Saturday, 2 August 2008

Inside Lynn Parker's head - learning from the Library

TASH continues to boldly go where angels fear to tread; mixing our metaphors, or should that be adages, at every opportunity. A week last Friday (apologies for the lateness of this post therefore), Tim and I met with Lynn Parker from the Library, chief curator of the voluminous and enormously helpful suite of Information Skills tutorials which are available, by default, to all students and staff via MOLE.

Lynn was able to share a wide range of insights into the challenges involved in trying to embed "reusable learning objects" such as the discrete MOLE tutorials she curates within individual courses and/or student consciousness more generally - but was also keen to stress that the strategy the library has adopted and refined over a number of years now of seeking to tailor and embed generic resources within specific disciplinary contexts was an increasingly successful one.

Key points to emerge from our discussions included:
  • students generally want to see immediate benefits in terms of tangible progress in their assessed work if they are to engage with more generic study skills materials;
  • the promotion of such resources by academic staff was crucial to ensure student buy-in, but it was still necessary to tailor examples to specific disciplinary areas wherever possible;
  • attention to the tone/feel of resources and exercises is important as hostility can quickly grow to a resource or approach if it is perceived as "too easy" or "too much like what I did at school" (this may be a particular challenge for TASH when trying to encourage a critical, self-aware and reflexive approach to the hub, and an attitude to learning which values revision and reassessment of the same skills in different contexts at different stages in the learning journey, from pre-entry to post-graduate and beyond);
  • there is enormous diversity across individual departments in terms of the nature of assessment tasks and the degree to which independent research, for example, is foregrounded in different disciplinary areas; this can make structuring a generic resource for all extremely challenging;
  • Lynn has commented to us before on the absence of Information Literacy as a specific named category for TASH, but is prepared to accept the justification that we have previously offered that IL cross-cuts most, perhaps all of our themes, and it is therefore appropriate for it sit outside the formal framework in the same way that we have argued this may also be necessary for attributes such as creativity and resourcefulness;
  • keeping links and resources up to date in large online products like the Info Skills tutorials - or TASH - is a real challenge and needs careful monitoring.
Lynn sees TASH as one important avenue through which to further publicise the existence and value of the MOLE tutorials to academics and students alike, to "give it a new push" and take its place more squarely alongside other resources available across the institution. She also emphasises the added-value of academic colleagues acting as advocates for such resources alongside professional service curators. These are things we are more than happy to help with, and Lynn has already agreed to contribute to the project by writing a number of tutor-facing guides, organised by reference to the 7 sk/hills framework (academic literacy and written communication being two of the more obvious places to start).

She has also agreed to produce a kind of mind or site map to the tutorials as a whole. We hope this will be of particular value as it became clear to us as the conversation progressed that the inside of Lynn Parker's head contains all sorts of treasures and a very detailed knowledge of the resource she curates. This allowed her to direct us very quickly to a whole host of relevant materials in all manner of different skills areas as the conversation turned from one topic to the next. The problem at present is that it is much harder for those of us on the outside of her head to make these connection as quickly, unless she's there in the room with us. We hope therefore that a map or index of some sort will mean that much of the good work currently being overlooked may be more easily accessed.

Finally, we are mindful of the need for case studies illustrating how close collaboration and embedding of library tutorials within specific disciplinary contexts is achieved in practice. To this end, we will shortly be hunting down Aidan While in Town and Regional Planning, who worked closely with Lynn on a strategy for embedding Information Literacy throughout the undergraduate programme for which he has responsibility. Indeed a brief case study already exists here, on the case studies wiki. Many thanks for your input, Lynn. We will be back.

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