I recently completed a 15 credit unit through the University Teaching Academy at MMU. The Teaching and Learning Essentials for New Teachers (TALENT) unit is designed for academic staff at an early stage in their career – associate lecturers, graduate teachers, librarians, and higher education professionals with a role in supporting learning. TALENT can be taken as an optional 15 credit unit on the Master of Arts in Higher Education programme. Successful completion of the unit gives me professional recognition, as well as 15 level 7 academic credits. The unit maps to the UK professional standards framework (PSF), a globally recognised framework for benchmarking success within HE education. This means I am now an Associate Fellow of Advance HE (AFHEA). Sounds fancy!
TALENT comprised of two workshops: 3Ps (Planning, Preparation and Purpose) and Microteaching. Here is some of what we covered in the sessions:
- Theory and practice related to experiential learning
- Theory and practice related to reflection and professionalism
- The how and why of teaching observation
- The process of session planning and assessment for learning
- Ideas around what is effective teaching
- Plan, prepare and deliver two 15-minute microteach sessions to a small group of peers
The assessment for the unit was an essay covering three aspects:
- A summary of my professional activities linked to teaching and learning
- A reflective commentary on my learning from the microteaching and peer observation experience
- An annotated bibliography (my favourite bit)
As an academic librarian, I teach people to develop low level, routine information skills, such as how to navigate our library website. I also need to impart higher level, generic skills such as constructing search strategies, source evaluation and critical reading. Most library sessions are delivered in “one-off” workshops which can appear to have little relevance to the curriculum and can be quite boring. The format of library teaching makes constructive alignment and assessment particularly difficult and as a result, I have felt pressured to cram extra content into my sessions to ensure I tell the students everything they need to know because I may not see them again. But this does not really work…
The TALENT unit has forced me to think hard about my own practice. This unit introduced some of the key concepts of teaching such as constructively aligned learning objectives, which until recently, and despite being aware of their importance, I have overlooked in my practice. Sometimes I wouldn’t even include any learning objectives 😱 I would simply demonstrate resources and wonder why everyone looked bored.
Experiential learning is based on the idea that people learn best through experiences. Activities that require learners to do stuff engages higher order thinking and improves the learning experience. In my microteach, I wanted to move away from my usual didactic methods, so I adopted an active learning approach. Inspired by the library games master, Andrew Walsh, I developed a game for my microteach; Library Taboo!
Games in teaching encourage memory formation, improve communication and teamwork skills, boost creativity, and they make for a more enjoyable learning experience. There is so much evidence for this out there. The game is still in the beta stages and I need to tweak it but I based the game on a combination of Taboo and the forehead detective/ the sticky head game. Hope Hasbro don’t sue me…
The purpose of my game was to explore the many different services on offer from the library and this tied directly to the intended learning outcome (ILO) for the session. The game is flexible depending on the learner group i.e. new students, third years or academic staff. Here is what a game card looked like:
For those unfamilar with games, I set aside a demo card and showed them how the game should be played. Here are the Library Taboo game instructions:
- Who was the last person to borrow a book from a library? Congratulations, you get to go first. Pick up a game card from the pile
- Without looking at the inside of the card hold it up to your forehead so your team can see the word
- Your team must work together to describe the library service displayed on your game card without saying the name of the service
- You have three guesses. Which library service are they describing?
- Take turns to play the cards run out.
I need to seriously condense the amount of text and redesign the game cards so they actually look like snazzy game cards. I want them to the be size of a standard playing card. Any tips on what I should use to design the cards? The game activity lasted five minutes so I only included six playing cards covering the following services:
- Academic journals
- Info skills workshops
- Subject guides
- Library Search
- Reading Lists
- Subject Librarian
At the end of the game, participants chose one service and moved onto a second task to explore the service in more detail – hence why the information on the inside of the playing card is quite important. One participant did not know the service that was being described (Info Skills Workshops) so they were unable to guess it. But this does not actually matter because of the information on the flip side of the card. If they didn’t know the service before, they know now! This is also why you only have three guesses – failing is an inherent “risk” of the game and this is why games are fun to play. You can fail in a safe environment and it is totally fine. In fact, failure is expected. What is the point in a game that everyone successfully completes first time round?
To address the misunderstanding further, I could provide a short summary of the library services (a standard library presentation) and the game could be used as an assessment activity instead. Or I could focus on Info Skills workshops a little more in my session after the game if people don’t know what they are. If I was delivering this activity to a large group, I would not be able to listen to each game as it was being played, but I could ask for some feedback at the end of the activity and address any knowledge gaps then. I am getting ahead of myself though, I would need to make several game packs and so far, this is an activity for small groups.
The game version I used in my microteach was aimed at academic staff, but it could easily be adapted to work with students and the focus could be on specific source types such as databases instead. There are so many possibilities with this game! I could make it more difficult for final year students or postgraduates by making the game more like Taboo i.e. there are a list of words that you cannot say when describing the service, instead of just not being able to say the name of the service. This game could be a short starter activity, or it could be the basis of an entire workshop. I could even use QR codes linking to the library website instead of summarising the service on the card.
The observation feedback I received confirmed that the game made my microteach exciting, engaging and enabled a “potentially dry subject to be brought to life”. A win for me! There may be similar library games out there so I am not going to take credit for the idea. I’d love to know about them so I can iron out the issues with my game. Likewise, if anyone would like to use the idea and develop it further, please do so – I’d love to hear about your experiences.
The completion of this unit has enabled me to fully appreciate the need for alignment in my teaching. If a teaching session is unsuccessful, we should not blame ourselves, the student or the teaching tool; we should blame the lack of alignment. I will keep this in mind and carefully plan my teaching in future. To further develop my practice, I set the following SMART goals:
- Develop my Library Taboo game
- Develop ten learning outcomes to use in my teaching
- Engage in peer observation and collect feedback twice in 2020/21.
I finished this course fired up and ready to enter the classroom a new woman but COVID has put all face-to-face teaching on hold for now. On the flip side, I now have extra time to plan my teaching for the new academic year and to further develop the Library Taboo game. Every cloud eh!
Stay safe and play games! ✌️