In 2018 the University of Northampton moved to our purpose-built campus at the heart of Northampton1. The thinking behind the new campus (which has no large lecture theatres) was about the value of contact between the subject expert and students. It put students at the heart of the teaching, where they could discuss and debate their subject area in small groups with tutors and other staff. Gone were the days of ‘chalk and talk’.
The Academic Librarian team at Northampton, embraced the change, having always focused on good quality and engaging information literacy teaching. The move to ‘Active Blended Learning’ encouraged me and the other Academic Librarians to focus on engaging activities to help teach and consolidate key ideas. To facilitate this move, we moved from fixed PCs, to ‘agile working’ where we had laptops and soft telephony. Basically, if we had the laptop and internet connection, we could work. This was incredibly liberating when teaching in the new campus, as you had everything you needed in the slim HP laptop. It was strange, at first, not having a fixed PC, but looking at it now – this showed incredible foresight in preparation for the current pandemic.
The focus on ‘Active Blended Learning’2 meant that as a University, and team, we were already working in a more flexible way than many colleagues in the sector. We were in an incredibly lucky position that when the Government called for a lockdown and for everyone to work from home, we had everything we needed. Armed with our laptops and headphones, we were ready! I support several health programmes including Midwifery, Nursing and Paramedic Science. Each of these programmes have students taught all year round and indeed had new cohorts of students starting in April 2020. Therefore, I had to deliver the information literacy instruction online with just days to plan, develop and deliver it.
Thankfully I had already done some online teaching, with the masters’ modules, but this was still a whole new approach. Using Blackboard as our virtual learning environment and Collaborate as our classroom I had to deliver two first year sessions: “Finding the Good Stuff” introduction to literature searching; and “Ethical Use of Information” why and how to reference. These sessions are part of our Integrated Learner Support System3, which ensures that all students, no matter what the programme get the same level of support and instruction from Academic Librarians, Learning Development tutors and the Changemaker team (Employability). It is a luxurious position to be in, to know that my colleagues and I will meet all students and support them throughout their course. It did mean, however, that up until the 1st June I have delivered 13 sessions, to 273 students, totalling 16 hours. On top of our normal one-to-one tutorials delivered using Blackboard Collaborate.
The focus for our teaching, has always been to help students engage with the principles of information literacy to get hold of the evidence they need to succeed in their programmes. I’ve therefore been using different methods to engage and deliver the teaching, using Xerte4 software to provide pre- and post-sessional information. Using quizzing software (like Mentimeter5) to assess student learning in the session, trialling GoogleDocs6 and Padlets7 for synchronous activities and answering questions in real-time sessions on Collaborate.
We are in the lucky position, that in preparation for our move to the Waterside campus, we invested heavily in online resources. So much so, that at the point of our move in 2018 just 20% of our collection was in print and 80% was available online. We also prioritised purchasing e-versions of key texts and provided a breadth of online journal articles to support student and staff researchers. Even with that wealth of content accessible online, as librarians across the sector know – not everything is available in a library-friendly e-format. That is where our Discovery and Acquisitions teams8 have been invaluable. They have provided ongoing support, reviewing reading lists, identifying key texts, working with publishers and aggregators to source texts, and exploring the DCS to see what we can make accessible for students.
The relaxations in the CLA licence terms have been invaluable in maintaining student access to key texts that we can’t purchase as ebooks. Without access to our own library stock and unable to use the British Library’s Enhanced Higher Education Scanning Service (EHESS), we have turned to our tutor’s bookshelves and their smartphone cameras to supply us with scans. We had paused our purchase of print books at the beginning of the crisis and, unable to purchase copyright cleared chapters from the British Library, could use the Temporary Ownership Exception to support that last-minute addition of a chapter to a reading list.
The temporary extension of the extent limit, allowing us to digitise up to 30 % or three chapters, has allowed us to somewhat mitigate the frustration of knowing that, out of reach on our library shelves and taunting us from our library catalogue, there are plenty of print copies of a much-needed text that ordinarily our students could browse.
These relaxations to the licence have bought us time to plan the next steps in our online provision of key texts to students. Whatever comes next, as we feel our way out of lockdown, it is the sense of camaraderie and support between libraries that has grown stronger throughout this period, and the willingness of organisations, like the CLA and publishers, to listen to our needs and act on them to the best of their abilities, that will help us move forward and support our students as we always have.
It certainly has not been easy, no one foresaw the lockdown with the University working from home to support students. I am in awe of my colleagues and students who are juggling so many different roles: parent, teacher, librarian, lecturer, carer, volunteer (I could go on), but I’m very grateful to work in a team where we all support one another and focus on delivering the best experience for our students and staff.
About the Authors
Gillian Siddall is an Academic Librarian supporting several programmes including the Health Professions, Psychology, Sports, Exercise and Life Sciences. It is a large and varied role, with a key focus on supporting students and staff to develop and implement information literacy skills. Gillian is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a committee member for the Library and Information Research Group.
Theresa Lowe is the Collections and Licensing Specialist at the University of Northampton. Theresa manages the Reading List, Digitisation and Interlibrary Loans teams.
1 University of Northampton homepage: https://www.northampton.ac.uk/
2 Active Blended Learning definition: https://www.northampton.ac.uk/ilt/current-projects/defining-abl/
3 Integrated Learner Support System: https://www.northampton.ac.uk/ilt/academic-development/integrated-learner-support/
5 Mentimeter: https://www.mentimeter.com/
6 GoogleDocs: https://www.google.co.uk/docs/about/
7 Padlet: https://en-gb.padlet.com/
8 The Reading List team (Acquisitions) purchase the resources and the Discovery Team catalogue the resources and make them discoverable in our Resource Discovery Tool.