Teaching Information Literacy in an Arts University

Ian Badger, University for the Creative Arts at Canterbury

I have a humanities background and while working at an arts university I have learnt and developed knowledge of the subjects I support. This worried me when I first started at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA), but I soon became familiar with art resources and I have picked up knowledge through answering queries and running information literacy workshops.

When I started at UCA it was difficult to obtain information from the courses. I had to pester academics for reading lists and generally only saw the assessments for units where I would be delivering workshops. All this has changed since the increase in use of the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) at UCA. I have access to the units and courses for every subject I support, which means I can access all of the information provided by the academics for students. Information found on the VLE includes unit briefs, course handbooks, lecture slides, hand-outs and timetables. The VLE has proven to be vital in understanding the courses and with it the needs of the students. Using this information effectively, I can be proactive in offering support for units where students will need to carry out research. I can also pass information onto the Collections and Discovery team who purchase physical and electronic stock to ensure that we have the correct resources to support the course.

Using information gathered from the VLE, I have been able to deliver focused information literacy sessions. The majority of the sessions I deliver support students when they are undertaking written assessments, such as essays and dissertations. In order to make the sessions relevant, I develop the activities so that they can be used in their assessments. By completing a Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector course I learnt that if activities are linked to assessments students will be more motivated to complete them. During a workshop with 1st year Architecture students, they were asked to find three articles relevant to their essay question. I asked the students to send their bibliographies to me, so that I could collate the bibliographies and upload them onto the VLE. The students could see the value in this as by completing the task they would be helping to create a larger bibliography which they could then view to find material relevant to their assignment.

I am also involved in delivering workshops to support the practical units, where assessment is not a written assignment and students tend to use information in a more creative way. To support Interior Architecture and Design students who were experiencing difficulties with writing up their design projects, I ran a session with the Learning Development Tutor, who covers academic writing and study skills, on how architecture articles are written in journals. The students were shown how to locate articles on architecture projects and then asked to evaluate some text. The session ended with the students creating a piece of text describing the library, they then took photos to illustrate their writing. We also ran a session for Extended Diploma students who were creating animations for UNESCO’s International “Arts for Peace” Festival, which required them to research the meaning of the key theme words of their animations in Oxford Reference Premium.

I am based in the University Library at Canterbury UCA and I am part of the Learning Enhancement & Support Team. The team is formed of a Learning & Teaching Librarian, a Learning Development Tutor who is responsible for language and study skills, a Careers & Employability Advisor, Dyslexia Advisor and a Learning Support Manager. The aims of the team are to enhance learning, teaching and research, and to develop new approaches to curriculum design and delivery which embrace inclusivity, utilise technology, embed employability and promote academic and information literacy. There are huge benefits to the students at UCA by working so closely with other professionals. In particular by working collaboratively and delivering sessions with the Learning Development Tutor we can offer more comprehensive sessions and support. A recent session we delivered to 1st year Fine Art students followed the process of creating an essay. We started by showing them a past essay, they then carried out some research to add to the argument in the essay, finally they added citations and bibliography to the essay. By working together we can combine the different aspects of finding, evaluating and using information into one session that reflects the real experience of writing an essay. This puts the skills into context, rather than teaching them separately and leaving it to the students to fill in the gaps.

At UCA we subscribe to over fifty online resources as subject area of the arts has numerous resources which are essential for students. Many are general and can be used by students on most courses at UCA, such as Art Full Text and Oxford Art Online. Specific subjects, for example architecture will have key resources such as the RIBA Catalogue and the Construction Information Service, which are essential to their subject but are not relevant to other students. The scope of student essays can be a particular challenge to librarians. A recent class of Architecture and Interior Architecture and Design students had a choice of three essay questions. Students who chose one question on ‘transient event and actions in cities’ could base their argument on a variety of topics which would affect the resource they would need to use.

Third year students researching their dissertations need assistance to select from a variety of resources. Their dissertations are predominantly art-based but touch on a wide variety of subjects from current affairs, politics, the environment and psychology. The selection of resources is a key issue in my role and the students find it frustrating having to deal with different interfaces and access points. We are currently looking at discovery tool products which will make my role easier as those students confused by the variety of resources and who carry out their research on the Internet will be able to locate and access relevant peer-reviewed sources quickly.

Effective information skills workshops are a huge benefit to students. To make them effective it is important that I keep abreast of what is happening on the courses, this can be done by viewing course announcements, lecture slides and assessments on the VLE. Working with colleagues that are specialists in other areas has been enlightening. Their experience can lead to more effective sessions, as combining specialisms makes learning easier for students as the support they receive is comprehensive. It is essential to continue to develop my skills through gaining qualifications and attending courses, and to keep updated on how workshops are being delivered in other institutions.