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Welcome to information in the curriculum. Here you can share and discuss issues linked to integrating information skills into your teaching and curriculum design.

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Discussion – 26 November 2019

There was another meeting with members of the university community on 26 November. The main focus for the discussion was the new IAMplify project which has been brought in by the library and focuses on actively addressing how diversity and inclusion does (and does not) manifest itself in our collections, and subsequently in our reading lists and curricula. We:

  1. ask who is and is not represented,
  2. consider why this is the case and how it operates as a function of marginalisation, and
  3. act to bring those voices into the spaces we occupy.

We looked at how we can incorporate this into the curriculum, with the active participation of students in their classes, and affect change in both the content and approach to reading lists for modules. Some great ideas emerged, and we will be putting them into action in semester two.

  • A padlet will be made available so that students and staff can put forward ideas for texts to add to the library collection, and also links to sources that are not part of the traditional books and journal article collections.
  • This padlet will be monitored by the academic liaison librarians, and responses posted, in relation to adding items to reading list, purchasing new texts, and feedback to say thanks for the suggestions.
  • The padlet will be available to staff to use as both a tool for recommending things themselves, and getting ideas for their teaching.
  • Some academics are instigating new assessments which involve tasks such as annotated bibliographies which will influence, and be influenced by, the sources identified in IAMplify.
  • A suggestion of a reading group to centre on one of the sources in IAMplify was made and is going to be taken forward. It would be open to all and likely be based in online discussions. It was suggested that Unicorn by Amrou Al-Kadhi would be a great first text for this.

A breakthrough with first years

This post relates to a session I ran with the level 4 Theology (incorporating Theology, Religion, Philosophy and Ethics students) module 1RS010 this week. Two of the learning outcomes for this module are:

  • Access primary and secondary sources, using electronic searches, in order to identify and explain key themes and approaches in the study of religion.
  • Identify, articulate and discuss the works of key scholars in the study of religion.

It’s a workshop I have run before, embedded in the module, and focusing on evaluating sources. I make several contributions to this module, with other sessions looking at why referencing is important in academic work (not just avoiding plagiarism, but also the power of reference lists and bibliographies in understanding whose voices have been prioritised by the author), and integrating sources critically into academic work. The learning outcomes for this specific session are:

  • To demonstrate knowledge of the different types of information sources available in higher education.
  • To demonstrate knowledge of the main attributes of these information sources.

Last year I ran a workshop with these outcomes and, although I felt the key messages had been conveyed, I felt there was a lack of engagement with the tasks I had set (my fault) and looked to overcome that. I had done an introductory presentation about evaluation, and then given groups a source to evaluate based upon that (some from text books, some from journals, some from newspapers). From discussing the task with the students in that session, I thought that I hadn’t provided enough structure and information within the instructions for the tasks, and had relied too much on the students taking in information I had given in the presentation to introduce the session. Also, I had split the cohort into groups and given each a single source to evaluate, and they had found it difficult without something else to compare it to. This year, therefore, I redesigned the worksheets and also provided more sources and gave each person in the group a full set of sources.

All resources were put in the VLE the week before the session, so the students could read ahead if they wished. I had 90 minutes, roughly split:

There were five sources used for the evaluation task, all found in searches for the term ‘fundamentalism’, and included an Oxford Handbook article on the topic (essentially a scholarly essay by someone experienced in that subject area), an encyclopedia entry, a journal article, a review article, and a newspaper article. (N.B. These sources are from subscriptions so may require logins.) A full list of sources can also be found at the bottom of the reading list for this module.

Asking the students to evaluate these with guidance such as checking if the source had a reference list/bibliography, and the affiliations of the author, proved much more fruitful than asking them to pick from the list in the presentation. It also led well into discussions about whether authors are writing from an academic research perspective, or from a faith-based perspective, or both. These discussions took place as I circulated around the class as the group worked on the task. Getting whole group feedback at the end proved a bit of a challenge, but I had the idea on the spot to ask them to hold up the source they felt matched the answer to the question. This worked really well as everyone held up a source and we were able to pick up on the fact that there was no consensus and how in academic work this is often the case and that it doesn’t matter, as long as you can justify why you picked it. Some held up two sources, as they couldn’t choose, and again we were able to discuss how that is okay and that a combination of sources generally produces a stronger argument.

I then demonstrated how I had found each of the sources, and linked it all to the assignment they had been set (to write a short essay on a key thinker in religion). A later session is going to be in a room with PCs so I can assess how they are progressing with finding sources for themselves.

This session needs a good amount of preparation. I had print outs of all of the sources for each of the 24 students prepared in advance by our university print services department, and I had to ensure that the resources and session outline was put in the VLE in advance, to ensure anyone requiring specific font size or paper colour, or extra time to read through the sources, had the chance to prepare. I stressed throughout that they were not expected to read each source in depth, that this was an exercise in evaluating whether it was worth investing the time reading a source in depth (amongst other things).

Diversity in information sources

My colleague Tom and I were recently asked to write a piece for the university’s LGBT staff network on how we approach issues of inclusion and diversity in our roles, especially in relation to information sources and how they are integrated into the library collection. The post outlines our commitment to amplifying marginalised voices and supporting their integration into the curriculum. I have linked to it here because I think it provides a starting point for reflection on how linking information and learning and teaching needs to incorporate an awareness of whose voices are dominant in the available sources and what we can do to combat that. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has examples of this working in practice, or ideas for how it could be achieved in the future.

The research behind the community of practice

I did a webinar for OneHE about this website and the community of practice we have in information literacy at York St John University yesterday. I’ll post the link to the recording once it is available from the organisers. Some of those who joined in were interested in the research I did, as part of my doctorate, which formed the background to the content here. This is the survey I carried out with anyone who had taught level 4 modules, which was informed by interviews with academic colleagues. If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear them. And please feel free to use bits, with attribution, as you wish. My thesis should be online next year (submission and passing the viva allowing!) and much more context, and the results, will be in that. If anyone does use it, and wants to discuss future collaborations, that would be a brilliant thing to pursue.


Discussion – 11 June 2019

There was a meeting of members of the community of practice on 11 June. We focused on induction for the 2019/20 academic year in the main, but some other points were raised too, especially in how we can work together to publish undergraduate research projects. Here were the key issues raised and how we plan to tackle them.

Want to encourage the students to find their own reading from the get-go, to reflect their own interests and perspectives.

Key issue(s)

This is linked to a course where many of the students already have jobs linked to the degree, and so come with a lot of professional knowledge, but then don’t seem to bring this perspective into their assignments. Linked to this were also issues of resource availability, where even though ebooks are provided for essential reading, there were complaints about availability of texts on the reading list. The academic explained that the reading list had some set readings, all available electronically, but that it may be linked to the additional, recommended reading, with the students feeling (even though this isn’t the case) that they have to stick to the resources on the reading list.

Suggested way forward

The academic liaison librarian is going to work with the module tutor on a workshop in which the students will help create the reading list, close to the start of their course. There will still be set readings to give an introduction to topics, but the rest will be compiled by the students. In this they will be able to bring their professional knowledge into play, learn about the resources that are now available to them as a university student, and connect these up with the learning outcomes of the module. This links well with critical information literacy in giving the student agency as a researcher, and not privileging any specific types of information. We can use the list created as a starting point for critiquing from the perspective of the representation of marginalised voices, and build upon it as the programme progresses.

How can we publish and promote student research projects that plug information gaps, or have the potential to influence policy, or are valuable additions to the evidence base in other ways?

Key issue(s)

An academic colleague raised the issue that, each year, a number of research projects done by students in their final year, are of such quality and value that they deserve publishing. However, there were also concerns that the traditional journal publishing process may not be the most suitable for this. This is because the research is of worth to those working in professions beyond academia and therefore paywalls could restrict access to the people who would find the information most valuable.

Suggested way forward

The academic is firstly going to discuss this further with the current cohort of students, to ensure their opinions are taken into account in this decision making. However, a preferred solution for this academic is to host a website/blog for the course, with the research available to view without a paywall. This can grow as an archive each year, and can be indexed according to specialism. This gives future students the chance to see what has gone before, allows anyone to view the research, and provides a platform for those whose work is included to promote what they have found. In this, professional voices which have not had the chance to add to the evidence base, will now have an outlet. This is very much an early idea, and will be investigated further over the next few weeks.


Blended approach to induction for pre-sessional students

This post comes from Jane Munks, the academic liaison librarian for the York Business School, which welcomes intakes of pre-sessional students. These are students who arrive in advance of their degrees starting, to build their knowledge of the English needed for study on an undergraduate course.

The input was designed for approx. 8 students and took place during their normal, timetabled class session. The aim was to help them understand the basics of using the library, but also introduce concepts such as referencing and avoiding plagiarism. They would get follow-ups once they started their degree, to get into the hows and whys of information search and evaluation. This was very much an introductory session. The online quizzes were very popular, and generally the class engaged well with all of the activities.

You can link to the online quizzes that were used from the presentation. There was one on library language, one on searching the library catalogue, and one on citing and referencing.

Presessional5 2018

Using Archives and Special Collections in Creative Writing Research

This post was provided by Katherine Hughes, Academic Liaison Librarian at York St John.

Background to the session

In Spring term 2019 I delivered a session on using archives and special collections in Creative Writing research. This session was embedded within the third year Creative Research in Practice module, which focuses on different research methods used in creative writing. Students are assessed through a research project including a professional proposal, sample of creative work, and an annotated bibliography.

This session provided us with a great opportunity to showcase YSJ’s special collections. Helen Pleasance, the module tutor requesting the session, was eager that students should have the opportunity to interact directly with archival objects, something we are very happy to facilitate. We wanted to let students know about the practicalities of using archive resources, as these are often unfamiliar and can be intimidating. We also wanted to give them an idea of the wealth of other archive resources available, both as physical archives and online.

Research and preparation

In preparation for the session, I researched different approaches to using archives and special collections in CW research. According to Croome (2009), archives are usually used in two ways by writers, for background research and to add realistic detail, or for inspiration. Archival research can be used to verify the facts about a particular time period, setting or local area, ensuring the author’s depiction is accurate, and to immerse the researcher in detail of the past. However, an unusual resource or object from an archive or special collection can provide the spark for a new story, or to ‘inspire imagined detail’ in an existing work (Lonie 2017). St Germain (2017), for instance, ran a workshop making use of early 20th century mugshots as writing prompts. Sometimes the most tantalizing and inspiring things in an archival resource are what’s missing. Both Mantel (2017) and Wilkinson (2016) reflect on gaps in the historical record and how their writing is about filling those gaps with imagination and guesswork.

As students hadn’t yet chosen their assignment direction, I decided that the activities should focus on the use of archives for inspiration, although I did discuss other other uses. I consulted fellow librarian Tom Peach, who looks after our special collections, about which resources were likely to inspire writers. Some of our archival resources, while of interest to historians, can be rather dry – the university’s financial records, for instance, are unlikely to fire anyone’s imagination. However, our archive also includes photograph and letter books that provide a snapshot of life at YSJ over the past century and a half. Our Rees-Williams collection of Victorian and Edwardian children’s books includes both classics and texts that haven’t stood the test of time, but which are interesting for what they tell us about contemporary attitudes to gender, race, and the British Empire. We also selected some playbills and posters from the York Theatre Royal and Yorkshire Playbills and Posters collections. Given that the contents of some of the resources were controversial, it was clear that the session would need to address the problematics of archives and changing historical attitudes, and prepare students for what they might encounter in both this session and other collections. My research also highlighted a need for students to think critically about archive collections, about what had been chosen for preservation and what might be missing or excluded.

Session design

The session was scheduled to last around 50 minutes. It started with an explanation of the uses of archives for CW research, based on the literature I had consulted. I provided some examples of texts that had used archival research and explained the practicalities of using archives and the rules and regulations involved. We then moved on to the student activity exploring archive collections. In pairs or groups, students chose and examined one of the example resources from our archive and discussed how they could be used in CW research. I provided the following questions to stimulate discussion:

  • How might you use this resource for Creative Writing research?
  • What can you learn about the historical and local context in which the resource was created?
  • Who was the author/creator of the resource and what can you learn about them?
  • Why do you think this particular resource was preserved by its creator and/or by the archive?
  • What gaps or absences can you detect?

After time spent discussing the resources, I concluded the session by letting students know about other physical archive resources in the local area, online archive collections we subscribe to at YSJ, and free digital archives available on the web. Finally, I let them know where they could go for further help and advice on using both our and other special collections and archives.

Session outcomes and reflection

I ran two back-to-back sessions with two different groups of students, with around 15-20 students in each group. The sessions went very positively, with students engaged in the activity and involved in critical discussion about the resources. They seemed to enjoy having an opportunity to look at the resources and several came up with new ideas for writing and research. After the session, Tom and I had appointments with several creative writing students who had decided to use archives – whether ours or other collections – in their assignment. However, there were some students who were less engaged with the resources. On discussion with them, it emerged that their research interests didn’t really fit with the contents of our special collections, which are all 19th and 20th century artefacts.

On reflection, I felt the session had gone well and the majority of students appeared to find it of interest. I was glad I had been able to spend some time researching archive use and that my activity had highlighted the importance of considering gaps and exclusions, as this led to some of the most interesting ideas and discussions. One student noticed that the pages in a Victorian children’s book had not all been cut, meaning that the pages were still joined together and some contents couldn’t be read. She suggested an idea for a project where she would fill in the missing parts of the story with her own writing.

However, I felt that the session could be adapted to provide more options for students whose research interests fell outside the scope of our archive. Booking the session in a room with some computer terminals might allow students to browse online archives for inspiration as well as looking at physical resources. Discussion with the module tutor indicated that there were likely to be changes to the module next year – currently it runs concurrently with students’ dissertations, so students are effectively doing two research projects. If moved to an earlier point in the course, there might be scope to expand the archive session and link the activities more directly to the assignment brief.


Croome, A. (2009) ‘Document Z: creating fiction from the Archives’. Memento, Issue 37, pp. 3-5. Available from http://www.naa.gov.au/naaresources/publications/memento/pdf/memento37.pdf [Accessed 22nd Jan 2019].

Lonie, E. (2017) Fonds or Fiction? Archives as Inspiration for Creative Writing [Internet]. Available from http://www.thingsimfondsof.com/fonds-or-fiction/ [Accessed 15th Jan 2019].

Mantel, H. (2017) ‘Hilary Mantel: why I became a historical novelist’. Guardian [Internet], 3rd June. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/03/hilary-mantel-why-i-became-a-historical-novelist [Accessed 15th Jan 2019).

McLaughlin, C. (2017) ‘Adelle Stripe on her debut novel “Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile”’. Northern Life [Internet], 18th October. Available from http://northernlifemagazine.co.uk/adelle-stripe-book/ [Accessed 15th Jan 2019].

St Germain, J. (2017) Cubic Footnotes: Hidden Stories in Archival Collections [Internet]. Available from http://www.cubicfootnotes.com/using-archival-collections-source-creativity-inspiration/ [Accessed 15th Jan 2019].

University of Westminster Archive Services (2016) Finding and using Archives for Creative Writing [Internet]. Available from https://www.westminster.ac.uk/sites/default/public-files/general-documents/using-archives-for-creative-writing.pdf [Accessed 15th Jan 2019].

Wilkinson, M. (2016) Exhumation: how creative writers use and develop material from an archive. PhD Thesis, Newcastle University. Available from https://theses.ncl.ac.uk/dspace/bitstream/10443/3531/1/Wilkinson%2C%20M%202016.pdf [Accessed 22nd Jan 2019].

Information in the curriculum – next meeting for YSJ staff

There will be a meeting for any members of YSJ staff who would like to reflect on how the autumn term has panned out in terms of information in the curriculum, 6 December, 10-11am, DG104. I thought we could look specifically at how inductions went and also think about level 5 and 6 dissertations, but I am happy to consider any other topics. I hope to see you there. Please pass on this message to anyone you think may be interested.

How reading list design is influenced by power structures – input for level 6 Participation and Voice module

This seminar was designed at the request of the module leader. She had heard about a presentation that the Academic Liaison Librarian team had given at a RIPPLE meeting on how we work in partnership with academic colleagues, and was interested in a discussion that had taken place about how reading list design in Higher Education can marginalise voices and sections of society. So, I was asked if I could provide input to the Participation and Voice module on the BA(Hons) Development and Education of Children and Young People course on this topic. The members of the module have all completed foundation degrees in this subject and are doing a top up year to make it up to a BA, and tend to work in education-related settings whilst studying alongside their jobs.

Module aims:

  • Critically explore values and concepts such as voice, participation, social responsibilities, agency, power, governmentally, democracy and citizenship as the underpinnings for the active participation of children and young people and families in decision-making;
  • Recognise the importance of listening to the views of children, young people and families and their rights to have a voice and to be heard in matters that have a bearing on improving their lives;
  • Examine how practitioners and policymakers listen to and understand the worlds and experiences of children and young people across different services and agencies ;
  • Enable students to critically reflect on, and evaluate, participative practices with children, young people and families in their settings.

Session design

I thought it was a great opportunity to take this analysis of participation and voice and apply it to the design of the course they were undertaking themselves, as well as taking a critical look at curriculum design in Higher Education more generally. I didn’t want to make this a one-way lecture from me, so each aspect covered (represented by a slide in the presentation) involved discussion with the group about their experiences. It would have been pretty inappropriate to conduct a session on voice and then make it all about my perspective, plus this is an area I have started researching properly only recently, so I am not claiming to have all the information linked to it at all.

Key points covered

I decided to take a step by step approach to various aspects of the Higher Education landscape which influence curriculum design, and reading lists more specifically. The ones I chose to focus on were: research conferences and the people who generally present at them; the theorists chosen for core readings on programmes; citations and references; and who works in Higher Education (and why). The key points covered therefore were,

  • background theory,
  • who is marginalised?
  • how are they marginalised?
  • specific examples.
Background theory

I personalised the introduction by explaining how I had come to be more aware of the inequalities we were about to discuss, through the work of Elmborg (2012), whilst conducting my own research. Elmborg states that it isn’t enough to explain how to find and evaluate information; that the agency of the individual researcher and their background and situation needs to be acknowledged, and that the power structures inherent in information production and use should be explored and critiqued.

Who is marginalised?

I picked blog posts and articles by scholars and academics in different arenas to identify examples of how Higher Education marginalises. These are by no means exhaustive, and were used as a starting point for discussion. It was also interesting to note that much of this discourse is emerging in blog posts and on similar fora – this allowed for a critique of the traditional publishing methods of books and journal articles in academia. I used quotes directly from these sources as I believe that the voices of the authors are important.

Women (Ahmed 2012, 2013)
People of colour (Ahmed 2012, 2013)
Indigenous peoples (Kara 2017)
Disabled people (Tremain 2018)
LGBTQI+ (Hudson-Sharp and Metcalf 2016)


Make-up of panels at conferences (Ahmed 2012, 2013)
Reading lists (Ahmed 2012, 2013; Kara 2017)
Use of citations in gaining/keeping academic jobs (Tremain 2018)
Reference lists (Netolicky 2018)
Scholarly publishing and discovery (Regier 2018; Mongeon and Paul-Hus 2016)

This gives just a few examples of how marginalisation takes place. There are many more in the sources I used, so I would definitely recommend looking over them yourself. Likewise, I encouraged the students to read the original works after the session, to see if they felt I had represented them fairly, or to critique them. All of these feed into the resources used in programmes in universities and the way in which they are designed.

Key example

Here I introduced the open letter written in 2017 by students at the University of Cambridge (CambridgeFly 2017) where they detailed their needs to see the curriculum decolonised (specifically in relation to the literature course), and a response by literature academics here at York St John, outlining their approach to teaching literature in terms of decolonisation (Evans and Lawson-Welsh 2017). Then we discussed a specific module on their own course – one that they are currently studying on global approaches to education. The reading list for this has changed enormously from the list that went through validation to the one being used now and we looked at how it had been developed to ensure it was not simply portraying global views from a very narrow perspective, and how it could evolve further.


As much as I wanted this to involve discussion with the group, just inviting it didn’t seem very effective. Next time I run this, or a similar, session, I think a structured task would help with this. It could be individual or group, but could maybe involve close analysis of a couple of reading lists, with some prompts. Or the analysis of an article which claims to represent the views of a specific group, but doesn’t. The tutor with whom I worked helped with the summing up and said she wanted to see critiques of the resources used in assignments, in relation to whether the voice of the group they claimed to represent was included adequately, or whether it was someone from outwith that group just claiming to know what was required. From that point of view, I think the session met its aims.


Ahmed, S. (2012) On being included: racism and diversity in institutional life. Durham, Duke Uni Press.
Ahmed, S. (2013) Making feminist points [Internet]. Available from https://feministkilljoys.com/2013/09/11/making-feminist-points/ [Accessed 5 November 2018].
CambridgeFly (2017) Decolonising the English faculty: an open letter [Internet]. Available from https://flygirlsofcambridge.com/2017/06/14/decolonising-the-english-faculty-an-open-letter/ [Accessed 5 November 2018].
Elmborg, J. (2012) Critical information literacy: Definitions and challenges. In: Wetzel Wilkinson, C. and Bruch, C. eds. Transforming Information Literacy Programs: Intersecting Frontiers of Self, Library Culture, and Campus Community. Chicago, Association of College and Research Libraries, pp. 75-95.
Evans, A. and Lawson-Welsh, S. (2017) What’s going on? Demistifying ‘decolonising the curriculum’ [Internet]. Available from https://blog.yorksj.ac.uk/englishlit/whats-going-on-demystifying-decolonising-the-curriculum/ [Accessed 5 November 2018].
Freire, P. (1972) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Harmondsworth, Penguin.
Hudson-Sharp, N. and Metcalf, H. (2016) Inequality among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups in the UK: a review of evidence. Westminster, National Institute of Economic and Social Research.
Kara, H. (2017) Working with indigenous literature [Internet]. Available from https://helenkara.com/2017/08/23/working-with-indigenous-literature/ [Accessed 5 November 2018].
Mongeon, P. and Paul-Hus, A. (2016) The journal coverage of Web of Science and Scopus: a comparative analysis. Scientometrics, 106(1), pp.213-228. Post-print at https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1511/1511.08096.pdf [Accessed 5 November 2018].
Netolicky, D. (2018) Reference lists as sites of diversity? Citations matter [Internet]. Available from https://theeduflaneuse.com/2018/07/11/citations-matter/ [Accessed 5 November 2018].
Regier, R. (2018) The institutionalized racism of scholarly publishing [Internet]. Available from https://awayofhappening.wordpress.com/2018/06/09/the-institutionalized-racism-of-scholarly-publishing/ [Accessed 5 November 2018].
Tremain, S. (2018) Citation practices: more about power than you think they are [Internet]. Available from https://philosophycommons.typepad.com/disability_and_disadvanta/2018/10/citation-practices-more-about-power-than-you-think-they-are-.html [Accessed 5 November 2018].

Reading lists and power – presentation

Exploring information research using activity carousels

Introduction to research (without a PC suite … almost)

As a librarian wanting to prepare my students for research in an increasingly online and digital world, my usual preference for teaching introduction to research processes and search skills is to have a computer room/PC lab. Tools like Mentimeter or Poll Everywhere have been extremely useful for introducing new types of engagement and activities, and students having individual access to a PC is fantastic for creating activities which allow them to explore online resources for the duration of the session. 

This year I discovered that my five ‘Introduction to research’ sessions for 1st Year undergraduate Languages and Linguistics students had been timetabled in standard learning rooms – a presenter PC, projector, and rows/tables.

‘Stand and talk’ seminars are my last choice when it comes to teaching which needs practical exploration of skills, tools and resources as part of the learning outcomes; I needed to reinvent my wheel. 

Starting from backwards design

The change of classroom environment was a useful kick-start for re-evaluating the base outcomes I wanted for my students. As an ‘Introduction to research’ session for new students in the first 5 weeks of their course, I wanted them to:

  1. Develop 4 key skills: Identifying key concepts in a research question; Using a new search tool as a starting point for find information; Using a series of questions to reflectively and critically engage with sources; Referencing materials using a referencing standard.
  2. Have access to the online search tool during the course of the session
  3. Work collaboratively throughout to support on-going induction period bonding and partnerships
  4. Learn through exploration and discussion, rather than passive reception. 

For an hour session with only one PC and with a class size of between 25-35, I needed a lesson format to facilitate such a varied programme.

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