Teaching to learn; learning to teach

As my time as a PhD student (hopefully) winds to an end, I am beginning to look towards my career as an academic. My hope is that part of that career includes teaching, which is why I eagerly accepted the opportunity to teach a module at Edinburgh Napier University this term.

More accurately, I accepted the opportunity to co-teach alongside a more established and experienced educator, Professor Hazel Hall.

My official title is Associate Lecturer on a module called Knowledge Management (KM). The module, which is half-way over, is being delivered to a group of 4th-year honours students in the School of Computing.

The module’s content includes lectures and activities related to approaches to KM, knowledge capital, KM infrastructures, and techniques for the creation, capture, classification, exchange, dissemination, and use of knowledge for competitive advantage and corporate growth.

By the end of the term, students will be able to: critically assess the general principles of KM; make effective use of the principles of KM in organisational settings to increase effectiveness; examine KM processes and tools for organisations; develop KM teamwork activities in organisations; and demonstrate sound understanding of theory and practice in KM.

I am sure that the students felt overwhelmed when these learning outcomes were shared on the first day of class. And I cannot imagine how overwhelmed I would have felt if I were teaching the module on my own.

However, whilst my role is one of “teacher”, I am also there as a learner. That is, a learner of teaching through co-teaching.

Some of it is quite easy though. For example, I feel quite confident in the task of speaking in public and sharing knowledge to an audience. I find delivering presentations and workshops to be energising and enjoyable. And I feel that when I deliver learning events, people do learn.

However, delivering a one-off workshop is not the same as delivering a multi-week module to a group of undergraduate students. And that is part of what I am learning from my teaching experience.

Thankfully, I am learning from someone who has a proven ability to deliver the module!

Hazel has taught the module for a few years now and has developed a strong programme of lectures, readings, personal study assignments, and in-class activities. This means that I have been able to see what a well-developed module looks like from beginning to end. Being able to see the entire term’s plan set out in front of me eliminates much of the unknown “fogginess” that I would expect if I were starting from scratch. Instead, Hazel knows what works well (and what doesn’t) and has learned through experience how best to deliver each segment.

From the administrative side, Hazel and I are both well-organised which means that her way of preparing for each class (and the module as a whole) suits my own working style—even though our overall organisational styles are not identical. Seeing how Hazel has organised materials (print and electronic) has given me a lot of ideas for how I can combine her methods with mine to improve on the ways I might have managed things without that insight.

Over the next few weeks, there will be more learning on my side as we near exam time. I am a tad nervous about marking all of those essays, but I imagine the students writing them will be a tad (or more!) nervous, too.

One of the things I’ve learned from teaching so far is that I was right in thinking that I would enjoy it. Although I know that the never-ending planning and administration that goes along with the role will bring a bit of stress and chaos on occasion, I feel that the rewards will far outweigh those (potential) negatives.

So, that’s another feather in my CV-hat (which you can view here).

20×20 at iDocQ 6

2016.07.03.idocqI attended the sixth annual Information Science Doctoral Colloquium (iDocQ) on 23rd June. It was my third time attending the event and, as always, I learned a lot from the experience. This year’s iDocQ was held at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, and was co-organised by one of my fellow Centre for Social Informatics’ PhD students, Lyndsey Jenkins. (Lyndsey blogged about the day here.)

My own contribution to the day was to give one of the 20×20 presentations based on my research. Sadly, several weeks’ illness followed by a long recovery (and the pile-up of work because of it) meant that my presentation was put together at the last minute and my slides were only delivered to the conference committee the night before the event. (Bad form, I know.)

As you may know, the idea with a 20×20 is that you have 20 image-based slides that auto-advance every 20 seconds. So you really have to have your timings down. I had ordered my slides in a manner that meant if I finished speaking early, I could start talking about the next slide before it advanced and that if I over-talked, the next slide would be relevant enough to let me finish. (It’s all about segues!)

However, I (kind of) knew what I would say to each slide… but I couldn’t remember what order the slides were in. So there were a couple of instances where I’d finished talking about one slide but had no idea what the next slide was… so I couldn’t keep talking!

Yeah… maybe a bit more practice would have been good.

I suppose the good thing is that I was very confident in my delivery. And that’s a very good thing!

I have been invited to speak to a group in Edinburgh at the end of August, then I’ll be presenting a conference paper in September. Only I’ll be sure to give myself a bit more time for preparation and practice for both of them!

Anyhow, Thesis Summer is off to a good start and I am feeling confident that I will be successful in reaching my summer goals. So stay tuned for more great updates!

[Photo credits to Hazel Hall]

Training season

2016.06.19.training-seasonSpring and early summer are busy training months for me. Not as in marathon training (though it should be that, too) but rather academic training. And that means that I seem to spend quite a bit of time out of the office learning new things.

The first of this year’s trainings was the Information Science Pathway training at my university’s Sighthill campus in mid-April. The two-day event came at a time when I was still recovering from being rather ill, so I don’t think I got as much out of it as I could have. However, I did manage to pick up a few useful ideas for my methods and literature review chapters. And, importantly, I had the opportunity to network with my fellow information science PhD students from around Scotland. (Read more about the event on Professor Hazel Hall’s blog.)

In May, I travelled to Glasgow for a two-day training event run by the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science. The event, Avoiding Precarity – Strategies for the Modern Academic, included a variety of topics aimed at helping late-stage PhD students plan for their post-PhD futures. Some of the topics were a bit elementary for me, in part because of my professional background and current research interests, but I was pleased to have taken a few nuggets of wisdom from other, more relevant topics.

The big training event of the season, the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science Summer School, happened earlier this June. I attended sessions all three days, and can honestly say that I gained a few extremely useful insights into my own needs as a PhD student… especially one in her (hopefully) final stretch. As with the Avoiding Precarity event, a couple of the courses were a bit too basic for me, however, I have to realise that some of that is just because of my life experiences. But a wee spark was ignited in one of the sessions that helped me to understand what I need to do to get my own productivity back on track. (I’ll share that story later… once I catch up a bit!)

My next (and final) training of the year is iDocQ later next week. It’s a one-day training event that will also provide me with the opportunity to present my research in the form of a 20×20 presentation. Part of me wishes I didn’t have to go because I don’t want to spend another day out of the office, but part of me knows that it will be good for me on several levels—and that I will find at least one (hopefully more!) useful nugget of knowledge to keep me motivated. (I’ll share more about this later, along with my 20×20 presentation.)

So yes, it’s training season and I feel bad for feeling apathetic about it. I don’t know if it’s because I’m in my third year now and I’ve burnt out on training, if I am just too snowed under with a list of other tasks I want/need to complete, or if I am legitimately uninterested because some of it seems like review (maybe because I am in my final year, it is review?). But much like running, you have to keep training even when you don’t want to… or you risk not being able to finish the race.

Planning the annual retreat

The annual School of Computing PhD Retreat took place earlier this week, and I am exhausted from all of the fun (and the planning!).

Traditionally, the retreat is planned and organised by a member of staff, but due to other commitments, the task was passed off to me and my co-student representative, Andreas Steyven. However, the short notice meant that we didn’t really have time to be planning a three-day retreat, so we decided to get a little creative (with the blessing of the Director of Research and another “responsible member of staff”).

With limited time both in our busy schedules before the retreat was to take place, Andreas and I decided to make the trip a bit relaxed and fun. We also knew that the rest of the students were pushed for time, so we decided to make it easy for them, too, by not giving participants anything to prepare in advance. Instead, we asked students to just show up ready to share their research in an informal environment.

We did, however, ask a couple of members of staff to run a couple of casual sessions. But as we had a “no technology” theme going, no one needed to prepare PowerPoint presentations. Instead, they were asked to share their knowledge, wisdom, and experience in a casual manner. We had staff-led discussions about preparing for the viva and the thesis process, administrative processes within the university, and a discussion about how best to utilise the PhD study spaces and collaborative research room.

We also ran two sessions that were designed to get students talking about their research in a casual manner. The idea was to help people build communication skills so that they could explain their research without preparation—and to a general audience.

On the first evening, Andreas ran a session called “Parrot Party”. For this session, we paired off with someone from outside of our research group. The first person then had three minutes to explain their research to a “listener”. After the three minutes were up, the listener had to explain the first person’s research to a member of staff. The idea is that listening is an important part of communication! (It was harder than it sounds!)

I ran the session on the second evening which was the main presentation opportunity for the retreat. It began shortly before dinner when I produced a box of random items: batteries, yarn, old phones, a tin of beans, a stuffed bear called Randolph, and an odd selection of other things I had laying around my home. The idea was that after dinner, everyone would have five minutes to present their research using at least one item from the box as a prop. Everyone had 15 minutes to look through the box before I closed the lid again. Then, after dinner, the presentations began.

Randolph was the star of the show and was used by nearly all of the presenters as a way of sharing their research. But people used several other props and mostly seemed to enjoy the challenge. Importantly, I think everyone learned new ways of thinking about how best to communicate their research. (A hard task, when you’re not given much time to prepare!)

Overall, I think it was a great retreat. I know it took some students outside of their comfort zone (presenting without PowerPoint!!) but I think it was a good experience for all of us!

Next week is another busy week as I prepare for the School of Computing PhD Research Conference, for which I am a co-chair. I suppose that means I should start thinking about my presentation. After all, I plan to win first place and I can’t do that without a bit of preparation!

The conference circuit

2014.07.02.me-sicsa-posterI’ve had a busy few weeks of conferences and seminars and am finally catching my breath again. I had originally planned to share each of these events separately, but I was fighting off the deadly common cold for much of my time on the “conference circuit” so never got around to it. Still, this is a good exercise in getting back to my PhD blog!

The first conference was the SICSA PhD Conference, held in St Andrews. The two-day event was open to Scotland-based computer science and informatics PhD students and provided opportunities for workshops and presentations.

I jumped at the opportunity to present my first academic poster at the event and was pleased to have been shortlisted for a prize. (Sadly, I didn’t make the final cut, but it felt good to be shortlisted for my first poster out of the gate!)

The following week I attended the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science (SGSSS) Summer School in Edinburgh. It was a bit difficult to decide which seminars to attend, and I admit that one or two of them were the wrong choice, but I gained a lot of useful information from all of them. (Yes, even the wrong choice ones.)

The best takeaways from the week were a better understanding of my own philosophical leanings (as they pertain to research) and some great insights into the design of mixed methods studies. And, of course, I made some excellent connections with other PhD students and some of the academic presenters.

Last week saw me travelling to Glasgow for the SGSSS Research Methods in Information Science workshops at the University of Strathclyde. I was very excited about the literature review workshop as that’s my biggest task for the summer. I’ve attended a couple of shorter literature review sessions, but this one gave such a great explanation of a narrative literature review that I feel everything else makes more sense now.

Of course, last week was also the 2014 iDocQ (also in Glasgow) which was by far the best of all of the conferences! OK, I have to say that because I was on the planning committee and chaired most of the day’s programme. (It truly was a team effort though, with Calum Liddle of The University of Strathclyde, Wachi Klungthanaboon of The University of Glasgow, and Chikezie Emele of Robert Gordon University all pitching in to do their fair share of the work.)

One of the delegates, Christine Irving, gave such a wonderful recap of the event that I’ll point you there for the full account!

I now have a bit of downtime (read: time to work on my literature review!) before my next conference (iFutures in Sheffield). I plan to present a poster and submit a paper for the conference proceedings there and am looking forward to yet another conference experience. And, hopefully, I won’t be sick this time!

[Photo Copyright Lynn Killick, one of my awesome office mates.]