This blog post is part of an ongoing series of interviews with staff from different services at the University of Manchester, introducing you to who they are, what they do, and how they can help you get the most out of your time here! In this interview, the Library Student Team talks to Michael Stevenson from the Library Teaching and Learning Team about the My Learning Essentials drop-in sessions which run every Wednesday to provide on-the-spot, one-to-one support with your studies.
Jade: So, what are these drop-ins?
Michael: Well, they’re an opportunity for students to come and speak to the Teaching and Learning and Learning Development staff about pretty much anything to do with academic skills. From time management to academic writing, they’re a nice informal way of seeing somebody who can help you, and make sure you go away from the drop-in being able to do a bit more. It’s not a one-shot solution, but you should leave the drop-in knowing what to do next.
Kit: What kind of questions do you usually get at drop-ins?
Michael: Personally, I get asked a lot about referencing, especially tricky stuff, like when file formats don’t match, or about different referencing styles. We also talk about what referencing is for, as an academic purpose. I get asked about other aspects of academic writing, too, like how to structure a literature review, especially when students are writing dissertations and theses.
Jade: So, if I come to a drop-in, will my question definitely be answered?
Michael: If it’s particularly busy we call in extra staff, but we also triage enquiries. For very complex questions, we might arrange to see a student at another time to follow up, or send an email explaining the next steps to take. We commit to answering you, but for very technical questions, we might need to do some extra research and get back to you later on – but you don’t leave empty-handed, you know you’ve spoken to us and we’re getting you some help.
Kit: Do subject specialisms matter? Can you help with, say, medicine, as easily as social science?
Michael: Well, most things are common across subjects – if you’re a medic, say, the method of solving your question is probably the same, even if you’re using a different database, so the knowledge and skills that we have can be applied across different fields. Again, though, if we feel a colleague might be able to give you a more detailed answer, we’ll speak to them and send you an email later.
Jade: Is there any specific preparation students can do to make the session more useful to them?
Michael: Yes, absolutely. If you’re prompted to come and see a member of Library staff, it’s probably a pressing issue, but if you have a clear idea of what you want to get out of that session, we can give you a more specific answer and we can use that time more efficiently. So if you’re worried about a lit review, maybe have a look at the online resources first, check your mark scheme, get an idea of what’s being asked of you, and then come talk to us about it. That way, you might ask for help with structure, for example, rather than simply saying ‘I don’t know how to do my lit review.’ Sometimes we do get students who just have loads of questions, about every aspect of the writing process, and that’s quite hard, especially with time constraints – but if you think about what you want to get out of coming to the drop-in, we can use our knowledge and expertise in the area to guide you more efficiently. On the other hand, though, if you’ve just heard the tannoy and you’ve got a question, drop in!
Jade: So, what makes someone to come to a drop-in? What year are most of your students in?
Michael: Well, the start of both semesters is usually quite busy, but for someone to come to a drop-in, usually they have a timescale and something’s stopping them from getting on. We see students from all years, but dissertations, especially, are one of those things. You’re not going to get all the answers at a drop-in, but you’re going to go away knowing what you need to do next. Also, I think there are some things that you just want to see a person face-to-face for. Sometimes it’s purely just to talk through your ideas – you already know what you’re doing, but you just want that reassurance that you’re doing the right thing. Remember that the drop-ins are just one part of the MLE programme – so have a look at the resources on the website, come to a workshop, then back it up by coming to a drop-in.
Jade: So these are some questions we sometimes get asked in the Student Team. This one says, ‘Can I get my essay proofread at a drop-in?’. We also have, ‘Would you check my referencing?’.
Michael: No, we don’t do that! For writing, we’ll direct you to language resources like the Academic Phrasebank, and for international students, to the University Language Centre, which offers academic writing tutorials to help you improve your academic English. But you have to remember, we’re not the specialist in your piece of work – you are! That’s not to say you shouldn’t bring a piece of work with you, if you want to ask us about structure, for example. So we can talk things through and give you resources to help you, but we don’t do proofreading at drop-ins, and we wouldn’t do your references for you either – it’s an important part of academia, so we’ll help you learn the skills to do it yourself.
Jade: So if somebody wants to come along, where and when do these drop-ins take place?
Michael: They run every Wednesday, 12:00-1:00pm in the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons, Lower Ground Floor, in room -104. We also run a drop-in specifically for reference management questions 2:00-3:00pm in the Main Library, on Friday, just outside the café. During the Exam Extra period there are different kinds, so keep an eye out for those – but you can check the whole list on the My Learning Essentials website.
Hopefully this interview helped you understand what to expect at a drop-in, so next time you have a question, come along and see for yourself!