I’d wanted to go on it because I am relatively new to teaching – it hadn’t formed much of any of my previous jobs until I started as Subject Librarian at Huddersfield University back in October. I’ve been very conscious while at Huddersfield that I don’t really know what I’m doing when it comes to teaching. Most of my sessions end up being very formulaic, “use this database for this topic, search it by clicking here and typing these things”-type of demonstrations. I really want to get away from that and do more engaging teaching of information skills rather than the mechanics of how to search specific databases, but I’ve really lacked the confidence to try and do much different with my teaching.
I’d attended a short internal training course at work, aimed at people with no prior teaching experience who were expected to do some teaching as part of their role, called TAPP (Teaching Assistant Preparation Programme). That helped in that it gave me some background information in the theories of teaching and learning, but I didn’t really find it much practical help – I can’t honestly say I’ve applied much of what I learned from that course, because I couldn’t really connect it much to what I was doing in my own teaching. It seemed very focused on people who were teaching classes as part of a full, assessed course, and it was difficult to know how to apply it to library teaching, where I will usually only see any group of students once, and none of what I teach is officially assessed (although of course they are skills that will help with their actual assessments, but it’s difficult to get students to understand this!).
So I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this course. I was interested in the fact that it was specifically aimed at librarians, and that it was a residential course, with the expectation that we’d all spend time together in the evenings and share ideas to support each other. I was a little worried that it would be a similar experience to the internal course I’d been on, and that I’d come away with little idea of how I would actually apply anything I’d learned. I was also slightly worried that I’d be massively out of my depth: that everyone there would be really experienced at teaching already and would breeze through things that I would struggle with. I think that was my old friend Horace speaking…
I was also generally anxious about meeting a load of new people, and spending a week in close quarters with them. This really shouldn’t have been a worry – librarians are generally a pretty lovely bunch, and I already knew two people on the course (my fabulous colleagues from Huddersfield, Penny Dunn and Andrew Walsh). But I do have a small amount of social anxiety, and I’m also a natural introvert so the prospect of spending a full week doing group work and socialising with a brand new group of people was slightly daunting to me.
That was a very long preamble to the point that: I really needn’t have worried. Taking the social side first: yes, it was tiring being “on” all week with people I didn’t initially know. But everyone was so lovely – and of course, everyone was in the same boat, something I have a tendency to forget in all my nervousness at going into a new situation! The course tutor, Jill, also did a fantastic job of fostering a supportive environment in the group – something I’ll talk about later when I get on to discussing the actual course! – which really helped us all connect and feel comfortable in the group. As well as everything I’ve learned, the main thing I’ll take away from last week is a great group of new friends 🙂
And I really have learned so very, very much. I can honestly say I’ve learned more in the past week than I have at any course, conference or other training event (possibly even at library school!) in the past. That in itself has taught me a lot about teaching and learning: on the TAPP course, we talked a lot about active learning, but although we did do a fair amount of learning activities, a substantial chunk of the course still consisted of us listening to the lecturer. The absurdity of this has only just struck me really: why would we stick to this method, when so much of the course focused on how ineffective it is for learning?
On last week’s course though, throughout the whole week I can count the number of occasions when we were just sat listening. They were incredibly few and far between, and never for long periods. For most of the week we were active participants, and teaching each other through discussion and activities rather than passively being taught. Because of this, I really feel like I’ve understood and retained everything we did this week – whereas I’d struggle to tell you the contents of many other training courses I’ve been on.
There was so much covered, I don’t think I could possibly cover it all here. Instead, over the next couple of posts, I’m going to give a brief outline of what we did/covered each day, my own reflexions* on these, and what difference I think it will make to my own practice.
Also, just to note how much I now LOVE the Northern College! As well as being an absurdly beautiful place to study (it’s a former stately home – see some of the photos in this post for how gorgeous it is!), it has a great attitude and ethos. It has a history in adult education for people who may have lacked opportunities earlier in life, strong ties with trade unions, and a commitment to social purpose learning. I hadn’t known any of this before the course began, but I really appreciated it once there – it was very evident throughout the course that this was a real focus for them, and consequently would be for us in our own teaching.
*That isn’t a typo, by the way. In the roadmap we were given before the course, there was a lot of talk about “reflexion” and “reflexive practice”, which I initially thought were mis-spellings! On the first day of the course, we talked about the difference between reflection and reflexion – the latter is apparently the form most often used in teaching literature. Essentially, where reflective practice is seen as often a short, shallow process (e.g. I did this, it didn’t work, therefore next time I will do this; or I did this, it worked therefore I will keep doing it), reflexive practice is meant to be more in-depth, constructive and flexible. So rather than the short three-stage process in the example I just gave, reflexive practice would ask: why did/didn’t it work? What other factors could have affected it? Were the outcomes different than I expected, and if so is that necessarily a failure? If it was successful, how could it further be refined? What else might a successful outcome look like?
This might seem like quibbling over semantics, but I found it helpful to consider whether what I was doing was reflective or reflexive practice when I was writing up my daily reflexions on the course – once I got used to spelling it wrong! I found the distinction useful, but your mileage may vary, of course.