Teaching: on the front line

May 23, 2003

What is your experience of teaching? Pat Leon asks teachers how they manage

Name: Jo Parker.

Age: 30.

Job: Information literacy unit manager, Open University Library.

Salary: academic-related scale, grade 3.

Qualifications: BA (hons) French and international studies (Warwick University), masters in librarianship (Sheffield University), chartered librarian, member of Institute for Learning and Teaching.

Experience: I worked as a graduate trainee in a university library for a year (a prerequisite for the librarianship masters), before starting as a subject librarian for the OU in 1996, supporting the languages department.

Then the information-literacy side took off - called "end-user training" when I started. The focus is on helping people to develop their skills rather than just showing them where the books are.

Hours spent teaching: Depends on who I work for and where the students are.

I don't always teach face-to-face but feed into teaching somewhere down the line, by either helping lecturers develop online materials or training them on the library's electronic resources.

I am producing a short online course in information literacy, called Mosaic. We have had to develop online materials, write assessments and manage the support team. It is exciting because libraries do not usually organise formally accredited courses. I also moderate students' online bulletin boards. This has been brilliant - they create virtual communities to get over the problems of being isolated learners.

Hours on red tape: Increasing. I provide a service to the rest of the university so I have to make sure we deliver what everyone wants. A lot of time goes into monitoring.

Hours on research: Not as much as I would like, but then the unit was launched only last year. Information literacy is quite a hot topic in the library world but it does not get much exposure.

Teaching bugbear: We cannot make claims of helping people to become lifelong, independent learners if they do not know how to find, sift and evaluate information. But it is tough persuading colleagues outside library circles that information literacy is vital.

How would you solve it? The subject benchmark statements go some way to addressing this, but it would make my day if information literacy were a compulsory component in courses.

Teaching pleasure: People get annoyed when they cannot find things. I like it when people see the light - when they realise that by using advanced search options and thinking in terms of the words they want to see on page rather than the topic, they discover their gem.

Outside interests: Food, theatre (stand-up comedy, in particular), walking, books (naturally), Pilates and travel. I resolved this year to do lots of new things, mostly through my local adult education programme. On the list are learning Japanese, neurolinguistic programming, film studies, psychology and learning to ski.

Career highpoints: Winning a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust fellowship in 2001, which enabled me to visit Australian universities to look at information literacy. Formation of my unit in May 2002. It was official recognition that the work we do is valued.

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