27 October 2014

What I have learn at the college

As of October 2014, I have left the North Warwickshire and Hinckley College. Just before that, I was approached by a colleague from another college to share my ideas on the college library service development. This is my reply which I have edited slightly. Though it is not a well-polished text, I believe it may be of use to a reflection on what a good college library should or may look like.

The library has to be an integral part of the college. If the college management don't see the library as the key service for developing digital literacy or promoting use of ILT/ICT in teaching and learning, there won't be much librarians can do about it. If e-learning isn't explicitly planted into the LRS structure, the best way of moving forward would be developing partnerships; for example, introducing blogging into learning practice, bidding for funding for purchasing iPads etc. Partnerships allow involving others into the library's concerns, making them co-responsible, as well as benefiting from successes.

Over the years, I have increasingly started valuing working with tutors. Certainly, there is a scope for direct involvement with students, but my experience suggests that unless such involvement relates to the course content directly, students are reluctant to make use of our best offers. To make our work relevant, we have to work with tutors.

09 October 2014

One size doesn’t fit all: budget implication for developing the HE in FE library provision

This article was written for the CoLRiC Newsletter in August 2014.

It is likely that most of FE colleges will see their HE provision growing rapidly in the near future – the Government wants to bring even more competition to the educational market and encourage innovative developments across the sectors. This offers both opportunities and challenges to learning resources services (LRS) in FE colleges. Here, I would like to suggest few budget-related ideas on how the HE-related developments could be successfully accommodated in FE LRS.

28 May 2014

Using URL Shorteners for Measuring Impact

After attending few CoLRiC events recently, one phrase stays with me: measuring impact. – Hard and comprehensive data is persuasive and helpful for critical reflection.

One tool I have been using for gathering data is URL (web link) shorteners. In my library, we initially adopted bit.ly to tame the URLs to various help pages on the library blog, e.g. how to access ebooks from home. Shorter URLs look less frightening in emails and catalogue records too. Later, we have moved to goo.gl simply because we’d been using other Google services.

Both bit.ly and goo.gl, as well as other similar services, can provide us with helpful statistics on how many times the document behind the shortened URL has been accessed. The trick is to remember to login into the service account before shortening that URL, of course.

Here is a real-life example. A month ago I scanned a book excerpt for a Biology tutor. The file then was uploaded into the library’s Dropbox shared folder and the URL was shortened with goo.gl. The tutor placed the URL onto the Moodle page for his course (experientially, we have learnt that tutors preferred getting web links to files for uploading – file upload with Moodle is notoriously cumbersome). After two weeks, the scanned document has been accessed 50 times. This is a good piece of evidence that the scanning service the library offers is well used, relevant and worth of time spent. If no clicks were received, it would be a sign that the tutors have not made the link available to students – something for me to follow up then.

In the same way, I can see with goo.gl how often our helpsheets are downloaded or what the impact of various promotion campaigns is. Using URL shorteners has prompted new conversations and changes in practice in our library.

This post was originally published in the CoLRiC Newsletter, no. 61.

17 March 2014

User survey – how we do it

It is the season for user surveys in college libraries and learning resources centres. It must be exciting – learning something new about our students and ourselves.

In my library, we are already done! – I spent the recent half term week analysing the survey results and now contacting tutors and students to clarify their concerns, invite for collaboration and answer their complaints; also, preparing to update the team and making a task list to address all the above. – Everything is treated as an opportunity for developing the service. You can see the results on our blog; they aren’t great (judging by the CoLRiC PII questions the survey includes) – we had better years.

Experientially, we have worked out the way of conducting an annual survey that works best for us; we have learnt also to ask only the questions we really can utilise – nothing out of sheer curiosity.

The survey is done online and on paper – to capture the users of different preferences. This year we moved to Google Docs – it gives enough flexibility and plenty of independence. The online form can be seen at http://goo.gl/DiJBEA. The output can be saved as an Excel spreadsheet; some basic data filtering and chart creation skills (any Microsoft Office Excel book has it) will help to build attractive visual representations of the users’ replies.

We are using Heritage LMS; it allows sending email notifications to the selected groups of users; in this case, an invitation to fill the online survey was sent to anyone who made at least one loan this year – we call them active users. There is no much point in asking about use of the library those who have not used it at all; however posting the link to the college’s Moodle home page allows us to capture non-users’ views of what will make the library more attractive to them. Also, college staff could access the survey from the extranet. About 70% of all submissions were made on paper; a couple of my colleagues transferred those replies into Google Docs using the same online form our users did – it is easier than inputting data into the spreadsheet directly.

One of the tricks for analysing the survey is asking yourself meaningful questions – there is no much point in comparing how many members of staff filled the questionnaire and how many – students. What percentage of students is aware of ebooks after a library induction in comparison to those who didn’t have that induction makes more sense.

(Written for the CoLRiC Newsletter)

06 February 2014

Is teaching a vocation or profession?

A reflection for the Open Content Licencing for Educators mOOC

Is teaching a vocation or profession? - It’s not either/or, rather – both/and.

Vocation assumes a call, being called for doing something. In the world where there are better paid jobs and much more comfortable and prestigious trades – this will differ from society to society, of course – teaching hardly ever is the most attractive option. However, some people do feel the desire for sharing their own knowledge and wisdom, for being nurturing towards others. People engaged in activities to which they are called transcend a mere work for reward exchange: they engage fuller, can be happy to go extra mile and bring in more than their knowledge and experience, but “a heart” – a certain caring-for-the-cause and imaginative attitude. That’s what we normally associate good teachers with – someone who doesn’t give up easily, who sees in learners more than said on the tin, who is passionate about what s/he is talking about.

Teaching is a profession in a sense that it requires rigor as related to science, art or trade; hence professional knowledge, growth, ethics. In that sense, profession is not in opposition to vocation – both may come along. Therefore it is perfectly possible to say: teaching is my real vocation and I am glad I’ve chose this profession; I feel passionately about it, but it is not the only reason why I am a good teacher – I also know by subject extremely well.

When people ask me whether I enjoy my job, I often say that librarianship is a wonderful profession and my college – a very good place to be at. When training I had no idea that librarians were also educators; my focus then was on arranging data, promoting causes, creating spaces, finding information gems. Now it’s different: meeting users’ needs and even developing their hunger for more is what really excites me. We all have been indoctrinated to think about books when we hear a word “library”. In reality, the most important thing in the library is people. The more I realised that, the more I have been enjoying being a librarian; and a better librarian I was becoming. Vocation and profession are two sides of the same coin.  

04 February 2014

Open content licensing for educators

I'm about to begin a micro open online course (mOOC), Open Content Licensing for Educators - my first online-only learning programme; and this is the first time I'll be using my blog to support my learning - after many years helping others to do it.

I've had this blog for three or maybe even more years. There are two things I'd do differently if I could go back in time: I wouldn't use Blogger and I'd commit to writing regularly. The first thing isn't an option really - moving anywhere else would mean leaving behind the content. The second one ... I imagine writing a short post on Friday afternoon is doable. I'll give a shot after the course is over.

For me blogging has two main aspects - reflective practice and creating a repository of wisdom and experience I (we all) generate; I return to this repository quite regularly when need to fish out from there something useful for sharing, discussing or refreshing in my mind. I'm less inclined to think blogs are fit for creating/supporting communities, unless these are distributed and loose communities.

Creative Commons License
What is my blog for? by Ihar Ivanou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

30 January 2014

Best protection is education

This is my article for the CoLRiC Newsletter, issue 59 (December 2013)

Last summer, a suicide of a 14-year old girl took place in Leicestershire; apparently, it was provoked by cyberbullying. Following the tragic event, tabloids demanded from the government to censor Ask.fm, a Latvia-based website extremely popular among teenagers. ‘Our children must be protected from irresponsible adults’, the message was. Among that storm, very few sober and reasonable voices were heard: the best protection is education.

By no means, this a controversial thought – to educate, not to ban. In 2010, Ofsted published a report, The Safe Use of New Technologies (Ofsted, 2010), based on research about schools’ engagement with the internet, emerging technologies and safeguarding. One of the key findings of that report sounds very much up to date now: Pupils in the schools that had ‘managed’ systems had better knowledge and understanding of how to stay safe than those in schools with ‘locked down’ systems. Pupils were more vulnerable overall when schools used locked down systems because they were not given enough opportunities to learn how to assess and manage risk for themselves.

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My new desk

Few years ago, I read an interview with the Swedish ambassador to Belarus (my country of origin) who, among other things, described his working environment, including a desk with the adjustable top: in the morning, the ambassador would start working standing, then he would sit when he got tired. I thought then it was so cool, so Scandinavian - a small difference making life and work easier and more comfortable.

I remembered about that interview when few months ago I realised that long bus commute, in addition to hours sitting at the desk in my office, had started affecting my well-being. I used boxes with paper reams to raise the computer screen and keyboard - to work standing - until I spotted a purpose-made desk in the college store room. It was used by a member of staff who needed it for health reasons; now I have inherited it.

I love my new desk (I keep the old one too - in the afternoon, I sit down now and then), I certainly have developed an emotional affinity to it. I don't waste time on sitting dawn and standing up, my conversations with colleagues don't involve sitting around the table as often as it used to be and we've even had few formal meetings by my desk and computer. Needless to say, I feel physically better than used to too.

I wish all office furniture catalogues had those "Swedish" desks and employees could request them if they wished or needed so.

16 October 2013

On not assuming we speak the same language

For last six weeks, I've made a point of asking college newbies whether they've heard an expression "a library catalogue". Very few, certainly fewer than one in ten, said they did. They were surprised, and I am surprised too: it has taken me seven years to appreciate an obvious fact that I speak a different language, than my library users do.
As part of library sessions, I now ask whether people have seen Argos catalogues; virtually all have. I ask what is the purpose of those catalogues; with no exceptions learners correctly say: to show what the shop has to offer and how to get it.
Exactly the same is true about the library catalogue which is not on paper, but online, - I say - just like a search box on the Argos website.
And then we dive into the deeper waters of locations, shelfmarks, accessions, reservations... - I wonder how many of those words cause cognitive dissonance in our users.