Cultural safety

True listening.

an Environment.

With dignity, we
Learn, and
Live, and
Work – together.

shared –
and respected.

There is no
Assault, no
Challenge, no
Denial, of our
Identities: of
Who we are or
What we need.

Safe for people –
Cultural safety.

Source of my found poem is

Williams, R. (1999). Cultural safety—what does it mean for our work practice? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 23(2), 213-214.

Growing connection and building belonging: Online library support during COVID-19

This is the story of how my Learning Advisor colleague, Kate Derrington and I designed and then adapted our Online Study Support program for the COVID-19 context.  Kate wrote this piece with me, and I originally presented it at the Council of Australian University Librarians Webinar: Innovative library responses to COVID-19. (Kate had lost her voice). This version has a few additions to the Looking forward section as things continue to evolve.

I will provide links to a recording and information about the Webinar program at the end of the post.

COVID-19 restrictions: Impact on our students & how we responded

We know that as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, students have experienced uncertainty and disruption caused by the unexpected – and sometimes unwanted – move to online study. In addition, significant changes in their personal circumstances, have left many students under-prepared and under-resourced for online study.  

Our response was to redevelop an existing program of evidence-based online learning support we craftily called: Online Study Support. The original program was built upon Sally Kift’s transition pedagogy, being intentional, student centred (just-in-time, just-for-me) support, extending beyond orientation.  Responding to transition pedagogy, Kate and I offered weekly tutorials through the Semester, and we provided flexible content adapted to the needs of attending students.  We also demystified and encouraged support-seeking behaviours by referring students to other support services to build student confidence in their new study environment.  

In addition, Kate and I used a holistic engagement model, inclusive of social engagement, founded on the work of Petrea Redmond and Cathy Stone. We wanted to increase a sense of belonging and perhaps help students persist with their studies. To foster community and belonging, Kate and I introduced ourselves each week, and practised being authentic. We listened and responded with empathy.

So, how did the Online Study Support program work in S1 2020?

In Semester 1 2020, Kate and I invited Cristy Bartlett and Samanthi Suraweera, our Learning Advisor and Liaison Librarian team for Engineering, to join us and offer a ‘repeat’ weekly 1 hour zoom tutorial. Repeat is not at all the right word. The tutorials shared a weekly focus on a specific skill pertinent to that time of Semester, and an emphasis on connection. However, Cristy and Samanthi brought unique gifts to the program, including discipline and content expertise, and their own warm and interactive presentation style that feels like a chat by the fire – lovely!

As previously, all tutorials provided some prepared content or a demonstration, with the majority of time given to discussion and questions on this skill, or any other area of student concern.  Fourteen discrete topics were offered over the course of the Semester.

The overall redevelopment of the original Online Study Support program for the COVID-19 context provided

  • More times for students to access the tutorials each week
  • Access to another Learning Advisor and Liaison Librarian team, and to their valuable perspectives on content and delivery 
  • Additional content, pertinent to the COVID-19 context, including ‘online and take-home exams’ 
  • Provision of the tutorials into the exam period (we had previously finished by that time of Semester) 


We evaluated the Online Study Support program through the Semester to assess whether the provision of ongoing support and attention to the many elements of engagement were appropriate for, and evident to our students.

How did the students respond?

Online Study Support sessions are generally lively and peppered with student questions and discussions. Discussions might be with the facilitators, and/or between students. The image below was created to provide a sense of this by mapping a very small selection of chat comments and survey responses to aspects of transition and engagement.


Crucial to the COVID-19 environment has been the ability to reach students. To date, we have all shared our Online Study Support program through our personal and professional connections. It is available via the library website, and shared by our wonderful Client Support team – on chat, phone, and via email. Online Study Support is promoted on Course and Discipline Moodle sites. The program is also featured in various Student Relationship Officer communications with students. Promotion by these means has helped boost our numbers from a modest 1-3 attending at the very  beginning of Semester to a peak of 83 students across the two sessions in the final week.

Looking forward 

In Semester 2 2020 we will

  • Diversify our content to appeal to and meet the needs of a broader range of students 
  • Increase interactivity with large groups by using Zoom Webinar
  • Use higher-level promotional strategies – facilitated by our managers, Lyndelle Gunton and Debi Howarth
  • Invite a third advisor and librarian discipline team to increase opportunities for students to participate and for the facilitating teams to access more strengths in terms of expertise and perspectives
  • Invite the Maths Learning Advisors to the program, to offer their unique and valuable content, and their expertise and perspectives

I am very excited for Semester 2 2020.

The CAUL Webinar

You can watch the entire Webinar on YouTube. I added a direct link to Kate and my presentation in the program below.


The program was eclectic and represented much of the enormous world of university libraries. A common theme was caring for our communities: for our clients, for colleagues and staff, and for our wider communities during this disruptive and uncertain time.

  • ‘Enhanced support to travel restricted students based in China’, Pamela Good, University of South Australia
  • ‘Insights from UWA Library’s COVID19 client experience data’, Alissa Sputore, University of Western Australia
  • ‘Online Workshops Made Easy (with a lot of hard work)’, Catherine Hay, Griffith University
  • ‘Growing connection and building belonging: Online library support during COVID-19’, Rowena McGregor & Kate Derrington, USQ
  • ‘Empathy and story-telling: Supporting staff during the pandemic’, Clare Thorpe, University of Southern Queensland
  • ‘Going virtual at UON Libraries’, Michael Paver, University of Newcastle
  • ‘Community Legends’, Amy Dale, University of Adelaide
  • ‘Face shields for Healthcare workers in Regional Toowoomba’, Steph Piper, University of Southern Queensland
  • ‘The perfect storm: seizing COVID-created opportunities’, Carlie Nekrasov & Kayleen Wardell, Southern Cross University


Questions and comments are always welcome, please use the comment function.

What I know about being human and a librarian and teaching online

So, a lot of librarians are looking at teaching online, maybe for the first time, or maybe as a larger part of their role than usual. And it can all be a bit intimidating, especially if you don’t consider yourself much of a teacher, or teaching technology is unfamiliar territory. I hope I can reassure you with these tenish tips that help me enjoy online teaching (seriously, I jump out of bed excited about it) while contributing skills and many other valuable things to my students.

First of all, you are creating a learning community. It does not matter that your students are all over the planet, or studying different disciplines, or more or less advanced in technical skills than you, or that you are only together for 30 minutes – set the tone of this community. I usually aim for welcoming, collaborative, and practical. You can create whatever works for you and your students.

Be yourself. Students online are often relieved and delighted to meet a real, live human being on the other side of their screen.

Planning is essential. Have a clear idea of your learning objectives and how you intend to work with your students to get them from where they are to where they want to be. I like to state these objectives up front and check in with students to make sure that is what they signed up for. If not, I can adjust and carry on.

Be prepared to go off-script and respond to the real needs of the real students that turn up to your class. An example: I never do canned searches any more, even when I know the assignment topic. Asking students to think of keywords and trying a few databases encourages interaction and provides a realistic search experience. This is how students learn to do the secret library stuff and do special, tricky things, like looking for journals in other databases, and tweaking Google Scholar. And they get to see how creative and messy and fun (and time-consuming) creating a search string can be.

Welcome your students, introduce yourself, and let them know how the session will go and how they can interact with you. This may include explaining how to turn their microphones on and off or use chat. Acknowledge that some students may be at work, or on the train, or some other situation where using their microphone is impractical. Let the students know they can communicate however works for them.

Tell the students whether you are recording the session or not. If not, you will point them to further help on the library website of course! I don’t record my classes as we have plenty of great resources online that are better quality than a recorded tutorial and I don’t want to create any fears around asking questions.

It is fine not to be perfect. Because, even though of course you test and practice with the technology, sometimes things fall apart. If things fall apart a little, you have an opportunity to model how to be graceful under pressure. You may just say something like, ‘Well, the databases can cope with English spelling and American spelling but they really don’t like it when you combine them – watch out for that!’ If things fall apart a lot, apologise and work out a way to make up for it. Try something like: ‘Sorry everyone, it was my intention to give you an excellent session on finding information today and have you all feeling confident that you can find everything you need – but it looks like this tech issue is not going to allow that. Would you like to…reconvene at the same time tomorrow, email me for a recorded PowerPoint..’, (or whatever you can offer in your context.)

Include a teaching partner. Your partner can manage chat by answering questions or by redirecting chat questions to you verbally. They can also listen out for something you may have missed, or glossed over, or for spoonerisms. I make plenty of spoonerisms and don’t even notice them. A partner can clarify for students. A well-chosen partner will also add their expertise, wit, warmth, and/or wisdom to the session and this is often exactly what your students wanted to hear.

Ask the students for help, especially when you need it. Many students like to help you, they do not expect you to be a technical genius. A student was pleased to teach me today that Alt +Tab allows you to choose whichever screen you want to pop on top – how have I lived without that? If you have a big crowd and no partner to help with chat, tell the students that and ask them to un-mute and tell you if there is a question in chat as you don’t want to miss anyone. Just like in a face-to-face class, you can even ask someone directly, by name.

Evaluate your teaching. If you can set up a student survey, do so.  Keep it simple. It is an opportunity for students to let you know what worked for them and what did not. Don’t be afraid, students who have gotten to know the real human being that you are will tend to be very appreciative. It is way harder to get the constructive criticism you need to grow your teacher-self than to collect praise. If you have a teaching partner, ask them how they think you went. Let them know what you are aiming for with your session – make it measurable if possible. Did everyone have a good time – who knows? Did I provide ample opportunities for students to ask questions? Better.

Share with your colleagues. I read and listen and soak up research and anecdotes and whatever information I can find that will help me be a better teacher. Your experiences, good, bad, or ugly are valuable to our community.

Finally – just remember you have something very useful and valuable to share with your students. Yes, library skills and knowledge, but also more than that. According to all the research I have read on teaching online, students are very likely also turning up for connection, inclusion, social engagement, call it what you like. I imagine that many students at the moment, unexpectedly thrown into online learning – and whatever other chaos COVID-19 is causing – may appreciate these elements even more. This connection is what you, a real human being, generously taking a risk and bringing your best to this online teaching gig will provide. You’ve got this!

A picture of me, teaching online with a virtual background of the Northern Lights masking the fact my home office is also a spare room.
Me, teaching online via zoom with a groovy virtual background.

HeaLing: Health Librarian meeting July 2019

On the travel form required to get official approval to attend this meeting of Health Librarians across South East Queensland, I said something like … share new and emerging practices and resources to improve my performance … and this is what we do in a library meeting. But improve my performance? Getting together with other librarians does so much more than that. Two personal ‘themes’ that occurred to me are:

Creating and strengthening relationships

I met some librarians and got to know them through the professional discussions facilitated by the group and later over lunch. I caught up with old friends from 4 university and 1 hospital library. There were serious (and passionate) discussions and plenty of laughs. Together, we reinvigorated our network and created a social space in which I feel comfortable to ask for help or advice and confident to respond to the requests of others.

Creating myself as ‘librarian’

In describing my role, in answering people’s questions about ways to approach information literacy training for large cohorts, in responding to their approaches, I co-create myself as a librarian in the presence of others. Now, I don’t suffer from ‘imposter syndrome,’ but get a little ticked off that I can’t join the national librarian association as I am a librarian by trade, not qualification. (Hurumph!) I felt very satisfied with being in conversation with other librarians.

And there were some new and emerging practices and resources too:

  • A matrix for support of systematic reviews showing the time and resources provided by a librarian as part of ‘core business’ and an estimate of additional hours and resources provided by a librarian/author.
  • University of Queensland’s Digital literacy tutorials (Open Access).
  • One University Librarian is trying to get rid of all mandatory textbooks – to be replaced with library subscriptions to good quality eBooks and other resources plus Open Education Resources (I’d name the librarian but not sure if this is her official position on the topic!)
  • We all had a whinge about abuse of the term ‘systematic review.’ Some of us would like to outlaw non-Cochrane-compliant use, but I think that battle is well and truly lost!

There was an omission I found surprising as well — we talked about online teaching, and about making and providing a variety of learning objects but we did not call them learning objects (that I heard) and no-one mentioned ‘pedagogy’ or ‘frameworks for learning,’ or similar language (again — that I heard). Maybe next time.

And so tomorrow I return to work feeling confident and renewed and happy — straight into a PubMed and APA referencing demonstration for a mixed cohort of face-to-face and online students. It will be a blast 🙂

systematic literature review FAIL!

What is a systematic literature review and why did I want to do one?

A systematic literature review is an attempt to locate, evaluate, and review all the scholarly literature that may answer a specific research question. As part of that effort, it is important to plan and test your search strategies before commencing and to keep a record of all the steps taken, should you or another researcher wish to test or replicate the review.
I wanted to do my own systematic literature review for two reasons: to better understand the processes of the review, and to gain some insight into a topic that intrigues me. My research question was: How do academic librarians understand and demonstrate caring in the online environment?

Why did it fail?

The short answer is that my enthusiasm and confidence plus a little desperation to make it work led me to proceed without the checks and balances I would usually make. But these are weasel words…

But why did it fail?

There are many reasons the review failed, here are the ones I have identified:

  1. An element of my topic just does not lend itself to systematic search techniques. That is the element of ‘caring.’ Many, many of the search terms I used are homographs: they are spelled the same as words with a different meaning. For example, I included the word affect in my search string, thinking of the sense of how one expresses emotion. Of course, affect also means to change the state of something (affect/effect) and is a very common word.
  2. The word caring itself is problematic. I included the term caring to describe the transpersonal element of sharing emotional states. But it turns out librarians are out there caring for books, collections, libraries, communities, careers, and a multitude of other things unrelated to my topic.
  3. There are too many ‘known unknowns’ about my topic that also affect (😊) a systematic search. I have heard of care theory and nonviolent communication and logotherapy but I’m guessing there would be many other theories and perspectives that librarians are working from that I don’t know.
  4. I compromised my search and wasted a lot of time by not using sufficient limiters. I should have limited some aspects of my search to title/abstract/keywords but this led to very few results and so I searched the full text of all articles: BAD Librarian, Rowena! Very bad!!
  5. It turns out that my topic was too narrow. Twenty-two articles, most of which mentioned caring in passing does not provide enough substance for a systematic literature review.
  6. I did not set aside enough time. Professor Catherine Pickering, expert on systematic literature reviews suggests 3 months, full time is a reasonable amount of time. I had 4 weeks, part-time but thought I knew better. I didn’t. This is a painstaking and time-consuming business.
  7. Impacting on the timeline issue, technology has not been my friend. EndNote imported about 2/3rds of my articles with full text, leaving me to search for 90 odd articles myself. A temporary glitch between Google Scholar and my university library slowed me down until I subscribed to Kopernio (a button you add to your browser that automatically searches for the full text of articles). But I still had to cut and paste all those article titles one by one to search them… and about a third of those needed to be found by locating the journal title in the library catalogue and navigating to the article via volume and issue details. What a colossal pain in the you-know-what.

A load of pain – What did I gain?

Despite not achieving what I set out to do, I gained a lot from this process in terms of better understanding the systematic literature review process, and information on my topic.

What do I now know about systematic literature reviews?

I believe having experienced the excitement, confusion, frustration, the dawning realisation that it’s not going to work but pushing ahead anyway, the disappointment, the resignation of it all, I am now in a much better place to support my research clients – a good thing as I in the process of creating a resource guide to be completed early 2019. My advice would still be that setting yourself up to succeed seems to be the most important thing. Test the searches. Test them properly to make sure what you need is in there. Make sure that an SLR is a suitable research method for your topic before wasting time. But I can now be a little more emphatic about that!
My technical skills have been sharpened too. I can whizz around parts of EndNote that I had only peeped at before. I got a little practice with using Excel to make some charts as well (where the articles were published etc.) This will all come in handy.

What do I now know about academic librarians and caring?

That’s an interesting thing. I strongly believe that librarians, even academic ones do care for their clients, do feel for them but it seems no one is talking much about this in the scholarly literature. Does it seem too trivial to write about? Do we fear not looking professional? Is it just that no one has started the conversation yet? I am more interested in this question than I was before…

Jean Watson’s caring science and online library instruction #2

This is the second post describing how my Learning Advisor colleague, Bronwen Dickson and I used the ‘caring science’ pedagogy to provide online library instruction to nursing students.  I’m going to talk about how we provided opportunities for our students to express caring – for themselves, their student colleagues and for Bronwen and me. If you want to know how the workshops came to be and how Bronwen and I used four principles for online educators as described by the ‘cybercaring’ framework to guide the whole experience, you can find that in part #1.

Cybercaring provides learners many opportunities to demonstrate caring (See Sitzman & Watson, 2016). Invitations to care can be given via explicit instruction, by creating activities activities and resources that prompt caring behaviours, and by modelling the desired behaviours. Following is Sitzman and Watson’s (2016) list of the seven opportunities for students to demonstrate caring (pp. 68-9) and how each unfolded before, during and after the workshops. I have included pertinent student feedback as a reminder to myself and to indicate the kinds of things other facilitators of online learning might like to consider.

consistently demonstrate full presence through the creation of high-quality work and communications

Much of the workshop took place as small group (2-3 students) activities. Students worked together to solve APA referencing problems and then reported their results to the larger class. Bronwen and I visited the groups during the activities and observed the students working together to complete the work, communicating verbally and via chat to navigate resources and find answers. Production of ‘quality work’ may be a stretch for our circumstance, but we got the sense that students were giving their best attempt. Student feedback indicated that some time pressure focussed the groups however, too little time was discouraging. In response to our observations and student feedback we reduced the number of activities in later classes to allow more time for each activity.

communicate clearly, kindly and respectfully

Communication was vital for the success of the workshops. Therefore, I provided suggestions on how to introduce yourself and communicate with the group, and Bronwen and I modelled this when we introduced ourselves and responded to each other’s introduction. Students were always kind and respectful, however clarity of communication was improved when Bronwen and I explained how to use zoom effectively, including checking-in on group members without a microphone and using the chat function to include these participants. Again, we did this in response to student feedback.

reach out for help early

Bronwen and I repeatedly encouraged students to ask questions to their groups and to the larger workshop. We always responded with ‘great question…’ or similar validation.  We found that students did ask questions during the workshop and we both received emailed questions from time to time after the workshops. Again, more questions were asked when Bronwen and I responded to student feedback to wait a little longer for people to ask a question. Students let us know that it can be tricky to find the microphone button while trying to compose a question – or hold one in your head – especially for our students learning English as an additional language.

respond to messages promptly

Most students did respond to the invitation to participate in the workshop promptly and let me know which date would suit their schedule. It is not clear whether this was due to my carefully worded request, or to the workshop being a requirement for these students to progress in their course.

share personal and professional experiences to enhance learning for all

Bronwen and I invited students to share with their small group their confusion about APA referencing and/or any tips that they thought might help others. The sharing shaped the direction of the workshops, allowing Bronwen and I to spend more time on topics students found difficult and demonstrate how to use the resources effectively. Students told us that this sharing was very enjoyable – it provided relief from any belief that they were on their own in this situation. Perhaps this helped them learn.

As an aside, many students wanted more time to share. One external student even told us that this was the first time she felt really connected to other students in the course.  I think there is an invitation to us as educators here, to embed opportunities for students to connect with each other and with each other’s experiences.

pursue learning with commitment & enthusiasm, evidenced by full engagement

In the workshops students were invited to work together to solve APA problems using authoritative APA tools. Bronwen and I were able to check in with the groups to assist if required. The groups we observed did work together, sometimes with a self-nominated leader, sometimes with all participants working and chatting together at once. As mentioned earlier, students in the initial workshop told us that they would like more time to complete group activities, and so we removed one activity and modified the remaining ones to allow more time.

acknowledge shared humanity of instructor & students

In our introduction and through the workshop, Bronwen and I shared pitfalls we had experienced. We wanted to create a collaborative, problem solving approach rather than an automatic ‘run to the expert’ approach. Students may have expected to be taught by APA experts, but instead they got two human beings. Students seemed to respond well to this expression of our humanity, by listening and responding and by volunteering stories of their own. As mentioned above, the sharing seemed to create a feeling of connection to each other.

reflection on what we learned from providing students opportunities to express caring

I was initially a little concerned that using this approach – and especially the sharing -would backfire. It was not how I had ever experienced or run a library class before. I thought the students might be impatient and just want to get the class done. However, this was not the case at all. Students appreciated the sharing, they called the class inclusivecollaborative and fun.

The other interesting thing for me was the quality of the feedback the students provided, even though we used a standard feedback form. I would usually expect appreciation: ‘I liked it.’ ‘The librarian is nice.’ Or not: ‘Too long!’ ‘boring’ But these students went further, their feedback was useful and Bronwen and I were able to improve the workshop just by following the student advice. Students also told us what they liked about the class, what made it worthwhile. Students appreciated that they could use their new skills and they enjoyed the affective elements informed by caring science.

some conclusions and things I want to do in future

I want to keep using caring science in my teaching and other interactions with students and colleagues. I am currently considering how I can incorporate caring science within the online learning objects (tutorials, videos, PowerPoint slides…) I create. This is an interesting thing to consider!

I am also exploring how the library creates a sense of belonging and connection with the 70% of our students who study externally. What else are we doing that works? What else and how could we do more?

I’d be very happy to hear anyone’s thoughts on this, or any aspects of this post 🙂


Sitzman, K., & Watson, J. (2016). Watson’s caring in the digital world: A guide for caring when interacting, teaching, and learning in cyberspace. New York, NY: Springer.

Jean Watson’s caring science and online library instruction #1

This post is about how my learning advisor colleague, Bronwen Dickson and I used the ‘caring science’ pedagogy to provide online library workshops to nursing students.  I’ll describe how the workshops came to be, and how Bronwen and I used four principles for online educators as described by Watson and Sitzman’s (2016) ‘cybercaring’ framework. In a second post I will tell how the students undertaking the workshops demonstrated caring in the online environment.

the mission

Bronwen and I were referred a largish group of students who had been cautioned for poor referencing practices. The faculty asked us to provide some in-depth instruction around academic integrity: the nuts and bolts of APA referencing (me) and note-taking, paraphrasing, and synthesis (Bronwen’s domain).

the students

We didn’t know exactly who our students would be, but we knew that each student was likely to fit one or more of the following descriptions:

  • mature aged, with a long gap between previous formal education and enrolment at our uni
  • speak English as a second, third or fourth language
  • working to support self, perhaps working irregular hours
  • first in family to attempt tertiary education
  • a carer – of children or elderly parents
  • completing a full-time practicum
  • studying externally (some students are interstate or even overseas)
  • new to uni, to our expectations,  and to scholarly discourses
  • unfamiliar with or lacking confidence in technologically-mediated learning

the teachers: Bronwen and me

Bronwen and I are both qualified teachers. We are both experienced in designing and facilitating interactive face-to-face classes incorporating active learning, yet neither of us had done that within an online environment. Thinking about the students and their circumstances, it was obvious we would need to provide online workshops, and we just had no idea what that might look like. I was even thinking it was not possible to do it at all. But in that meeting with faculty I said we would do it, Bronwen then thought I could because I said we would and because she had confidence in me, I started to believe it myself.

synchronicity: introduction to Watson’s caring science and some help with ‘zoom’

The day after that initial conversation with faculty I was helping out with a seminar, setting up the online aspects. It looked like an interesting topic on nursing pedagogy and I asked: could Bronwen and I attend? Yes we could! And so we were introduced to a pedagogy with a developed set of online practices for facilitators and students that would clearly allow us to provide the excellent learning experience we wanted. And in the break I mentioned I was a bit unsure about the online technology and was told: Sue Griffits is brilliant with ‘zoom.’ Sue was happy to give us a hand, and with a little more research, and a few hours of planning, Bronwen and I were ready to go.

Watson’s ‘cybercaring’ principles for facilitators and what this looked like in our workshops

Watson and Sitzman (2016) describe four principles that effective facilitators of online education adopt. [There are also expectations of students and I will cover these in a second post].

The first principle that facilitators need to attend to is simply: to provide clear instructions. Our workshop provided many opportunities to provide clear instructions. Even before the workshop commenced, Bronwen and I needed to communicate with students how the workshop would be run; that they should download a ‘conversation guide’ before the workshop; and how to join the in with zoom.  I wrote the instructions and tested them first on Bronwen and then on a colleague who works with students on the front desk, and library chat service. I responded to their feedback to make the instructions as clear as possible, and then emailed these instructions to the cohort of students.  Over 40 students completed the workshop and only one did not download the instructions prior to attending. I do believe the clear instructions set students up to succeed.

The second requirement is: cultivate a caring professional demeanour. Bronwen and I paid particular attention to this as we guessed that many of the students may have found the situation stressful, or even shameful.  I provided a personal welcome email to all who registered, thanking them for their interest. Bronwen and I both communicated in a warm tone during the session and I provided a follow up email thanking the students for their participation in the workshop, mentioning specific questions or contributions that they had made where I could. In this email I gave students links to resources and library help, plus slides illustrating key concepts. Many of the students still contact me from time to time with questions about the topics we covered – I believe the ‘caring professional demeanour’ was evident to the students and created the possibility of an ongoing professional relationship with them.

The third cybercaring requirement of facilitators is to share self, including sharing enthusiasm for online teaching and learning. At the beginning of the session I shared how my former boss had to spend a weekend correcting my APA errors on a report that was to go to a government committee. I believe this helped defuse any embarrassment: students laughed at the story and many felt comfortable to share their varied ‘how I came to be here’ experiences in a small group chat. Bronwen and I also expressed our genuine desire to grow and be excellent teachers when we asked for feedback.  Interestingly, the feedback we received was very detailed and constructive, and included advice we could action in the next workshop: very different to the usual “I liked the librarians, the workshop was good.” comments I have received in the past. Thank you, students!     

The fourth principle of cybercaring is that the facilitator pursues lifelong learning. To this end, Bronwen and I found, read and incorporated ideas from a number of books and journal articles describing cybercaring in particular but also Watson’s caring science more broadly. Bronwen has since returned to high school teaching but I have continued exploring caring science, completing the Caring Science Mindful PracticeMOOC  (a free online course offered once a year). The impact of this learning has been an increase in my confidence and  ease in my ability to communicate with the students during the session.

reflection on the four cybercaring principles for facilitators

I was shocked and delighted by the experience of providing this workshop. The workshop was fun to teach. There was a lot of laughter. And students and faculty have provided plenty of positive feedback. Students learned and were able to apply what they learned to future assignments. Although the principles originally seemed either trite (provide clear instructions!) or confronting (share self…) Bronwen and I were very glad we took a risk and explored this option. I am certainly using this approach in my current online teaching.


I’d be very happy to hear your comments on any elements of this post


Sitzman, K., & Watson, J. (2016). Watson’s caring in the digital world: A guide for caring when interacting, teaching, and learning in cyberspace. New York, NY: Springer.

What is kindness?

I have returned from the Asia-Pacific Library and Information Conference where I had many wonderful experiences, including a conversation with Kathryn Greenhill of Curtin University about kindness and libraries (one of Kathryn’s research interests). It was so exciting to meet and talk with someone with similar interests, and I can’t wait to read Kathryn’s research. For now though I want to gather together all the thoughts and opinions about kindness that I wasn’t even aware that I had before our conversation and give them some shape. What that might look like in a library is to come!

So, for me, kindness is,

Kindness is an expression of love, it is love in action. The love in action is love for me and for you.

Kindness is a cyclical process with distinctive ‘phases’ (this bit totally informed by nonviolent communication):

  • You notice that I have an unmet need – maybe you hear me tell you directly; maybe you sense something is amiss.
  • You communicate with me to clarify my need.
  • You consider whether assisting me to meet my needs might satisfy a need of your own.
  • If you decide to go ahead, we negotiate and commit to some action that will meet our needs.
  • We are both rewarded. Needs are met — perhaps not the original need you noticed, perhaps the need might be simple recognition, acknowledgement, or to matter to someone. Perhaps we start all over again…

Interruption: But what is a need?

A need is a value we hold dear in a particular moment. Connection, respect, safety, fun, self-expression – there are hundreds of needs. A nice list is available from the Centre for Nonviolent Communication

Kindness is characterised by particular needs, including

  • Love and respect for self and other. We agree on an action – it is not decided by one person and imposed on another.
  • Curiosity. You are genuinely curious to hear what it is that I am needing. You are willing to listen.
  • Vulnerability. Kindness is risky. You and I may need to take part in one or more open and honest conversations. We might even discuss feelings. We might take actions we may not usually take. Sometimes I will have to confront and let go of some preconceived ideas about you. This may be painful.
  • Mutuality. Everyone gains something: an opportunity to contribute perhaps.

Kindness is effortful, involving work and growth. I am actively learning about you and me, about what it means to be human, to be connected to another.

Kindness is a wellspring. Because all involved benefit from the kind action, it regenerates itself. Kindness is thus root, trunk, leaf, and seed.

Kindness is a spiritual practice: a way of observing the world around me and appreciating the interconnectedness of all things, of all things including me.

Kindness is itself a human need.

Kindness might also be:

  • “I’m just doing my job.” Yes, my job is what I get paid to do, but if my actions can be mapped to the descriptions above it is kindness.
  • “I’m just doing what anyone else would have done in the circumstance.” Yes, and if it maps to the description above it is kindness

Finally, kindness might look like but is not:

  • Actions motivated by sympathy, pity, guilt
  • Actions born of power or privilege – charity that imposes a gift upon another, something I don’t need plus an expectation of gratitude
  • Kind people/unkind people, just moments where we any person is or is not inspired by their own need to connect, contribute, to express kindness.

What did I miss? Is there something in particular that did or did not resonate for you? All comments appreciated 🙂

Can an online course enable a transpersonal experience?

I am excited.

I used to think no way, there is no way online learning environments can allow the same quality of interaction as face-to-face classrooms. It isn’t possible and I’m not going to try.

Of course this is not true, It’s just I had to learn some stuff.

I had to find a teaching philosophy that encouraged me to communicate authentically with students and invite them to do the same (I’m practicing with Watson’s Caring Science at the moment). And I had to learn how to use some online conferencing software that facilitates active learning in groups: allowing students to talk, message and share their screens with each other (zoom is good, I’m guessing there are others).

And my teaching got better and the students learned more and enjoyed the experience too.

But just now I had a transpersonal experience as an online learner — and in an asynchronous environment too. I posted on a MOOC discussion board that I was feeling a bit vulnerable (yes, my word of the week) about all the caring stuff I am getting myself into and I got this response from Linda:

“I agree, Rowena, that that can feel a vulnerable place but if you think of vulnerability as being ‘without a shell’, then it helps to understand that it’s easier for new ideas to penetrate when we aren’t wearing our ‘shells’ – and that makes for a more equal relationship between student and teacher” (1).

Linda is another student in the class. She has no inkling as to my snail thing. She just hit upon the perfect metaphor for me though. And she extended my idea – I hadn’t thought about how removing my shell makes me more open to new ideas.  And when I read Linda’s words I felt so excited, just like I would in a face-to-face classroom. I have expanded.

And see: this whole interaction supports Linda’s words! I am excited again!

I’m even thinking that in a face-to-face classroom, Linda and I may not have had this interaction… Linda may live across the world from me. And perhaps a face-to-face classroom may not have provided us with the time to think and compose a thoughtful response. Or maybe I would not have spoken up in a classroom in the first place.

And now I am wondering: Is it possible that an online learning environment can provide not just equivalent transpersonal caring spaces, but unique or even expanded ones?

If you have thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them.

photo of a slug aliding across a reflective surface. The slug is grey on top, becoming more salmon coloured at the bottom. It is a beautiful photo.
SlugWilfbuckSome rights reservedFlickr


  1. Welch, Linda (17 May, 2018). [Reply to comment on theories of learning]. Retrieved from Futurelearn Course: Introduction to teaching and Learning in Higher EducationWebsite. Linda kindly gave me permission to reproduce her comment here.