If you didn’t already hear about it (owing to their massive PR machine), Blackboard has debuted its blog about “the convergence of education and technology.” Whatever your attitude is about corporate blogs I think one thing this blog will do well is give a platform to leaders in the field of educational technology. Several interesting experts have already been featured. The most recent interview is with George Lorenzo, writer, editor and publisher of Educational Pathways, a newsletter that covers online learning in higher education. You can take a look at the interview, but I found one item worth mentioning to ACRLog readers. When asked what he thought were important issues related to learning and education technology, Lorenzo said:
Everything surrounding what information literacy and information fluency mean today is a very big topic. A new generation of students are Googling their research, instead of going to the scholarly research that one canâ€™t find so easily on Google. For instance, I think there are many more problems related to plagiarism today. In K-12, students now customarily go online and copy and paste information so easily without appropriately attributing their research. This is a problem, I think, that is going to grow larger.
Anytime non-library academicians and information technologists are commenting on the importance, value, and need for information literacy or user education in public forums, that’s a good sign that our profession is getting the message out there about what we can contribute to student learning.
ACRLog was a bit premature in announcing the NPR program about the future of the library in the 21st century. Will libraries be “bookless” and how will they redefine their role in a world of radical new information technology? The recording of the program is now available. I just finished listening to it, and there is little said that would be new to most academic librarians. Focusing primarily on the public library, alternatives to books were mentioned but visions of bookless libraries never really materialized. The good news is that it presents an opportunity for the public – or at least the segment that listens to NPR – to hear that librarians are experimenting with new information technologies, and that libraries are not deserted in the Internet age. In fact, more was said about the social and cultural role of libraries in their communities than bookless libraries of the future. Tom Frey of the DaVinci Institute had some interesting points, but no radical predictions for the library of the future. He said that libraries will still be here, but that they would need to adapt, transition, and transform in order to integrate new information technologies into traditional services. Perhaps the high point of the program was the folks who called in to say the library is more than just books, and that citizens look to librarians to help them learn how to use new technologies and navigate the complex information landscape.
If I was writing this as a CHOICE review I’d label this program “optional”. In fact, I would say that your time could be better spent taking in a presentation by George Siemens, of the Connectivism Blog, about “Rethinking Learning.” His presentation (slides and audio) will challenge some of your traditional thinking about how learning happens, and how learning is changing in a networked world.
In the Ziggy cartoon for January 30,2006 we see that Ziggy has two choices at the local diner. The menu board shows â€œChiliâ€ for $2.50 â€“ but â€œThe Chili Experienceâ€ is $4.95. This may sound familiar. ACRLog reported the concept of giving users an experience was mentioned at OCLC’s “rebranding” symposium. Iâ€™m uncertain what it is other than perhaps being committed to continuously improving the services and resources we provide to our user communities so that the users will feel that they are invested in using our libraries. But you will be hearing more about creating user experiences, and it is something each library will define and construct for its unique institutional culture.
One vision of the technology user experience suggests that as academic libraries we have much work to do. In a column published in eWeek, Andreas Pfeiffer writes that in the Age of User Experience features no longer matter. What does matter is simplicity, which continues to surface as the academic libraryâ€™s greatest vulnerability in this new age? Perhaps Pfeiffer can help us with his 10 rules for experienced-based technology. What can we learn from it:
1. More features isnâ€™t better: Clearly less can be better than more; weâ€™ve been overwhelming library users with choices and content for years. Producers of aggregator databases continue to add features. Many, such as auto-citation formatting, TOC alerts, RSS, etc. are useful but need greater transparency.
2. You canâ€™t make things easier by adding to them: Sounds like a different way of phrasing rule number one. He wants to emphasize simplicity means getting things done in the least number of steps.
3. Confusion is the ultimate deal breaker: Nothing confuses people more than complex features. Do you sense a theme developing here?
4. Style matters: Design is critical to a good user experience. Pfeiffer says style is a â€œglobal approachâ€. Iâ€™m still thinking about what that means.
5. Only features that provide a good user experience will be used: Pfeiffer uses the iPod as the ultimate good user experience. Itâ€™s not complex, intimidating, or confusing. Iâ€™m not an iPod user (I own a Dell DJ which serves my needs well at a much better price) but Iâ€™d be hard pressed to believe every iPod owner has intuitively learned every feature it offers. But the point is well taken.
6. Any feature that requires learning will be adopted by only a small fraction of users: If this is true we are in trouble.
7. Unused features are useless and diminish ease of use: Pfeiffer uses MS Office software as the example. There are dozens and dozens of features you will never need or use, but then again there are ones that are handy to have â€“ if you can find them. Only sometimes do those added features interfere with everyday use, and personally Iâ€™d rather have a feature and not need it â€“ than need a feature and not have it.
8. Users do not want to think about technology; what counts is what it does for them: Iâ€™m surprised he didnâ€™t use the old car driving analogy here â€“ we just want to drive and not think about fuel injectors, piston rods, and torque converters. But in academic environments philosophies based on the â€œnot want to thinkâ€ principle should raise some concerns. I do like what he says about pencils. You never have to think about how a pencil works â€“ and it never crashes. Please excuse me while I go trademark a blog called â€œPencils Never Crash.â€ Is a pencil the ultimate user experience? It’s simple, intuitive,and just does what you want it to do.
9. Forget about the killer feature: the new killer app is a killer user experience â€“ you know â€“ simple, donâ€™t have to think, does what you want and nothing moreâ€¦
10. Less is difficult; thatâ€™s why less is more: Do well what 80% percent of your users do all the time (and donâ€™t worry about the other 20% who want to do more) and you create a good user experience.
So it looks like the key to creating a good user experience is emphasizing, as much as possible, simplicity over complexity. Again, we all want our libraries to be easier to use, we all want our user communities to have good library experiences, and we all would like OPACS and databases that strike a good balance between ease of use and useful features. The challenge is how to make it happen. Can we model the re-engineering of academic libraries on iPods â€“ or pencils? Our collections and resources â€“ and their efficient use â€“ have inherent complexities that our users must contend with if they wish to produce quality research. From Pfeiffer and his contemporaries we must learn that in the Age of User Experience our users will increasingly expect simplicity, no thinking, less is more, and those other things that define a good technology user experience. Our challenge will be to use design thinking to our advantage to create a library user experience that provides something deeper and of greater substance than iPods and pencils. This is a theme we will continue to explore.
How blogging impacts on the academician’s career continues to be debated and discussed in the blogosphere. We’ve discussed academia’s conflicted reaction to blogging here previously. A worthwhile list of the pros and cons of blogging for those with and working for tenure appeared in a post by Christopher Sessums titled “Academic Research and Blogging.” He writes:
Recently a professor/mentor of mine noted that I seem to spend more time writing on my blog rather than writing for academic journals. She noted that I will not get tenure or be promoted for my blog posts but that I will for publishing in peer-reviewed journals. Iâ€™ll admit, she made a good point. I use my blog space to reflect on ideas for â€œproperâ€ articles. In many cases I receive useful feedback that helps me tighten my argument or consider alternate or opposing viewpoints. In this light, my blog serves as a handy testbed and sandbox which allows me room to play.
What are some of the pros and cons? The blog allows freedom to explore, the ability to get ideas out there more quickly, the benefits of feedback provided in comments, and regular blogging may help with writing skills. Of course blog posts can also be poorly written, offer little in the way of cited sources, contribute to sloppy research methods,and fail to reach the intended audience.
Academic librarians are doing a fair amount of blogging, and I wonder who these folks are. According to data collected by Michael Stephens for his blogger survey 41% of the 283 respondents claimed an academic affiliation. That is nearly double the number of bloggers from the next largest group, public librarians. So who are all these academic librarian bloggers? I wonder how many are on the tenure track? I ask this because it is my guess that librarians on the tenure track are not blogging. Why? Probably because some senior librarian or mentor, not unlike Sessums reports, warned against blogging because it counts for tenure status about as much as cleaning out the library staff room frig once a week.
If that’s the case it could be unfortunate. While a blog has all the potential in the world for being a pointless time sink, a thoughtful, well designed and maintained blog can be far more helpful to academic colleagues than a stack of academic journal articles. There’s a place for the scholarly publication of course, and it shouldn’t be a case for anyone of all of one and none of the other. If you’re an academic blogger, tenure track or not, you ought to be able to show you’ve got what it takes by publishing a credible scholarly article or two. Otherwise, all that talk about your academic library blog helping you to write better, to get your thoughts out, to test new, radical ideas, to gather feedback from colleagues, may not amount to a hill of beans if you can’t demonstrate the ability to go beyond blogging as a means of professional communication.
According to the Talk of the Nation Web site, today’s program will be entitled, “The Bookless Library.” Here’s the blurb:
Information technology changes as soon we think we understand it. We look at how libraries keep up and redefine their role. How would you design a library for the 21st century?
For those of us who working during Talk of the Nation, transcripts and audio files should be by this evening. Want to participate, you can call into the program at 1-800-989-8255, or send an e-mail to with “21st century libraries” in the subject line.
Thanks to Christie Brandau, State Librarian of Kansas, for the tip!