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Inclusivity, accessibility and agency in module resourcing and reading lists

Over the past few months, I’ve been able to give presentations on some of the reading list and resourcing work I’ve been doing with colleagues. These give an overview of the developments and initatives we’ve been implementing in relation to reading lists and their impact on curriculum teaching, with greater inclusivity and accessibility in mind. The focus of these can be divided into two strands, with separate aims, but linked by the wish to remove barriers to learning and to foster a more inclusive curriculum. The first is accessibility and inclusivity as seen through the lens of barriers to reading, which I have presented on twice with my library colleague Tom Peach. The second is the centring of student agency via the co-construction of reading lists, with my colleague from our School of Education, Language and Psychology, Dr Charlotte Haines Lyon.

Inclusivity and accessibility in reading lists: practical discussions, knowledges and tools – presented with Tom Peach

Tom and I have presented on this issue twice. Once at the May meeting of RIPPLE, our internal forum for learning and teaching discussion, and again this week at the university’s learning and teaching conference, Talking About Teaching. The presentations were very similar, but you can link to both and see the approaches we took.

Presentation for RIPPLE May 2021

Presentation for Talking About Teaching Conference 2021 – Thomas Peach and Clare McCluskey Dean

Our aim in these presentations was not only to promote awareness of the work we have been doing, but also to gain feedback from colleagues about the guidance they would value in implementing it in their work.

We began by outlining some key evidence that reveals systemic bias in publishing, both in academia and more widely. This included Anamik Saha and Sandra van Lente’s 2020 work on the lack of diversity in the publishing industry , Relebohile Moletsane, Louise Haysom and Vasu Reddy’s 2015 article on the skewed nature of peer review, and Claudia Gillberg’s 2020 book chapter on ableist gatekeeping of knowledge.

Tom expanded upon this by explaining how the imposition of Digital Rights Management and paywalls on publications used in research and study puts barriers in place for access, especially for disabled people. An example of this is when ebook platforms prevent simple PDF downloads, instead requiring third party software for download, which does not interact well with screen-reading software.

One potential solution to this is to use Open Access sources, which should still be checked for accessibility, but which do not require extra software. I explained how Open Access often provides an alternative to traditional publishing too, and so could open up the potential pool of resources beyond the traditional canon. Potential sources include Oapen, DOAB, Core.ac.uk, DOAJ, and the Unpaywall browser extension. We also expanded this to include discussion on other media, such as blogs and podcasts, which can provide valuable contributions to academic work, but are often dismissed as not ‘academic’ enough. These must also be evaluated for accessibility – for example, does a podcast have a transcript, and is this transcript an acceptable alternative to the audio version, or will something be lost?

We wanted to facilitate discussion on this, to understand how this impacts across the different disciplines we have at the university. We had a practical aim in mind too, as we are currently re-writing our collection development policy (see the Comprehensive Content Strategy introduced at the University of Sheffield for the type of inclusive approach we wish to implement), and we want a simple guidance document to aid our academic colleagues in collaborating on this.

The key things our colleagues revealed they would like included were;

  • a list of open access search tools, linked directly from the guidance,
  • links to help and guidance on choosing where to publish their own research in an inclusive and accessible way,
  • links for contacts for the university’s assistive technology and digital training teams, to aid with evaluating the accessibility of chosen sources, be they text-based or in other media.

In addition they welcomed debate on shifting the focus in teaching and research from the idea that some publication types are ‘academic’ (e.g. peer review = good) and should therefore be used, and towards the notion that all types of sources should be critically evaluated on their content and delivery, and included in learning, teaching and assessment on that basis.

This lead well into the presentation I gave with Charlotte, as this centred on student agency in critiquing and co-constructing reading lists, with the media of the sources within the lists being one of the things they were encouraged to critique.

Co-constructing reading lists: breaking down the barriers to political agency

Presentation on co-constructing reading lists 2021

Charlotte began by explaining that she is an academic on childhood, youth and education courses, from foundation degree level through to doctoral supervision. She has often taught on issues of global education and on modules which focus on issues such as life chances. As is often the case in universities, she inherited modules which had already been designed and resourced, and used the reading list as one of the first ports of call in familiarising herself with its focus and content. One such module was on global education, but had a reading list made up almost exclusively of white, European and American-centric authors. We decided to work together on not only tackling the content of such lists, but also moving towards the students having agency in these analyses and changes.

Underlying this shift was our belief that critical pedagogy and critical information literacy should underpin our practice. As can be seen in the slides, we were greatly influenced by Lauren Smith’s work on political agency and the benefits of equiping students with the skills they need to understand the systems which impact upon their learning, and to challenge it where they need to. In my practice as a librarian, the thing I experience constantly is the student struggling to get over the hurdle of viewing themselves as a researcher whose perspective is just as valid as that of the staff teaching them. Such agency is vital.

Through asking the students to critique existing lists, and find other resources which provided a wider range of experiences from which to draw, they were able to better understand the systemic biases in publishing and information availability. They also came to the conclusions that much of the information they found was not in the traditional academic publishing forms of journal articles and books from well-known publishers, which in turn led to a questioning of why those are valued above other media. A prime example of this was on a life chances module where the value of memoir was drawn out, providing counterpoints to the academic literature. The frustration of having to dig so hard for these was evident too.

Our question to our colleagues in the discussion with us is how we continue to develop this student agency via the critique of reading lists, and the resources available to us to add to them. The avenue of a checklist for inclusion of different voices on the reading list was suggested, but it was agreed that this could lead to tick-box compliance, the ethically dubious practice of making a judgement on someone’s ethnicity or identity based on scarce information (e.g. making assumptions based on a name), and also that this didn’t help with the agency of the student as researcher. Instead, the reading list was viewed as something that could easily exclude a student through a lack of representation, and so it should be inclusive, but that this should be a tool to critique the wider issues we’ve outlined. Designing this into modules throughout a degree course was seen as very important, so that this agency builds over the programme. It was also key to build in support to mitigate the inevitable frustration encountered in trying to locate sources.

These were 30 minute discussion papers, so there was a limit to how much we could explore such complex issues in the time we had. For example, the primacy of English language texts and sources, and how to overcome this, was mentioned, but we didn’t have time to dig into it further. Nevertheless, it was encouraging to see how much ground we covered and the enthusiasm for developing these initiatives further.


Responding to the effects of ebook availability/pricing

As I’ve said previously, as academic librarians, we’re continuing to work with our academic colleagues in responding to the effects of library ebook availability and pricing. This is an update to the ebook availability message sent out by the library in May 2020

10 months since the first pandemic lockdown in the UK, most publishers/aggregate suppliers have withdrawn ‘emergency’ online access to texts. There are notable exceptions to this, especially JSTOR, who have continued to offer a wide range of titles in addition to those for which we have already paid. In a more cynical turn, some publishers have increased the price of online access to texts considerably since March 2020, with one in particular raising the price of 1 user ebooks (where only one user at a time can be logged on to the content) to 8 times the price of a print copy in this period. This has had a significant impact on the availability of essential reading, and the cost of providing it, in subject areas across the University. National campaigns are underway to try and address this, and evidence being gathered of the practices, but there are steps that can be taken at a local level to help too. This is the content of a short update we’re circulating to try and promote further dialogue with specialists in the university in the areas of open access, research dissemination, and learning and teaching.

We ask that any academics in a position to help ensuring continued online access to books do so by taking one or all of the steps outlined here. 

Discuss general availability of texts provided by potential publishers of your work before signing contracts yourself, with your academic liaison librarian 

Your academic liaison librarian will be able to give you an overview of availability of works from that publisher on fair library ebook models, and any cost inflation during the pandemic. 

Suggested response to publishers re inspection copies/requests that texts are adopted as module reading 

If a publisher approaches you with a text which they believe supports our programmes, or you have received an inspection copy with a request for feedback, it would be helpful to reply along the following lines. 

Please note that the library at my university is unable to support the adoption of any text as essential reading which is not also available on a fair ebook model. This therefore excludes: 

  • Any text not available in ebook format for libraries via the three main purchase platforms (Coutts Oasis, Gobi, or Askews/Vle)
  • Any text only available as part of a wider subscription package 
  • Any text where the online copy costs more than 3 x the cost of a print copy per user 

Suggested response to publishers re authoring or editing works 

If a publisher approaches you with a proposal to author or edit a work, or if you are currently seeking a publisher, asking the following will help ensure that the end text is available to libraries to supply online. 

I would like to ensure that this text is available to readers, online, via libraries. Can you please confirm that this would be made available as a library ebook, excluding: 

  • Platforms other than the main three purchase aggregators (Coutts Oasis, Gobi, or Askews/Vle) 
  • Publication online via a wider subscription package only 
  • Library ebook pricing of more than 3 x the cost of a print copy per user 

Move to open access sources/publishing where possible 

There is a growing body of open access works which can be used as programme resources. This provision is dependent upon subject area, with some better catered for than others, but is growing in all of themSearch tools such as Oapen and DOAB index these, and provide links. 

The library has an agreement with Open Book Publishers if you wish to explore this option for your own work and will put you in touch with contacts there. 

Ask any national associations or groups, linked to HE or learning and teaching, to join the campaign 

If you are a member of any associations which you think may be able to help in lobbying for fairer access to academic sources, please ask that they join the campaign, or make a statement themselves about the impact this is having. 

LGBT+ History Month 2021

Every February we create displays in the library, for the UK’s LGBT+ History Month. One is in the main foyer, showing a range of texts and other resources from members of the LGBTQI+ community from subjects studied across the university. The other is one of my absolute favourites to create and it’s in the School Library on the first floor. This is our collection of books for children and young adults and it’s designed for those on education, childhood and youth courses to use in their studies and in practice, although anyone at all in the YSJ community is more than welcome to borrow from it. Representation in school library collections is vital in addressing marginalisation and inequalities in relation to people in the LGBTQI+ community and such inclusion can have long-term positive effects (Hudson-Sharp & Metcalf, 2016).

This year is different. Our library building closed and the country went into lockdown just as I took down the 2020 displays and, a year on, I am still unable to safely create and offer access to ‘physical’ ones. However, we have been building online lists of resources for a few years, and these are available. We also want to ensure you still have the opportunity to recommend books for the library collection. They can be from any subject, any topic, for any age group – if you think it helps better representation of LGBTQI+ authors or issues, we will buy it if we can.

So, please do take a look at our sources from across different subjects and, especially, our School Library collection. If you’d like to recommend a resource, you can do so via this Padlet.

And, until we can create displays again, here are some pictures from last year, including one of the younger members of the YSJ community enjoying one of the titles.

Display in the library with a table full of LGBTQI+ books, posters and rainbow flags

Library’s LGBTQI+ display

School Library display of children's and young adults books from LGBTQI+ authors

School Library display of children’s and young adults books from LGBTQI+ authors

School Library display of children's and young adults books from LGBTQI+ authors

School library LGBTQI+ display

School Library display of children's and young adults books from LGBTQI+ authors

School library LGBTQI+ display

School Library display of children's and young adults books from LGBTQI+ authors

School library LGBTQI+ display

Young child reading It's Okay To Be Different book

Young child reading It’s Okay To Be Different book

Hudson-Sharp, N., & Metcalf, H. (2016). Inequality among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups in the UK: a review of evidence. National Institute of Economic and Social Research. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/539682/160719_REPORT_LGBT_evidence_review_NIESR_FINALPDF.pdf 



Promoting open access resources in programme (re)validations

Towards the end of last term, I was involved in the revalidation of programmes in our childhood, youth and education courses. This was the first suite to go through the process for me since lockdown began in March 2020, and it brought to a head a number of issues which had been building for some time. These all centred on the need to provide online access to all essential, and, if possible, further recommended, resources. This is both in terms of access during lockdown, preventing unnecessary handling of print sources and the associated health risks with that for library workers and users, and also because these courses involve placements or distance learning where the students will not have easy access to campus anyway. This blog post outlines the first steps we have taken in this revalidation process and I will document more as we continue the preparation for teaching the courses, and start their delivery in September 2021.

There were three key areas that needed addressing.

  1. The lack of availability of ebooks from traditional academic publishers, due to them either not being offered at all, only being offered on restrictive, unfair models, or because of prohibitively high costs. You can see more on this in a previous post here and also on the campaign for fairer ebook access.
  2. The inaccessibility of ebooks supplied to libraries, with DRM often stopping users relying on screen-readers decent access to texts. This is particularly with the use of third-party software stopping the download of books, or sections of books, to the formats needed. It’s also the case that many ebooks supplied to libraries prevent download to devices generally, needing further internet connection for the duration of the reading session. This excludes many who do not have reliable broadband. You can read more on this in this report from Vicky Dobson at Leeds Beckett University.
  3. The lack of representation of sections of society, and inherent marginalisation, in the content of many traditionally-published texts, and the wish to find alternative sources to try and counteract this. You can read more on this in this article on inqualities in scholarly publishing by Elizabeth le Roux, and in this report on diversity in publishing by Dr Anamik Saha and Dr Sandra van Lente. It’s also something we’ve discussed previously here.

The academics involved in the revalidation asked me to participate at the stage where all of the modules to be designed had been outlined, but the content of them was still to be decided, before taking the courses to a university panel for feedback and sign-off. I had the aims and outcomes to work with, and some suggested readings that could help as a starting point, and the remit to build up potential resource lists for each module which helped address these three core issues.

I decided that open access sources provided one way of addressing all three of them, to some extent. By their nature, they are designed to be accessible without payment. They are usually readable online, or downloadable to PDF, and testing of a sample showed that they were screen-reader compatible. In addition, I could check the contents more easily to identify works from a number of different viewpoints, and particularly found works from writers in countries which were not represented in the texts we had in stock, purchased in the traditional way by academic publishers. This is one step in trying to address representation, acknowledging that this should not stop here or be a token gesture.

We started by looking for open access books, with a view to having core lists in place for each module. From here, once module leaders have been appointed for the actual teaching, I can work with them on locating a wider range of sources. I used Oapen, DOAB and LibreTexts as my main search tools.

I took the approach of putting all of the modules into a stand-alone reading list, so that all involved could see the whole programme developing. This has the advantage of also allowing academics to pick up book details and transfer them to other, existing, modules if they so wish. For each module, I took the indicative titles from traditional publishers supplied by the academics, and gave notes as to their current availability (or otherwise) in ebook format, and potential costs in their further use. After this, I introduced other texts from existing traditional publishers that may be useful, again with notes as to availability and trying to surface the ones which provide DRM-free access. Finally, I also ensured that open access resources were added where ones appropriate to the content of the module could be located.

Generally I found there to be a good range of titles available in open access format, and this is only going to develop as more academic authors find their work restricted by traditional publishing set-ups. They are much easier for students to use, with no passwords needed for future access if they bookmark them, full download is available so they can save them wherever they like, and they work with assistive technology in the format available to all. It’s incredibly unfair that users who rely on screen-readers need to do further work in obtaining accessible formats with a lot of library print sources and ebooks supplied by publishers and aggregators (this is not true in all cases – some are accessible in this way, but it’s a very mixed picture), so if we can design in accessibility at this stage, it means a much fairer experience for all once delivery starts.

I have a very good collaborative working relationship with my academic colleagues in this subject area, which means I am able to work with them from this early stage in the process of validating a programme. I realise this isn’t true for all academic librarians. However, if you are able to take the existing reading for any module, and use open access book search tools to locate others in that topic area, and have a method for adding these as options for students to read, I’d hope that would also provide them with a way of carrying on their research where those academic publishers who have chosen to increase their ebook prices to unaffordable levels, or to restrict access via unfair models, have put a barrier to studies in their path.

I plan to make more posts about this, with more specific examples of where open access texts have been used in module design and/or delivery in order to enhance learning. It’s my hope that we can find alternative ways of providing access to information when the cost of obtaining or providing access to resources has proven to be too high in either monetary or accessibility terms, and find a sustainable way forward. Because one thing is for sure: the current models are unsustainable, full stop. 

Lobbying for fairer ebook access

Since lockdown hit in the UK, it has become apparent the ebook publishing landscape is a challenging one to navigate for academic libraries and their users. At York St John, the librarians wanted to work with academic colleagues, publishers and others in trying to work towards a sustainable system. This is the text of a report we sent to committees across the institution, and we thought we would share it with you in case it proved useful elsewhere. We added to this core report with examples specific to our programme areas, so that course leaders could see where they were being impacted the most. A Word version is available for you to adapt as you wish. 

ebook report from the Academic Liaison Librarians

The purpose of this paper is to highlight unsustainable practice in the publication and dissemination of academic ebooks, and to gain support in tackling the publishers and suppliers of academic ebooks in terms of both course resourcing and research publication.  

Current ‘normal’ situation  

Pre-pandemic, there were already pressures in the academic ebook landscape. Like many other university libraries, the library service at York St John relies on four key aggregate suppliers of academic ebooks. Through these aggregate suppliers it is possible to purchase ebook versions of individual texts either on the suppliers’ own platforms, or hosted on the publishers’ platforms, but only if the publisher has agreed to this, and with a variety of different licences assigned to them. There are other methods of purchasing and providing academic ebooks, such as subscriptions to packages, evidence-based acquisition, and academic etextbook purchases for specific modules. Each of these provides its own challenges.  

Individual ebook purchase  

The library has a digital first collection development policy. If a text is deemed essential to a module, we endeavour to provide electronic access to it. The process for doing this has several stages:  

  1. The academic liaison librarian will check across the four aggregate supplier platforms for an ebook which allows DRM free access (i.e. allows full, permanent download/print for as many users as require the text). This is usually the most expensive ebook option but will provide the biggest end benefit for accessibility. These generally cost many times more than a print text.  
  2. If there is no DRM-free ebook, the academic liaison librarian will check for a credit-based licence. This involves a one-off fee to purchase a set number of ‘accesses’ per annum, usually between 200 and 400 individual logins. The costs vary from the equivalent to the cost of a print text to substantially more. The publisher licences how much can be printed or downloaded by the reader – this usually aligns with copyright exceptions for print versions (i.e. one chapter or 10%) but can be less. 
  3. The next option is for a limited concurrent user licence. Common ones allow either one or three concurrent users at any time and it is these licences which generally cost the same as a print text (or the multiple of the cost of the print text if it allows more than one user). Again, the publisher licences how much can be printed/saved permanently. 
  4. An option seldom used is that which combines these models and provides only a limited concurrent user model, but also for a finite amount of time, effectively mimicking a subscription which would need renewing annually.  
  5. If no ebook is available, or the licence is not suitable, we fall back on exceptions we are permitted under our CLA licence. This allows us to scan from print copies of books and store them in the CLA’s Digital Content Store. This does not permit whole book scanning, with a 10% limit generally in place, and so is not suitable where whole book access is required. If a book is published abroad, scanning may not be permitted at all. 

There is no guarantee that any text will be made available on library ebook. This is the decision of the publisher. There have also been instances of licence provisions being withdrawn, either for a text already purchased, or in not assigning a licence to a new edition of text. Similarly, new releases may be print only for several months, or for only restrictive licences to be issued with a new release, with more generous licences only arriving later and requiring another payment to secure. The academic liaison librarians have a list of over 100 texts from essential reading lists which do not appear to be available on any platform under any licence at all.  

Other access models  

There are a variety of reasons as to the lack of titles being made available for individual library ebook purchase, but these are the main ones:  

Wish to keep print only 

There are some publishers and authors who wish to keep to print publications only, for reasons linked to the importance of the physicality of the access. This provides a problem in terms of accessibility for those who are unable to access text in this fashion.  

Limiting ebook models to packages  

Several publishers limit the availability of ebook content to package deals. This means they do not supply individual titles to the aggregate platforms. Instead packages of subject-based ebooks are offered. If libraries purchase these packages, they pay for content that may not align with current research and teaching in order to gain the percentage of the collection which is needed. 

e-textbook contracts 

This type of contract has grown rapidly in the past three years. Third party companies provide online access to texts via an e-textbook contract model. Some academic publishers currently provide access to their online content only via this route. Under this model, universities pay for a single module cohort to be able to access online versions of texts, and this fee must be paid each year for new module cohorts to gain this access. This means that libraries cannot list these electronic versions of titles on the library catalogue, as access is on an individual basis. Universities must apply for each title on an individual basis as there is no database of books to search, and the terms are worked out for each title upon application. This is expensive in terms of staff time to administrate each year, and in annual fees to continue access. It is likely that a whole programme library book budget would be swallowed up by just two or three module titles which only a small percentage of the programme cohort could access.  

Pandemic response 

We had encountered issues in providing online access to texts in terms of off-campus delivery, apprenticeships and placement students, when ebooks of essential texts were not available to purchase, or on restrictive models. This was brought into sharp focus when all courses became online-only and there was no access to print texts due to the pandemic lockdown. It was hoped that publishers and suppliers would relax licence terms and widen the number of texts available on ebooks for libraries. Many have responded, with one user licences becoming unlimited, and collections of ebooks that were previously only available in subscription packages becoming more widely available. However, this is for a limited period and spread over a wide range of platforms, leading to questions of what to do when the current emergency ends. Others have advertised that they were making their titles available online, but upon investigation this has been a restrictive access model which would be difficult to sustain long-term and has led to concerns about managing student expectation.  

It should also be noted that, copyright scanning options were extended to 30% of a text during the period of lockdown, via the CLA licence. However, there are limits to the new exceptions both in terms of the content available and the ability of libraries to create scans under lockdown conditions. This has impacted on the student experience.  

Future decisions  

The academic liaison librarians would like the support of academic colleagues in ensuring ebook access improves and becomes more accessible. There is a risk that unaffordable and unsustainable models will become the default. We therefore ask that colleagues work with us in feeding back to publishers and authors that we cannot make their texts essential to module teaching if they are not available on ebook, or are only available via the e-textbook model. We also ask that, when seeking opportunities to publish, colleagues discuss ebook access with the publishers, to ensure that the work is not restricted. 

Public ebook report (Word version)


Amplifying marginalised voices in the curriculum

This morning I gave a short presentation to the university’s RIPPLE group (Research Into Professional Practice in Learning and Education) alongside two colleagues from the School of Education, Language and Psychology, Dr Charlotte Haines Lyon and Carole Pugh. We discussed how we are approaching the issue of marginalised voices in the curriculum and some of the initiatives put in place to try and address this. This is a quick overview of what we discussed and is focused upon the reading that is recommended and used in assignments. This is a very small part of unpicking issues of power and structure in curricula in Higher Education, and we acknowledge this – it is what we chose to focus on for the purposes of a 20 minute presentation with 10 minutes of discussion.

Firstly I discussed critical information literacy and the key points of the importance of revealing the power and structure which means that there are dominant voices in the information available in various formats, especially in academic publishing. I centred this on a couple of extended quotes:

“Information literacy instruction should resist the tendency to reinforce and reproduce hegemonic knowledge, and instead nurture students’ understandings of how information and knowledge are formed by unequal power relations based on class, race, gender, and sexuality.” (Ian Beilin, 2015)

“The issue for students who are other (BAME, LGBTQ, etc.) is that they come to university to learn about a subject they are interested in and look to the academic to be the expert on this[…] What happens when they become aware of a lack of visibility of plural voices, or of people like them as having contributed to the subject, or who might have a different narrative to the ‘story’ being told?” (Elizabeth Charles, 2019)

Charlotte and Carole are academics on professional education and youth courses, so degrees where issues of voice and representation are already evident in the curriculum, especially in regards to the voices of children and young people. They made five key points:

  1. It is important to outline and unpick the role and value of an academic reading list from the outset
  2. Students should have the opportunity to co-construct reading lists
  3. Assessment formats need to be aligned with the aims of amplifying marginalised voices
  4. Students can struggle with this shift in power dynamics
  5. Ongoing critical review of reading lists is essential, but should not be viewed as the only method of curriculum revision

Carole outlined how one of the first things she does when new students arrive on the Foundation Degree in Development and Education of Children and Young People is to introduce the idea of an academic reading list, but also to disrupt some of the assumptions commonly attached to them. To begin with, it is laboured that these lists are often put together by one person, or a small group of people, and that these people will have their own view of the topics covered – that such lists are not neutral. Charlotte backed this up by pointing out that when she took over a module on global education, there was not a single item on the reading list which was not written by a white author from Europe or North America. This leads into giving the students the chance to develop the reading list themselves, both as experienced workers in the education and youth sector, and in representing their own lived experiences.

One way in which the co-construction of reading lists is enacted is via assignments such as annotated bibliographies and the creation of artefacts. These include critique on the class, race, gender or sexuality of the prominent or dominant authors in the field, and indeed on the privileging of text-based sources and assignments. Charlotte outlined that the students needed quite a lot of support with this, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was demonstrated that the reading and research for such assignments would likely have to extend beyond the traditional formats of textbooks and journal articles, and the students felt uneasy as they have always felt that these formats are ‘safe’. There was therefore a discussion around why some voices may not be evident in such traditional academic literature, and how they could critically evaluate any source of information. In addition to this, Charlotte assigned weekly reading which itself was not from the traditional academic literature, to both demonstrate the type of source that could be used, and to also engage the group in using information that is not necessarily viewed as part of the education evidence base, but that is still valuable in understanding issues of global education and also life chances, another module upon which she teaches. The engagement with this weekly reading proved to be much higher than with previous iterations, both in terms of actually carrying out the reading, and debate and discussion in class as a result. Some examples of this weekly reading include Unicorn by Amrou Al-Kadhi, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, Criptiques by Caitlin Wood, and the work of Sara Ahmed. Having non-textual assignments such as artefacts also assists in the consideration of the value of non-textual sources and how the privileging of text may exclude valuable contributions from those for whom it is not the usual way of communicating. This is a big shift in the dynamics of the classroom for some students – they are used to seeing the ‘teacher’ as the expert, with the sources to answer the questions in assignments, and disrupting this can be scary and unsettling, so this is something that Carole and Charlotte have to navigate with them.

The discussions amongst the attendees surrounding this included how to keep students from the marginalised groups safe in situations where the dominant voices are being challenged and we did not have the time to investigate this as thoroughly as was required. It’s something I would like to put on the agenda for the group to consider again as a priority. It was also brought up that a lack of consistency across academic programmes could lead to the students feeling that it is lip service or of no value. This is why the fifth point is something we need to tackle on an institutional level – to provide ongoing critique and change across the board.

From a librarian perspective, working with academic colleagues to amplify marginalised voices in curriculum design also needs to align with efforts to enact critical collection development in our practice. We continue to work on the IAMplify project, with the sources students find and use in these assignments being incorporated into the library collection. 


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.