Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Changing Signature Pedagogies for IL, LILAC Talk Summary

 So... lots of waffle in the last few posts about the talk I gave at LILAC recently! I'll try and pull it all together here.

I talked about Signature Pedagogies (a quick summary of what they are) and how I think we had quite a poor one in IL instruction - I saw the same things cropping up in lots of different places, which didn't really match what I felt about information literacy, or about why / how we should teach. But a lot of consistency in what I did see, so we probably had a vague signature pedagogy for people who taught information skills in libraries. More recently I think  that's been changing, but very slowly and patchily - as newer definitions of IL have been accepted, as ideas like critical librarianship have become more mainstream, I think a newer signature pedagogy is probably developing, but I'm not really sure. I don't think it helps that when we go to conferences, webinars, etc., there is a lot of surface level things going on - people show how they teach, tools they might use, a particular approach that worked for them, and people copy that. Occasionally people talk about values, beliefs about teaching and learning, etc., but less so than the "surface level" stuff. Rarely do the two explicitly mix, where we say "I teach like this, because I believe in that". So we get a bit of the deeper level stuff spreading through librarianship, but much more of the "oh, a shiny thing to try" that doesn't get past the surface level - so you get a disconnect between how people teach and what they are really trying to achieve, which is why I suspect it's taking a while to shift to that "newer" signature pedagogy I'm seeing bits of these days.

[This sentence edited to link to slides on LILAC archive page] My slides are now on the LILAC archive pages, along with all the other presentations, etc., from the conference.

It was only a 20 minute talk, but I asked a few questions during my talk. I found it interesting that the things people say were important in what they were trying to achieve in their teaching was a mix of very practical, skills based stuff, as well as what I think we're probably moving towards, of things like "critical thinking". So maybe we are part-way between two ideas of what we're there for at the moment? Are we there to impart a few basic skills (how to find stuff?) that are "absolute" in some way, or is what we are doing more uncertain, more contextual to the learner, about helping them to be the best they can through questioning, through critical thinking, etc? 

It was interesting that people struggled to link what they were trying to achieve to their acts of teaching, which reinforces my suspicion that one of the brakes on a new signature pedagogy emerging is that people just don't have the time, space, or support to reflect upon their values and how they come out in their teaching. 

Finally, when I asked people to think about what we could do as a profession to address these things, we got a set of suggestions that seem to support each other - suggesting that perhaps some sort of national peer support / community of practice could help one to emerge. That might be through a course / reflection, or a reflective portfolio, or something else, but somewhere where we could have non-judgemental, supportive discussions, especially around the "difficult" questions that we've not addressed properly as a profession previously.

I have pondered running courses in teaching for librarians previously (I've done 1 day things, especially on particular approaches to teaching, but nothing more broad brush), but perhaps now is the time to think about something bigger? Maybe linked to an ongoing community of practice and peer support for a reflective portfolio? Preferably through ILG, but it doesn't need to be I suppose.

Changing Signature Pedagogies for IL, LILAC Talk part 3

 The final exercise I gave people was in the final minute or two of the session, plus it was a hard question, so only got a few answers back. I essentially asked, "so what do we do next?" How do we have broader conversations to help shift to a newer signature pedagogy (I think we're part-way between an old and new way), how do we bring people to more consistent understandings, to reflect upon these things, etc?

A real mix of answers, from "We need to stop looking inward", "I'm not sure how much we can move" (talking about a particular context), but I'll extract / paraphrase a few concrete suggestions below:

  • We need awkward conversations addressing the many things that we have ignored previously (especially inclusiveness / neurodivergence)
  • National teaching qualification for librarians / community of practice
  • Examples of how this might look / a shared framework from ILG as a starting point (from two people)
  • Creating a reflective portfolio and safe peer review
  • Encourage people to be comfortable with not having all the answers, uncertainty, complexity & ambiguity are fine
Could probably combine these suggestions into 1 - a "chartership" type thing for infolit peeps? Not as a gatekeeping thing, but supportive via reflective portfolio with lots of examples / community support? This could be linked to a short course on learning theories, different pedagogical approaches, etc., that helps people reflect upon their own values, those of librarianship in general, and how they meet teaching and learning? Perhaps focussing on those areas that we've traditionally been a bit rubbish at, but see as valuable? It's certainly something that would be do-able in some form.

One more post to come after this, trying to sum it all up and linking to my actual talk!

Changing Signature Pedagogies for IL, LILAC Talk part 2

Continuing on from part 1, the next thing I asked participants in my talk was how the "things they are trying to achieve" actually manifested in their teaching - what "acts of teaching" linked to those aims.
This was really interesting to me - I didn't know what to expect as they didn't have long to think about this stuff, or articulate themselves, just a couple of minutes to write down what came to mind first of all.

There was a real mix of things came back! 

Some were really clearly linked "acts of teaching" with their underlying aims of teaching, e.g. "interactive / fun" with "games, quizzes, group work", or "engagement / enjoyment" with "Activities / jokes and humour", or a very self-critical one of "interesting / fun" with "Rambling but disguised as interesting"!

Others had minimal connection between the two or were so vague they could be seen as just saying the same thing again! Comments like "they are implicit in all our learning outcomes and methods" (are they really?), or "positive, equal attitude with learners", "Trying to understand needs" - quite a few people left this section blank too.
I know I didn't give people much time, but I found it fascinating how few could quickly link their acts of teaching with what they were trying to achieve, but I think that matches what I found talking to librarians in general about teaching - people pick up those surface level acts of teaching from each other, from colleagues (including re-using each others materials), from staff development / conferences (e.g. a few years ago it felt like the whole profession started using the same polling software over a period of a few months!), without those links to more fundamental reflection on whether or not those acts of teaching worked with their beliefs, values, aims, etc., of their teaching. Some could clearly make those links (e.g. I want fun / interactivity, so I'll use games and quizzes), but they were the minority and it was challenging for most to even articulate how they teach, let alone link that to any underlying beliefs, aims, etc. 

It's reinforced my suspicion that perhaps reflective practice is slowly sneaking into librarianship, but what we could do with is something more like reflexive practice? Getting people to clearly articulate what their underlying values and assumptions are (what they are trying to achieve in my quick and dirty question) then reflect upon how well their teaching meets that, rather than how a particular session went - sort of a level deeper, including values / broader things?

Changing Signature Pedagogies for IL, LILAC Talk part 1

 I gave a talk at the LILAC conference recently and asked a few questions of the participants in my short session, so I'll try and do a few posts that summarise some of the things from it. I'll post my slides, etc, later (as there might be a video later, so I'll wait for that just in case), but this first post sums up the first question I asked participants, "Write 3 words or short phrases that describe what you are trying to achieve with your teaching". This is in the context of a talk about signature pedagogies and how I felt that if there was a "Librarians teaching information literacy" type signature pedagogy that I think it's in flux between an old "tell 'em what buttons to click / turn them into mini-librarians" approach to one much more based on critical IL and supporting growth in various ways.

So I got a loooong list of words and phrases (I'll list them all below), but interestingly, if I try and group them, my top 3 groups are: 

  •  “Information access” (search, find, usefulness of, etc info sources) - 10
  •  Criticality – 10 
  •  Confidence building (fear / comfort / etc) – 7 

So the "traditional" things that people see as most important such as information access, are balanced by things like critical thinking. Coming closely up the list though are people talking about a desire to be as inclusive as possible in their teaching, to bring curiosity and exploration to the front, and a hope that they can make any learning transferable to their learners studies / work. I might try to theme these properly at some point, but I'm aware that this was a very quick exercise in a 20 minute talk, so don't want to read too much into it!

Something else that was really interesting to me is that certain people had a clear set of things they were trying to achieve, around the learner themselves, rather than about any particular knowledge. People centring transformation, empowerment, kindness, etc., in a way that I think is growing and that we should encourage more. I'll come back to this when I've summed up the other feedback, plus my talk, so I've not finished yet :-)

Oh, and whoever wrote "Dismantling oppressive structures", I love you, let's work out how to get that front and centre in more people's underlying aims... though it's a bit upsetting that more didn't say similar things!

Friday, 15 April 2022

Game-based Learning for Information Literacy Teaching

I'm a bit slow posting this, but I gave a (webinar) talk back in Feb about play / playful learning in libraries, which was recorded. You can find all 3 talks (me, Sarah Pavey, Rosie Jones) on this YouTube video.

Friday, 10 September 2021

Capitalism vs Play / Control vs Anarchy


Anarchy symbol, which is the letter A and a circle through it.
(Image from under CC-BY-NC-ND licence)

This post may be even more incoherent and rambling than normal, but I wanted to stick down a few thoughts that I may tidy up and extend at some point in the future!

I was partway through reading Rejuvenile by Christopher Noxon recently - this isn't a reflection on that book, but something it made me think about btw! There are plenty of examples he gives in that book about adults acting in "child-like" (not necessarily "childish") ways that are presented as though play is more acceptable in adulthood now - in all sorts of ways. I've also seen / read other stuff over the last few years that claims that play is now much more acceptable for adults. We can play on skateboards, collect toys, build Lego models, etc., that are often presented as "look, adults are allowed to play". 

But I've my doubts about the sort of examples that are thrown about to claim this, which made me think about what sort of play is really seen as "acceptable" and what isn't. About why adults generally aren't allowed to be playful in modern Western societies. (I know there is stuff about this in some classic play texts I'll have to go back to, just throwing a few ideas down here for myself!)

I've a hunch that the types of play that are generally seen as acceptable are fairly narrow - it's fine for adults to have hobbies that are fairly discrete in time and space (you can do it after work? Without scaring the neighbours?). It's fine for adults to play in ways that make them effective consumers (have you seen the price of Lego sets?!). It's fine for adults to do organised, controlled activities (clubs, sports, etc.). But if you aren't being a good capitalist consumer, if you are allowing playfulness to leak into other things, if you are making up your own rules about things (like a good player does), then those sorts of play are completely unacceptable.

Play in adults is generally allowed when it reinforces, or at least fits within, the rules set by those in power. It may even be encouraged when it results in increased profits and consumption. But I don't think playfulness is any more acceptable than it has ever been - we still need to be good worker drones 9-5, and a change in attitude could impact that. I don't think improvisational play is really encouraged - after all, if you start to play with whatever is around you, how will they fill those shipping containers with goods and keep the rich in the manner in which they've become accustomed? 

Is free / improvisational / creative play more aligned with anarchy than Capitalist societies would like? If you have a playful approach to the world, prone to changing the rules to suit yourself and your communities, is this inherently anarchist in approach? Bernie De Koven used to talk about changing the game to suit the players, this is the opposite to the way power works in countries like the UK, surely, where the powerful few set the rules of the game (and sell us the kit to play it too) - they want to force us all to play the game their way. So is any attitude that puts power (however small) in the hands of otherwise powerless individuals a threat to profits, to control? Is playfulness inherently anarchist in approach, which is why it's so disapproved of in adults, and stamped out in children as quickly as possible?

So games, hobbies, sports, etc are perhaps more acceptable in adults, as they are controlled, they are selling opportunities, they are neat and contained. Freer, more imaginative play, or even worse, a playful attitude are too much of a threat to control, to profit, to power. Games / hobbies / sports are "nice" capitalist ways of behaving. Playfulness is scary, anarchist, and seen as "wrong" by those with power... who heavily influence what we all see as the "correct" way of behaving.

So a bit vague and rambling I know, but at some point I'll try and come back to this and maybe write something a bit more serious on playfulness, anarchy, and why they are unlikely to ever be seen as generally desirable in capitalist society.

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

We Didn't Playtest this at all and Chaos versus Strategy


Logo for the game called We didn't Playtest this at all

Something that pops into my mind every so often was a conversation that happened in a pub a few years ago. It’s niggled me ever since. I’ve never really pinned down why I didn’t just instantly forget it, but it still lives in my brain rent free.

We were playing a relatively lightweight game of some sort and drinking a few beers. It was a  bunch of people interesting in play and games in learning, but still, it was social time and we were enjoying ourselves. Someone started to argue that they didn’t really count the lightweight games (fun, easy to learn, large elements of luck) that we were playing as “proper” games. The only “proper” games were the fairly hardcore “euro” type games (lots of planning / strategy, minimal chance / luck) and the less that chance or luck was involved the better. Their ideal game involved no luck at all, but was purely a test of skill and strategy from the players.

I was playing “We didn’t playtest this at all” with my children the other day, using the “chaos pack” expansion, when I realised why this has niggled me so much. We were working our way through the chaos pack parks and I said something along the lines of “this makes it too complicated and structured – it’s more chaotic without the chaos cards”, which is when the realisation struck. "Playtest" is very chaotic, almost completely luck, very silly, and very fun to to play. It would have been as far away from being a good game as it's possible to be (from that conversation above). But it's the sort of game I really enjoy playing (particularly with my children).

So that person in the pub was defining "proper" games as more like competitive sport than free play - if you've practiced (trained?), are the "best" player, you should always win. It's no fun if anyone could win just through luck. "Playtest" is the opposite - it doesn't matter how much you practice it, you are unlikely to increase your chances of winning (unless you keep hold of a banana - apparantly zombies HATE bananas). So the "structured" game itself isn't particularly important - it just acts as a vehicle for silliness and the comedy of the text and activities on the cards. So it's really just acting as a nudge, a prompt, a permission slip to be more playful. The game isn't important, it's the way it facilitates play that is the point of it.

So, I suppose that's a long rambling way of reflecting that some people see the structures of games and becoming skilled at them as really important - like becoming competitive at a sport. Some of us see the way games give us a structure to hide behind as more important, so it gives us permission to play. Most people are probably somewhere in between the two extremes. But there is no real right answer to how games (including learning games) should work - whether they depend on us building skills, or just enabling different behaviours. What matters is what the players want to get out of it, and for learning games, what the instructor wants to enable.