David Bedford is an Academic Support Librarian at Universities at Medway, and is based at the Drill Hall Library. In this case study he reflects on his experiences of switching his usual teaching practice to synchronous and asynchronous modes of online delivery.
What sort of information literacy sessions have you run during the last few months?
A lot of my regular work has shifted online – this has included one-to-one tutorials, synchronous sessions for anything from 5-100 students and asynchronous learning materials. Topics have largely been around searching for electronic information, evaluating information and referencing.
For tutorials, I have used whatever works – mostly Microsoft Teams, Blackboard Collaborate and Skype.
For synchronous teaching sessions, I have mostly been using Blackboard Collaborate, which has worked really smoothly for the most part. I need to become more familiar with Teams for this.
What’s gone well with shifting to online teaching?
Gratitude! Many people have been really pleased (and surprised) that the library can continue to offer teaching and support and are grateful for everything that we can offer.
Interactive elements have largely gone well, but not always in the way I have expected! Finding ways of facilitating interaction in the online environment has been a steep learning curve. However, I have found that students are generally happy to engage in discussion etc., particularly if the first questions are very “low stakes”. It has been interesting to see the different ways each group prefers to engage – some like to speak, while in other groups everyone uses the chat box. Use of polls allows the whole group to participate in a low-stress way, as their fellow participants have no idea what answer they gave! As time goes on, I gradually get more adventurous with means of online interaction.
Being “human” is important, and has been welcomed by students. The tone of my professional social media presence has become more relaxed and personal (a change I will keep) and I have tried to maintain this in my teaching interactions. Also, in one-to-ones, I have found that students are keen to connect about the strangeness of the situation before diving in to what they wanted to ask.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is probably managing myself. Online teaching is hard and it’s exhausting. For me, preparing a good set of asynchronous learning materials takes longer than preparing a workshop, and a synchronous online session with more than a few students is far more tiring than an equivalent face-to-face session. Plus, there are the challenges of working in a different environment, with an internet connection which isn’t a patch on what I’d get on site.
There have been times when “good enough” has not felt enough, but I have had to persuade myself that it really is! Scheduling a short break after group teaching sessions has helped.
I have been very bad at asking for help, but so grateful for it! I have realised that trying to do this alone is neither sensible nor sustainable.
Can you share 3 top tips for others planning to teach information literacy sessions online?
- Don’t try to do it alone! If you have more than a handful of students, have someone with you in the session to help manage the chat box. Even better, arrange to team teach in short chunks, giving the students a change of voice (and you a rest). Plus, if your internet connection decides to play pranks on you, having a second person stops that becoming a disaster!
- Find out how the platforms you use appear on different devices and browsers. For instance, the experience of using Microsoft Teams signed in via a desktop app is vastly different than using it as a guest via a web browser. Knowing these things can help you plan a more inclusive session.
- If you have a lesson plan or notes, stick these up just behind your device so that when you glance at them, your eye line is closer to your camera. Of course, if you turn your camera off, that no longer matters!
This case study was produced in response to a survey being carried out by the CILIP Information Literacy Group Chair, Jane Secker, and one of the CILIP Information Literacy Group’s School Library reps, Sarah Pavey, who are carrying out some research into the shift to online teaching that has taken place in UK education in relation to information literacy teaching.