I’ll start with a confession; one of us isn’t a Librarian (me). But, I do work with a Librarian. And by ‘work with’ I mean just that. We are co-presenters, team-teachers, resource aggregators, professional pedagogical sounding boards and collaborators. Whenever, we do ‘go public’ on the status of our relationship, it is usually met with (literal) jaw dropping as if people have just seen a mythical, dreamed of creature like a unicorn. Their next presumption is that this is happening because I am a Teacher of English and Head of the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). Wrong. It happens because we both have a passion for research and teaching information literacy skills.
This mind-set puzzles me, especially wearing my Head of EPQ ‘hat’. After all, as AQA state ‘research is the backbone of the qualification’ both for EPQ and Higher Project Qualification (HPQ). As an academic, I am fully aware of the key role a librarian plays in supporting researchers. Emma, my partner in teaching research skills, has an understanding of the resources students require, as well as a veritable utility belt of research skills that she is able to deploy whatever the research topic. And that’s the fundamental key, oft over looked. Unlike a teacher, trained in a specific discipline, her skills are not subject confined to a particular topic, nor constrained by the National Curriculum. After all, neither are the EPQ/HPQ as topics cannot be part of the A/GCSE level curriculum; the EPQ/HPQ then is not about what to learn but how to learn.
The resources and research skills required for the EPQ/HPQ are central to a librarian’s skill set. It is why Emma is one of the Lead Supervisor for the EPQ. Together, we have identified not only the skills we need to teach the students but also how we can do this. The school now has a continually expanding range of e-resources, including JSTOR, MASSOLIT and NewsBank. Via our school intranet these are available to the students (not just those taking the EPQ/HPQ) on their personal mobile devices 365 days of the year 24 hours a day.
Together, we guide students on how to best use these digital sources, whilst also explaining the pitfalls of the open web. We crucially provide skills through team taught lessons on how to securely navigate them being aware of filter bubbles, echo chambers and confirmation bias. Life skills not just skills for school. We aim to enable our students to become ‘digitally savvy’, shrewd, knowledgeable and having good judgement. The students think that they already are a view that is often far from the truth. To provide real world outcomes for the students we take them to the British Library, the London Library and the Learning Resource Centre at St Mary’s University Twickenham to put their research skills into practice. These include using Boolean search operatives (why aren’t these a key tenet of the National Curriculum!), using and understanding academic vocabulary such as ‘abstract’ and ‘citation’, showing different search engines, learning how to check the validity and reliability of their sources both print and digital.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not all without its challenges! Our professional roles mean that we work in the same building but may not see one another for days on end. We may both teach EPQ but our other department duties and responsibilities differ. In addition, as soon as we think we have got to grips with the changing landscape of digital research skills something else comes along, be it addressing ‘fake news’, ‘post truth’ ‘mis/dis information’ or ‘deep lies’. It has taken us both out of our comfort zones. Crucially, it has repositioned Emma as an expert in the eyes of the students, raising her status in line with teaching professionals, not just an invisible presence behind the issue counter. It gives us both positivism, professional support and respect and the ability to collaborate to problem solve.
Next time you see us in the real world at conferences or encounter us in the Twittersphere don’t drop that jaw – what you’ve seen is real not a unicorn!
Julie and Emma will be delivering a workshop at JCS 2019 Digital Literacy in Schools: building capabilities titled: Can you navigate potential pitfalls of the open web? Book your place and view the programme here.