Friday, 9 January 2015

The Book Trade

When I agreed to teach a 12 week module on the Book Trade for undergraduates at 10 days notice, I really did not think that it would be as much work, so tiring and as rewarding as it turned out to be. Now the marking is done and the module over I can relax and mull over the pro's and cons of the experience. I have to admit to a certain amount of bravado when it comes to teaching, I have been teaching for something like 30 years, in some way or another. I worked in Adult Education for ages, then did a PGCE to teach Design and Technology, did loads of supply teaching, when you have to walk into a classroom and instantly start teaching a lesson that someone else had prepared, sometimes in subjects where you just don't have a clue. Gujarati was a challenge, and I have also previously co-taught graduates and done one off lectures. So I thought that a pre-planned 12 week series of 2hr lectures would be a breeze.

The first problem was IT access, the university IT people were very methodical with the way that they give out access rights and email addressed to "new" staff. I put new in inverted commas because I was not entirely new, I have worked as a university teacher there before but has a minor break of 2 years when I defected to another university. This meant that I couldn't get onto the VLE for the first 5 weeks of the 12 week module. The second problem was getting inside the head of the previous teacher and trying to convey the meaning of the presentations that had been planned. This, combined with the lack of IT access, did lead to some tricky situations, such as not knowing how a certain bibliographic database featured in one lecture actually worked, because I couldn't log on to the system to find out. 

I was also told that I couldn't use the planned assignments because this group of third year students had done them in their first year, so I hastily invented some with no idea of how feasible they were and whether the students would be able to find out enough information for what I asked (The assignments were approved by the programme manager, so they could not have been too outlandish). After 2 years of sitting at a desk playing with a computer every day I had forgotten how exhausting it was to stand up and talk at people for two hours (Actually, although I more or less stood up and walked around for two hours, I did plan the sessions for student interaction, discussion and activities, so although I am capable of talking for Wales at any Olympic Talking event). 

The benefits, however, overcame the problems. The students were great, polite, keen and receptive. I was really pleased to see the number of them that attended specially arranged talks with their subject librarian, a visiting lecturer and a field trip to the local Waterstones where the manger talked to them about being part of the book trade. I also learnt a more about the book trade than I had when doing a similar module for my Masters at Aberystwyth. Teaching a subject is a brilliant way of learning because not only do have to absorb the information, you have to understand it to a level when you can explain it to someone else. I had to update my background reading and find current statistics. I really would have like a longer time to do that and to put the module together.

As the semester this academic year was longer than the previous year I also had to write a few new lectures, but I found them much easier to deliver. In fact I did pepper the pre-written lectures with my specialist knowledge. The proof of the pudding is in the eating so I was very pleased when the students did their presentations (an "on-line encyclopaedia" article about an aspect of the book trade) and when I read their written assignments (pretend you are giving an annual report to the board or shareholders of a Bookseller). They had not only taken in much of what I had told them in the lectures but they  had also found out a lot of information independently, despite my fears there was sufficient information out there for them to find, and some of them wrote very convincing annual reports (I did check that they had not just filched them from the internet).

I found out a huge amount of information about booksellers such as Waterstones, WHSmiths, Amazon and Barnes and Nobel just from reading their reports. Repetition is a good learning tool! I like lecturing, but I far prefer to plan well in advance. I just hope that the students liked it too.

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