CamGuides at the CCTL conference

This is the edited version of a short presentation given by Helen Murphy on CamGuides [the new name for the Master’s OER project] at the Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning’s Teaching Forum, held on 17 April 2018, at Murray Edwards College. The accompanying slidedeck can be seen online here.


CamGuides final


CamGuides is a product of the Cambridge Information Literacy Network, which launched about two months ago. This is an ambitious, collaborative and wide-ranging network of library staff from across the university, in a variety of roles, who are actively engaged in research and projects related to information literacy, and to current and future provision of information literacy teaching in the Cambridge context. There are several concurrent projects, of which CamGuides is just one, accelerated by funding from the University’s Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund, for which we are very grateful.

CamGuides stands for Cambridge Graduate Information and Digital Essentials – and yes, we’ve played fast and loose with that particular acronym! It is a pre-arrival course for taught Master’s students, regardless of their discipline, background or mode of study. Its aim is to support these students in their transition to Cambridge, to graduate study, and to graduate study in their discipline at Cambridge. It focuses on information literacy, digital literacy, and transferable academic skills. It will be delivered entirely online, and entirely openly, with content licensed as an open educational resource, and hosted so that no Cambridge credentials or authentication is required to access it. And it’ll be launched in time for Michaelmas 2018.

The plan for this short presentation is to introduce CamGuides through two of its main features: the audience, and its pre-arrival nature. But there’s a need for a shout-out to technology, too, considerations of which have formed an enormous part of the research and planning for CamGuides so far, and which is excluded from this presentation only because many of the major technology decisions have already been made.*

The first thing, then, is the potential audience for the course. All taught Master’s students, regardless of discipline, background or more of study and so, evidently, a hugely diverse range of people.

Now, here we have a problem. When it comes to the teaching of subject-related practices like information literacy or academic skills, the overwhelming consensus in literature is that subject-specific is always better than generic courses, and that generic courses are seen to be less ‘relevant’ to student (cf. Wingate, 2007; Northedge, 2003a).

a holistic, subject-specific approach is needed to support all students in the complex process of learning to learn in higher education [] generic, decontextualised courses imply that [skills] are context‐independent techniques that can be practised in the void

Wingate, 2007

And obviously this issues quite a large challenge for us – the challenge to be universally ‘relevant’ to all of these students. This isn’t a challenge we should ignore, nor assume that we will transcend simply because we’ve recognised it. But there are ways through it, or around it, and the pedagogical approach adopted to this course shines a light on these.

This approach is situated learning and communities of practice, strongly informed by the work of Etienne Wenger-Traynor (cf. Lave and Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998) . Forgive me for my blatant oversimplifications, but these sociocultural theories see learning as social, as participatory, and as situated in a specific social and cultural context. The context fundamentally shapes the nature of what is to be learned, the processes of learning, and the identities of the learners. So, in the context of these theories, taught Master’s students are members of multiple, intersecting communities of practice, in which they (legitimately) have different levels of participation. They will have different levels of privilege, and of power, too, within these communities of practice. And so this works, if nothing else, as a very useful reminder that the complexity of identity and the situatedness of the potential audience for this course must unambiguously go beyond divisions of discipline, background or mode of study.

But I think it also works to underline the futility of striving for, or valorising, ‘universal relevance’ as the golden ticket for success here. If we’re honest about what it means to strive to be relevant, then we probably mean being ‘as relevant to as many people as possible’, which inevitably excludes certain groups or certain people. So although it feels very odd to say that ‘relevance’ isn’t high on the list of priorities for this course, it isn’t. Instead of aiming for relevance, we will instead aim to support and encourage participants to draw connections between their own situatedness, and their own social and cultural context, and the Cambridge graduate community of practice they are about to join.

Which sounds rather grand, but here are three practical ways in which it might be achieved:

  • Some gentle, formative assessment, threaded throughout the course. Some of this will be reflective, some very practical, and it will be designed to encourage participants to draw out these connections and to validate their experiences.
  • Legitimising a variety of approaches to the course – both systematic or selective – as well as a variety of directions to it, whether a student accidentally stumbles across it or is directed to it by an academic.
  • Multimodal content which elevates the voices of current taught Master’s students and positions them as the experts in this community of practice.

Moving swiftly on, then, to pre-arrival. This is a term which crops up in discourses of resilience, or alongside the metaphor of ‘hitting the ground running’: the purpose of this course isn’t to ‘get people up to scratch’, or to meet some idealistic, impossible goal of entry to Cambridge being a level playing field (as if). Instead pre-arrival here is being interpreted almost singularly in terms of transition to graduate study. But, rather oddly, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of research into transition to postgraduate study or postgraduate learning – this is particularly noticeable as there’s so much out there on learning transition, from pre-school to the workplace.

[p]ostgraduate students, by definition, have been successful undergraduates and so there is an implicit assumption of competence in negotiating and performing in the HE environment

Tobbell and O’Donnell, 2013

Tobbell and O’Donnell (2013) attribute this scarcity to assumptions of graduate competence, because graduate students already have a proven record of success in higher education and are subsequently positioned as experts. This, and perceived similarities in teaching and assessment at undergraduate and taught postgraduate level within a discipline means that it isn’t always considered to be a particularly large leap.

A study at a university in Scotland (McPherson et al., 2017) into taught postgraduate transition identified three barriers that students face:

  • workload and confusion: competing demands on time and difficulties in prioritising tasks, uncertainty about success at PGT level, fast-approaching PhD funding deadlines, and a lack of experience or competence with skills and practices such as time management, organisation, or knowing how much to read
  • anxiety, integration and belonging: concerns about being part of a smaller, more able group (especially for those without external funding), and anxiety experienced particularly among those new to an institution
  • peer and staff support: feelings of isolation given difficulties in establishing social networks

The research above was very institutionally contextualised, but there is significant overlap between their findings and those from the (unpublished) self-evaluation reports from Master’s students. The problems identified here were not necessarily transitional in nature. But in the image below, the overlap with workload and confusion is in blue, with anxiety, integration and belonging in green, and peer and staff support in red.

CamGuides slide overlap

This is also reinforced by (as yet!) unofficial insights from the FutureLib project into the student learning journey at Cambridge.

But how do we turn this into a course? Into something which, as above, assists participants in drawing connections between their situatedness and the Cambridge context?

The ‘barrier-level’ categorisation of McPherson et al. is extremely helpful, but it’s necessary for CamGuides to leave it behind and think about different ways of categorising transition, or elements of transition, as students prepare to begin their taught Master’s degrees. In the context of CamGuides, transition is being thought about in three ways:

  • subject-specific transition – elements which are so deeply embedded in subject discourse and subject knowledge as to make little sense when separated from it – such as language skills, engagement with knowledge at a deeper level
  • subject-contextualised transition – elements where the subject has an impact on how something is done, or understood, but the core principles are often shared – such as balancing workload, time management, organisation
  • identity-based transition – what it means to be a graduate student, self-directed working, managing anxiety, understanding expectations

CamGuides will be leaving that subject-specific stuff well alone, and focusing on the other two. It means encouraging these connections (as above) to be developed and shaped within the context of the student’s chosen discipline.

So, the content. The course incorporates four topics, divided into six overlapping nodes. There’s an introduction to Cambridge, to the physical and online institution, providing both very practical information (i.e. what is Moodle) and information to generate a feeling of insider knowledge or belonging. Another focuses on what it means to be a graduate student, and how to develop, rehearse and enhance transferable, subject-contextualised practices like time management or self-directed learning.

Software, technology and the digital form a major part of this, with nodes on being a digital student, using digital tools as part of study practices but doing so critically, academic networking, and signposting to pre- and post-arrival support for the development of particular IT or software skills. And, of course, a focus on information literacy, mapped to and influenced by the university’s information literacy framework, which defines it in terms of four key competencies allied to a subject – finding resources, assessing them critically, managing them, and creation and communication.

[i]nformation literacy competencies are not intended to be linear, but be allied closely to academic subject skills and individual student development, thus supporting the collegiate education Cambridge students receive

Cambridge Information Literacy Framework, 2017

CamGuides, it is hoped, will leave students more confident, more aware of expectations upon them, more aware of the nature and flow of their course, its milestones, and more knowledgeable about Cambridge itself. Or that’s the plan, anyway…

*In the Q&A after the presentation, I was asked about technology and – specifically – how technology decisions could have been made before the content was written. This is a really helpful and insightful question. My official answer is that it shouldn’t have been. Ideally, it wouldn’t have been. But also that technology decisions shouldn’t be made after content is written. They should develop together. Technology is not neutral, nor are the choices we make about it, but neither does technology have independent pedagogical value that we tap into just by using it. One of my favourite articles on educational technology (yes, I do have favourites) deals with just this, and I recommend that everyone reads it: Hamilton & Friesen, 2013. We need to be critical of these choices at all points – if I ever find the time, I’ll write more about the implications of using the LibGuides platform for this course.



Christie, H., Tett, L., Cree, V. E., Hounsell, J., & McCune, V. (2008). ‘A real rollercoaster of confidence and emotions’: learning to be a university student. Studies in Higher Education, 33(5), 567–581.
Hamilton, E. C., & Friesen, N. (2013). Online Education: A Science and Technology Studies Perspective. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 39(2).

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McPherson, C., Punch, S. and Graham, E. (2017). Transition from Undergraduate to Taught Postgraduate Study: Emotion, Integration and Ambiguity. Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, 5(2), 42-50

Northedge, A. (2003a). Enabling Participation in Academic Discourse. Teaching in Higher Education, 8(2), 169–180.
Northedge, A. (2003b). Rethinking Teaching in the Context of Diversity. Teaching in Higher Education, 8(1), 17–32.
Tobbell, J., & O’Donnell, V. L. (2013). Transition to postgraduate study: postgraduate ecological systems and identity. Cambridge Journal of Education, 43(1), 123–138.
Tobbell, J., O’Donnell, V., & Zammit, M. (2010). Exploring transition to postgraduate study: shifting identities in interaction with communities, practice and participation. British Educational Research Journal, 36(2), 261–278.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wingate, U. (2007). A Framework for Transition: Supporting ‘Learning to Learn’ in Higher Education. Higher Education Quarterly, 61(3), 391–405.


Interpreting, not measuring: mapping and the Cambridge Information Literacy Framework

The Master’s resource I’m creating is “mapped to” the new Cambridge Information Literacy Framework. I keep saying this, or writing this, and subsequently the phrase has lost practically all its meaning to me. So I thought I’d take a breath, and think about what I’m talking about when I talk about ‘mapping’. And this moment of reflection seem to imbricate quite neatly with some Feelings I’ve had about the framework itself, as I’ve been getting comfortable with it. So I thought I’d blog.

I really don’t think I’m about to say anything controversial (it would be unlike me, for sure), but just to be super clear: these are my views, don’t necessarily represent my employer, or CILN, etc.

there are two inescapable facts about the information literacy framework: it’s broad, and it’s imprecise

The framework neither prescribes nor proscribes, neither advises nor cautions. This has the effect of eliminating any possibility of measuring a teaching session or a teaching programme or a resource against it. It isn’t an analytics tool, nor a lesson plan. It is simply not possible to assess the quality or impact or whatever of how we teach our students information literacy, or of how they learn, using the framework.


I think it’s an entirely positive thing that the framework doesn’t have the level of detail nor the purpose to facilitate any kind of quantifiable activity. I don’t want to be ranked against it, and I don’t want the teaching that we do to be measured against it. I don’t want us to be doing anything against it, or to have any relationship with the framework that is antagonistic or combative in essence. It’s the Cambridge Information Literacy Framework, Janet, not the Cambridge Information Literacy Excellence Framework.

Instead, of thinking about mapping-as-measurement, then, I’d compel us to think about mapping-as-interpretation. This, I think, would have (at least) two implications.

first, mapping-as-interpretation solidifies the idea that there’s no ‘right way’ to use the framework*

In my experience of interpreting the framework to create the Master’s resource, I’ve paid varying amounts of attention to it. At the beginning it was a useful set of entry points, and later a helpful caution against my Arts and Humanities bias. It’s functioned as a source of shared vocabulary, and as a vocabulary to avoid (depending on my interlocutor). I’ve treated it instrumentally at times, and at others I’ve been influenced by its spirit. I’ve never felt beholden to it, nor that I could contradict it entirely. I’ve occasionally forgotten all about it.

And it might all seem rather convenient but I think this sort of haphazard, interpretative approach is a legitimate one. If the framework were narrower, or bolder, then it might swerve into being a tyrant, into something that restricts us, or tells us what to do and how to do it.

second, mapping-as-interpretation underlines the fact that there’s no right way to teach information literacy**

We know this. We know that the four elements of the framework – resource discovery, critical assessment, managing information, creating and communicating – are equally valid but not equally vital. So I’m cautious of any activity that treats these four elements as a gold standard, or as a set of learning objectives. We almost certainly want to assess and reflect upon our information literacy teaching, but let’s not do it singularly in reference to a Google doc.

In the Master’s resource, the four elements won’t appear in equal measure, and they definitely won’t appear as discrete topics. In terms of determining the content of the resource, the framework performs a function, a very much surmountable function. It provides a set of markers, not a set of boundaries. Instead, what determines the way and the extent to which they feature in the Master’s resource is not their presence in the framework, but resource delivery, pedagogies, technologies, audience, purpose, context.

let’s talk about good, not best, practice

Context is the important thing here. Mapping-as-measurement rubs up far too closely against ideas of ‘best practice’, which is a concept I would ban immediately were I ever in charge of anything. Mapping-as-measurement simplifies and commodifies what we do. It turns the framework into a policy document, and heaven knows we have enough of them already.

The potential of the framework lies, for me, in its ability to help us to, or remind us to, question and think critically about what ‘good practice’ looks like, in a way that acknowledges our context and our agency. If we give ourselves the freedom to see mapping as interpretation, then we give ourselves the freedom to make use of the framework in cautious and sensitive and creative and disobedient and brazen and multiple and overlapping and evolving ways. In ways that recognise our power, and its power. If this is the case, then mapping activities can only be done in context, and in conversation with those who are best placed to understand that context.

So when I next tell you that the Master’s resource is mapped to the information literacy framework (and please note ‘mapped to’, not ‘mapped against’), this is what I mean: a critical, ongoing process of questioning and negotiating and interpreting. A process of considering how the framework shapes and is shaped by the resource I’m developing. A process of exploring how they are mutually influential and co-constitutive. This, my friends, is an assemblage***.

The framework is still so new at Cambridge that we’re still negotiating how we work with it. But I’d ask us to consider what might happen if we treat it as a sort-of manifesto, as something that can openly challenge us, and that we can openly challenge in return, and not as a tokenised checklist. Something that might guide us, but that we might also overrule. It gives us not a shared way to define and measure what we do, or what information literacy means; instead, it gives us a shared starting point to reflect, discuss, and be critical.


Have fun at LILAC, everyone.



*to be clear, there are definitely wrong ways to do this
**there are definitely wrong ways to do this too
***this is what happens when everyone goes off to the LILAC conference and I’m left at home holding the framework

Pedagogy, power, practice (and stuff)

The Master’s students resource needs a robust pedagogical underpinning, and this is a much longer blog post than I ever intended it to be but that’s just how important pedagogy is. The state of higher education at the moment, its pressures and its ideologies, means that we need to be ever more critical about this pre-arrival resource. We need to be critical about its content, delivery, structure, technology and yes, its pedagogy. So this very long post is an attempt at some transparency in terms of pedagogical approach as well as an invitation to you to be critical of it.

Situated learning theory

The video above is (a) short and (b) pretty good. In it, Etienne Wenger-Traynor explains about situated learning theory and, in particular, what is and isn’t meant by the word ‘situated’. It’s worth a watch and if you’re interested then there’s a reference in the bibliography below to lots of Wenger’s stuff (and see especially Farnsworth et al., 2016 for a contemporary perspective on this).

Situated learning theory is sociocultural – learning is advanced through collaborative social interaction, and achieved by authentic activities, expert modelling and supporting the generalisation of activities. Learning is a social process, it is participation, it is situated in a specific social and cultural context. This context fundamentally shapes the nature of what is to be learned, the process of learning, and the identities of the learners (Wenger, 1998). Learning, then, is relative to one’s own ‘geographies of practice’, and the nature of these practices is shaped by one’s own social context.

But how does learning take place? In 1989, Brown et al. developed the idea of a ‘cognitive apprenticeship’, where learning happens when an ‘expert’ outlines to a ‘novice’ the stages of learning that they must go through in order to become an expert. Two years later, Lave and Wenger (1991) published on the notion of the ‘community of practice’, avoiding the novice/expert dichotomy and instead focusing on the mutual engagement, joint enterprise and shared repertoire of people (cf. Wenger, 1998). So situated learning is not learning-by-doing, nor does it refer to a specific physical location (e.g. a classroom) where learning takes place. Instead it’s about the trajectory one takes, as a newcomer to a community of practice towards full participation in it. It is social, and about our identity as much as it is about our practices.

If you’re still with me at this point you might be thinking that this all sounds super interesting or whatever but how do you turn this into something concrete? Discussions of pedagogy sometimes sound very grand (‘geographies of practice’, anybody?) but not always hugely applicable. So in what follows I’m going to attempt to give you five practical reasons why situated learning theory and ideas relating to it, especially communities of practice, are relevant to the development of this pre-arrival resource. In summary, it’s because they focus attention on the following things: practices, identities, learning as social, and the implications of learning as social: power.

(1) The first reason is that it gives us a way to conceptualise the potential audience for the resource. There is no typical Cambridge Master’s student and so attempting to pitch the resource at an imaginary typical student is not only inappropriate but also daft. Thinking in terms of communities of practice can give us a way to negotiate the differences in the potential audience, and it does it in a way which is vastly superior to passively accepting that they’re all different. Let’s think in terms of the students’ communities of practice, and the fact that they are participants in multiple communities of practice all at once: their subject, former place of study, workplace. These might overlap, might cohere nicely, might produce tension.

At the same time, the students have in common the fact that they’re about to join a new community of practice: Cambridge graduate study. They’ll arrive with different but equally legitimate pre-existing levels of participation in it, and their experiences of it won’t be identical. But it means we should consider what the Cambridge graduate community of practice is like. What is its discourse? What does it entail, and what doesn’t it? And – I can’t stress this enough – who does it include, and who does it exclude? Who has power, and who doesn’t? Gender, race, class, and more – all of these might facilitate participation in the community of practice, or they might create barriers to it. How might this resource sit within this? How can it help students to negotiate these barriers? What barriers might the resource itself create?

(2) The second reason is the idea of learning as a trajectory, and the reason this is important is that the resource focuses on information literacy and academic skills. There are loads of real-life examples from Cambridge both of information literacy being taught as a set of generalizable skills and as discipline-based competences (Kuglitsch, 2015, is brilliant on the implications of this). But no matter how or why it is taught, information literacy and academic skills are not the disciplines that students are coming to Cambridge to study. That old chestnut that we’re not trying to churn out mini librarians from our ref management sessions might be a truism, but it’s still (hopefully) true.

So part of the pedagogical approach has to be around supporting transfer of knowledge to the actual subjects they’ve come to Cambridge to do. We should be thinking about how information literacy and academic skills support students in more fully participating in their subject’s community of practice, not how to turn them into database wizards. And we should be thinking of this in social terms – how their communities of practice might affect their experience of this resource (if, for example, their subject naturally denigrates the importance of these types of skills, or bestows upon students the sacred importance of them), and how the resource might affect their post-arrival experiences.

(3) Third, I like situated learning for providing a small, quiet solution – but nonetheless a sensible, manageable one – to the specific vs generic problem. (That is, how do you make a thing be relevant to an engineer and a modern linguist at the same time). Situated learning is related to situated cognition, and a theorist in this, Gee (1997), writes about ‘situated meanings’. Dead simply, this is the idea that the meaning of a word changes depending on the social context and an individual’s experience of that context. This encourages us to think about the specific vs generic problem in terms of discourse. Like, if we use the phrase ‘information literacy’, will bad things happen? What if we use the word ‘data’? or information, or resource, or digital? or assignment? or literature?

Gee advises us to take the strategy of being neither too specific nor too general if we want to maximise transfer of knowledge. (Easier said than done, though, amirite). What does this middle ground look like? Is it barren landscape where none of these words are used? Do we swap the word ‘information’ for the emoji with hearts for eyes? Do we include a glossary? Do we call the resource itself ‘ALL MEANINGS ARE CONTESTED’? No, of course not. At the very least we would have to have an open-ended survey on which emoji to use in place of the word ‘information’.

Instead I think we need to focus on creating a sense of authenticity in the resource, and using this to frame the situated nature of the discourse. Herrington and Oliver (2000) are useful here – they developed nine guidelines for developing authentic experience in ‘learning environments’, including things like reflecting the way that knowledge is used in real life, incorporating authentic activities, modelling processes. This may all sound a bit theoretical right now but it does give us a clue to things like tone and content and format.

(4) The fourth reason I like these theories is that they make us think critically about the technologies we use, how we use them, and how they use us. At a broad, functional level this might be how to recreate an authentic experience online, or how we use the technology to support knowledge transfer? How might technology enable this new and evolving community of practice to explore or define or express their shared identity? How might it support an experience of this community? At a micro level it means thinking closely about the domain name, the look-and-feel, the ways in which the resource might invoke a ‘Cambridge identity’ or sense of community. Can we achieve this through Cambridge name-dropping? Is it branding, symbols, skylines, references to Chelsea buns? Do we need a button that says ‘DON’T WALK ON THE GRASS’?

We might very well need all of these things. But we also need to think through the assumptions we’re making about technology, about how we use it, and about those who use it. What does it mean for us to use a libguide, or Moodle, or something else entirely? What are the social implications of this? What does it mean for us to put the resource online? Who do we include or exclude through our technology choices?

(5) Finally (yes, finally) situated learning assumes that there are experts, those who are fully participating in communities of practice. Yes, there are, and (guess what!) we are not them. The current Master’s students are the experts. And so in the development of this resource, we must elevate their voices and their experiences.



Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32–42.

Farnsworth, V., Kleanthous, I., & Wenger-Trayner, E. (2016). Communities of Practice as a Social Theory of Learning: a Conversation with Etienne Wenger. British Journal of Educational Studies, 64(2), 139–160.

Gee, J. P. (1997). Thinking, learning and reading: the situated sociocultural mind. In D. Kirshner & J. A. Whitson (Eds.), Situated cognition: social, semiotic, and psychological perspectives (pp. 37–55). Mahwah, N.J: L. Erlbaum.

Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. (2000). An instructional design framework for authentic learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 48(3), 23–48. 

Kuglitsch, R. Z. (2015). Teaching for Transfer: Reconciling the Framework with Disciplinary Information Literacy. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 15(3), 457–470. 

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Masters’ pre-arrival: three dilemmas (and a potentially rogue apostrophe)

Hello! Time for a Masters’ pre-arrival project update? Please, and comment below, or email me, or phone, or whatever. Soz that it ended up being a bit long.

So far the project has mostly consisted of reading, thinking, wondering if there really is an apostrophe after the word Masters, and talking to people. I genuinely have had the most joyful conversations with members of the library community here in Cambridge, so an enormous ‘thank you’ if you’ve had the misfortune to be visited by me. (If I haven’t spoken to you yet, it’s not that I don’t care, please invite me to your library).

As you might expect, I’m hearing some enormously diverse views and as soon as David M’s FutureLib/Student Journey data starts to reach me I imagine it’ll diversify even further. The conversations have uncovered a variety of perspectives, concerns, biases, investments. But for the purpose of this blog post I want to focus on three of them. Three dilemmas. None are black-and-white – I’m thinking in terms of a spectrum, and what I’ve outlined below are definitely the extremes. But please, help me out with my internal struggles, have a read, and let me know where you stand.

1) Induction or not-induction

Man's hand holding out a compass on top of a hill, looking at a mountainous range in the background.The ‘pre-arrival’ element of the resource is pretty important. It’s aimed at people who are not yet in Cambridge. They haven’t had reading lists yet. They might not even have applied yet (okay yes wishful thinking whatever). The pre-arrival focus gives the resource some boundaries, and underlines the ongoing and desperate need for the context which post-arrival teaching, resources, and experiences can provide. But there are things that a pre-arrival resource could do to help students to orient themselves in the ways of Cambridge, and the ways of our libraries. So welcome to the first spectrum: induction or not-induction.

At one end of the spectrum, the resource contains an enormous amount of induction and orientation material. There are three types of library in Cambridge, and this is how to get printing credit, and iDiscover is a library catalogue, and this is what non-print legal deposit means, and so on. This is useful introductory information, armed with which, students might be able to navigate the library system better.

At the other end, there’s a real and specific focus on skills. At this end, iDiscover is not introduced as a library catalogue but singularly in the context of finding resources. The orientation information is incidental, not core. After all, this information is widely available elsewhere – sent out by colleges, departments, the Graduate Union, the Language Centre, and probably loads of other people too. Including it would dilute the purpose of the resource and it’s just a duplication of effort.

Over to you. Where do you stand on the issue?


2) Self-directed or tailored

A signpost against a mountainous backdrop. There are three yellow signs pointing in different directions but all of them are blank.

One of the major challenges presented by the creation of this resource is how you make something that can be used by complex and varied students addressing themselves to the study of complex and varied subjects. My (flawed) answer to this is to create a resource which isn’t linear, and which incorporates an element of choice – which allows the users of the resource to pick and choose what they require. But how much choice do we give them?

Again, think of this as a spectrum. At one end, we have an entirely self-directed resource. All options, all skills, are presented to the students equally, and they pick what they need. After all, self-direction is mentioned in no less than 38 entries in the course catalogue for Masters’ students, where it genuinely is cross-disciplinary: Sociology mentions it, and so does Mathematics, Medicine, Education, Physics, Philosophy and more. So let’s start ’em off right. Let’s give them the whole resource, with little guidance. Let’s let them decide what to view or read, or how much. Let’s not presume that we know better than they do about the skills that they need.

At the other end of the spectrum is a closely tailored resource (not quite personalised, sorry – we didn’t get that much funding!). At this end, students enter details about their course, or about themselves, and the resource gives them guidance as to the areas that would be most useful to them. Because surely an MPhil student in Public Health will need different stuff to an MPhil student in Modern British History? And that Public Health student is going to close the tab straight away if they find themselves on a page that looks entirely irrelevant to them, right?

What would you do?


3) Library or University

Two labradors facing each other, each holding and tugging on a rope toy.

This one’s related not to content but to the hosting, location, look-and-feel, and branding of the resource, and it sort of comes down to a decision between the university and the library. (Now, to be fair, this might well be a moot point: it might be that the resource ends up going wherever it ends up going and that’s the end of it but let’s continue to believe we have options…).

So come on then, join me on this spectrum. At one end, it’s a Library resource. It’s clearly branded as being created by and owned by the library community. It’s hosted on a library website – maybe the UL, maybe the gateway. It’s named in such a way that makes its connection to libraries unmistakeable and inalienable. Because it’s about information literacy and that’s what we do. Let’s own it.

And at the other end of the spectrum, the library community barely gets a look-in. It’s clearly a University resource, branded as such, hosted as such, named as such. The fact that it was created by us is an aside (by the time you’ve seen the final product this may be a blessing in disguise…). But the students don’t care who is responsible, and they don’t need to know. If it’s a university resource, it’ll have more weight, more authority. It might be easier to find, or easier to stumble across. It might be easier to get buy-in from admissions departments and other bits of the university if it isn’t a ‘library’ thing.

And again, where do you stand? How would you pitch it? Library or university? (or both?)

Thanks for reading (if you made it this far). And please let me know what you think. Comments below, or drop me an email. And invite me to visit!

Bye for now,

Helen M (EFL)

Image credits: all CC-0 from Pixabay, but thanks to the creators: StockSnaptrainer24, GregMontani

Successful funding bid

Within days of the launch of the Cambridge Information Literacy Network, the Project Team was positively gleeful to learn that we had been successful in a bid made to the University of Cambridge’s Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund.

The fund is designed to “assist with implementing innovative practice in any area of learning and teaching provision“, focusing on those adopting new approaches or initiatives to enhance teaching and learning.

The funding will be used to support the development of one of the strands of the project: the creation and implementation of a pre-arrival online resource for Masters’ students across all disciplines, focusing on skills and practices related to information literacy as well as some transferable academic skills such as time management. The funding will have an influence on the technologies chosen for this resource, as well as supporting the part-time secondment of Helen Murphy from the English Faculty Library to the project.

More information about this coming very soon…

Photo by Émile Perron on Unsplash (CC-0)

CILN is here!

The first official meeting of the Cambridge Information Literacy Network (CILN for short) took place in the first week of February. Over the next few months, more than ficropped-ciln4.jpgfty staff from across the entire Cambridge library community will be participating in a range of collaborative projects related to information literacy and, in particular, the new Cambridge Information Literacy Framework (more about that soon…)

These projects are wide-ranging and ambitious and include:

  • mapping learning outcomes to the framework
  • mapping student competencies
  • understanding induction and orientation in Cambridge libraries
  • professional skills
  • delivery of online teaching and tutorials
  • a forum bringing together library staff from across the country
  • the development of online resources related to information literacy and academic skills to support taught postgraduate and undergraduate transition to university and, particularly, to Cambridge

Follow us on Twitter for more updates, or better yet, get in touch with someone from the Project Team and get involved!