February 13, 2017

Fostering a creative culture: trying, but not too hard...

By Ned Potter, Academic Liaison Librarian 

In the Relationship Management Team we work on several projects across the year. Some of them recur year on year, some of them are one-offs. An example of a one-off project was three of us being tasked with looking into creativity: how could we be more creative and allow ideas to flourish in the team?

As part of this process I spoke to a few librarians, both in this country and abroad, who I considered to work in creative environments. I wanted advice and ideas and experiences around creativity not just as an individual but for an entire team. Some of those I spoke to I knew well, some of them I'd not interacted with before.

I'm not going to quote the individuals directly (because the conversations happened before this blog existed, so I didn't mention to the participants that I'd be writing them up) but I can point to several key themes which came out of more than one chat.

Before we get to the list, a summary of the consensus across all the conversations: the culture that encourages people to try things is usually more creative than the culture where 'creativity' is a specific goal or something that happens at assigned times. Talking about it too much makes it awkward. So it's easier to work towards a goal in a manner which allows for flexibility and new ideas, than to introduce creativity as an end in itself.

How can you encourage a culture of creativity in your team?

  1. You can't force it. As soon as you create any constructs around creativity (like having 'creative Tuesday' or whatever, where people are encouraged to spend the morning doing creative things) it prohibits the very creativity you're attempting to instigate.
  2. So it's more about a culture of trust, and of allowing experimentation. Rather than making a big deal of creativity, the most productive way forward is to foster an environment where people feel able to be creative. This means encouraging people to try new things, and trusting them to go off on their own path. It also means bringing back fresh and new ideas to the team, and cultivating an environment where new and innovative practices are shared. 
  3. Flexibility is essential. If you work a 40 hour week and all 40 of those hours are fully assigned before the week begins, then of course there will be no room for creativity. You HAVE to build some give into the working week, or month. The capacity for chaos. Allow people to be creative in a way which suits them.
  4. Start small. Make a change in the way you approach a smaller project. If it works, be more experimental with something a little larger, and so on. You get more confident as you go - even if the experiments don't always work. Which brings us to...
  5. Celebrate success, give permission to fail. This came up time and time again. People need to feel they can take a punt on something and not be embarrassed or told off if it doesn't work. And examples where things DO work need to be celebrated, to encourage others. Both success and failure should be a source of discussion so everyone can learn from both. And success shouldn't be the same for everyone - you have to be realistic about what the different personalities in the team can achieve, and set different people different goals.
  6. Think beyond the sector. We can learn so much from looking outside libraries, but we need to do this proactively rather than just hope it happens...
If you've got any more tips on fostering a creative culture, let us know in the comments.

February 06, 2017

Using Google Q&A in large teaching sessions

By Martin Philip, Academic Liaison Librarian

I’ve always been a default Microsoft PowerPoint user, however Google’s recently added Q&A feature to their Slides product may have persuaded me otherwise.

PowerPoint still seems to be the most ubiquitous piece of presentation software. It’s certainly the one programme that I’ve spent most of my student and professional life using and the one I’m most comfortable creating slides with.

Nowadays, however, there are many presentation programmes to choose from; Google Slides, Apple’s Keynote, Prezi, Canva to name a few. They all essentially do the same thing which is to present your topic and/ or ideas, using, texts, graphics, photos and video.

I remember when I was first used Prezi around 2009. I used to use it quite extensively and was impressed with the animations between slides and the way you could present the slides or sections in a non-linear style. It seemed to work really well. However, I quickly moved back to PowerPoint for, as I saw it, the increased functionality especially when it came to the design of the slides themselves. I felt more comfortable with the wider font choices and editing tools available in PowerPoint..
Since joining York, around 3 years ago, I was introduced to, what is now called, the ‘G Suite’ of applications. I was familiar with Gmail having used it for many years in a personal capacity, however the other applications such as Docs and Sheets, I’d hardly ever used meaning I wasn’t hugely comfortable with them. The benefits of these tools quickly became clear due to collaborative nature of the applications. No longer did documents need to be emailed to colleagues, using the G Suite of applications we could all work ‘live’ in the same document, meaning versions were always up-to-date and stored in a central place online.
Until this academic year, ‘Slides’ was the main Google application I’d not really used, in part, due to my preference of PowerPoint. It was only recently, at a White Rose Consortium TeachMeet last year, when a colleague demonstrated a new feature in ‘Slides’ called ‘Google Q&A’ that I considered trying it out again.

What is Google Q&A?
Google Q&A is designed to enable interaction with a large audience. In addition to the ‘Present’ button, there is now a Q&A option that opens a pop-up window and places a URL/ web address above each slide visible to the audience. The audience can then, using the browser on their mobile device, go to the web address displayed and begin asking questions to the presenter. The questions do not appear immediately on screen, they are displayed to the presenter in a pop-up window. The presenter can then, at a time they deem appropriate, respond to any of the questions asked by the group. They simply click on a question in their pop-up window and it then appears to the whole audience on the large screen.
I was really impressed with this functionality, it was definitely something not available in PowerPoint! I logged it in my mind thinking of some scenarios that I could use it in.

In the Summer, when planning a new lecture with a Politics tutor for the Autumn term, he expressed his frustration to me when trying to get students to interact in large lectures so when I mentioned Google Q&A to him, he couldn’t wait to use it!

We were already planning a joint lecture for the new ‘What is Politics?’ core 1st year undergraduate module and agreed that my 30 minute talk would use the Q&A feature.

The setup was a bit complicated. I could only get Q&A to work if I connected a laptop to the projector and changed the laptop settings to extend the display. This is required because the podium PCs seem to be fixed to the ‘duplicate’ setting which means the audience see the same as what the presenter sees meaning the pop-up window is visible. Extending the display of the laptop (pressing Win key + P) means I can drag the pop-up window onto my laptop screen so only I could see it.
At the start of my talk I highlighted the URL that was above each slide and asked all the students to take a minute to open up the link in their browser to encourage them to participate by asking a question if they wanted to. Q&A allows students to contribute anonymously which I think encourages participation.

Over 30 questions were asked throughout the lecture, concerning the content of my talk and the tutors. We were both able to, there and then, answer questions from students providing an immediate response. Some students asked for clarification on the assignment that was set or other questions regarding the topic which the tutor was able to answer. Others asked questions about YorSearch and how to find specific resources.    

Reflecting at the end of the session, the tutor was extremely pleased as he has never had such an interactive lecture! He planned to continue to use Q&A throughout the term.

I encourage you to have a look at Google Q&A. From my limited experience, it’s definitely something you could incorporate into your larger teaching sessions to try and stimulate some interaction with your audience/ students.