Evidence in Education – an opportunity for librarians?

Recently there has been a flurry of interest in improving the evidence base for classroom teaching.  Ben Goldacre was asked to investigate the use of evidence in education by Michael Gove (and whether the mention of Michael Gove and evidence in education in the same sentence raises your eyebrows or not) Ben Goldacre’s report raises some important issues.

Goldacre suggests the use of Randomised Controlled Trials, a technique which has been successfully used in medicine.   Marc Smith in the Guardian and teacher Andrew Old in his blog both ponder whether RCTs are the best way to conduct research in the classroom, but both agree that making teaching a more evidence based profession is a good thing.  Another Guardian piece, this time by school governor Jon Butterworth (who also happens to be a Professor of Physics) also commended a more evidence based approach to teaching.

All of this presents a huge challenge to teachers.  Teaching is hard.  Imagine how you feel before a major presentation, how much preparation you put in, how you feel before you walk before your audience.  That is what teaching is like, but you have 4 or 5 presentations every day.  And marking and assessments to do afterwards, before you plan the next day.  It doesn’t leave much time for planning or implementing research, or even reading about the research that others have done.  In my 10 years of teaching I don’t recall ever seeing an academic journal in the music office, or having research recommended to me.  Disappointingly I never went looking for the research myself either.

In teachers defence it is hard to get the research.  Academic journals are expensive and not all schools will pay for your subscription.  While you do your teacher training you have access to academic libraries, but as soon as you finish so does your access to academic libraries.  Until open access becomes a reality it is hard to be a research aware teacher.

I am now a librarian and recently at a conference I heard from a health librarian who is taking her health library resources out to the ward round to help doctors make evidence based decisions at the bedside (read more in my blog post or see more about her job on the hospital webpage).  It started me thinking, if we think doctors and nurses deserve access to specialist library resources to help them develop evidence based practice, why not teachers?

The issues with school libraries are well known.  It seems shocking to me that not all schools have libraries or librarians (it is a legal requirement for a prison to have a library, but not a school).  Where schools do have libraries, qualified librarians have to constantly justify their position and many schools replace skilled librarians with part-time TAs and see the school library as just an adjunct of the English department.  Evidence based practice could be a huge opportunity for school librarians to become more central to the school and provide services to teacher researchers alongside the hugely valuable services they already provide to pupils.  Alternatively is it an opportunity for academic librarians to extend their services to teachers after they leave the university?  Universities that offer teacher training are often keen to tie schools in to them so they will offer placements to their students.  Could use of academic libraries become part of the offer?

Or is there another way to engage teachers with the latest research material?  My husband is a Senior Lecturer in education.  The continuing engagement of teachers with professional development material has troubled him since at a teachers’ meeting he was shocked that many didn’t know about an iminent change to education.  He was also concerned that his current students had a limited connection to wider religious education issues.  He considered how he could connect with busy teachers and students and began to use twitter.  Tweeting as @PabloPedantic and using the hashtag #REatEH he began tweeting links to useful educational resources, research and articles. Through his own research he has been able to demonstrate an improved awareness amongst students.  His followers include former students and a wider community of teachers who also benefit from his tweets.

At the recent LILAC conference on Information Literacy a tweet from Steve Wheeler’s  presentation read “Alan Carbery @acarbery. @timbuckteeth says twitter has done more for his CPD than years of Grad SChool, formal education#lilac13“.  Perhaps twitter as a way of pushing forward the right information to people at the right time is the way forward, and there is an obvious role here for librarians.

If teaching is to become a more evidence based profession there needs to be a revolution in how teachers create, access, assess and use research.  As librarians we need to find how best we can develop our services to so that we become an integral part of facilititing this change.


CILIP North West Members’ Day

12th March was an exciting day for me as a new professional as I got to attend my first conference – the CILIP North West Members’ Day in Preston.

I travelled with a colleague from LiveWire libraries in Warrington and although our jobs have a lot of common ground (she is responsible for digital development and I am responsible for online information, amongst other things) we are both part-time and we work at different sites so the journey was a good time to catch up and talk a few ideas over.

Arriving in Preston over the scary, rickety bridge to the conference centre we were greeted by a lovely, friendly bunch of fellow professionals, one of the largest turnouts for the member’s day in recent years.  There were representatives from health, public, academic and charity libraries as well as a retired member.

The theme of the day this year was celebrating success.  A time to celebrate what libraries do well to inspire us all at what are often challenging times for our libraries.

The first speaker was Victoria Treadway @librarianpocket, a Clinical Librarian from Wirral University Teaching Hospital.  She spoke about a project she initiated to integrate a librarian into the ward round on the critical care ward to aid healthcare professionals in delivering evidence based care by providing access to the latest research and guidelines on treating the wide range of patients seen in critical care.

The success of the project, both in terms of patient outcomes and the growth of knowledge and confidence for the clinical team lead to Victoria and the consultant surgeon from the project being invited to present at a medical conference in India.

Victoria spoke not just about the visit, but about the range of skills she had gained in planning the trip and the conference presentation which had been useful to her as she worked towards chartership. As well as the expected skills in presenting and academic writing, Victoria had to develop advocacy and fundraising skills to persuade the NHS Trust of the value of attending the conference.  Part of this involved her working with IT and other agencies to produce a video about the project and it’s benefits which can be seen here http://www.whnt.nhs.uk/hrod/development/library_services/services/clinical_librarian_service.html.

This really was an inspiring story of how a librarian had embraced new technology to take her skills and expertise to the point where it was needed.  The project had helped change people’s perceptions of the hospital library from a place that people may possibly have liked to go to if they ever had time, to a key partner in delivering the best outcomes for patients and helping staff to be more confident in doing their jobs. It demonstrated that our skills as librarians are as relevent, needed and desired by people as ever, they just don’t necessarily want or aren’t able to visit the library.  It is up to us to get out there and show people what we can do and find ways to meet people at their point of need.

The second speaker was Stewart Parsons, Project Manager of Get It Loud in Libraries @Libraryfiend @LoudinLibraries.  This project to bring high quality music into libraries is probably well known to most librarians.  Stewart gave numerous examples of the success of the project and the stellar list of artists who have been featured as part of the project, Adele, Jessie J, Professor Green, The Wombats, Plan B, Florence and the Machine are just a few I can remember.

The projected started out of Stewart’s desire, as a music librarian in Lancashire Libraries to bring young people into the library by helping them engage with the culture and music they were consuming outside the library.  Stewart emphasised a libraries role as a place to encounter great culture and from the start the project had aimed to engage high quality musicians, generally people on the cusp of commercial success.

The project is lead and guided by young people and provides many opportunities for engaging with local schools and colleges.  Young people take on roles such as publicity, journalism, recording and photography as well as setting up associated fashion and art projects.  Many have used the experience gained volunteering with Get It Loud In Libraries to secure university places and jobs within the highly competitive world of music and media.

The project has grown and now delivers gigs around the country.  It has secured funding from a range of sources, including the Arts Council, and has gained lots of positive media coverage in media that appeals to young people such as the NME as well as more national press and TV.

Once again the message was we do not need to change our core aims.  Libraries have always been places to connect with great culture; what we need to do is see where great culture is and how people engage with it and adapt our services to serve their needs.

Before we were allowed out for lunch the AGM of the CILIP NW Branch was held.  While this was largely a formality, it afforded the many people gathered who are not part of the committee a chance to hear about the work the committee does to provide training and networking events for local members.  David Stewart, Branch Chair, outlined plans to merge the group with the NW Career Development Group, but also emphasised the need for librarians to support and join their professional organisation: How can we expect to be taken seriously as a profession if we do not have a professional body?

Lunch was a good chance to network. I was able to chat with friends from my course last year, as well as colleagues from other public libraries and colleagues from academic libraries who knew my husband via his Twitter stream!

After lunch Phil Bradley, CILIP President @CILIPPresident @Philbradley gave the keynote address on Librarians in a Social Media World.  Phil outlined how the world of search is changing as Google and other main search providers move further and further towards money making models.  Why should Google provide you the perfect result straight away if it’s main aim is to show you lots of adverts?  Search engines do not rate accuracy and slowly the public is beginning to realise this.  The established search engines also struggle to keep up with the range and amount of new and instant material being created on the web and the move the ‘real time’ business and news.

He noted the changing role of the ‘recommendation’ as the main way to find new websites rather than search.  With the increase of use of social media such as Twitter and Google+, as well as blogs and aggredation services such as Scoop It and Delicious people are more and more using recommendations by people they trust to discover information they can rely on.  The trusted people may not be people they know, but may have gained people’s trust by reputation, friends recommendation or celebrity.

The role for librarians here is clear.  We have always been seen as a trusted source of information and recent research found libarians were still second only to doctors as trusted sources of information.  There is a huge opportunity here for librarians to take a lead in becoming a trusted local source of information, if only we can convince the IT and other departments who see social media as nothing more than a threat.  Phil suggested changing the terms of reference of the debate away from ‘social media’ to ‘real time business’.

The final session of the day was from Margaret Robinson and Jayne Evans of Manchester Metropolitan University Library.  They outlined the process they had implemented over the last few years to achived Customer Service Excellence.  They emphasised how important getting staff on board with the process from the start.  They suggested the process could not have succeeded with out the positive support of both top level managers or frontline staff.  The goal of the prize of getting the CSE award was a key driver, but throughout the process the benefits had been seen to both the managers and the frontline staff.

The process had been driven by feedback from both users and staff.  They had found online comments forms and long surveys had not been well used.  Instead they used  informal coffee and biscuit ‘roadshows’ where small groups of staff could feed back customer service niggles and suggest solutions had produced a range of really useful suggestions, many of which were implemented.

For students they had stopped using long surveys, but instead used short ‘straw polls’ with three questions which were asked to everyone leaving the library.  This allowed the polls to be focussed on specific issues and resulted in a higher rate of completion.  Similar online polls were used after interactions with students via the website.

They noted that very often it was small things that were relatively cheaply and easily changed that really affected customer satisfaction. Although they had yet to find a way of satisfying everyone with regard to the temperature of the library!

Finally they talked about feedback and the importance of closing the loop by telling both staff and users how their comments and complaints had been acted on. They use both ‘you said we Fox’s posters and a changing display on the website which showed a random update from a list of five recent changes to website users.

Libraries are fortunate that our friendly helpful staff are often commented on in customer satisfaction surveys, but there are always things to improve and little things count. This was a useful presentation with several practical ideas in how to consult with both staff and public quickly in a way that produced meaningful results.

The day ended with votes of thanks to the speakers, committee and chair for a successful and inspiring day. I hope to be able to attend again next year.