If you are already offering VRR and/ or VTS services, please describe what takes place before, during, and shortly after a ‘typical’ session (e.g. engagement with users, delivery of the session, feedback gathering). If you are currently planning to offer such services, please discuss how you envisage a ‘typical’ session.
At a typical session, a member of staff will be on-site in their office or a seminar room with the relevant collection items, foam rests, a computer with a mobile visualiser plugged in, and a mobile phone. Using both a visualiser and a phone allow us to show items flexibly, switching between using the visualiser to show items in their entirety and the phone camera to show specific details and convey the materiality of the items in a more dynamic way. Much as we did in our face-to-face teaching, the presenting member of staff will talk to the students while showing the item(s). We engage students by asking open-ended questions, encouraging them to respond using the chat function, and including polls and quizzes. After the session, we share a link to an online feedback form, although we have found that the take-up is generally low.
Please discuss how the development and offering of VRR and/ or VTS services intersects or will intersect with other services and practices in your institution (e.g. digitisation, content creation, cataloguing).
We have incorporated cataloguing and digitisation in the planning process for virtual teaching. Tutors are asked to select collection items for the classes ahead of the start of term, so that our digitisation team can ensure digital surrogates are available on time. For existing images, our retrospective cataloguing team enhances the metadata for the digital surrogates where needed so that they are discoverable in our public-facing digital content management system. The success of this approach is very much dependent on tutors finalising item lists much earlier than they would have done before the pandemic, which has not always been possible due to a variety of reasons, such as researchers being away to conduct research over the summer, and the fact that tutors often only receive confirmation of whether modules are running at a late stage.
What are the benefits and challenges of developing and offering VRR and/ or VTS services (e.g. cost, skills requirements, impact assessment etc.)?
One of the biggest challenges we have come up against in developing our VTS is the lack of a dedicated teaching space. We have had to be flexible and deliver sessions from a variety of spaces, which is more time-consuming, both because of the logistics involved in arranging to take collection items to and from different spaces, and because a suitable set-up needs to be found for each space. Another challenge has been a lack of staff time. We have found planning and delivering a virtual teaching session to be much more time-consuming than is the case for face-to-face teaching. Digitisation and cataloguing work needs to be factored into the planning process, testing and setting up the technology is another additional task, and sessions we have delivered in the past need to be reworked and adapted to the online environment. The benefits include the fact that virtual teaching is not subject to constraints posed by room size or layout or the need to minimise handling of fragile items, the possibility that the online environment offers to collaborate with other institutions from across the world with related collections, and the fact that once they have been developed, digital resources can be reused.