Case study: shifting your IL teaching online – Lesley English

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Lesley English

Lesley English is the Faculty Librarian (Teaching and Learning) at Lancaster University. In this case study she shares her experience of delivering student MSc Dissertation Writing workshops online using MS Teams.

Twitter: @LUni_lesley


What sort of information literacy sessions have you run during the last few months?

I have delivered MSc Dissertation writing workshops. These workshops are developed and delivered with the module leader, Learning Developer and Faculty Librarian across the Faculty of Science & Technology, and are usually run as 2–3 hour face-to-face workshops. As the University moved to online teaching due to the COVID-19 pandemic we converted our first workshop, due to take place on the first day of term, to a synchronous workshop using MS Teams, and a Teams channel was set up for the cohort. This meant we were able to share files and advice on connecting and using Teams before the session, as well as giving a space to ask questions and chat, and to come back to at the point of need. 

It was decided to deliver the synchronous workshops as 2 x 1-hour sessions to minimise screen time in one large block and allow for better concentration.

The workshop is based around past student exemplars, and in the face-to-face session small group work plays a large part, where students discuss the exemplars with peers, understand why they are good examples, clarify marker expectations and develop critical awareness of the difference between the examples and their own writing (Barter, Salamonson, Ramjan & Halcomb, 2018; Sadler, 2002).  While we usually send the dissertation exemplars in advance, it can be hit and miss whether the students have read them. This year we knew with a reduction in contact time that we needed the students to have read sections of the exemplars, so were much clearer in setting out which sections they should read, and asked them to reflect on a series of questions.

We usually start the session with a post-it note exercise, and this time we had asked for questions in advance, but perhaps the format and the lack of anonymity in Teams meant students didn’t post.  During the 1st workshop we tried breakout rooms, and it seemed students were happy to chat in these groups (using microphone) and the more confident members of the groups fed back to the main group. The extracts were annotated and shared following the workshop, Research shows that students value the use of annotated exemplars to scaffold their learning (Handley & Williams, 2011), and annotated extracts were discussed in the session and shared afterwards.

While I usually provide a short demo of library resources and how to plan a search strategy I recorded a short video in advance of the workshop, using Camtasia to add my voice over slides and screen capture, and this was available in the Files area.  It meant in the session I could focus on the structure of the Background section, and the use of the literature.

As a team we were happy with the delivery and content of the two workshops, and the format is being adapted for the MSc dissertation writing workshops in other Science and Technology departments.


What’s gone well with shifting to online teaching?

  1. The use of breakout groups in Teams for small group discussion (but wish it was as easy to set up as it is in Zoom). 
  2. Creating asynchronous content (videos) which can be repurposed, for example, used as stand-alone learning material or as a pre or post-workshop activity.
  3. The opportunities to develop online communities of learners using channels in Microsoft Teams.


What’s been your biggest challenge?

One of the most difficult elements of a synchronous workshop is the student/teacher interaction, particularly with a larger group.  When asking a question or for comments it can feel like a long time waiting for a response, and I need to remember that it can take a few minutes to compose a considered response.

It’s also worth considering that using Chat in Teams is not anonymous, and students can feel quite exposed commenting or answering a question, and we’ve found with some groups that students are less likely to contribute in this way.  We have tried using Padlet as a pre-workshop activity and within the session as it’s anonymous, or polling software such as Mentimeter.  This can be beneficial for a number of reasons – the ability to gain instant feedback, increasing students’ willingness to join in and not being afraid of getting the answer wrong, and also it gives everyone a chance to comment, not just the most dominant students (Wood & Shirazi, 2000).


Can you share 3 top tips for others planning to teach information literacy sessions online?

  1. Think about the active learning techniques you can incorporate within the sessions to encourage deep learning, for example, using Padlet to anonymously gather thoughts, questions and feedback from students, using breakout rooms for peer discussion. 
  2. Allow breaks for students to go and try something out, or just get take time away from their screen.
  3. Always have another member of staff to support you when you’re presenting online, to monitor chat and questions, set up the recording, share links etc.  We’ve used our fantastic front-line library staff to support us, and we are all learning from the experiences.



Carter, R., Salamonson, Y., Ramjan, L. M., & Halcomb, E. (2018). Students use of exemplars to support academic writing in higher education: An integrative review. Nurse Education Today65, 87-93.

Handley, K., & Williams, L. (2011). From copying to learning: Using exemplars to engage students with assessment criteria and feedback. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education36(1), 95-108.

Sadler, D. R. (2002). Ah!… So that’s ‘Quality ’in P. Schartz & Webb, G. (Eds) Assessment Case Studies: Experience and practice from Higher Education. Abingdon: Routledge.

Wood, R., & Shirazi, S. (2020). A systematic review of audience response systems for teaching and learning in higher education: the student experience. Computers & Education, 103896.


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.

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