Supporting research students: Czech good practice

Charles Bridge, PragueI’ve just attended an Information Literacy seminar held at Charles University in Prague, (founded in 1348) although the meeting was at the more modern Faculty of Social Sciences. I was invited to give the keynote which opened the seminar and to speak about the support for research students we offer at LSE. The IVIG seminar, which is an information literacy seminar, was organized by the Association of Libraries of Czech Universities, Institute of Information Studies and Librarianship of the Charles University in Prague, and SPRIG Civic Association. I have made my presentation available on Slideshare.

The programme was really interesting and it isn’t that often you get to meet so many Czech academic librarians. The group arranged for an interpreter to help me out, as the entire day was (unsurprisingly) in Czech. I had been invited following meeting Hana Landová, Lenka Bělohoubková and Ludmila Ticha last year at the ECIL conference in Istanbul. Their information literacy group has made great progress furthering good practice in information literacy in the Czech Republic and the seminars they organize are very popular with librarians.

The focus of the seminar was supporting PhD students and early career researchers and there were presentations from a wide range of universities. Overall I found the issues they were discussing were very similar to those we experience in the UK, such as how to promote courses to PhD students and also how to evaluate their effectiveness. The workshops being offered by Czech librarians were quite similar to those we run in LTI and LSE Library: literature searching, managing references, citation analysis, copyright issues. A couple of differences I noticed were several people talked about offering courses to PhD students on the publication process and on writing an academic (or scientific) paper. It struck me as a really useful addition to the programme we offer at LSE, and worth discussing with LSE’s Teaching and Learning Centre. This course covered how to identify high impact journals in your field and also discussed open access issues. Petra Dědičová from Brno, University of Technology was one speaker who had a particularly impressive programme of support for PhD students, with a complimentary Moodle course.

I was pleased to hear how many librarians were using e-learning or blended learning as a way to support PhD students. Quite a number of the courses offered for PhD students were formally assessed and students were expected to write a term paper. David Horwarth from the Medical Faculty at Charles University described the course they offer PhD students. He also presented results from a survey they have conducted of staff and students in the faculty to find out their attitudes towards and requirements for information literacy education. The findings were encouraging as most people mentioned they used PubMed to find literature, not Google Scholar. He also spoke about the importance of ensuring doctors were information literate and able to find quality information. The survey found almost 70% of respondents had attended an information literacy course in the past and almost 60% wanted more advanced IL courses. However one of the challenges David mentioned was how to reach all 2000 of their PhD students, when the courses they currently run are really only suitable for around 20 students at a time. This was a good point, and perhaps further reason to explore setting up an online course at LSE?

Blanka Jankovská from the University of Pardubice spoke about how her university had improved attendance at information literacy workshops by PhD students. Emails were targeted at students, but the timing of the workshops was also very flexible and scheduled using a Doodle poll to ensure maximum attendance. Blanka’s university had a particularly appealing room for teaching with computers angled in such a way that students were not hidden behind their screens. She also spoke about how teaching PhD students had led to teaching opportunities at lower levels in her university.

Kristýna Paulová from the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague also discussed how to promote courses to PhD students and some of the more creative approaches they have taken at her university. They have focused on getting support from the Research department and the Vice Chancellor and emphasized how the courses will save researchers valuable time. They also have experimented with teaching in new areas, where perhaps librarians might not know everything, but know enough. A session on mind mapping was particularly well received, but she highlighted how it can be difficult to convince people about their need to learn about new areas. Kristýna has been using BYOD (bring your own device) in the workshops as most PhD students have their own laptop and want to store information here and install tools. This has proved very effective.

Included as part of the day was a useful overview of adult learning theory (androgogy) from Marta Zizienova which reminded us that we ensure learning objectives are clear, but also that we are teaching what PhD students really need to learn. Next up Jarmila Potomková from the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, Palacký University discussed an evidenced based medicine course co-taught by librarians and clinicians. I found the overview of evidence based medicine helpful but also the aspects of the course taught by librarians was well beyond the usual realm of how to search for information. Milan Špála from the Faculty of Medicine,at Charles University in Prague also spoke about how librarians and lecturers have collaborated on a programme for PhD students for the past 10 years.

I particularly enjoyed the talk by Věra Pilecká from the Czech Technical University in Prague about the wide range of support for research and development offered by the central library. They have around 2000 students and 7 staff who provide information literacy support for learning and research consultations. They also publish an open access journal (Acta Polytechnica, look after the institutional repository and have an IL strategy that was written based on best practice in the Czech Replublic and elsewhere in the world.

Jan Zima from The Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic spoke about the impressive range of research skills courses they offer. Their course, which is open to all PhD students, runs 4 times a year and is offered to 25-40 students at a time. They are teaching up to 300 students a year and the course covers research methods, applying for research grants, post-doctorial interviews, how to write academic papers. It also covers preparing presentations and posters at conference, pedagogy basics for teachers and how to present your research ideas to the general public. Even more impressive is that it’s free to PhD students! The courses offered at the University of Economics, Prague by Alena Doláková was equally impressive. At this university PhD students are fairly small in number and are required to have one publication at the point they are accepted into the programme. They also have to teach from their first semester and so are expected to take a teaching course. The library offer information literacy courses, seminars and individual consultations and in one faculty this is now compulsory.

Finally Pavlína Mazáčová from Masaryk University, Dept. of Information Science and Library Studies described research into information literacy started in 2012 to find out what PhD students actually want. Based on mapping activities with faculties they have created a new model of information literacy with 7 pillars. They also carried out an online survey of PhD students to find out their needs, which has led to running courses in how to get grants, how to teach and how to present. This work has been funded by project money and so the challenge now is how to get this funded by the university.

Overall the day was enlightening and highlighted some new topics that LSE might consider offering workshops for PhD students. It was also reassuring to see that many of the workshops we offer are offered in other institutions, and the challenges of meeting the needs of PhD students are something that all academic librarians struggle with. The importance of getting support from faculty, from Deans of study and from research staff was something I was struck by. But I also would be keen to develop more online courses for our PhD students and carrying out a survey to understand more about their needs. I was really honoured to be invited to speak at the IVIG seminar. I hope the delegate got as much out of my keynote as I got from the rest of the conference. Thanks once again to Hana, Lenka and Ludmila for all their efforts and hospitality during my stay in their beautiful city!




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