Thursday, 13 January 2011

Experiments with textbooks

Today was something of an experiment, with a whole new way of handling Textbook Loan distribution, made possible by some changes to how registration is done. Instead of spending a whole day over the weekend checking out textbooks, we front-loaded the work, so by the time I headed off to the cinema last night the library was stacked with crates and boxes, full of 129 personalised bags of books (and loan phones) ready for each student to collect today.

As expected, the actual moment of handing over the bags was a little chaotic, but with some help from my colleagues we had the queue moving at a fair pace. I don't think anyone had to wait too long, and the only reason it took us 45 minutes to distribute several hundred books was because some groups of students had prior appointments to keep! (We'd set that up intentionally to break up the flow of people, and minimise waiting times.)

On the whole, I think the students got the 'work flow' - taking care of loaned books, phones, travel passes, and then optional purchased books: lots of business got taken care of, and it's a whole day of the orientation weekend freed up for the students - and me - to spend doing something more fun in London.

It also created plenty of opportunities to students to ask questions and start conversations informally with the whole team here, for them to be able to sit down and figure out the new phones, get connected to the wifi, and to coordinate with each other about what they were doing next - heading home, going out to dinner, and so on. A much gentler end to the first day than being in a lecture theatre and just being told 'OK - that's it - we're done'.

Obviously, it will take a few days for any problems to show themselves. So far, it's just that I managed to give one student one book for a class they're not taking, which was just a case of my eye slipping a line on a spreadsheet during the set-up. Fortunately the student was most forgiving, and at least it was an extra book, not a missing one.

I don't want to get too ahead of myself, especially without more feedback from students, but personally, I think I'd call the experiment at least a conditional success. (Any students reading this - feedback always welcome!)

Things I'd do differently if there's a next time:
  • - something to confirm the original emails were received, be that a second email, notification in a prep session, or something else - a couple of people hadn't received that, which was less than ideal. Nothing that can't be solved, but something to improve on.
  • - print out and include in the bags each students' complete textbook info (not just the loan list) for ease of reference for the student.
  • - also, print a copy of my textbook masterlist, so I can answer queries on the fly without relying so much on memory.
  • - include a demo phone pack in the demo book bag for the presentation (was in the plan, but the incoming flight's travel delays meant that didn't quite come together)
  • - point out in the presentation a) the log-in info on the sheets and b) the student copy of the agreement. (also in the plan, but skipped in the attempt to shorten everything on the fly to mitigate the delayed start to the sessions. I can cover it in my sessions tomorrow, but the before-collection session would be better, I think.)

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