Archive for July, 2010

Librarians as Teachers – Calling all students, practitioners and wise owls

I am writing this post to put my feelers out really and find out what folk think so comments and feedback are requested please.

Since finishing an MSc in library and information management I have been considering doing a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCHE) because in my current role in an academic library I do some teaching but I have never had any teacher training.  The inspiring speakers at the Librarians as Teachers: The new professionals? event in May 2010 convinced me it was definitely something I should do for many reasons, a few of them being:

  • Let’s face it, what we teach is often quite dry. How can I make it more engaging and so become a better teacher?
  • Lots of employers are looking for teaching qualifications these days with some seeing them as important as a library studies qualification
  • A teaching qualification can garner increased recognition from academic colleagues and in turn raise the libraries profile (hopefully)
  • It will give me more scope for varied career progression

Teaching is also one of my favourite and most rewarding parts of the job and I want to be the best I can be at it.

So I applied and have been accepted on the PGCHE course held where I work. I start in September and I am a bit nervous because it is really a course that is geared towards academics who are already teaching and so my librarian colleagues who have done the course before me said they found it really hard to make the course relevant to their practice (this is a major reason why I was in two minds about doing the course initially). I also have to clock up 150 hours of teaching time in a higher education context over the period of the course which is A LOT if you are not running a specific course. I do tonnes of induction courses, some later follow-up sessions on journal searching etc. I train support staff employed to assist disabled students and I do sporadic one-to-one sessions with dissertation and research students throughout the year.  So it is a bit…um, well sporadic and so I am going to have to be creative if  I want to complete the course  Which is where all of you potentially come in!!

I have spoken to a lot of people in a similar position to me and the Librarians as Teachers event sparked a lot of conversation about the subject via Twitter. The event evaluation form asked for ideas of how the conversation could be continued. In response to this I am thinking of setting up a Wiki or something where anyone thinking about doing a similar PG Cert, anyone actually on a teaching course, those who have done the course and would be happy to give us the benefit of their knowledge, and experts in the area (such as the speakers at the event) could share ideas, experiences, and support. I for one would find that incredibly helpful. Even those not doing a course may find this a useful resource if their job involves teaching.

Let me know what you think. There is no point of me setting something up if no one is interested. If you are not particularly interested yourself but know someone who might, please point them in my direction. I suspect that there is a huge network of knowledge and experience out there waiting to be tapped.

I also have never set up anything like a Wiki before so any advice there would be welcome too.

(if there is something already out there and I am reinventing the wheel please enlighten me and I will stand in a corner and face the wall) 😀

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Your MSc Dissertation – A Rare Opportunity!

I just wanted to write a quick post about something I have been thinking about for a while that may help current library and information studies students.

When my cohorts and I were considering our dissertation topics a few people commented on how they wanted to pick something straight-forward and get it done ASAP…as long as they passed this was enough. I can totally see why they had this attitude after a 1-2 year slog with a heavy work load – particularly those with families, a full-time job and other commitments. I was lucky because although I had a full-time job I don’t have any dependants so I could spent my free time working on my research guilt free….and it was still hard going. Anyway, I just wanted to offer some advice to anyone about to embark on the dissertation  adventure.

Pick something that fascinates you or it will seem a massive chore that you will be loath to spend time on. Your research project can offer up many opportunities if you let it. Off the back of my dissertation (and with a bit of luck!) I have been invited to present three talks, I appeared on the local BBC radio show talking about my research trip, had an article written about me in a local paper and co-authored an article for a peer-reviewed journal (pending). I am in the process of writing another one and who knows what else is in store but I still have lots of ideas and ambitions for it. My dissertation is my most proudest achievement to date. I got my marks in Feb 2010 and I am still reaping the rewards. I just wanted to say this as I don’t remember these potential opportunities being promoted to me whilst I was on the course…but there really is more to it than you think. I mean, there will be limited opportunities for many people to do research like this when in a professional post due to time restraints and other pressures, so make the most of this chance now. Find something you can get your teeth into and most of all enjoy! As my long-suffering friends and family know all too well, although it was a very rewarding experience, I put blood (well maybe not blood but I did pick up a tropical illness along the way!) sweat and tears into my research and I am now going to let it work for me! It can get you published, your first conference paper, and gives you something you are really passionate about to talk about knowledgeably  in job interviews.

Best of luck all!

(disclaimer: I did warn you in my profile that I have a tendency to be overbearingly enthusiastic some times;)

Prezi and Me – CDG West Country AGM and International and Health Libraries Event

International and Health Libraries

So yesterday I went to the AGM of the West Country Branch of CILIP’s Career Development Group at which I had been invited to talk about my experience of carrying out research in Malawi at a rural primary school library

The first presentation was delivered by Jane Villa from North Bristol NHS trust who talked about her experience of running a workshop in Kenya at the University of Nairobi on “Evidence Based Health Care: the role of the librarian” as part of the Kenya Health Information Partnership Her talk reminded me of something that I had become aware of when I was researching for my dissertation -that the health library sector are very good at building international networks, collaborating and finding ways of improving access to health information in developing countries. Jane said that international partnerships “have become mainstream in the NHS” so it is easier to secure funding for projects (however she was unsure how long this will continue under a new government). I think libraries in other sectors should be seen as important to the development process and I think that those who do seek to provide such services have a lot  to learn from the health sector.   Ok, for obvious reasons it is vital that researchers, practitioners and academics in developing countries have access to the most recent and relevant health and scientific information, but opening up access to information for other audiences is also vital. For example, school libraries are ideally placed to fill the resource gap faced by schools in developing countries, but the networks, collaboration, partnerships and needs-based evaluation are lacking in this area. Maybe we should look to international health partnerships and to organisations such as International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications for ways to rectify this. I believe this is vital…after all, school is where the researchers, academics and practitioners of the future are!

Thanks to Jane for such an interesting and informative talk.

Here is my presentation which followed (navigate through the presentation with the arrows at the bottom. It is better to view Prezi “full screen”, so you can view the notes I have added, which can be accessed by clicking the title at the bottom of video, viewing it through VodPod and selecting “full screen” under the “more”menu on bottom right hand side )

Vodpod videos no longer available.

One of the event organisers mentioned that someone had commented to her how surprising it was to get two speakers at one event talking about international libraries! why is this?? I think this really needs to be rectified and we need to get out there as we really do have so much to give and so much to learn. International librarianship should be included in every library school course in my opinion. So many people have said to me they would not have considered all of the complex elements involved in library aid and the role that librarians have to play in international development, if they hadn’t been in my talk. I love that at this and the AULIC event people have been genuinely interested in what I had to say and I hope that I have encouraged them to look a bit further afield and perhap even consider getting involved in similar projects themselves 😀

Prezi, me and my attempt at changing my approach to presenting

As mentioned above I did a similar presentation for an AULIC event in June which I didn’t feel went so well so for this one I decided to change my approach. Things I wanted to change:

1) Props: Despite knowing my subject inside out and being very passionate about it I am terrified of going totally blank when a sea of faces are looking at me, forgetting the simplest of words and saying stupid things, so I use a full script as a crutch. It usually works for me as it is more of a comfort blanket than anything, I don’t read it straight off and I do look up and address the audience…but this time it FAILED. It distracted me, stemmed my flow and made my talk seem staggered. (note: this wasn’t helped by the fact some of my old tutors were in the audience, one of whom had been um..a little sceptical of my research ambitions…so I was VERY nervous) However, I noticed that when I took questions at the end of my presentation I came alive..my thoughts, opinions and knowledge flowed. All the nerves disappeared and the audience responded positively.  So I decided NOTE FREE might be the way to go. I CAN DO IT, Go JoBo!!!…Eeeek!

B) Visual Tools: It was a requirement of my MSc course in library and information studies that we were assessed in controlled conditions once for each module as well as submitting one piece of written work. One of the few ways this could be done was by presentation, so over two years my cohorts and I presented almost to death! As a result I have become a bit tired of Powerpoint and almost compile them mechanically, so I decided it was time for a change and looked for other options. There has been a lot of talk on Twitter about Prezi and having seen some examples of great looking presentations on their website I decided to give it a go.

Prezi – my trials and tribulations

A lot of people I know have mentioned that they have been considering using Prezi themselves so I thought it might be useful to share my experiences. Judging by comments from my Twitter network people either seem to love Prezi or are a bit apprehensible to say the least. There is the danger that it can make an audience seasick as the presenter whizzes them around the material doing loop-the-loops and whirl-mcswirls. I looked at examples on Prezi of other Prezi presentations and established that there were some REALLY BAD examples and some REALLY GOOD ones like this one and this one . It became clear that with the best ones the authors had thought really carefully on the placement of the material within the presentation and the path that you took the audience through. The bad ones seem to get a bit carried away with the whizzy things Prezi can do, forgetting about the original point of doing a presentation. The most important this to remember is that  THE OLD RULES OF PRESENTING STILL APPLY. It has to be clear, consistent and follow a coherent path.  DO NOT use functions just for the sake of it. I remember the early days of Powerpoint when folk got a little carried away with flashing font etc …then we all agreed that SIMPLE IS BEST…this still applies.

Compiling a Prezi – my tips and thoughts

  • Do NOT attempt to do it on a laptop without a mouse or Prezi misbehaves and shoots all over the place – I nearly launched my laptop out of the window on many occasions. It was much easier on a PC with a mouse. However, I have to say although I found Prezi infuriating to use but I am happy with the result. (it is embedded here as you can see and any thoughts would be most welcome – feel free to comment)
  • Prezi has no spell check…and for someone who cannot spell (me!) that can be a problem…I hope there are no spelling mistakes in my presentation.
  • I found it really useful to organise my thoughts in Prezi. It is so easy to move ideas around and delete/add to them that I used it initially as a mind-mapping tool in a way I couldn’t with Powerpoint. I think this really helped me to improve the flow and make my points more concise (and the end result had barely a bullet point in sight!!!) It made it more dynamic and I really had to think about what I wanted to say and how…something that had become mechanical when compiling a Powerpoint.
  • WARNING – I found Prezi extremely  temperamental.  Sometimes it would upload jpg images, sometimes it wouldn’t (on one occasion it took me two hours to persuade it too and I never did figure out why it suddenly decided to play nice!) I also tried to add a YouTube video to it –  a potentially useful function but in practice the video looked really pixelated and a bit rubbish when viewed through Prezi. I tried to address this by changing the format of the original video file on Zamzar.com to a flv file after some helpful advise from a lovely Twitter friend…only to be told by Prezi the file had become to big for it to be uploaded…grrrr! I managed to do it in the end by converting the YouTube video to flv on Zamzar, the result was a smaller flv file that uploaded and looked better. Please don’t ask me why…I have NO idea!  Perhaps someone wiser than me could explain???
  • When I tried to download the final presentation (as advised by Prezi with really limited instructions) on to my computer to take as a back up (as all super prepared presenters should) I has so many problems. It would not download on my computer so I had to race into work and try on two different computers. It finally downloaded as a Zip file that had so many components in it I had no idea how to find the actual presentation! (again, perhaps someone could enlighten me on this?) so I had to go without a back up and access it online. I had been considering taking a Powerpoint back up with me in case of technical failure but I had spent so long faffing with Prezi and coaxing it to do what I wanted that I didn’t have time…and quite frankly if Prezi was that great I shouldn’t need a back up using another programme…the whole point was to be Powerpoint free! The upside to this was that in normal circumstances I would have gone to the event feeling terrified that Prezi would fail but, because I felt free from Powerpoint and the script, and because I had spent so long working on my presentation, I thought “what the hey..if all else fails? I know my subject. I know what I want to say. I will just talk sans visual aids!!” Ooooh! HELLO new confidence and embracing risky strategies! 🙂
  • The non-pay version of Prezi insists that your presentations be publicly available. I don’t mind this but it did make me really think about what details I should include. I normally put all my contact details on my presentations but I didn’t with this one.I left on my name and where I work as people could easily find this anyway but I still do not know if I did the right thing. My presentation was for my audience but the tool I was using was making me limit the information I would normally have given them. This has led me to question whether this defeated the whole point?
  • Prezi is not so easy to print out for people to make notes on but it is easy for people to access online without you having to post it anywhere that might require passwords etc and you can embed it in your blog which also serves to draw traffic to your blog and I hope to encourage feedback.
  • Embedding the presentation in a wordpress.com hosted blog is not straightforward. After a lot of cursing I found (thanks to the same lovely Twitter friend mentioned above that I hear-by name Super Man) that the only way to do it was to sign up with VodPod and post it into my blog this way. I have been told it is easy to embed in wordpress.org and other blogs however.
  • Prezi advises that after the event you add comments into your presentation so it makes sense without the presenter. This I have duly done, but again, it took ages. The only option available is to put these comments into the presentation itself, which I think makes it look messy, unlike with notation in Powerpoint which can be at the bottom and subtle. Due to the restrictive nature of the templates I also could not find a note-type font similar to those demonstrated in Prezi’s guidelines so mine had to be red and bold to make it different from the rest of the text…..hardly ideal! I hope this does not cause to much confusion and annoyance to people looking at it. Let me know your thoughts? Maybe there is a better way of doing it but I could not figure it out…another usability issue!

If you are thinking of using Prezi then go for it but please make sure you have PLENTY of time and patience, consider whether it is appropriate for your audience and try not to make folk seasick. It has been suggested to me that the problems I encountered may have been because it takes a while to get used to using Prezi but I was working on it on and off for three weeks and in my opinion, if after this time I was still having problems with it, it is not user-friendly enough.

Conclusion

I think overall my presentation was a success. Without the shackles of a script my talk flowed and I was able to get back that old enthusiasm. I had spent so long organising my ideas and compiling my Prezi that I really felt like I knew what I what I wanted to say. Driving the Prezi was fine and I only lost my place once because I pressed the wrong button. I am yet to receive formal feedback from my audience but I got good verbal feedback from the people I did speak to. A really interesting discussion was had at the end of my presentation which indicated that I had succeeded in engaging my audience. This new approach really worked for me. I am in two minds as to whether I will use Prezi again and I await feedback from my audience and readers to help me decide.

Oh, I also learnt that it is probably is not a good idea to tweet your Prezi technical dramas when the person who invited you to speak is following you on Twitter…they may have a heart attack – Sorry Lizz!

Any thoughts on any part of this blog post be it my presentation subject, Prezi or the art of presenting in general would be most welcomed 😀

Thanks to the West Country branch of CILIP’s Career Development Group for inviting me to speak. I had a lovely day and met some lovely people and thanks to Southmead Hospital Library for welcoming us and for the fascinating tour at the end.

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