Supporting Teaching Sessions Remotely 

Becky Higgins, Collections Assistant writes, following on from my colleague Helen’s blog post regarding supporting researchers remotely, over the past year the Research Centre team have found new ways of allowing access to Special Collections material for use in teaching sessions. 

Before March 2020, the Research Centre facilitated around 70 teaching sessions per year. Academic tutors and students from Schools across the University would visit our Brotherton Room to use archival material and rare books in their module-specific teaching. While this sadly has not been able to happen this year, as the Research Centre closed its doors and teaching sessions moved online, we are proud to have been able to provide virtual support in several ways. 

Virtual Teaching Sessions 

Giving academics and students the unique opportunity to interact with Special Collections material during their teaching sessions has always been a focus of the Research Centre, so this year the team have tried to replicate this experience as closely as possible virtually. Using platforms such as Teams and Collaborate, we have joined numerous virtual teaching sessions and displayed requested material using a webcam or second device attached to a camera stand. These sessions have still allowed students some agency over the material in front of them; we can turn pages as requested, zoom in to show interesting details and be on hand for students and tutors to ask questions about the material in real time. 

Turning the pages of a notebook from the Tony Harrison Archive, BC MS 20c Harrison. Image credit Leeds University Library.

We have been pleasantly surprised by how much of the physicality of an item we can convey through a screen (technological glitches aside!) and have received positive feedback from tutors: 

“Thank you for putting together a great session for the students today. It was great for them to get a chance to see books they’d picked themselves, and even though it’s a different experience to being there in the room, I think they learnt a lot and really enjoyed it.” 

Turning the pages of ‘The Defence of Guinevere’ by William Morris and Jessie. M. King B-2/KIN. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Using screen-sharing, we have also been able to continue running short ‘Introduction to Special Collections’ sessions if required, offering support for browsing the Special Collections catalogue and answering queries about requesting and accessing material. This ‘face-to-face’ connection to students has been especially effective in helping to communicate alterations in our Research Centre Service in response to changing guidelines throughout the 2020/21 academic year. 

Other Methods of Teaching Support  

Ironically, in some ways the year’s restrictions have opened up new avenues for the Research Centre team to explore in terms of providing access to Special Collections material. This has included creating short digital clips of items, ‘behind-the-scenes’ video tours of our stores and even helping one tutor with a virtual treasure hunt!  

Giving a behind the scenes tour of Special Collections. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Our digitisation team have been hugely instrumental in supporting teaching sessions, creating high-quality images of everything from Roman coins to 18th century manuscripts that tutors can upload to Blackboard and use as reference material throughout their modules. Other members of the Special Collections team have also been hard at work creating other online resources to help support archival research skills and promote digital literacy. These include our new ‘How To’ videos for searching the catalogue and Sways on Introducing Special Collections’, ‘Accessing Material in Special Collections’ and ‘Special Collections Webpages’.  

More information about our teaching support can be found here.