Monday, 11 April 2016

Lilac Linings Playbook

On the CILIP IL Group stand
LILAC 2016 must have been good as it has inspired my first blog post on here in 3 years! When I last wrote a post, just after LILAC 2013, I was leading a single life in London and working at the University of Westminster. Now, I'm married with 2 cats, live in Berkshire and work at Royal Holloway. How times change! LILAC, I'm happy to report, is still as brilliant as ever though. This was the fifth LILAC I'd attended and I wanted to share my thoughts on one of the topics that particularly struck a chord with me, that being anxiety and emotions, both for students and librarians.

Aurélie Gandour's session "Lowering students' anxiety during information skills training with active learning" gave some useful tips about ways to teach IL to students who are not very comfortable with using a computer. I can relate to this situation with some of the students I teach and know that computers can prove a barrier to their learning when they are just starting their studies. Their stress levels are raised just by logging in and trying to navigate to the Library homepage - this can take up a good 15 minutes of a one hour session.

Aurélie made the connection between computer anxiety and library anxiety, and the barrier this can cause to teaching IL. The last thing we want to be doing in the session is putting students off using the resources because they think their computer skills prevent them from being able to find them. By going back to basics by beginning the session with activities that do not require the computer, the students will feel more comfortable and will therefore be in a better frame of mind to learn. Aurélie gave us several examples of activities that she gives to her students at this stage and you can find these in her slideshow below. It's basically all about easing them in gradually so by the time they do go onto the computer they have a much better experience than if they'd leapt straight in. I will definitely try out some of these. My only concern is that there are always a few very capable and confident PC users in the class, but I still think they can benefit from this approach and can help with the activities.

My favourite idea from the session was how Aurélie gets the students to reflect on their learning using a "chimera" activity - see slides 22 and 23 for more information on this.

I was fortunate enough to be chairing Mike Courtney and Carrie Donovan's session on research done that relates to how students might feel when putting their IL skills into action. Unsurprising, these emotions are not predominently joy and excitement but frustation and worry. Once again, anxiety is rearing its head. The session discussed an ethnographic study of students that involved meeting students throughout research project, at all stages, in order to draw out the process. It showed that students get frustrated when they feel like they are meeting dead ends or repeating processes. They also experience anxiety when trying to find viable resources, as they are often unsure whether they've found the right information or source. They worry about not being able to find enough information and don't know when to stop searching. This could be because they are looking for one perfect bit of information to support what they're researching, which may not exist. 

The conclusion of the session was that it's worth the time and energy to find out how your students feel.

In her excellent keynote, Char Booth also talked about emotions and anxiety, but this time mostly in relation to us as teacher librarians. I think the majority of the audience could relate to the "heinous trauma" of being thrown into a classroom to teach IL skills, when pedagogy wasn't taught on our librarianship course. I know this was my experience and at first it was terrifying! Slide 61 pretty much sums it up!

By reflecting on our IL sessions, we can lessen our anxiety levels and become more confident in our teaching abilities. Char recommended a 3 question reflection after each session, for example: what worked? what didn't work? what should I follow up on?

I could write for hours about Char's keynote alone, never mind the rest of LILAC, but I'm going to stop there. Hopefully this brief report of 2 parallel sessions and a keynote has given you an idea of what an amazing and useful conference it was!

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