill suggested that coding shouldn’t be seen as something hard or mysterious, but simply as part of our information literacy education. He did however stress that he didn’t expect everyone to become a programmer, but rather that people needed to have an awareness of code and how it shapes our world. He argued that this was the key to navigating the next stage of the age of electronics.
Off to a Flying Start: Supporting Student Transition
My third session of the day was presented by Helen Howard from the University of Leeds, who introduced us to an interactive online resource called Flying Start which was used to help support and induct new students before their arrival at the University. The aim of the resource was to prepare students for studying at HE level by providing information on topics such as independent learning, assessment methods, study techniques and referencing, as well as information specifically related to their department. Students were sent a link to the Flying Start website in August before they began their courses.
The Flying Start resource was originally developed in 2011 as a pilot project by a staff member who had been awarded a University teaching fellowship. During the pre-development research for the project, surveys and focus groups were run with Year 12 and 13 students to ascertain their concerns about going to University and to establish what they might want from this type of resource. Current undergraduates were also surveyed in order to get their ideas on the kinds of information that they would have found most useful at the start of their course. The feedback indicated that the current undergraduates favoured information about study skills, using resources, critical thinking skills and academic achievement, whereas the sixth form students were more concerned with practical matters such as finance, timetables, assessment and settling in. The project team used the feedback from both groups of students to create the various sections within the Flying Start resource.
To measure the success of the resource, the project team counted site visits and obtained feedback from users and non-users through surveys. They discovered that visits to the site increased greatly in 2012 when they took the approach of gradually releasing the content and sending reminders to students when new content was published. This encouraged students to keep returning to the site and ensured that students were not overwhelmed with too much information at once.
From the feedback they received, the project team identified the following seven suggestions for supporting transitioning students:
- Students are often overwhelmed with information during induction. Therefore, it is useful to drip-feed them some preparatory information before the start of their course.
- Students often miss information that is sent to them. Therefore, persistent promotion is key and reminders are useful.
- The format of transition-based resources should be engaging and include interactive visual elements such as video.
- Collaboration with other departments can be useful to ensure that students are easily directed towards other sources of information about settling in to University.
- The content provided within transition-based resources can continue to be useful throughout the year. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep the content available after the students have arrived.
- The tone used to deliver the resource is important. It can be a good idea to use current students to deliver information using videos. However, resources that are too basic or patronising can be off-putting.
- Content which is new to the user is the most useful – particularly explanations of unfamiliar terms and phrases, as well as content relating to the step-up from sixth form to HE level study.
The project team pointed out that although there were some overlapping themes between Flying Start and the IL instruction offered by the library, Flying Start was intended to provide support at a much more generic introductory level.
Rationalising Referencing: Changing Policy and Practice to Smooth Transition and Improve the Student Experience
In this session, Dan Pullinger from the University of Leeds described how the library department had identified a lack of consistency in the referencing styles being taught by academic staff across the University and how this had led to confusion and frustration for students. He argued that a definitive guide to referencing was necessary in order for students to be able to spend less time focusing on ‘how’ to reference and more time on developing an understanding of the underlying principles of referencing.
In order to push for a change in policy and practice, the library department liaised with University committees and submitted papers which emphasised the beneficial impact on the student experience of having a definitive referencing guide. They submitted a proposal for a standard referencing policy, which was intended to solve the issue of inconsistency and duplication regarding the teaching of referencing, as well to position the library as a central source of guidance for referencing. The policy was implemented and required each department to select a single referencing style for use by all taught students, as well as to use the standardised Leeds version of that style.
Following the implementation of the policy, the library sent out a survey to students and staff to gather feedback and to gauge whether the policy was being put into practice. They found that the majority of departments were indeed using the new standardised style, but there were exceptions. They identified a lack of awareness of the new policy as a possible cause, but some feedback also indicated that academic staff hadn’t considered the benefit to the student experience of having one referencing style and had instead taken the view that their own version was preferable. However, feedback from students predictably indicated that this had led to confusion. As a result of the survey findings, it was concluded that a change in policy alone was not enough and that persistent communication was the key to long term change.
The library department implemented a number of follow-up actions. These included increasing the promotion of referencing support services provided by the library, as well as creating new resources such as web pages, online tutorials, workshops and an Endnote style of the Leeds version of Harvard, and offering one-to-one advice. A number of recommendations were also made to academic departments, such as giving all first year students an introduction to referencing, checking that all modules were being compliant with the referencing policy, formatting reading lists in the correct referencing style, and explicitly stating within marking criteria how referencing would be assessed.
Dan explained that the library department was planning to run a future follow-up survey with previous student respondents to ascertain whether these new recommendations were being implemented. Although the project was still a work in progress, feedback from students had so far been positive.
Dan gave the following tips to those thinking of starting a similar project:
- Aim high, but be realistic (they found that it wasn’t realistic to have one style across the whole institution, but they were able to push for consistency within each department).
- Use committee processes to legitimise what you’re doing.
- Gather evidence of student opinion to strengthen your argument. If you have the students on side and give them a voice, this will add leverage to your proposals.
- Be prepared for the long haul – it may take persistence to achieve your goals.
- Use existing contacts, networks and structures to promote the proposal – communication and promotion is the key to success.
- Keep a record of everything you do and the opportunities that you give people to communicate with you about the project. This can be useful if you need to refer people back to your working processes.
- Don’t promise to make changes later down the line as this can risk compromising the existence of a standard reference guide, the ultimate purpose of which is to benefit the students.
This was a really interesting session for me as my own library department is also currently liaising with academics to discuss the creation of a standardised referencing style to be used across the institution. At the moment the project is only in its earliest stages, so it was very useful to learn about the potential issues and pitfalls that we may experience along the way and get some suggestions on how to mitigate these.
An Investigation into Student Use of LibGuides: Do They Want Fries with That?
Joanne Keleher from CQUniversity in Australia spoke about a survey that she had conducted within her institution in order to investigate student opinions of LibGuides. Specifically, she had sought to establish whether students felt that the LibGuides created by the library department had helped them to achieve their learning outcomes and to improve their information literacy skills.
The LibGuides provided by the library department at CQUniversity were launched as an attempt to replicate face-to-face information literacy classes in an online environment. This was deemed necessary due to the high number of distance-learning students at the University. In total, they created 146 guides, some which focused on resources for academic subjects and others that provided support on topics such as completing assignments or plagiarism. After collaborating with academics, library staff were also able to embed LibGuides links or content into the Moodle VLE pages for particular courses.
Unfortunately there had been a very low response rate to the feedback survey, which was in the form of an online questionnaire. However, the limited feedback gathered from students did indicate that they felt LibGuides had helped them to improve their research skills and knowledge about library resources. In terms of LibGuides content and design, students expressed a preference for uncluttered guides with a variety of information that was directly relevant to their course, and well as easy to locate items. They disliked irrelevant information and broken links. With regard to possible improvements, students expressed a wish for more assistance with breaking down assessments into key tasks and with identifying keywords. They also wanted more help with evaluation of resources and referencing, and more links to full-text articles.
Joanne pointed out that although LibGuides were a valuable online information literacy tool, the guides needed to be updated regularly, sometimes every semester, in order to remain current. The on-going workload would therefore increase in line with the number of guides produced. In addition, Joanne pointed out that if guides were tied in with the content of particular modules, this could create a challenge when updating them as current course information would first have to be obtained from relevant academic staff members. This could place a limitation on how quickly the guides could be updated in time for each semester.
This was a good session for me because my library department has just purchased LibGuides and we plan to develop our existing PDF subject guides into something more interactive using the LibGuides platform. Hearing the student feedback was particularly useful and it gave me some good ideas for the design and content of our own forthcoming guides.
LILAC Networking Evening
After all the sessions were over for the day, most of the delegates headed back to their hotels to rest or change before the evening networking event and dinner. On arrival at Sheffield City Hall where the event was being held, we were presented with drinks and given a game to play called ‘Collect a Librarian’. The idea was to speak to as many people as possible in order to get points for meeting different kinds of librarian – more points were scored for ‘rarer’ types of librarian, so for example meeting an academic librarian would only score you one point, as apparently we are quite common!
It was a good icebreaker and it helped me to get chatting to lovely group of librarians from Sweden and Germany – I met quite a lot of Europeans at LILAC, which was nice as I hadn’t realised before how international the conference was.
I did also get chatting to some fellow UK and London librarians and I managed to catch up with some former library school classmates too, which was great. I was pretty tired by the end of the evening, but really enjoyed my first day at LILAC!