Monday, 28 November 2011

The New Blended Learning

Blended learning is often used as a euphemism for e-learning but that is a vast oversimplification.

Obviously. Who would make a foolish mistake like that? OK to be honest when I signed up for this training event at the BCS I thought it was going to be about e-learning. In my defence it was a British Computer Society event and e-learning is an important part of the blend.

The speaker was Clive Shepherd a learning consultant and an expert on the use of e-learning in training.

The presentation itself is available here.

So if blended learning isn't e-learning what is it exactly? What's being blended and why does it matter?

There are two overarching factors that are blended.
1. The social context - Individual, face to face, group.
2. Strategies - Exposition, instruction, guided discovery, exploration.

These two then shape the mix of the other factors that you have to blend. As the name suggests a blended learning programme should include a wide mixture of different learning experiences. Part of the idea is that traditional training / education doesn't include a wide enough range of experiences. So for example a degree programme shaped by the blended philosophy might include some work based learning and online collaborative projects as well as the more traditional methods.

Education is more varied than it used to be and to some extent this model seems to be about projecting that trend forward and imagining the possibilities. On the other hand Clive pointed out that education hasn't changed anywhere near as quickly as he thought it was going to when he entered the field.

Once you've decided on your mix of social contexts and strategies you use that to shape your blend of methods and media. So if you want to use exploration as part of your blend and you want the students to learn as a group you might set up a collaborative research project. That could then be organised online or in real world classes.

When we try to decide on the right media we should think about timing. Do you want the training to be synchronous (in real time) or asynchronous (not in real time). So a lecture or a seminar would be synchronous. A training video or a recording of a webinar would be asynchronous.

We also covered the pressures that training organisations face. The main pressure unsurprisingly is the need to cut costs in the current difficult economic climate. But training departments also face an increasing demand for just-in-time training. People want to know how to perform a particular task and they need to know now. In the long-term environmental pressures are likely to become increasingly important. All of these pressures mean that organisations are rethinking the way that they train their staff.

OK, stick with me here because this bit sounds counter-intuitive at first particularly if like me you work in education rather than workplace training. At the moment the default for training is face to face and synchronous. Other approaches have to be argued for. Clive thinks that we should shift to a new default. The starting position for training should be online and asynchronous.

It's important to note that he's not saying all training should be online and not in real time. You start there when you're planning the training but then you decide if you need to move on. Some kinds of training will be more effective in real time. So the second option is online but synchronous. In some situations face to face sessions will be the best way to engage people so in that case you move on again. That third and final step is the current default: face to face and in real time.

The implication is that face to face training should only be used when we think it will have a particularly powerful impact. Interestingly he used the analogy of music and drama. Be honest what percentage of the music you heard this year and the drama you watched was live? On the other hand those live events that you did attend were probably far more intense experiences than the recordings or the broadcasts.

Is the conclusion for training providers that face to face sessions should be special occasions to inspire people but online learning should be the default? Given current economic pressures this might well quickly become the reality of training in most workplaces.

Where does that leave education? What are the implications for librarians in the educational sector and elsewhere? It's definitely something that we need to think about.

It's easy to see university education moving in this direction. It has already done so to some extent. Schools will always have a greater emphasis on face to face in their blend, for educational reasons and for practical ones. FE colleges will probably be somewhere in the middle. But at all levels online learning is going to become more important. This is generally accepted but it might accelerate if we find ourselves preparing students for workplaces where almost all training is online.

The growth of virtual learning environments at all levels of education gives us the infrastructure to move towards a far greater use of e-learning in our educational blend. In theory this should be a development that benefits librarians. Within educational institutions we are often at the cutting edge in terms of VLEs, online resources and related learning technologies.

Clive also advocated a shift in the balance between resources and courses. At the moment training provision focuses on providing courses. Resources are provided to help people to complete their courses. A training department that's thinking in terms of blended learning would reverse the focus. Courses would inspire people and give them the understanding and intellectual tools to explore the topic / skill set. After the course the training department would give trainees the resources they need to explore on their own. The resources would be at least as important if not more important than the courses.

Again Clive's focus is workplace training so even assuming he's got the trends right we need to think about how this will translate into education. If it does make the jump then it definitely sounds like an opportunity for academic librarians. Even if it remains in the world of workplace training this vision of the future needs our skills.

Education and training do benefit from using a wide range of different social contexts, media and methods. E-learning is going to be an increasingly important part of the mix but that shift gives us the opportunity to think about each element of the mix.

Thank you to Clive Shepherd for a thought provoking evening. You can find out more about his ideas on his blog or on the onlignment website.

Thank you to the British Computer Society as well. I recommend looking at their events calender if you are looking for CPD opportunities. Like many of their sessions this was free to everyone including non-members. They also supplied free wine and cheese during the break which was very nice of them. I will be looking out for future events (not just for the wine and cheese).

So that's blended learning. Not just a euphamism for e-learning after all.

Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books

The Royal Society Winton prize is a prestigious award for popular science books. The aim is to encourage and highlight quality science writing which enhances the public's understanding of science. I have a personal and professional interest in science but I haven't studied it beyond school level so I feel that I am the kind of person who popular science writers should be trying to reach. More importantly as a College Librarian I'm interested in books which have the potential to inspire students and to help create enthusiasm for the study of science.

On the 17th I attended the event at the Royal Society where the winner was announced. (Yes, this is the third event I've mentioned going to on that Thursday. It was quite a busy day.) It was a genuinely inspiring evening. It was free and open to anyone so consider going to the 2012 announcement if you are interested.

The evening started with brief introductory talks about the prize, its history and its aims. This helped to set the scene by reminding us that we are living in an age where some of the big questions about life, the universe and everything are starting to be unravelled (or at least are being looked at in new and exciting ways).

From there we moved on to a panel discussion between the judges which focussed on practical questions. For example what is the first thing you do when 135 books turn up on your doorstep? Responses ranged from Christmas present style excitement to paralysing shock to a scientific, almost librarianly, instinct to put them into categories.

The Shortlist - (In alphabetical order. I will keep you in suspense about the winner unless you already know or sneakily scroll to the end.)

The core of the event was naturally all about the six short listed books. Each of the authors came onto the stage, told us a bit about their book and then read us some of their favourite bits. Each author was introduced by the judging panel's token media star, Robert Llewellyn (Yes, Kryten from Red Dwarf. I was surprised too.)

You can download the first chapter of each book for free from the Royal Society website. A webcast of the evening is also available.

Alex's Adventures in Numberland by Alex Bellos

Alex Bellos has previously written a travel book about his native Brazil. He told us that he approached this book in a similar way. As a maths graduate he saw himself as a native trying to explain the land of mathematics in a way that would educate and interest visitors from outside.

This has been published as 'Here's Looking at Euclid' in the US. During the Q and A session at the end there was some discussion about whether or not the Americans had a better title and why his publishers didn't think British people would get the joke.

Through the Language Glass: How Words Colour Your World by Guy Deutscher

Talking of titles someone pointed out that it was a strange coincidence that two of the titles were inspired by Lewis Carroll this year. This book is about the idea that the language we use shapes the way we perceive the world around us. If a concept doesn't exist in your language can you think it? The classic example is that some people from some isolated cultures perceive colour differently from the rest of us because their language refers to colour differently. Or tying in to the previous book our mental models of how mathematics works shape the way we perceive distance.

The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

This is a book about the periodic table, the bit of school chemistry that everyone remembers doing. Well the periodic table and the explosions. Mostly the explosions. That might not sound like a great idea for a book but the premise is that Sam tried to find an interesting story about each elements in the periodic table. The example we heard featured a scientist using radioactive lead to check if his landlady was using leftovers in his evening meals.

The Wavewatcher's Companion by Gavin Pretor-Pinney

From the author of the Cloudspotter's Guide comes an attempt to see if his spotter's guide to everyday things that are actually quite complicated phenomena when you get into it is a formula that can be repeated. The consensus from our judges is that it definitely is. If you've ever watched waves crashing onto a beach and started to wonder about them then this is for you. But be warned that it starts there and ends up looking at things like the waves of information that make a community of social micro-organisms turn into a slug.

Massive: The Missing Particle That Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science by Ian Sample

The 'missing particle' of the title is the elusive higgs boson. The particle which in theory is probably responsible for all of the mass in the universe. The problem is that it has never been detected. The hunt for the higgs boson is one of the big quests in science at the moment. It is one of the things (although I must emphasise only one of them) that the Large Hadron Collider was built to find. If we could confirm that this particle definitely exists than a lot of ideas that are very theoretical at the moment would start to fall into place.

I got the impression that a big strength of this book is that it looks at the human side of science. Ian was lucky enough to interview a lot of the people involved in the hunt including Higgs himself. A man who according to legend is almost as elusive as the particle he named (although this turns out to be not strictly fair). Talking to the scientists themselves helps Ian to give us their insiders' view of 'the greatest hunt in science'.

The Rough Guide to The Future by Jon Turney

Writing a guide to the future even a rough one is a brave thing to do. History has shown that most predictions are wrong. Jon dealt with this challenge by exploring ideas about the future and the key issues that look likely to shape the world of tomorrow. Issues ranging from environmental crisis to technologies that threaten / promise to move us into a post-human future. He also side-stepped the usual criticisms of futorology by asking a range of experts to tell him their greatest hope, worst fear and best bet for what's going to happen. The last one is what they think is most likely to actually happen. Of course they might all be wrong but it means the book includes a wide range of opinions and Jon avoids the charge of hubris. To be fair predicting the future isn't really the goal. The point of looking at ideas about the future and the issues that will shape it is to educate ourselves to play a part in shaping our collective future.

The Winner is...

Drumroll please. After giving us a taste of each book and a chance to ask the authors questions the session reached its cimax. The president of the royal society walked onto the stage with an envelope. After thanking everyone and making the expected but still true comments about the high standard of all the books he opened the envelope...

The winner was The Wavewatcher's Companion by Gavin Pretor-Pinney.

A proud moment for everyone who has ever spent time watching waves and wondering about them. Congratulations to Gavin and thank you to the Royal Society for an interesting evening.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Reflective Practice Workshop

On Thursday 17th November I attended two workshops run by CILIP in London. The morning workshop looked at reflective practice. I’ve been thinking about this topic quite a bit recently for various reasons. Primarily because I’m working towards Chartership and as you probably know writing reflectively about your experiences is an important part of that. It also came up in the 23 things for CPD scheme both as a thing in its own right and as one of the overarching themes.

I enjoy writing and I like to think that I’m a reflective person so this is something that I’m interested in anyway. With all that in mind I was looking forward to this workshop. I was curious to find out what advice and tips they would give us.

The Speakers

The two speakers were Rosemary McGuiness and Paula Nottingham. They both work at Middlesex University and their specialism is work based learning. This is an approach to learning which focuses on ‘real world’, workplace experience. Chartership and its sisters are examples of this. It’s also well established in fields like nursing and teaching. For example the teaching practice element of a PGCE or similar qualification is work based learning.

Reflective writing is an important part of this approach. Students are encouraged to reflect in depth on their experiences and write down their thoughts. This is put very much at the heart of the learning process.


The session started with a look at the theoretical underpinning of reflective writing as a tool for personal and professional development. The focus was on what Paula called the classic theories. The Kolb Cycle for example which shows reflective practice as a circular flow through four stages.

1. Concrete Experience (Doing / having an experience)
2. Reflective Observation (Reviewing / reflecting on the experience)
3. Abstract Conceptualisation (Concluding / learning from the experience)
4. Active Experimentation (Planning / trying out what you have learned)
And then back to stage one…

This is a classic model of reflective practice. I’m sure most of you have probably seen something similar at some point. It featured in the CPD 23 blog post on reflective practice to give a recent example. It is popular for a reason. This is a useful way to think about the process of reflection. Even the simple fact that it is a cycle is useful because it emphasises the fact that reflection should lead to action which should then be reflected on in turn.

We looked at Schon’s ideas about the distinction between ‘reflection in action’ and ‘reflection on action’. Essentially the divide between reflecting in the moment, thinking about what you’re doing now and reflecting on things that you have done, thinking about how you could have approached it differently. The first one is very important because we need it to work effectively but the second one is the key to developing and doing our job better in the future.

Honey and Mumford’s original version of the learning styles model also came up. Personally I think learning styles are an overused concept. It is a question of emphasis or preference but it is too often talked about as if your style is the only way you can learn. The useful lesson from the model is that teachers have to vary the way they teach in order to meet the needs of all their students because people learn in different ways. Anyway I’m digressing here. To be fair it’s not Honey and Mumford’s fault that it’s overused. Their original idea was a good one.

Discussing the pros and cons of individual theories isn’t really the point anyway. The aim was to show that reflective writing is a well-established educational tool with strong roots in research into how we think and learn.

Reflective Activities

The talks were interspersed with various reflective activities. We didn’t write any essays but we all participated in mini writing tasks and discussion activities.
The first task was to fill in a learning log table. We had to pick an example of something that we had done at work, a ‘focus or task’. We then had to evaluate what we learnt from the task, how we can be more effective in future and what we discovered about ourselves. The idea was that keeping a learning log like this would help us to improve our performance at work. I liked this activity. It was simple but potentially very effective. I am going to start using the pattern to record events which really stand out as potentially useful learning experiences. I assume that those will mostly be the disasters and the high points.

This learning log is similar to the log that I currently keep in order to help me to reflect on my teaching sessions. My library skills sessions and my VLE training sessions have definitely benefitted from the simple idea of keeping a teaching log. I just jot down a few thoughts about each session, including what went well and what I could have done to make it go better. Extending that log idea to other areas of my professional practice could be very useful.

We also did a quick brain storm of all the people who are part of our communities of practice. Defined by Wenger (some more theory for you) as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”. It’s interesting to see how that web spreads out when you give yourself time to think about it.

Later we were given time to write a slightly longer piece about something that we had done at work. The advice was to include how we felt about it. The idea was that we normally suppress our emotional responses to things that happen at work. We assume that our feelings belong to our personal life outside of the workplace.
I’m not sure this is universally true. Some people do get very emotional about things that happen to them at work. That said I take the point that in order to be effective reflective writing needs to be honest enough to include how we feel about our experiences. Without that aspect it can be slightly hollow.

The session ended with a storytelling session. We were invited to share a story with a neighbour. It had to be a story about something that we had done at work which went very well or very badly. A few brave souls went on to share their stories with the group.

This kind of storytelling is perhaps the oldest form of organised reflective learning. It goes back to our oldest ancestors sharing hunting stories around the fire. Those stories would then make them all more effective on the next hunt.

Librarians’ stories of triumph and embarrassment are less bloody than those early tales but some of the same emotions were there and the principle was the same. Thinking about reflective practice in terms of storytelling is one of the key ideas that I will take away from this workshop.

Listening to each others’ stories helped us to think about what we would have done in the same situation. We also learnt from the explicit lessons that the storyteller drew from their own experiences and shared with the group. The moral of the story as it were.

On the other side of the task thinking about our practice, reflecting on it, and organising our thoughts into a story that someone else could follow and learn from brought greater depth and clarity to our own reflections.

Thank you

Using writing or discussion to clarify and deepen our reflections on our experiences was the essence of all the activities that we tried. The workshop gave us new tools and renewed motivation to seek greater depth and clarity in our reflective practice.

Thank you to our speakers and to the CILIP in London team.

The Reflective Practice Presentation including lots of useful references for further reading is available on Slideshare.

The afternoon workshop was all about copyright. I am writing a short piece about the copyright session for the CILIP in London Newsletter so I will point you towards that once it has been published.*

*My report was published in the November issue of the CILIP in London Newsletter. Members will have been emailed a copy. They also included a link to this blog entry. Thank you for that. Welcome to any CILIP in London newsletter readers.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Top Tips for Running the Perfect Event

A CILIP in London Session at the Sekforde Arms

This was the first time I’ve been to one of the CILIP in London events at the Sekforde Arms. That’s a shame because they are a great idea. I will definitely be attending them in the future. CILIP’s London branch organises regular sessions in the upper room of the pub. For each session they invite a speaker who is an authority on a particular area of professional interest, in this case organising events.

The sessions are run in the evening and they are free for CILIP members so if you are finding it hard to get to training events because of financial and time restraints then these sessions are definitely worth looking into. There is a £5 charge for non-members, which is still very reasonable.

You are expected to book in advance so they know how many people to expect. Their email address is:

More importantly the Sekforde Arms is a very nice old-fashioned pub with a good selection of beers. I can vouch for it because it is right round the corner from my old university, good old City. A fact which had completely failed to register before I looked up where the event was. I also completely failed to notice that these free training events were happening right under my nose when I was studying Library Science just round the corner. I won’t dwell too much on my own failings here. I will learn the lesson and try to be a bit more alert in the future.

Our speaker for the evening was Tracy Kent. She is a Subject Librarian at the University of Birmingham. More relevantly for this session she is also the Training Coordinator for the CILIP special interest group UKeiG (United Kindom Electronic Information Group). That role naturally involves organising lots of events including training days and large conferences. She drew on that experience to give us no less than fifteen top tips.

1. Decide on the key objective of the event and who your speakers will be. Plan early.

She strongly emphasised the idea that your event should have a USP. This will make your advertising more effective but it will also help you to organise the event. It will help you to think about who your audience are and what you expect them to gain from your event.

2. Think about your choice of speakers and how you are going to manage them.

Speakers can clearly make or break a session. They have to be an expert on the relevant topic but they also have to be good at engaging an audience. Being an expert doesn’t automatically make you a good speaker.

Make sure that the speaker is completely clear about what you want them to talk about. She gave us various anecdotes about speakers who stood up and talked about something completely different to the agreed topic. Apparently it’s not uncommon for speakers to go off on a tangent or just vent about something that’s annoying them at work.

Tracy included choosing the right chairman under this tip. They need to know the topic well and they should be well informed about the speaker(s). That will make the questions / discussion element of the session run much smoother.

3. Decide on a realistic budget and stick to it (as best you can).

Plan this bit carefully. Set out what is covered. What are you going to provide for speakers? They need to be clear about this and your planning needs to go down to the details. Who is paying for the photocopying? Are you feeding the speakers? And so on.

Interestingly she recommended setting aside 10% of your budget to deal with emergencies.

If you are looking for funding then the key is to have a clear pitch which outlines what you are trying to achieve, how it will benefit the community and why you think it will succeed. Keep it reasonably simple and easy for others to repeat.

4. Decide on your project management style.

Deciding on a ‘style’ involves fundamental issues like are you organising this on your own or working with a team? If you are working with a team then meetings should result in clear action points assigned to named individuals. Draw up timelines for each activity. You can’t do everything at once.

Keep a plan. This should be clear and detailed enough for someone else to cover the event if you walk in front of a bus.

5. Decide on an appropriate venue and where delegates want to go.

This will be a large, perhaps the largest, chunk of your budget. Think about what you and your delegates want from the venue.

It is often possible to do deals with a venue in order to bring the price down. Offering them free spaces for their staff in exchange for a discount is the classic approach.

Think about the technology you need but don’t feel obliged to use something just because it is there. Arrange to have a technician available on the day to make sure everything is set up correctly and to deal with any gremlins.

6. Lay out a clear plan.

To do lists are very important. Include a list of potential problems and planned solutions.

7. Advertise, advertise, advertise.

It is fairly obvious why this is important. You need people to come.

8. Decide on the catering and keep caterers up to date with numbers and requirements.

Tracy highlighted the importance of thinking about why you are providing food. Is the food there to help people to network, to encourage people to come or just because it is lunchtime and people will be hungry? The purpose of the meal should shape your decisions about what kind of food to provide and how to serve it.

9. Always keep the delegates and the speaker(s) in mind.

Keep everyone informed in the run-up to the event. Look at everything from a delegate’s perspective. Put yourself in their shoes.

10. Add in the “X Factor”.

Think about entertainment. This will involve using the advice from the last tip. Will delegates want a really hard quiz after a tough day’s training? Will anyone want to sing karaoke?

Entertainment also involves checking practicalities like equipment, physical space and license requirements.

11. Check, check and rehearse!

Check everything. Make sure any arrangement with anyone (the venue, speakers, delegates etc) is in writing and confirmed.

12. Prepare meeting material.

Think about the material you will give the delegates. Find a balance between keeping them informed and weighing them down. Spend time on the design of your materials and proof read all of it.

13. On the ground the day before…

Put up signposts. Ask someone else to check if they are easy to follow.

14. On the ground on the day…

You will need a checklist of things to do. It should include what needs to be where and who is responsible for what. Make sure someone is responsible for looking after the speaker(s) when they arrive.

15. After the event…

Get some feedback from delegates. That will help you to improve future events. Thank the speakers. It’s polite and you might want to work with them again. If possible it’s good practice to make presentations available to delegates after the event.


As you can see we all walked away with lots of excellent tips for running an event. I have no immediate plans to set one up myself but when I do I will feel much more confident about it thanks to this session. Event management is a very useful skill set to have. It’s something that I plan to develop in the future.

Thank you to Tracy Kent and the CILIP in London team.

The next Sekforde Arms session will be on 9th January 2012. It’s entitled “What’s happened to Copyright Law?” and the speaker will be Charles Oppenheim from the University of Loughborough. The LIS in London Calendar entry I read said these plans are subject to change so check with CILIP in London nearer the time if you are interested. See you at the bar?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

A New Curriculum for Information Literacy – NetworkED Session at LSE

Last week I attended an online seminar on information literacy hosted by LSE. Dr Jane Secker and Dr Emma Coonan were talking about their project to create a new curriculum for information literacy.

Improving my own research skills teaching is one of my current targets and I heard Jane talk about information literacy earlier this year at the CoFHE LASEC training day / teach meet so I was interested to see what they had come up with.

Webinar Technology

There was a certain amount of good natured cynicism in the office when I said I was going to attend a webinar so I feel I should mention that in this particular case the technology worked very smoothly. The LSE simply live streamed the session from their website and interaction with online participants was handled via twitter.

You can still view the video of the seminar (I don't know how long LSE will keep it up though). The twitter tag for these NetworkED seminars is #LSENetEd.

Researching Information Literacy

The project was backed by the Arcadia Programme which provides funding for experts to spend ten weeks looking at an aspect of “the role of academic libraries in a digital age”. Jane and Emma’s goal was to “develop a new revolutionary curriculum for information literacy in a digital age”.

In her opening comments Emma pointed out that this kind of project involves learning about learning or research about research. It is meta-research.

They started their project by reviewing the literature and getting expert opinion. The latter was done through a modified Delphi study. The modification was that experts were allowed to bounce ideas off each other rather than being questioned in isolation.

The expert consultation played a big part in shaping the curriculum. These were the key lessons that they took from it:

• How you teach is at least as important as what you teach.
• Information literacy needs to be embedded into the academic curriculum.
• Allow for the differences between disciplines.
• Don’t treat students as one homogenous group. Think about their needs.
• A modular curriculum would be more effective because people can then plug bits in.
• Don’t specify particular software or tools because technology moves too fast.
• Beware of myths about technology i.e. the google generation / digital native idea or the assumption that all students have particular tools.
• Active learning is the best way to learn. Adopt a hands-on approach. Let students try things.
• Include opportunities for refection.

One of the problems their literature review uncovered was the perennial issue of the terminology gap between library folk and everyone else. Their plan relies on lecturers delivering the curriculum. Do teaching staff actually know what we mean when we say information literacy? Outside the library world there is a tendency to confuse information literacy with digital literacy, identifying it purely with the ability to find information online rather than thinking about the broader skills involved.

Perhaps more unexpectedly they were also critical of the way the library world uses the term. We tend to bemoan teachers’ tendency to interpret the concept narrowly or to ignore it but there are similar misconceptions that are common among librarians. For example in practice we tend to see it primarily in terms of searching for information. For skilled researchers searching for information involves higher level thinking skills like synthesis, critical evaluation etc. These skills all flow into one another in a “dynamic ongoing process”.

When we run our own information literacy sessions how often do we go any further than nodding towards those higher level thinking skills? I am prepared to admit that most of my own sessions focus on finding information. This is something I need to think about. I will dig out some material on Bloom’s taxonomy.

They also decided that the culture clash between HE and earlier stages of the education system was a central issue for their study. Their point was that newly arrived HE students have to make a sudden adjustment to having to learn independently. Students who struggle with this are pathologised, treated as having a problem and often then passed on to support services.

Personally my initial reaction was that this angle was slightly overplayed. I’m working in an FE college library and I was briefly a secondary school teacher so my immediate response was to feel slightly defensive. I'll admit that we are constrained by a system that can encourage a slightly box ticking, jump through the hoops attitude to education. But that said we do try to encourage independent learning lower down the education system.

Now I’ve had time to reflect I think we need to see this as a challenge. What can we do to make sure that our students leave college with right skills to be good independent learners and to hit the ground running at university? Hopefully looking at this new curriculum will help us.

Libraries obviously have a central role to play in promoting and developing information literacy. Interestingly though Jane and Emma make a point of rejecting the idea that information literacy is “the preserve or saviour of the library”. This isn’t about promoting all the wonderful things that libraries and librarians do to help students to find and use information properly. We can’t jealously guard information literacy as our exclusive territory; it is bigger than any one profession.

One of the central ideas behind their curriculum is that “information literacy needs to be part of the mainstream academic mission”. As far as possible they want it to be integrated into normal teaching but they also see it as something that needs to involve everyone in the institution.

They do acknowledge that gaining that kind of commitment won’t always be easy. It clearly requires a high degree of support from senior management and other areas of the organisation. They recommend building support by thinking in terms of finding the right hooks for each group. Hopefully at FE level preparing students for university should be an effective hook.

We can’t stick to our existing models of ownership. We need teaching staff to see information literacy as their business. Other members of staff also need to be encouraged to buy into the idea. On top of all that librarians need to think beyond our own boundaries.

Delivering the New Curriculum

The curriculum itself is divided into ten strands. Each strand then has five levels. Jane emphasised the point that the strands aren’t intended to follow each other. They aren’t levels that need to be worked through in order or even always looked at separately. Number one is probably the first one a HE teacher should look at but don’t let that distort the way you approach these. The curriculum is intended to be flexible and modular.

1. Transition from school to higher education
2. Becoming an independent learner
3. Developing academic literacies
4. Mapping and evaluating the information landscape
5. Resource discovery in your discipline
6. Managing information
7. Ethical dimension of information
8. Presenting and communicating knowledge
9. Synthesising information and creating new knowledge
10. Social dimension of information literacy

Interestingly after Jane and Emma had outlined their project they explained that the next Arcadia team (there is a new group every ten weeks) is working on looking at the practicalities of actually delivering the new curriculum. They invited Dr Helen Webster from that team to talk to us about her work.

Helen comes from a teaching background so her perspective was slightly different. For example on the issue of terminology she said that at the start of the project she was uncomfortable with the word ‘information’. She associated it with simplistic pedagogies; models of teaching that see education in terms of the simple transfer of information from the teacher’s head to the student’s head. She’s changed her mind now of course but it’s not really practical to get every teacher to take part in this kind of research project.

She argued that for most teachers teaching information literacy is about making explicit processes that they take for granted. Students need their teachers to explain research processes and thought processes that have become invisible to the teachers. This is vitally important for the students but difficult for the teachers.

Arguably this is actually something teachers should be good at by definition. You have to make your own thought processes explicit to students in order to teach maths or literary criticism or anything really. Perhaps it’s more a question of encouraging teachers to use those skills when asking students to carry out research or other tasks that require high levels of information literacy.

One of the difficulties about trying to look at the practical delivery of IL teaching is that IL that’s fully integrated into the academic curriculum is harder to see then IL that is taught in stand alone sessions. The new curriculum is designed to be integrated and the expert advice was that this was best practice. This suggests that the very best examples of IL teaching are among the hardest for researchers to study.

More positively Helen fairly quickly realised that the curriculum was a huge step forward. She wanted to find out what was ‘new’ about the ‘new curriculum’. The answer was that it is a curriculum.

She looked at all the existing information literacy models and frameworks, SCONUL’s seven pillars and the rest. None of them were curriculums. They were of limited use for teaching purposes because they just described the goal. They outline what information literacy is and what an information literate person should be like but they didn’t offer any real guidance on how to help someone reach that goal. Developing an actual curriculum for information literacy seems to be an important step forward in itself.

The curriculum itself and the research that shaped its development can all be accessed via the project’s blog. If you are involved in delivering information literacy teaching then this is a resource that you should look at. It is arguably the first real attempt to create a detailed curriculum for information literacy. It is designed to be flexible and modular so you should be able to pick out some aspects or ideas that you can use in your own context. Please note that it is published under creative commons. They want you to use it but remember to credit them.

Adopting the curriculum in a more in depth way might be more difficult. To get the most out of it a whole university / college approach is best. If that is a short term possibility in your organisation then go for it! If that will take some time and some work (or seems unachievable) then adopting some aspects of the curriculum in your own lessons would be the best place to start. My fellow librarians might want to consider promoting this to academic staff. Encouraging individual teachers or even whole departments to integrate aspects of this curriculum into their teaching could have real benefits for our students. Using it at further education level might help students to bridge the gap between college and university by giving them the independent learning skills that they will need to do well.

If you or your colleagues do use this as a resource then Jane and Emma would welcome any feedback that you might have.