Laura Woods is Secretary of the Information Literacy Group, and is Subject Librarian for Computing and Engineering at the University of Huddersfield. In this post, she discusses her recent experience of completing a PGCHE, and how this has benefited her role as a teacher-librarian.
Over the past academic year, I have been studying towards a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education (PGCHE), for which I was lucky to get funding from my employer.
The PGCHE course is required for all new academic staff at the University of Huddersfield. The University has a target for 100% of academic staff to hold teaching qualifications and be Fellows of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA). The course is therefore tailored to the requirements of FHEA accreditation.
It is not compulsory for non-academic staff to be qualified teachers or have FHEA status, but it is encouraged as part of the Library Subject Team’s team plan. Several of my colleagues have completed this course in previous years, so I knew from them how beneficial it was.
I wanted to do this qualification as teaching is a significant part of my role as a librarian, but I don’t feel like it comes naturally to me. I had never done any significant teaching before starting in my current role in 2014, so most of what I know I have learned on the job. I had completed some training in this area already (notably a week-long intensive Level 3 City & Guilds certificate in Teaching & Learning at Northern College in 2016, funded by the Information Literacy Group), but I really wanted more of a comprehensive, theoretical underpinning for my teaching practice.
Outline of the course
The course included a taught session every Friday afternoon, where I was able to meet and discuss with other teaching staff on the course. This was probably one of the most valuable aspects of the course in many ways, as it allowed me to get to know some of the newer teaching staff in the School I support as a Subject Librarian!
The assessment, which I submitted in June, was a portfolio of evidence on development of my teaching practice throughout the year, a completed Personal Development Plan (PDP), records of at least four teaching observations I had to complete throughout the year, and an 8,000-word reflective commentary.
The time commitment was substantial, but manageable within my current role. I was fortunate that my line manager is very supportive of this kind of development activity, so I was able to have the Friday afternoons away from work to actually attend the course, and was able to spend some work time putting together my portfolio. I did sacrifice pretty much all of my weekends throughout the year: there was a lot of background reading to do, and I also spent my weekends writing up reflective diaries on “critical incidents” that had occurred in the previous week.
It was fairly straightforward to fit in around my work as the point of the course is to reflect on and develop your own teaching. The most valuable advice I received before I started, which I would pass on to anyone else considering doing this or a similar qualification, was to gather evidence and keep a reflective diary as I went along. I was really grateful for this advice when I came to assemble my final portfolio at the end: it would have been an impossible task if I hadn’t kept on top of it throughout the year!
Adapting the course to a non-traditional teaching role
One of my biggest concerns when starting was how much of the course would be relevant to my role. Although teaching is a significant part of my job, it is not my only responsibility, and I don’t do nearly as many teaching hours as the other people on my course were doing. I was reassured by the fact that other librarians in my team had completed the qualification before, so I knew it was possible, but I still worried that what I was doing wasn’t enough to fill a portfolio.
In the end, I think those worries were misplaced. There were certainly aspects of the course that weren’t really applicable to me: grading and assessment, for example, and module and curriculum planning. A lot of the discussion around behaviour management also centred on techniques that required building a relationship with your learners over time, which as a librarian I don’t have the opportunity to do!
However, I was able to reflect on this within my reflective commentary, and discuss some of the techniques I’d used within the constraints of library teaching. For example, although I am not involved in any formal, summative assessment, I do use a lot of formative assessment in class. I also talked a lot in my reflective commentary about the specific challenges of the standard one-shot library class, and what techniques I had tried (successfully or otherwise…) to address these.
The course has already changed my teaching practice. Even within a month of starting, I was trying out new techniques and rethinking my old lesson plans, to incorporate things I’d learned. As I prepare for the upcoming academic year, I’m looking forward to building on this even further.
A lot of the course confirmed things I already knew were good practice, about for example active learning and encouraging discussion. What the course did for me was to give me a better theoretical framework for understanding why these are good practice. It also gave me a new way to think about some of my previous successes and failures in teaching.
I wrote quite a bit in my reflective commentary about some previous teaching sessions that had gone horribly wrong and really knocked my confidence. Studying on this course allowed me to see those experiences in a new light, and understand some of the potential reasons why things had gone so wrong, and what else I could have done to avoid and/or address these. This has made me more confident in the classroom, and I’m looking forward to some classes this year that in previous years I would have been dreading.
I do think I benefitted from going into this course with a couple of years’ teaching experience already under my belt. I think if I had done this in my first or second year in this role, I wouldn’t have been able to apply my learning so readily as I wouldn’t have had the contextual understanding I needed.
I’ve already mentioned above that one of the major benefits of the course was getting to meet and get to know other teaching staff from across the University. I’ve already had some conversations with a couple of my coursemates about collaborating on some teaching sessions this year, which would never have happened previously with any of my academic staff!
I was also able to do a bit of stealth-advocacy for libraries and librarians, by virtue of being there on the course. I know some of the other staff on the course were a bit surprised to see a librarian there, as I don’t think they’d realised the extent of the teaching we do. I was vocal throughout the course about the type of teaching I do, and how it benefits students – and I had several requests from academics on the course to come in and speak to their students!
I also ended up doing ad-hoc library support throughout the course. I understand from my librarian colleagues who have also completed this course that this is a common occurrence! Most of the weekly teaching sessions would start with someone collaring me, asking for advice on library databases, referencing, EndNote, etc. I actually ended up arranging a mini-workshop on EndNote before class one week as so many people had asked for help with it!
My hope is that, having experienced the kind of one-to-one support librarians can provide, these academics will be more likely to invite us in to their classes, and refer their students to us for support. Time will tell!
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the course this year, and am grateful to have had the opportunity. I would recommend any librarian with teaching responsibilities look into doing this or a similar course. It really does give you a better toolkit to draw from when teaching, as well as a better framework for understanding your own practice.
I would love to hear from other librarians who have teaching qualifications. Do you think it was worthwhile? How has it affected your practice long term?
I would also be delighted to chat with anyone who is considering this, or is at the start of this process. Please do comment with any questions/concerns, and I will do my best to answer them!