Andrew Eynon’s Library Blog

A blog about librarianship in Further Education

Carrying out the library educator role

Posted by andrewey on February 5, 2009

Unit 7 of the Applications of ICT in Libraries qualification is ‘Carrying out the Net Educator role’. This unit is where library staff examine ‘teaching’ in the context of libraries.

The ‘net educator’ was a particular facet of the Peoples Network training in public libraries but given that many students on the ICTL course are from non-public library backgrounds I have generalised the title here to ‘library educator’.

The importance of this unit lies in the expansion in information skills/literacy delivery by all library sectors and the corresponding need for library staff to acquire ‘teaching skills’. 

The first element of the unit looks at identifying ‘training needs’. In fact the same principles can be applied to identifying any learner’s needs.  The tools that can be used to identify the learners needs include:

  • Direct observation – leave the learners to get on with the task and see how they fare without (much) prior instruction
  • Tests/questionnaires – can also be used to see how much learning has taken place if this is a follow up session
  • Consultation with tutors – ask the tutors about what skills/information the learners need most
  • Interview – ask the learners beforehand what they want from the session
  • Student work – see how the students are already applying information skills in their work
  • Appraisal records – for staff training, check if information skills are being  identified as a training need

The second element of the unit looks at learning styles, delivery methods and motivation of the learner. As regards learning styles many in FE will be familiar with the works of Honey & Mumford on this subject, who identified the following types of learners – activisits (those who learn by doing), reflectors (those who learn by reviewing what they have been taught), theorists (those who learn by knowing why something is done) and pragmatists (where learning varies according to what is being taught). For an interesting discussion of learning styles and strategies see Felder and Soloman. There is also a free online learning styles profiler.

It is best to use a variety of delivery methods when running information skills to cater for different learning styles (see my post on Sharon Markless’ recent “Developinging information literacy strategies” event for more ideas):

  • Demonstration – Sharon Markless suggests using demonstration to reinforce learning ie after a practical exercise rather than as an introduction
  • Group problem solving – facilitating discussion helps reflection and learning
  • ‘Chalk and talk’ – useful for imparting knowledge but not very proactive
  • Role playing – this is often the bete noire of library training but has it uses for staff training particularly using Library Management Systems, dealing with challenging behaviour, customer care etc
  • Practical activities – hands-on sessions enable learners to practice what has been demonstrated or taught 
  • Individual learning – particularly through the use of online content such as podcasts, video tutorials or other training material

It is also worth considering models of learning. The behaviourist model is best typified by Bloom’s taxonomy– which you will notice has similarities to the SCONUL seven pillars model of information literacy. A constructivist model is seen as more effective and enables more autonomy of learning ie learners don’t have to follow a sequential learning path. The constructivist model is best typified by Kolb’s learning cycle.

The unit also stresses the importance of keeping the learners motivated – issues to consider include:

  • Make sure what you are delivering is not at too high or low a level
  • Have the learners been compelled to attend?
  • How relevant is the session to each individual learner?
  • Does the session have clear learning objectives and have these been communicated to the learner?
  • How suitable is the learning environment (too noisy, dark, not enough computers etc)?

The unit also covers creating learning materials and support for learners. The final element of the unit looks at evaluating sessions and assessing the learner’s progress.

When evaluating sessions you need to consider quantitative and qualitative measurements:

  • Observation
  • Tests
  • Feedback forms
  • Learner competence
  • Learner confidence
  • Level of integration with the curriculum
  • Focus groups – of staff and students asking qualitative questions
  • Impact on student work

A very useful guide to delivering information literacy sessions (including many practical tips) is Cardiff University’s teaching Information literacy handbook.

Please leave a comment if you have any examples of  particularly effective ways of delivering information skills/literacy.

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