Osborne, Antony (2015) Circles of Context: Broadening the information landscapes of visual learners. In: Inspire Conference, 14 January 2015, University of Huddersfield, UK. (Submitted)

The role of Subject Librarian comes in many different “flavours”, often dependent on the subject areas that are being supported. Since I started work as Academic Librarian for Art, Design and Architecture, my Subject Librarian colleagues and I have struggled to persuade the Art, Design and Architecture students to engage with the resources to which we subscribe. Their lack of use appears prevalent in the Textile/Fashion/Costume students to the point where we have had seriously to consider cancelling a number of resources, even though the Academic staff felt that they are essential for the students. Increasingly, the Academic staff report that the majority of sources that Fashion/Costume students cite in their reference lists are websites rather than scholarly materials and this is clearly a concern for them as they strive to encourage students to develop and enhance their academic and critical faculties as well as their design and creative skills.
This experimental teaching session uses an idea first created by Kaye Towlson entitled “Circles of Context”. It was developed for Art/Design students and attempts to engage them though physical as opposed to textual objects, on the basis that many are visual/kinaesthetic as opposed to textual learners. My pilot group was drawn from Fashion/Textile students and was developed in close collaboration with the module leader, Karen Shah.
Its core premise is to consider physical objects and ask the students to think about a number of questions around it (Who, what, where, when, why and how). In doing so, they relate the object to its social, political, historical and cultural context in a way that makes it more meaningful to them. This provides them with new avenues to explore when searching for information and enables them to link to a wide variety of resources that they may not have otherwise considered. My session also explored mind-mapping as another way of brainstorning and organising ideas to stimulate discussion amongst the participants as well as using colored cards to evaluate different types of resources and gauge their usefulness within particular contexts (for example, books, newspapers, academic journals and web sites)
Whilst the sample of students involved was small in number, the evaluations they produced showed that this way of working appeared to engage them more effectively than a more traditional “chalk and talk” approach. The intention for the future is to work with academic staff to widen the project out to larger groups in other subject areas in an attempt to replicate similar results and thus enhance both the student experience and increase their knowledge of information sources in their own areas.

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