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Case study: shifting your IL teaching online – Hossam Kassem

In this guest post, Hossam Kassem from the Open University (OU) presents the first in a series of case studies compiled by Jane Secker and Sarah Pavey from the CILIP Information Literacy Group to illustrate how different institutions have shifted their information literacy teaching online as part of the response to the COIVD-19 pandemic. 

What is your name? Hossam Kassem Profile Picture

Hossam Kassem

Where are you based and what is your role?

I work for the Open University (OU) as a Learning and Teaching Librarian. I cover the following areas: Academic Liaison, Live Engagement (Online training), Help desk and I am co-Accessibility lead at the library.

What sort of sessions do you run, and what topics do you cover? Describe the session very briefly in terms of any tools you used and activities you planned.

At the OU we have been delivering teaching sessions online since 2010. Our Synchronous sessions are run live in Adobe Connect (an online room system used across the OU).  

We deliver two types of training sessions: 

  1. Targeted training sessions which are embedded into a particular module at a place and time that is suitable to the students, e.g. ahead of an assignment or coursework deadline.
  2. Generic sessions: these sessions are open to all students and staff, from any subject and any level/year, to attend. We run these sessions regularly throughout the academic year. You can find information about our generic training programme on the OU Library website.

Our sessions last from 30 minutes up to 1 hour, and either run during lunch time 12:00-14:00, in the evening between 19:00-2200 and occasionally between 6:00-7:00 am, and mainly cover the following topics:

  • How to use the online library
  • Literature searching – using Library Search or a specialist database
  • Referencing skills
  • Evaluating information
  • Managing your digital footprint
  • Improving your experience accessing online resources (primarily aimed at disabled students)

What do you think the benefits of online teaching are for students?

There are several benefits for online teaching:

  1. You are not limited by the size of the classroom, depending on the technology you are using. Adobe Connect allows up to 400 students in each online room.
  2. The session can be delivered from anywhere and the students can attend from anywhere, all you need is a PC and good internet connection.
  3. At the OU we are not restricted by office hours, and we deliver our sessions in the daytime, evening or weekends. Our internal research indicated that 40% of our students prefer either late evening or very early training sessions. As a result, we rotate our training sessions to suit the needs of our students.
  4. You can make recordings of the session available to students; so anyone can watch them later, especially if they cannot attend live. Also, you can add transcripts and captions for the benefit of disabled students. 

What’s your biggest challenge? 

While there are many benefits to online teaching it has its own challenges:

  1. Technology can fail sometimes.
  2. You must design your sessions to be accessible from the start in order to ensure that anyone can attend them and benefit from them.
  3. Getting students to participate can be a challenge. Unlike f2f sessions you cannot see the attendees, so you need to keep them engaged by asking them questions, running polls and giving them things to do. 

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

Instead of giving 3 top tips I am going to share tips in 3 different areas that online trainers need to consider. These have been taken from a session run by the OU Library in May and June which was attended by HE librarians from across the UK and beyond. The session was run by Hossam Kassem, Fiona Durham and Claire Wotherspoon:

Technical top tips (Claire Wotherspoon)

  1. Select a tool that your organisation supports
  2. Timing is key
  3. Use bandwidth saving techniques
  4. Make use of the software features: chat, polls, screen share, whiteboards, breakout rooms, etc.
  5. Produce/disseminate class materials and guide on using the tool
  6. Inclusive practice from the start

Design top tips (Fiona Durham)

  1.  Objective – be clear, be focused
  2. Learning outcomes – stick to them
  3. Content – based on LO’s, vary the medium
  4. Social presence –  need to be knowledgeable friendly and interested 
  5. Interactivity- engage don’t lecture
  6. Feedback – find out what they really think and want

Accessibility top tips (Hossam Kassem)

  1. Make your slides/session accessible from the start 
  2. Use Microsoft Office Check accessibility feature
  3. Make slides/script available ahead of the session
  4. If you know in advance that one of your students is disabled, ask them for their preferences
  5. For recordings offer transcript and subtitles
  6. Speak clearly


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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