21 December 2011

Library for marketing the college

Recently, I spoke to a colleague who, with her daughter, went to see all the schools and colleges offering A-Levels in the neighbourhood. Working in a library, she paid attention to what information/academic skills support learners get there – in addition to classroom activities. She was shocked that only our college and another one next door had a proper library service and all that comes with that – learning resources, support and guidance.
This made me to think that FE colleges should exploit libraries marketing and recruitment. Universities are critical about the quality of academic skills that schools offer, they invest a lot into remedial support in the first year. Our college is unique for Nuneaton in that sense: we offer full scale library, information and academic skills training and support. All that is done by staff experienced in working with HE students; no one else in our town could offer that. On top of everything, we are the only learning provider in Nuneaton actively and purposefully developing an e-book collection – it’s bigger than all public libraries of the county have on offer right now. This may be especially attractive to prospective A Level and Access students as when they go to university, they will have to start using library's digital content straight away.

From what I know, no schools and colleges in Nuneaton use their libraries in their marketing. Shame.

Two articles to share: on importance of digital literacy and Facebook for user engagement

Digital literacy can boost employability and improve student experience - the title of the Guardian sounds dull, but it's full of goodness. How about that:
A recent NUS/Hefce survey found that students were concerned about the ICT competency of academic staff, with 21% thinking that their lecturers needed additional training. Some students also expressed dissatisfaction with perceived outdated technology in use in HE, and a lack of staff engagement with the institution's virtual learning environment.
From now on, digital literacy development must be on FE library menu cards alongside academic skills support.

Study Raises Doubts About Effectiveness of Facebook as Outreach Tool for Academic Libraries - this is a quick review of a piece of research from the United States. A conclusion is clear:
“If we consider how easily students ‘like’ a page, add a group, post personal information, or simply interact with Facebook pages, then we must face the fact that library pages are amongst the least attractive to students.”
After almost two years, my library's Facebook page has acquired about 100 friends. It generates very little of interaction, but functions well as one of the gateways for the library blog where the bulk of all support content is generated.

18 December 2011

Resistance to blogging (guest post)

My colleague, Fiona Casserly, an Early Years teacher, has shared her thoughts after the Blog of the Term award for her students.
The concept of informal and formal learning and preference for a particular kind of pedagogy seem fundamental to whether a student blogs or not. 
In my observations today I can see that the students who find blogging an addition to their course are predominantly the students that - it seems to me - have high self-efficacy and are high achievers.  This idea about their abilities to perform academically may lead them with feelings that they can achieve highly awarded assessments or learning gains without the help of blogs. Their stimuli response to handing in work has always (or mostly) been one that is positive. Combined with this high self-efficacy, students may have a more behaviourist attitude towards teaching and learning. They may see that formal learning only takes place in the classroom whereby the teacher can ‘pour’ in knowledge and that less learning takes place outside of the classroom arena. If learning activities outside of the classroom are viewed as informal this may then be seen as an add-on to their already loaded studies, rather than being an integral part of their course. 
Students which may have low self-efficacy may feel that they need more guidance and support and therefore are more inclined to view the work of others to create feelings of security, for example that they are on the right tracks.  This does relate to their level of performance, as in terms of formal assessment they fall in the mid to lower brackets on the marking scale.
My immidiate reaction is that there can be another explanation why high-achieving learmers may be reluctant to engage into blogging for learning: they spend their time studying differently. This is not a judgement on blogging: it will be interesting to see the outcomes in two years time when that group leaves the college to continue their last two years of the course at university. 

14 December 2011

I was a celebrity (it was fun)

Last Friday I was invited to a session with 2+2 Childhood Studies students. It is a HE course; students do two years at our college and then continue for another two at Warwick. I had seen them already, we did an information skills session– library catalogue, Google, e-books, reliability of information sources. They also had a session on blogging with a colleague of mine, our graduate trainee.

On this occasion, I was invited as a local celebrity (their tutor, Lin Armstrong, and I couldn’t stop laughing when planned all that) to present an award for the Best Blog of the Term. It was an important event as, according to Lin, this year she could observe a real break-through with her students: most of them used a variety of online tools, including personal blogs, to support their learning and did it in a collaborative way. Lin is a great believer in connectivism – a comparatively new learning theory for the digital age – and was very excited when found that her students had started discovering and generating knowledge as a network/community of learning. To celebrate their achievements and encourage further, the ceremony was put together.

10 December 2011

On marketing the library service

Two years ago my colleague at that time, Peter Barr, and I started a project: to develop marketing of the college library in the way which would embrace both traditional and emerging media; all should have connected and worked together. Before that, the library produced a lot of helpsheets, guides and leaflets; it also had a well developed presence on Moodle and the college website. It was first in the college to set up a Facebook page even though Facebook was banned on the college network PCs. However, our marketing activities were disjoint: content for each media was prepared separately, often – occasionally and by different people.

My thinking was broadly prompted by the Guardian which was the first major newspaper in Britain to move away from publishing online the texts that as the rule had already appeared in the paper edition. Very early the Guardian adopted a multi-platform approach: as soon as the content is ready it is pushed to all available media, edited and re-packaged respectively.

14 November 2011

Book Exchange in Paris

During a short trip to Paris, I popped in to a cultural centre somewhere on outskirts of the city – exhibitions, workshops, a courtyard used for theatrical shows, bookshop and book exchange trailer: take what you want and leave what you’ve already read. Just like in my college where the Book Exchange has been going from strength to strength for over two years now.

11 November 2011

User-driven acquisition practice

Involving learners in shaping their college experience, including learning itself, has become an important aspect of educational process. This has affected libraries too.

A few years ago it was almost an axiom in my library that stock acquisition was driven by curriculum and tutors. The librarians kept some funding aside for replenishing the lost and damaged stock and subsidising collections for new programmes. We also kept a note of unresolved enquiries – to purchase the resources on the topics which were not covered in the library collection sufficiently enough.

On the surface, this is still mostly the same: the library allocates 2/3 of its budget to curriculum areas to spend on tutors' requests. However, the emphasis has moved heavily towards active observation of what learners borrow and enquire about. On that basis, I research available publications.  While we rarely receive requests for particular titles from learners (despite encouraging that), I keep my eyes wide open to what is borrowed. Usually this observation takes place while I am at the enquiry/issue desk or talk to users in the library. Often I check bibliographical databases (Nielsen BookData is particularly good for that) what else has been published by the same author or in the same series. It is not unusual for the library to have superseding editions of the titles on reading lists provided by tutors.

Being at the issue desk has become for me an exciting time of listening to learners: what they borrow and what they enquire about, even – sometimes – what they talk to each other about. From all that I deduce what’s in demand now and what will be in demand soon.

This all will be impossible when we - hopefully, next year - introduce a self-issue station. Interaction with users will decrease, and with that - an immediate knowledge of what they borrow and why. This is unavoidable: what I described above is not cost-effective in a middle size college library as ours. Usage reports from the LMS in universities can be informative taking into account that those libraries can employ subject libraries who can make sound judgements based on those reports. Unfortunately, this is not the case in a FE college library employing one or two librarians. Therefore, a radically new acquisition model for FE is badly needed.

18 September 2011

Free e-books - we are competing not only with Google Books

When a couple of weeks ago bookboon.com, a source of few dozens of free e-books, was featured on TV, I received several emails from the college colleagues alerting me about the site, and few others stopped me on the corridor to share the same news. I was perplexed: what is so amazing about free e-books?! Our library has been offering few thousands of them for last two years. And Google Books has millions.

Just in case, I have added the link to the list of e-book providers on the library website our learners may find useful. I have mixed feeling, however: travel guides are definitely a big No (I checked Paris and Barcelona) - they can't compete with any guides produced by major publishers. Being free doesn't help - there are plenty of much more interesting free blogs, e.g. Europe a la carte.  Information is thin and dry, nothing to suggest that proper field research had been done. The business section, especially personal development guides, seems more promising: bite-size titles have been produced by a consultancy company. I haven't looked at textbooks yet.

It seems to me that the only Bookboon's selling point is its being free. Contemporary retail practice has taught us not to trust full prices, expect discounts and freebies all the time. Widespread music and film piracy, perhaps, makes people to expect - by implication - that books must be free too. As with everything free, Bookboon's stuff has limitations: books contain advertisements and quite a lot of them. Google Books has limitations too - their under copyright titles cannot be printed out or copied and pasted. Arguably, fewer limitations are with library e-book titles - only authentication is required. The simpler it is, the more likely is that we'll be competitive with full-price and ad-supported services. Downloading to users' devices is also the must - that's what people expect when they ask me for e-books.

03 June 2011

E-Learning: A Study Visit to Slovenia

Professional development opportunities for FE librarians may be found not only in the traditional places like our own establishments, universities, CILIP or JISC.

Last March, I spent five full days in Slovenia as a participant of a study visit, Creation of Innovative E-learning Resources. The participants of the group came from all over Europe, from a variety of educational and business sectors. The visit was funded by the EU as part of its Transversal programme, similar to the better known Erasmus programme.

The purpose of the visit was to share knowledge and learn new skills in the area of our particular interest, namely – e-learning. My expectations about the visit were quite different to what the visit actually offered: it was surprisingly hands-on, more about practical skills than the theoretical side of e-learning. Despite that, it was useful and engaging.
It was extremely interesting to learn that the government of Slovenia, a tiny Balkan country, sees e-learning as a priority. It encourages the development of new materials and the conversion of existing educational content into new formats. As an example, we were presented with a course book on Statistics for the Travel Industry. Once published as a printed book, it has been transformed into a Flash-based interactive object with animation and tests.

08 March 2011

Computers in a classroom - distracting or helpful?

In the last few years, more and more learners bring their computers into a classroom and use them during a class, seminar etc. I found it peculiar delivering information skills sessions to such classes: the dynamic of interaction there seem to be different, not so straightforward comparing to a traditional classroom.

Yesterday I found myself - for the first time - in the role of a learner who had a computer with unlimited internet access in front of me. The most of the time I followed presentations quickly switching for Google to look up the mentioned topics and notions which I found interesting or confusing. I saved linked into Delicious to read some of the discovered content later on. When the presentation seemed to be going too slowly and during shored breaks between them I checked my email, but eventually felt that it was not helpful to deal with my Inbox right then.

As many other things, personal computers and the internet in a classroom has positive and challenging aspects. Ability to create my own flow of engaging with the classroom delivery and material, to enrich it by parallel searching for supplementary content was very helpful. Without a strong determination to learn in that classroom, however, I could easily be distracted with facebooking or online chatting. Hence, it seems to me, a tutor should decide at what extend computers are admissible to the classroom (I am not talking about computer-based learning in this case): not every learner or group has sufficient interest in learning to cope with temptations of socialising online; at least in the FE sector. Tutor should know the group to make such a decision.

07 March 2011

Barriers for e-learning

It seems to me that two main barriers for better implementation of e-learning are:

  • Fragmented and unequal IT experience and information skills of learners and teachers & the lack of systematic approach to addressing this across all the levels - national, particular educational establishment etc.
  • Most of e-learning solutions, especially those based on e-learning objects, require comparatively large initial funding or investment, e.g. time. Hence, employers and state funding bodies must learn from Google's "20% rule" - allowing time for development and innovation.