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Feature #16: Teaching as an academic librarian and FHEA status

Our feature article this month is by Samantha Halford, a subject librarian at Cass Business School, City University. If you enjoy this month’s feature article, do join us for the chat on Tuesday 5 August on Teaching in Libraries, 18.30-20.30 BST. We’ll have an agenda available to add questions for the chat from Tuesday 29 July.


The UKLibChat team have asked me to write a post for you about my experiences of teaching as a librarian, and particularly about gaining FHEA status. It stands for “Fellow of the Higher Education Academy”, and it means that you’ve demonstrated “commitment to professionalism in teaching and learning in higher education” [1]. There are two ways to do it: the first is to apply directly by producing an account of your professional practice and some referees [2], and the second, which is what I did at the end of 2012, is to take an accredited course [3]; you then earn a postgraduate qualification, usually a PG Cert, and FHEA status. It’s a specifically higher education qualification that’s often now required of new academics, who are largely teaching adults. It’s also taken by others around universities as well, particularly by those of us who support students directly.

I’m a Subject Librarian at a business school, so I’m responsible for making sure my students get what they need from the library by buying resources, helping with their queries, creating online help, and liaising with staff, amongst other things. Last year, I delivered a whopping 63 hours of teaching across 21 weeks in various forms:

  • Quick, cheery inductions.
  • 10-15 minute top-ups at the start of their usual lectures, often to cover a particular skill.
  • Hands-on workshops on all sorts of databases.
  • Lectures to large groups.
  • Really focused one-to-ones with individual students and staff.
  • Random things: this year, for instance, working with a colleague to introduce Gifted and Talented GCSE students to the wonders of academic libraries.
  • Training other members of library staff.

It’s A Lot, especially for someone who’d never considered that they’d be any good at it right up until I had to do it! So, how did I learn, and how did the FHEA qualification help?

Firstly, I was not a natural. These are skills I am still very much learning. When I got my first professional job, I thought I was going to view the teaching part of it as my least favourite, and it was certainly the part I was most worried about. I had a supportive manager who sent me on a few short training courses immediately. That’s where I suggest you start, if you’re completely new to training and teaching – my course was really helpful, but you got more from it with experience under your belt. After that, I learned on the job, sometimes doing well and sometimes… not. I don’t keep lengthy reflective journals, though I know some find them invaluable, but I do use student evaluations and reflective thinking and notes to guide myself to do better next time. It was a steep learning curve, but practice makes perfect!

When I started my current role, I was offered the opportunity to take the PG Cert in Technology-Enabled Academic Practice. [4] The modules I chose covered…

  • Learning, Teaching and Assessment (you can just do this module to become an Associate FHEA).
  • Professional and Personal Development Planning.
  • Technology-Enabled Practice, a double-module where we focused on supporting student learning using various web-based technologies, particularly through Moodle, our VLE.So, what did I learn? What were the benefits?
  • Confidence and reassurance. I was already doing okay, and now I am so much more confident in my teaching style and persona.
  • I’m better at taking risks. I’m much more likely to try new things, particularly further incorporating student-led activities into my teaching.
  • I’m more efficient in my planning and preparation, because I know more techniques and resources and my own style better now. This means I can take more on! [5]
  • I learn more from evaluations now, which informs my teaching and other work (e.g. creating subject guides) in a really powerful way.
  • The qualification and FHEA status. It demonstrates to your academic colleagues that you know what you’re doing.Furthermore, it’s increasingly common to see teaching qualifications mentioned on job specifications.I asked Rowena Macrae-Gibson, who is a Head of Academic Library Services and thus employs people in jobs like mine, why she valued the qualification. She reiterated this last point:“A teaching qualification enables Librarians to be in parity with other teaching staff across the institution. It demonstrates the Library’s commitment to the student experience and to staff development and ensures (or should ensure) that my staff are aware of learning theory and course design in relation to learning outcomes in addition to considering assessment and understanding how they can measure student success. It also shows me that staff are forward thinking and committed professionals who can take initiative and think strategically. It is good to have a non-library specific course, so that we can think beyond what we already do.”So, I’m very glad I did it, but there are some downsides to be aware of:
  • The time investment. I ended up having to get an extension on the final module as it was hard to manage with my workload, despite a supportive employer and a half-day off per module. Getting all the coursework done and taking time out of busy schedules to go to classes was hard work.
  • I disagreed [6] with the intellectual basis for some of the concepts, which made some of it a bit difficult. However, the techniques and ideas that the concepts lead to work well in practice, so I was still able to improve my teaching, which was the point of the exercise!
  • Module choice: because the qualification is aimed at academic teaching and support, some modules are less useful for librarians, but you might have to take them anyway.
  • You need at least some experience. A lot of the teaching and coursework is practical and reflective,so you won’t get as much out of it without something to draw on. Also, you need to have teaching sessions lined up to be observed.In conclusion, I’m glad I took the qualification and I feel it helped my teaching a great deal. It’s HE-specific, but I suspect that teaching and training are core skills for very many information professionals in other sorts of jobs and institutions. Whether you’re doing it formally in a lecture to 300 people, or it’s just you and someone from your firm at your desk, teaching skills can definitely be learned through practice, reflection and the support of more experienced colleagues. In my experience, formal training to get you started and then later to help you build on what you’ve achieved is a great way to enhance your ability.

    [1] HEA (2014) Professional Recognition. Available at: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/professional-recognition (Accessed: 24 July 2014).

    [2] HEA (2014) Applying to become a Fellow of the HEA. Available at: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/fellow/applying-to-become-a-fellow (Accessed: 24 July 2014).

    [3] City University London (2014) Academic Practice Programme. Available at: http://www.city.ac.uk/about/education/lead/academic-practice-and-phd-programme/academic-practices-programme-and-modules (Accessed: 24 July 2014).

    [4] This course doesn’t have to be taken just as an MA: you can take just the first module to become an Associate Fellow of the HEA, the full first year gets you a PG Cert and FHEA status, then you can complete a further year for a PG Dip and then a dissertation for a full MA. It can also be taken as Technology-Enabled Academic Practice, which is what I have. Other universities will have similar arrangements. I stopped after PG Cert because I felt that many of the other modules were less helpful to my role than the ones I’d already done, to give myself a break, and because I’ve already done two MAs and three seems a little OTT. However… I can go back and top up if I change my mind!

    [5] Sometimes I’m not entirely certain that this is a good thing, mind you…

    [6] I had evidence, obviously, I didn’t just randomly take against them.

 

samanthahalfordSamantha Halford

@samanthahalf

Subject Librarian (Cass Business School Undergraduates)

City University Library Services

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About spoontragedy

Former public library Children's Librarian, now working as a Careers Information Officer in a London university. Nearly finished being an #aberils student.

2 comments on “Feature #16: Teaching as an academic librarian and FHEA status

  1. Pingback: Teaching in Libraries, Tuesday 5 August: Agenda available | #uklibchat

  2. Pingback: #uklibchat summary – Teaching in libraries – August 2014 | #uklibchat

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This entry was posted on July 26, 2014 by in Feature and tagged , , , , .

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