Jun 132017

Over at Curtin Information Studies Club blog, Monday’s question was What is more important – great unit content or great lecturers? Day 12 #blogjune.

Trick question.

A: Great Learners.

Slightly longer A. Important for what ?

Goehring, D. (2013). Graduation Cake Guy [Photo]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/carbonnyc/143186839/

Even longer A….

Comes back to what you are at uni for. Stimulation? Engagement? To get an accredited degree so you can join a particular profession? As a basis of later higher degree?

There are a few things I do in one of my units to try to make the question asked by CURTIS folk… well… academic …

When I first started writing topic materials for my units, as a brand spanking new lecturer, one of the cleverest aphorisms that I came across was “If the lecturer is the person who is doing the most learning in the unit, then there is something wrong”. In other words, if in preparing the lecture, or writing the notes for online students,  I learn a huge amount … then try to stuff this pre-prepared into the heads of passive learners, I am probably doing it wrong.

I try to put some responsibility back on the learners, in a way that maybe some unit coordinators do not. It is kind of “insurance”, for both me and the students, against me having either mediocre content or being a mediocre lecturer. In some ways, I want ME and what I have prepared to not matter, not have so much influence on, the outcome for the students.

  • The first thing I get students to do, for a small number of marks, is to articulate within the first two weeks what they want to get out of my unit. I used to get people to keep checking whether they were achieving this throughout the unit, but time pressure means I have cut that out now. It helps me to have some idea WHY you are there. I go back and look at this before I chat with you about anything to do with the unit. Better still, however, you have had to think about why you are here, what you want to get out of the unit. I hope this gives you a sense of responsibility to get out of the unit whatever is your own unique aim.


  • I try to give you a reason to learn what I am presenting. I used to give students a small number of marks to look through real job ads and locate positions in the field where you would need the knowledge covered in each topic, specifying exactly WHICH knowledge. Far better to discover what the profession is asking, directly from the profession, than for me to just assert this is important. Again, time constraints mean that I cut this out of unit assessment.


  • I tell you 5-7 Learning Outcomes for each topic. Quite specifically. For example for one week the learning outcomes are:
    • Define the term “hardware” and name some common hardware used in information services
    • Describe “cloud computing” and discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of “cloud computing’ for individuals and organisations
    • Discuss the impact of mobile devices on service provision in information services
    • Describe what an operating system does
    • Identify three different types of desktop operating system – Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, Linux
  • I tell students this at the start of a three/four week module, and also ask them to allocate their time so that if they are unfamiliar with a topic they know they will need to put in more time, if familiar, to focus on other aspects. If my lectures or topic material do not help you to achieve this, you have an outline of what you should know by the end of the topic. Even if you need to go and hunt it down for yourself in forms that make sense to you, at least you have some idea what it is you need to find out about.


  • I try to add a social element to your learning, so that in some ways you are also responsible for how well your classmates learn. And you get to offer and use each other as a resource. I used to have a team work component until – oh, you guessed it – time constraints meant that managing this took too much time, so I cut it out of my unit.
  • I still have one assessment where each student reviews a different new tech and shares the summary with classmates. As part of the postgraduate work, each one finds a relevant journal article from the last two years, shares a summary with classmates and then asks questions that classmates then need to answer. Again, you get to see how other learners learn, have peer-modelling for the assessments. I generally find that the useful topic material, gathered by the students for each other, tends to be more current and more relevant to them as learners than any updates I could hope to write each semester.


  • I try to have very, very clear instructions about what you need to do in assessments, for the parts I DO NOT care about. So, instead of you worrying about what the title of a post should be, how long it should be, when it is due, what subheadings you should have, I tell you this in exact detail. Then we can BOTH concentrate on the “thinking work”, not extraneous details.


  • I give you very clear marking criteria for each assessment, and tell you the weighting (how important it is when I mark).  I make sure that markers stick to the marking criteria. No surprises or double-guessing WHAT it may be that I want. If I use strange phrases like “demonstrate growth of subject knowledge by using correct disciplinary terms and concepts” , then I will probably make you a little movie showing you how I interpret this.  This, again, should free you to focus on the important “thinking work”, and let me step back.


  • I try to design assessment to be “self saucing” a lot of the time. You can double-check for yourself whether you are doing it right or not, and correct it for yourself before submission. For example, some of the technical exercises involve taking a screenshot of “xyz” (with your name prominently on the screen). If you did the steps before incorrectly, then “xyz” will not BE on your screen, so you know that you need to backtrack and can analyse and correct for yourself. If you are meant to embed a movie in a web page and no movie appears, then you can follow it up for yourself.


  • I try to model my expectations of you as learners. If I expect you to swallow down your embarrassment about appearing on a movie or audio piece, then I sure as heck will put myself in the same position of vulnerability and model this kind of communication. If I expect you to be confident that you can problem solve, I try to share examples of how I have problem-solved in the past. If I expect you to know how to ask questions about technology, I make sure I model question asking.


  • I offer to give personal 1:1 feedback about how you are going in the unit, via Skype or via phone. I strongly encourage students to take this up. The first question I ask during one of these sessions is “how do you think you are going?” I actually want you to think about and articulate where you are at. I am not sure that students are often asked that. It is probably the most important question I ask in the whole unit. We tend more to have a model of us instead telling students how they are going.  Sometimes people get a sheer confidence boost when they realise for themselves they are going OK, sometimes we can work together on issues of understanding. I act to confirm this or to offer pointers, but, with this question, I aim for the student to be in charge.

So, my answer (after all this) is, I HOPE that my units are robustly enough designed so that my personal qualities as a lecturer, and the material I present, are not as influential as the student’s own ability to learn DESPITE this 🙂

Jun 122017

(According to the Grammarist, it can be spelled “binging” also, in fact it is most often spelled that way. But looks wrong to me).

A simple change to my morning routine would make me happier in the long term, healthier and more productive. I’ve known this forever, and in the last three weeks have been giving myself a bit of a bad time for not simply switching.

I should be snacking more.

Every morning on the three days I am on campus, I walk down to the coffee shop outside my building with my coffee mug, buy a coffee, return to my office and deal with the morning’s email.

I am meant to write as part of my job, but feel like I cannot be productive unless I can devote a good solid couple of days to writing. I schedule full days every second Friday and have blocked off a couple of weeks between semesters to write an article with research data collected in 2015..

What is wrong in this picture?

  1. Coffee costs $4 a pop – $12 a week, $552 a year if I take 4 weeks’ holiday.
  2. Coffee is full of caffeine, which does affect my sleep
  3. I don’t need the extra calories
  4. I am at my most alert and potentially productive and I am using this to … answer email???
  5. Authors like Rowena Murray  and Maria Gardiner and Hugh Kearns suggest that “snack writing” is actually a more productive way for academics to increase output.

So, the solution is simple.

  1. Instead of buying coffee, put into practice what I learned at two months of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course that I did in March/April through work. I could instead spend 10 minutes sitting still, practicing mindfulness to start my day, increase my focus and energise myself.
  2. Instead of answering email first up, follow Hugh Kearns’ suggestion that I use the first hour of the day to write, when I am alert and fresh. If there is an emergency I will have another 6 hours to work on it.

Hmmmm… Both ideas have actually come from on-campus seminars provided to staff. I know I have felt rather guilty and indulgent spending time at these instead of actually … working. I also think that, should I be able to change my habits, my workplace will benefit from someone probably more productive and balanced.

Why am I not following that morning routine now? Why am I finding it so hard to change?

Maybe for some of the reasons that Amanda Palmer sings about in In My Mind . tl:dw (or if you have a problem with the word “fuck” and people in their underwear…) – if it was what I really thought was best for me then I WOULD be doing it, so perhaps it is not. It’s all my choice…

Published on Jul 31, 2015

(Feat. Brian Viglione)

In my mind
In a future five years from now
I’m one hundred and twenty pounds
And I never get hung over
Because I will be the picture of discipline
Never minding what state I’m in
And I will be someone I admire
And it’s funny how I imagined
That I would be that person now
But it does not seem to have happened
Maybe I’ve just forgotten how to see
That I am not exactly the person that I thought I’d be

And in my mind
In the faraway here and now
I’ve become in control somehow
And I never lose my wallet
Because I will be the picture of of discipline
Never fucking up anything
And I’ll be a good defensive driver
And it’s funny how I imagined
That I would be that person now
But it does not seem to have happened
Maybe I’ve just forgotten how to see
That I’ll never be the person that I thought I’d be

And in my mind
When I’m old I am beautiful
Planting tulips and vegetables
Which I will mindfully watch over
Not like me now
I’m so busy with everything
That I don’t look at anything
But I’m sure I’ll look when I am older
And it’s funny how I imagined
That I could be that person now
But that’s not what I want
But that’s what I wanted
And I’d be giving up somehow
How strange to see
That I don’t wanna be the person that I want to be

And in my mind
I imagine so many things
Things that aren’t really happening
And when they put me in the ground
I’ll start pounding the lid
Saying I haven’t finished yet
I still have a tattoo to get
That says I’m living in the moment
And it’s funny how I imagined
That I could win this, win this fight
But maybe it isn’t all that funny
That I’ve been fighting all my life
But maybe I have to think it’s funny
If I wanna live before I die
And maybe it’s funniest of all
To think I’ll die before I actually see
That I am exactly the person that I want to be

Fuck yes
I am exactly the person that I want to be

Jun 112017

Nothing competes with this experience.

Morning. Wake up. The whole WORLD is out there.


Dress without eating or showering and go on morning walk for 15 minutes. Find the best coffee shop around, the one that the locals use.

If I’m travelling, I will have done some actual research the night before to choose the best one, and the route that will take me there. If for some reason I have not chosen accommodation in the busy centre of where I need to be – which is unusual because I weigh up my time against my dollars and try to stay within walking distance of the most interesting part to maximise exploration time – then I will have mapped out a route to find the best coffee shop on the way to where I am going.

Order a big, double-shot milky coffee. Smile with the barista. Watch the customers while I wait. Does she come here every morning? Are THEY just passing through, like me? Is he lingering to wait for someone, or to avoid someone elsewhere ?

Sometimes I stay and drink the coffee there, reading the local paper. More often than not, however, I drink it on the rest of the morning walk. I feel a bit more like I am “of” the place I am at, even if I am not “from” there.

Return to where I am staying. Shower, dress, get into the day … but already feel in touch, connected, like some of my day is my own and I have greeted the world already.




Jun 102017

Both Con and Warren shared their favourite podcasts in recent #blogjune posts. Both of their favourites are on my iPhone….and I don’t have that many…

I commute to and from work three days a week, so regularly catch up with the ones in the screenshots. I never miss “Download This Show” and recommend this to students in my library technology unit. The others I pick and choose according to interest. I stopped listening to Rear Vision about 6 months ago. I am not sure why, as their programmes tend to be an excellent contextualisation of current events.

Oh look, they are all produced by the ABC.  Should get out more a bit 🙂

When I garden or drive on long trips, I tend to download entire audiobooks. My favourite source is actually BorrowBox, provided free through public libraries of W.A.

A couple of years ago I worked my way through most of the BBC “Desert Islands Discs” podcasts. These are 1:1 interviews interspersed with the eight records that the subject would take with them to a desert island. The archive goes back to 1956. It was a great way to catch up with the gaps in my knowledge about who was who in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

I think I would check out This American Life and the Moth Halfhour if I ran out of things to listen to regularly.

One of the recurrent themes of Download this show is the unsatisfactory podcast listening and discovery apps. I use Downcast (which does not mean I think the name is in any way sensible), and am more or less satisfied.

People made some nice suggestions about other interesting podcasts on Con’s post .. but if anyone has podcast discovery/listening software that gladdens their hearts, or other podcasts they would recommend, please fire away…



Jun 092017

… it forward.

As someone who received much informal mentoring in the profession while I was still very wet behind the ears, I owe a debt to the wonderful women (and, yes they were all women) who took me under their wings and into their confidences to help me to develop into the information professional I am now.

Co-mentoring 10 years ago. Library 2.0 Camp. EVERYONE stepped up to mentor each other.

Any rough edges still here have been maintained by my own action/inaction, but my goodness there were previously a lot more, that needed the gentlest and most patient polishing. Mentors pointed these out in the most helpful way, and gave me either the advice, the lesson or the experience to work out how to do the polishing for myself. Sometimes it was “you know that thing you’re doing? Don’t do that”. Sometimes it was “I used to do that thing when I started out. Here’s why I don’t do it now and how I fixed it”. Other times it was “I want you to go and work out how to do this Other Thing with no advice or help from me, because I know that you can do it (and my ulterior motive is that I know it will stop you doing that thing you are doing)”.

One of the smartest bits of mentoring I received was rather recursive, learning about mentoring itself. My reflection one year on after attending the Aurora leadership institute summarises this:

Aurora has taught me that one can truly lead from any position. I now place a higher value on mentorship than I did – and understand how I can be a mentor. Before Aurora I thought I was too lowly, too new in the game to think of mentoring anyone else. Now I realise that it’s not about being extremely wise and venerable and passing information on in some kind of master/novice relationship.

Mentoring can be about encouraging others, providing opportunities for them to shine, acknowledging fantastic efforts, spotting the dreams they might have and reinforcing that they are on the right path, or suggesting new ones… and even being brave enough to step out of my comfort zone and have a word when I think that someone may be damaging their career.

At Aurora we spent time with mentors who are leaders in our field. I now understand that they have no superpowers and are very human and very individual. This has made what they do seem more within the reach of us regular folk. It also makes what they do seem all the more remarkable – without magic fairy dust they are able to keep large organisations functioning or contribute substantially to our professional organisation – super effectively using the same 24 hours that we are all allocated for each day.

Instead of magic fairy dust, they all seemed to have a strong and certain commitment to what they do. They all seemed to masterfully work out what was the most important thing for them to do at any one time, and then focus on doing that. They were all comfortable in the role of leader. They all obviously actively engaged with the world outside their institutions, and brought that knowledge back to strengthen their home institution.

I think since then I have had more experience with the idea of “co-mentorship”. Trying to offer and contribute help (and listen! still my big challenge) tends to be the most effective way for me to receive mentoring help. My experience has almost been a “strike first” mentality, where the times when I got in there, was involved and engaged, were those where I got the most out professionally as well…

So, how do you “get” a mentor ? I am serious about the “start contributing” bit. You always have something to offer and often mentoring relationships can start, for example, when you are helping hand out name labels at a professional event. Ask someone directly. Know what you would like to get out of the relationship and, rather than asking that they “mentor” you generally, try with “I really like the way you [do this thing well] and would like to find out a bit more about it/ develop this in myself, could we catch up for a coffee to chat about it”? . Ask them an unsolicited question that you really do want to know about. Find a peer and arrange to co-mentor. Sometimes you do not realise you are being mentored until years later (“Person X! Mentoring? She just told me stories about her professional life/told me how to do stuff/introduced me to that fascinating colleague/kept emailing me journal articles/encouraged me to apply for that job… ooooooohh…). Mentorship tends to be a bit like friendship and can develop with a gentle push when you aim for mutual, beneficial exchange, but I am not sure there is a fast track way to create a mentoring relationship.

Which brings me full circle. I owe a debt to all my professional mentors. Support was offered in good faith and my initial investment as a new mentee was to engage and learn and get involved in many, many different ways, with the same good faith. Part of the mentoring journey for me was to learn that THIS is actually also how I get to pay for it, to pay it back.  The investment of my mentors in me was not about me as a person I think (although I think I’m pretty fab), but in the profession itself, and in perpetuating a professional generosity. Now, I hope that the investment of my mentors in me is being repaid to the profession in the obligation I feel to pay it forward. Professional mentoring, I think, works best when most of the paying is from the mentors (once mentees), paying forward.

Jun 082017

A question is asked from the balcony by one of the volunteer attendants in the last session of the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival . Three panelists are sharing their favourite reads.

Now, this bit will become important soon. The panelists are a young adult author who is currently completing her Honours at University; an older author who has worked as a sessional academic teaching creative writing at a local university; a minister and advocate for a prominent overseas aid agency. The session is chaired by the literary editor of a state daily newspaper.

Anyone remember the Sesame Street segment where someone is looking for something starting with “G”, and the dancing goat in the background is soooo happy when the person FINALLY noticed something that does?

The question from the balcony:

“Where could I go to get reading recommendations for a 42-year-old man who has been turned off the idea of reading by having to do compulsory reading earlier on in his life?”

The very helpful panelists tried their best. As good supporters of local traders they mentioned the name of the main street independent bookseller. Or, really, “any good bookshop would do”. A member of the audience sitting next to me took the mic and was helpful “try reading the first paragraph of books on the shelves in the shop, that usually works really well”.

Now, I had just had the mic, to ask the last question. It would have felt very rude to ask for it again, so I waited until the inevitable suggestion from SOMEONE, audience or panelist, in this room full of around 400 self-professed reading-lovers. That suggestion that would go something like:

Most towns have at least one person paid to impartially suggest what to read to anyone who walks in off the street, or who calls, or emails; someone whose only interest is in promoting your reading, and not trying to sell you something.

But it simply did not come.

Walking away from the festival I thought

On the panel there was a university student who had recently had a school library, an academic who I know works at an institution with very active and competent librarians, a minister who used to be a mayor of a major local government area that funded a library, and a journalist who I know hosts events at local public libraries.

Like hospitals, everyone knows what a library is. What it does. And these people (and the audience) were more likely than most to be aware of that.

I thought:

If “Ask a librarian” does not come instantly to mind for these folk, then THEIR librarians have let their clients down. Why don’t they have a closer, more visible relationship with just one of these people?

Followed a little later by:

Maybe, just maybe, it is because we live in a time of restricted resources. Libraries cannot serve everyone and have to triage. Public libraries are focussing on services to people who cannot otherwise access information,  like migrants and people without extra cash to attend writers’ festivals. Academic libraries focus on students who need extra help, rather than those capable of writing their own novels, and tend to be there more for researchers than teachers. Maybe the journalist and  ex-mayor are comfortable enough that they find the financial cost of buying books outweighs the time-cost of getting them through their local library.

But, two things still bug me.

  1. The people in that room, audience and panelists, are both financially comfortable and love reading. Even if they do not directly use our services, even if they do not feel like they have their own “personal librarian”, these people in all likelihood will be making funding decisions about our futures.
  2. If the question had been “where can I go to get free wifi?” or “is there a place with study desks that I can sit for a few hours and work?”, then (after the first answer which is likely to have been “coffee shop” ) my guess is that the room would have suggested the library.

What does this mean? Libraries are more salient than librarians? What we think is a major part of what we do is not what some of our most sympathetic supporters would identify?

I don’t quite know. But it is … worrying…


Jun 072017

In the Boranup forest.

Spent time walking there on Sunday.

  1. Have audio on
  2. Maximise screen
  3. Just take a minute to pause and remember the world is a good place


Jun 062017

The part of my brain that belongs to Cataloguing (yes, a very, very small corner) wonders whether one would consider this a single instance of a work, ephemera, a performance, a collection or several separate works (one for each session? Each output?).

This is a 10 minute experience for festival-goers at the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival , an art installation,  Amoment caravan that has been travelling the country.

Imagine if you will, a tiny wooden caravan, with a young masked woman in white outside it:

You sit on a wooden box and she fits you with a headset connected to an old white iPod. You listen as an 8 year old girl speculates about what her life will be like in 20 years. You think about it.

Then, you take off your shoes. Climb into the caravan. Press play on the next track.

Inside is white, with eclectic white objects (plastic spoons, lace, pill packets, spools) attached to the ceiling, a mattress with crocheted white rug on the floor. The walls are adorned with tiny typewritten notes, pinned with pearl-headed pins. They are notes to a future self.

A small blue typewriter, with a container of tiny white pages is set up in front of you. Although you want to keep reading the notes, you take up the invitation to write your own note to yourself in 20 years and pin it to the wall.

Outside, when you put your shoes back on … you eventually notice the tiny note tied with a tiny white ribbon. (You also discover later that your shoes have been photographed and added to the accompanying website )

And receive some wise words for today: