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Learning development and information literacy: two sides of the same coin

I don’t feel I am saying anything particularly revolutionary or profound, but it is striking after spending 2 days in Huddersfield at the Association of Learning Developers in Higher Education (ALDinHE) before Easter and then 3 days in Sheffield at LILAC, that two communities are deeply entwined and don’t speak to each other enough sometimes. Interestingly ALDinHE celebrated it’s 11th conference this year, while LILAC had a 10th birthday party last Wednesday evening. Other parallels are both professions sought to redefine themselves a decade or so ago, study skills became learning development around the time that user education or information skills became information literacy. It seems that some institutions are recognising the overlaps and bringing these two professions together in an attempt to provide more joined up support for students, but it’s not happening everywhere by any stretch of the imagination. I’m going to focus on the ALDinHE conference in this post and write up LILAC separately as there was much food for thought at both.

Highlights of the ALDinHE conference for me were, a chance to visit Huddersfield University, which is home to some fantastic librarians (including Andy Walsh), and 10 national teaching fellows. It’s a great town and the social events were a chance to sample some real ale and enjoy the fabulous town hall for the conference dinner. I was also really impressed with the keynotes and the opportunity to hear Etienne Wenger-Trayner speak about his research on communities of practice was really memorable. It’s a term used a lot in educational technology, but I was fascinated to hear it’s roots in his research on apprenticeships. I first became familiar with Wenger’s work well over 13 years ago when working at UCL in educational technology with Martin Oliver, but we’ve been using in recently in attempts to create a community of practice for sharing information literacy resources. The second keynote, Lesley Gourlay, also has a link with Martin Oliver, as they worked together on a recent JISC Digital Literacies project at the Institute of Education on postgraduate students. I had heard Lesley speak only a few weeks previously at a library ethnography event at UCL, but her research has so many interesting similarities to our SADL project that it was good to hear more from her. I also found the maps that students drew about how they study fascinating, showing that space really plays a vital role in learning.

I particularly enjoyed a workshop where we got to design our ideal learning development space run by staff at New Bucks University. I was really excited by the design my group came up with, including the curved book shelves, the cafe in the centre, the mix of group space and private offices and the resident cat! I also enjoyed Helen Howard’s talk about Digital Dates at University of Leeds which are really short digital literacy sessions (30 minutes) which gave me ideas for our LSE digital literacy programme. And it was good to meet Chris O’Reilly from London Met who is working on Clued Up, their digital literacy project which has some great resources (especially the videos) for students.

ALDinHE was also an opportunity to present about the work we’ve been doing at LSE joining up undergraduate support. It started with an overview of the theory underpinning our work, which was informed by Emma Coonan and my ANCIL research. Emma gave us a 10 minute grounding, while I talked about recent research at LSE using ANCIL to review provision, to develop a framework, and finally Maria Bell talked about SADL our Student Ambassadors for Digital LIteracy project. How we packed it all in I’ll never know, but there was even time for a question! What a team! Emma has just written a fantastic blog post I recommend you read for more details on our session and on how it all fit together. As I headed off for Easter, I felt inspired by the ALDinHE conference and a little disappointed that there aren’t more of them at LSE and we can’t better join up learning support like Leeds, Teeside, Huddersfield and some of the other universities I heard from.

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