This week I had the enormous privilege and great fun of working with the most magnificent group of Sutton Trust students. 26 of them, in Year 12, from a variety of schools, and all really keen on studying English Literature at Cambridge or universities like it. I wanted to use CamGuides for Undergraduates in the session, to introduce them to it, and to exhort them to go back to their schools and spread the CamGuides word.
As I was planning the session – quite last minute, as ever – I decided that one way I could use CamGuides for Undergraduates well would be to focus on one section of it, and I chose to look particularly at reading lists. I hadn’t quite anticipated how effective and rewarding it would be to follow the structure of this section of CamGuides and to use it actively in teaching.
So, we discussed:
- What a reading list is, why it’s useful, why it’s dangerous
- What makes a resource academic, and why that matters (as well as why sometimes it doesn’t matter at all)
- How to interpret a reading list – how to assess it for relevance, how to understand what you’re seeing
- How to search for resources particularly using keywords, and how to write better keywords
Part of the work I had to do was to contextualise the content on CamGuides for the study of English Literature. This was, in places, as simple a matter as providing an English Literature sample reading list. But in others, it meant that we had to question what it says on CamGuides for Undergraduates, and this was really helpful too. For example, reading lists are presented on CamGuides for Undergraduates as quite neutral and positive documents, and it was great to see students engaging with why that might not always be true. Similarly, we discussed how the positioning of a resource as ‘academic’ in English Literature is not always meaningful, and subsequently considered how we’d translate the way that ‘academic’ is defined on CamGuides for Undergraduates for an English Literature context. Talk about reinforcing the message to question what you read online!
We didn’t spend the whole hour on CamGuides for Undergraduates, and in the last twenty minutes or so branched off into a different activity, racing about the library, and using what we’d learned. But CamGuides definitely provided a really solid basis for the first half of the session, and I definitely intend to use it again. There’s so much on there which is useful for us as teachers, even if it may take a bit of translation to use it in a face-to-face context, or a subject-specific context.
Plus, the fact that it’s freely available means that at the end I had something tangible to send them away with – and definitely something less easily lose-able than their handouts!
Helen Murphy, Library Manager, English Faculty Library