When Hazel Hall was four or five, her career ambition was to be a fuel-pump attendant – an occupation, she reasoned, that would allow her to work outdoors and talk to people. Shortly after learning to read, however, she expanded her options to include writer or teacher.
Fortunately, pedagogy won out over petrol, and the world of information science has benefited. In July, Hall was announced as the 2019 winner of the Association for Information Science & Technology (ASIST&T)/Clarivate Analytics Outstanding Information Science Teacher Award. The prize honors achievement that includes sustained and unique contributions to teaching information science; impact on students, colleagues and institutions; and innovative and imaginative teaching materials and methods.
Prof. Hall earned her bachelor’s degree in French from the University of Birmingham in 1986, her master’s in Library and Information Studies from the University of Central England in 1993, and in 2004 her doctorate in Computing from Edinburgh Napier University, where she is now Professor of Informatics in the School of Computing.
Below, Prof. Hall answers a few questions about her career and approach to teaching.
Q: Your undergraduate degree was in French. Had you always contemplated library and information science, or was that a comparatively late development?
Hall: When I was an undergraduate, I was not aware of the career opportunities in library and information science, even though I was a very heavy user of the library services at the University of Birmingham. It was only when I graduated that I discovered that there were such people as “qualified” librarians with postgraduate degrees and interesting career opportunities.
Q: The field of information science has undergone enormous change since your earliest library days. How do you manage to give your students a grounding and keep up with a field – and with a global accumulation of data – that advances so relentlessly?
Hall: Yes, the changes are astonishing. It’s hard to imagine that as a graduate trainee working in the main library of one of the top UK universities, my work mainly comprised filing book-issue slips and helping students use a series of manual catalogues. A that time the issue system was not automated, and the catalogues unavailable online.
The priority with students today is to give them a grounding in skills that will serve them for life – rather than simply training them for particular roles. So the delivery of my teaching is based around a program of activities that encourages students to think critically, carry out independent research, work effectively in teams, refine their communication skills, develop their leadership potential, and so on.
For example, they may be asked to write a report on knowledge management for a piece of assigned work. However, in the longer term it’s the work that goes into this study – rather than the eventual artifact – that has the longer-term value: Researching the topic, analyzing the material on which to base the report, communicating a convincing line of argument in the written output. Successful students prove that they can solve problems, adapt to new situations, think independently, communicate their ideas effectively, and – crucially – have mastered the research skills to keep up to date with advances in their field.
Q: Your blog mentions “knitting lessons” and other activities that can be tied to knowledge transfer and other concepts. Is this emblematic of your teaching style? What other tenets and practices do you believe in?
Hall: Yes, I try to ensure that there is variety in the activities that the students undertake in class. Over the years the students have knitted, devised limericks, completed crosswords, played Top Trumps, raced one another to win games of bingo, and competed in quizzes in my classes, amongst other things. This makes me sound like I’m a lot fun, but I’m actually quite strict in some respects!
For example, if there is set reading to complete before class and any student has failed to do this, then he or she is asked to leave the class and do this work in the library while the rest of us complete the task that is based on close knowledge of the text. The “evicted” student then completes the task on their own and I review it separately. Class participation is really important in my teaching, not least because the students can motivate – as well as learn from – one another when they all engage enthusiastically with the teaching program.
Q: In your studies of “information behavior” and other phenomena, what findings do you judge to be particularly significant or striking?
Hall: The medium may change, but the behaviors endure. For example, I have observed teenage members of my family share information over social media in almost exactly the same way that I did at the same age with pen and ink.
Q: As a teacher as well as a researcher, what are your goals or aspirations for future work?
Hall: I’d like to see my PhD students complete their doctoral studies in a timely manner and then settle quickly into good job roles where their work has long-term positive impact on society. I’d also like to think that many of the students I have taught over the years might occasionally think of me as someone who inspired them to achieve to the best of their abilities.