Universities Science & Technology Librarians Group 4th Dec 2012
A meeting for science and technology librarians held at the University of Portsmouth on the topic of engaging students
Linda Humphreys, Bath: Engaging chemistry students: finding data and drawing compounds
Linda had had some problems getting teaching sessions with chemistry students at appropriate times until two teaching fellows were appointed who introduced a key skills module and saw the benefit of library input. She now teaches them plagiarism and referencing, finding chemical and physical data and using Reaxys. She talked about some useful tools she uses for finding chemical and physical data. Although we don’t have a chemistry department is useful to be reminded of them for chemical engineers and biochemists.(Details at http://www.bath.ac.uk/library/subjects/chem/). Students have problems in deciding which tools to use when they may give different data – she has to teach them ways of deciding the reliability of the source and how to cross-correlate to check results. Students were engaged with the sessions because they were directly related to course work.
She had also introduced voluntary sessions in the second year to teach ChemBioDraw, a software package for drawing chemical structures. This was mainly because students struggled with it but nobody on campus taught it. This led to an interesting discussion about what subject librarians should teach. Others had been asked to teach things like book reviewing and mind mapping which are outside our usual role. Most felt that it is worth teaching things outside our traditional role if we are able to as it helps to make academics take notice of us, although many have colleagues with different views. One librarian will only teach a mind mapping session if students have had a proper literature searching session so uses it as a hook. Lynda.com was mentioned – an online site which has material to teach many different software packages. The discussion also touched on which referencing software people teach. Many teach EndNote but some felt the balance would tip towards free sites like Mendeley and one university had introduced training sessions on different tools to allow their researchers to choose.
Timothy Collinson / Emily White, Portsmouth: “Engaging students using social networking”
Portsmouth had built up good student engagement by encouraging staff to be creative. Emily had been on the loans team and is now a senior library assistant on the enquiry team. She has done a lot to build up their Facebook presence, including using historical shots of the building to build up a timeline. Emily told us that building up a history and telling a story can help to create an emotional connection. It is important to remember that students will probably only go to your Facebook page once and thereafter will just see your posts in their own news feed. Posts with photos receive 2 or 3 times more clicks than those without. They get lots of people viewing their Facebook page apart from those who “follow” it.
The library also has a Thing of the Day blog which mixes quirky material such as bizarre web sites with informational posts,Youtube and Pinterest sites, a Google Plus site and Twitter feed. The Google Plus site is not used well but others are. They try to keep a friendly, conversational style and as a result the number of enquiries they receive via social media have built up as they are seen as approachable. Timothy emphasised that you need to think about listening to what students are saying and consider it as a conversation rather than sending out lots of information.
There was discussion about how much time all this takes. Portsmouth have several people who are interested and it doesn’t usually take a huge amount of time though they don’t monitor it exactly. The enquiry team monitor incoming enquiries as they would for anything else. There is some cross posting but they don’t automatically feed all material to all channels as they feel that different social media sites have different purposes and identity. Management had been dubious initially and they had had to struggle to be allowed time to do things but they can now see the benefit.
Timothy and Emily were very enthusiastic and I picked up some useful ideas and intend to read their paper in Aliss Quarterly at http://eprints.port.ac.uk/1508/ (Exterminating
boredom: synergy and creativity in an academic library). In the discussion a librarian from Southampton mentioned that they have involved students in posting on their facebook page which has been popular.
Adam Edwards, Middlesex: “It’s a library knockout! engagement activity”
Adam talked about ways he tries to engage students in his teaching sessions. He is currently working for a teaching in HE qualification. He tried out a good, simple idea on us – handing out cards with book, journal, trade journal, web page etc which we had to match with a definition and what they are good for – a good ice breaker type activity for literature searching sessions. He also gave us an evaluation form and some photocopies of material which we had to judge using the form – none of them were actually suitable for academic work so it would be a good way to get students thinking about this. He advised putting people in groups of 3 as that is the optimum number to get them discussing properly. This session was a timely reminder that you can use quite simple games / activities as a good learning tool and I would like to work something similar into some of our own literature searching sessions to make them more lively.
We had a tour of Portsmouth University Library. They are clearly dealing with some of the same issues as ourselves – for example, they have tried some 24 hour opening and have had issues with students having pizza delivered as well as cleaning issues, they are moving some staff to make group study rooms for students, as are we and they have constant requests for more plugs. They are intending to dispose of some scientific journals to make room for student study space – around 50% have only been borrowed once in the last ten years so these will probably go. A lot of the issues are probably due to the challenge of trying to make 60s and 70s buildings fit the changing needs of modern students.
I felt that this was a useful day. I picked up some information about chemistry information which will be useful to me and also some ideas about how to liven up teaching sessions and develop our social media presence. As the speakers were all enthusiastic I felt this gave me an injection of enthusiasm to try some things out for myself and it is always useful to hear what other subject librarians are doing as we face many of the same issues. Thanks to the Kathleen Cooks Bequest fund for this opportunity.