Category Archives: Conference Blogging

Includes the blogging of conference programs

Game Up Your Unconference

Last weekend I was delighted to head down to the University of Maryland for THATCamp Games, an instance of the popular humanities and technology unconference devoted specifically to games in education. It’s been a while since I attended an unconference — my last one was LibCampNYC in 2009 — and THATCamp Games reminded me how much I enjoy the unconference format. Capping registration at about 100 people and eschewing formal presentations means lots of opportunities for discussion and conversation among the participants, and lots of opportunities for learning. At this particular THATCamp the attendees were highly diverse, from faculty and staff in higher and secondary education to educational technologists to game industry folks to students. While there weren’t a huge number of librarians there, I wasn’t the only one, and of course the topics we all discussed are relevant to academic libraries as well as other educational organizations.

I’m an avid gamer and have long been interested in games-based learning, though it’s only in the past couple of years that I’ve begun to incorporate games and game mechanics into my own teaching. I’d like to use more games in my research and information literacy instruction, especially to leverage the research behaviors that are a built-in to so many digital (and non-digital) games, and I appreciated that the unconference began with a day of workshops called BootCamps which offered hands-on experience with thinking through and creating instructional games. I know of at least one library that’s used the application Inform to create a text-based interactive fiction game (Bioactive at the University of Florida), so I went to a BootCamp on Inform and had the chance to play around with the software, which doesn’t require much programming knowledge.

Two of the BootCamps discussed using ARGs — alternate reality games — in educational settings. I’ve always found the idea of using an ARG for education intriguing: ARGs are immersive experiences that incorporate many beneficial attributes of games, like asking students to take on a new identity, and scaffolding knowledge and skills. But many ARGs are long, detailed, and involved, and I’ve struggled with the practicalities of integrating something so time-intensive into my instruction, which tends to be mostly one-shots. During the two BootCamps we worked on specific activities that I found really helpful in thinking about strategies for my own teaching, one an example of a narrative puzzle, and the other an exercise in which we broke into small groups to brainstorm a subject-specific ARG. The facilitators emphasized that when designing an ARG the game objective and the learning objective must overlap completely, which seems like sound advice for designing any educational game.

I’m also interested in exploring ways that librarians can use games in collaboration with other faculty to strengthen students’ research competencies. During the unconference proper there were several sessions on adding game-like features to classrooms and courses. In a session on “Badges Done Right” we discussed using badges and other game structures like experience points for grading or other forms of recognition within a course. There was also a session about building gaming into the learning management system, with examples of both a commercially-produced and a home-grown LMS. There’s no question that the trend in “gamification” is complex, and we spent much time discussing the benefits of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. However, for faculty using game mechanics like badge or XPs I can think of lots of possibilities for librarians to collaborate. (“Wikipedia fact-checker” badge, anyone?)

Like any good conference there were lots of interesting-sounding choices at every timeslot (and a phenomenal number of tweets), so I’m grateful that a shared, public Google Docs folder was created early on. There are notes from nearly every session, and if you’re interested in games and education I encourage you to take a peek.

Considering Conferences

This semester I went to two academic conferences that weren’t library conferences. While I’ve attended conferences outside of librarianship in the past, both before I was a librarian as well as more recently, this is the first time in my library career that I’ve intentionally gone to non-library conferences. At both conferences I was making a presentation, which of course was a major factor in my decision to attend. But I highly enjoyed them both, and was pleased to find much of relevance both to my interests in librarianship as well as in higher education and the disciplines.

The first conference I attended this semester, the MobilityShifts conference at the New School (about which I wrote a brief wrap-up here on ACRLog), broadly addressed issues in teaching and learning, and specifically focused on mobility and education. This was a busy conference that spanned multiple days, and though it meant for a breakneck schedule I was able to see lots of great sessions. While there were presentations by and for librarians, I was most interested in the sessions that addressed bigger pedagogical questions. In our day to day work it’s easy to think only of the library — after all, that’s the physical and mental space in which we likely spend most of our time. But I found it incredibly valuable to have the opportunity to step back and consider the library as it relates to the whole of the college while I listened to presentations by classroom faculty, researchers, students, and more.

I also went to a discipline-specific conference this fall, the American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings, where I was part of a session on library ethnographies. Unfortunately I didn’t have as much time to spend at the AAAs as I had at MobilityShifts, but I was able to catch a few other sessions and had the chance to browse the exhibits, who were mostly scholarly publishers. I work at a college library so I spend much of my time considering student use of the library, and it was interesting to see the ways that researchers embedded in their disciplines consider issues of interest to libraries, like academic publishing, open access, and digital scholarship.

In the future I’d like to try to continue to head out to non-library conferences on occasion. Of course, a major factor that impacts our ability to go to conferences in any discipline is cost. As travel budgets are often slashed along with other belt-tightening measures at colleges and universities, it may not be feasible to attend to both library and non-library conferences. But if it is possible, I highly recommend it as a way to keep up with academia beyond reading the higher ed news and blogs. If you’ve gone to academic conferences outside of librarianship, what are some of the benefits you’ve found? Would you ever substitute a non-library conference for one that caters solely to our profession?

Experiencing the Shift

I spent a few days last week at a fascinating conference called MobilityShifts held at The New School in NYC (full disclosure: I was also a presenter). The tagline for the conference is An International Future of Learning Summit, which I definitely found true: attendees from all over the world ranged from faculty and administrators to publishers, students, activists, and librarians, and were interested in education at all levels. It would be impossible for me to do justice to all of the great talks and panels I experienced at the conference, but here are some notes on a few that piqued my interest that seemed especially relevant to academic librarians.

John Willinsky (founder of the Public Knowledge Project which created Open Journal Systems for publishing open access journals) gave a wonderful talk about open access publishing. He made the distinction between two kinds of intellectual property: content produced by scholars and researchers, and content produced by commercial and entertainment entities (with frequent use of Lady Gaga as an example of the latter). Willinsky asked us to consider why copyright for these two types of intellectual property is treated identically. He suggested that there is a strong historical and legal basis for open access in scholarly journals: information produced by universities is a public good, as demonstrated by the tax-exempt status of academic institutions. Further, the information that researchers produce only increases in value when it circulates and is critically reviewed, and open access increases the circulation of scholarly information. With Open Access Week practically around the corner, I’m looking forward to sharing what I learned at Willinsky’s talk during the faculty workshops we’re planning at my library.

I was very pleased to have the opportunity to hear Michael Wesch speak — I’ve been a big fan since seeing the video he made in 2007 with his undergraduate anthropology students at Kansas State University, A Vision of Students Today. Wesch focused his talk on student engagement, beginning by juxtaposing a photo of 400 bored-looking students in a lecture course with one of excited young people at auditions for American Idol. College students are seeking ways to create their own identities and find recognition, which the mainstream media are all too happy to provide. He noted that in the past media critics like Neil Postman criticized television for being a one-way medium, but now we have the ability to both create content and to talk back — it’s no longer just a top-down information stream. Wesch suggested that we encourage students to ask questions and talk back (both critical aspects of information literacy), and show them that these actions are relevant to creating their own identity and making meaning in their lives.

Like most conferences, the overwhelming majority of the speakers were faculty, administrators, and other professionals — that is, adults. So I was delighted to have the opportunity to attend a panel titled Open Education: A Student Perspective, and listen to the voices of four articulate students from The New School. Open access publishing was one dominant theme in this session. One student spoke passionately about the frustration that accompanied his inability to access scholarly information in databases when he had taken time off from his studies. Another wondered about the oxymoron of students who depend on piracy and copyright infringement to get materials that they need (or want), at the same time as the university has to take steps against it. The high prices charged by textbook publishers were also questioned, especially for materials for K-12 education. These students were an interesting counterpoint to the students Wesch discussed; they’re highly engaged in their own education, and curious about why educational policies and practices so often default to closed when arguably one of the purposes of higher education is to open and broaden knowledge and worldview.

The conference also featured “short talks,” 10 minute presentations grouped by theme. Among the many I heard, one from Xtine Burrough, Communication professor at Cal State Fullerton, stands out as particularly information literacy-friendly. She asks her students to remix and respond to the copyright infringement case Lenz v. Universal. In 2008 Stephanie Lenz was served with a takedown notice by Universal for posting a video to YouTube in which her then-toddler is shown dancing to a brief snippet of the Prince song “Let’s Go Crazy,” and decided to fight back (she’s being represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation). Burrough’s students create videos using the same 29 seconds of the song and upload them to YouTube as a response to Lenz’s original post. And of course even this assignment has gone viral, and there are many video responses from people who aren’t students in Burrough’s classes.

There are so many moving parts to the education ecosystem that it’s easy to stick to just the topics we know best or spend the most time thinking about. This was the first non-library conference I’ve been to in ages, and it was fascinating to step outside of my library bubble and listen to/learn from the other presenters and attendees. It’s going to take a while for me to digest everything I’ve taken in over the past few days, but I’m finding myself with lots to think on about the place of libraries in education.

Just Connect: Getting Involved In ACRL

Editor’s Note: This is the finale of our series of posts from the ACRL Emerging Leaders Team about the upcoming ALA Conference in New Orleans. Is it hard to get involved in ACRL? Not really. But if you need some advice on how to get started Tabatha Farney, Web Services Librarian, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and Elizabeth Berman, Science & Engineering Librarian, University of Vermont, have some great ideas for you. Headed to ALA? Then get yourself to the ACRL 101 program (details below) to start your path as an active, involved ACRL member. The ACRLog team wishes to thank the Emerging Leaders for all of their contributions.

One of the most popular questions asked at the ACRL 101 session held at ALA Annual is, “How can I get involved with ACRL?” Whether you are a seasoned library professional or new to the profession, the answer is simple: get connected . We asked three former ALA Emerging Leaders, Beth Kumar (EL ‘09), Maliaca Oxnam (EL ‘10), and Kim Leeder (EL ‘08), to talk about their involvement in ACRL and share their best advice to those interested in getting connected with the association.

What is the best advice you can give to a new librarian who is interested in getting involved with ACRL?

Malaica Oxnam, past Chair of the Science and Technology Section (STS), first became involved in ACRL by volunteering to serve on an STS committee. After serving on the committee for two years, she was asked to step into the chair position; from there, she became involved in STS Council and was elected as Chair of STS. She offers practical advice on getting involved: “Get involved with the conversations! Sit in on meetings that interest you. Introduce yourself to others at section social events and most importantly – have fun meeting and working with new colleagues!”

Beth Kumar, Web Editor for the Education and Behavior Science Section (EBSS), wanted to get more involved in ACRL after participating in the Emerging Leaders program. She was encouraged by her supervisor to apply for the Education and Behavioral Science Section (EBSS) Web Editor position, a position that has allowed her to work closely with all the committees and section chairs to keep the website up-to-date. Her advice? “Find a section that suits your interests. ALA can be large and overwhelming, but in a section of ACRL you’ll find other academic librarians who are in similar positions and understand your specific area. If you have a question, don’t be afraid to ask, as I’ve learned much from the listserv, the meetings and programs.”

Kim Leeder, current Chair of the University Libraries (ULS) section, also had a mentor who was involved in ULS and encouraged her to take a committee position while in library school; from there, she gradually moved up the ACRL ladder, moving from committee member, to being asked to chair a committee, to being elected chair of the section. In her experience, “What you get out of ACRL is based on what you put into it, so it starts with putting yourself out there, talking to people and asking for committee appointments, and then once you’ve got one, contributing your best, regularly. If you try one and it doesn’t work, try something else. If you make the effort, it’s bound to pay off. And if you’re feeling discouraged and ready to give up, call me. I’d be happy to help.”

And it is this attitude that keeps the committee sections strong. Once you’re connected with ACRL, you’ll be introduced to new opportunities such as enlarging your professional network and engaging in innovative ideas. Kim shares, “ACRL’s infrastructure provides us with amazing opportunities all the time to meet interesting new people in our field, and to build relationships with those we’ve met before. Conferences and committees and webinars give us the chance to break out of our daily routine and see our work in new ways. It also helps us keep the big picture in mind when we might otherwise become overly focused on our specific job tasks.” Beth and Maliaca agree that by getting involved with ACRL, each have benefited by forming relations with other librarians across the nation. Maliaca believes her involvement on ACRL committees has led to “long-term professional mentorships and friendships that are particularly helpful to lean on when I want to get input from somebody outside my own institution!” So get involved with ACRL and get connected with your colleagues and profession.

Summary of Tips for Getting Involved with ACRL

* Look locally for experienced library professionals already involved with ACRL. They can help introduce to specific committees and become potential mentors.

* Find a committee that interests you. With over 30 division-level committees and over 200 section level committees, task forces, and discussion groups, there will be something for you. Appointments are typically for one or two years, beginning after ALA Annual. While it’s too late to volunteer for a committee position for 2011-2012, it’s never too early to start planning ahead. To volunteer, simply fill out the form by February 2012 and indicate your interests.

* Getting involved with ACRL does not necessitate committee work. There are other ways to get involved, including attending an ACRL conference or workshop and reading and contributing to ACRL listservs.

* Be an active participant. As the joke goes, “Show up, volunteer to do something, do it, become chair.” The more active you choose to be, the more you will get out of your experience.

* Mingle at the ACRL 101 Program at ALA Annual Conference. Stop by on Saturday, June 25th from 8 – 10AM in the Memorial Convention Center, RM 293-295. Learn how you can get involved and meet your ACRL Leadership. It is a great place to network and excellent opportunity to hand out those business cards.

Many thanks to our interviewees:
Beth Kumar (2009 ALA Emerging Leader), Electronic Resources and Serials Librarian at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and the liaison librarian for the College of Education
Maliaca Oxnam (2010 ALA Emerging Leader), Associate Librarian at the University of Arizona and part of their Digital Libraries Team.
Kim Leeder (2008 ALA Emerging Leader), Librarian/Assistant Professor in Reference and Instruction at Boise State University.

Go To ALA To Find New Ideas For Experimentation

Editor’s Note: In this next post, in a series about the upcoming ALA Conference in New Orleans, William Breitbach, a Librarian from California State University-Fullerton sponsored by CLS Section of ACRL, shares his thoughts on how to get more out of your conference experience by going to programs where one is likely to find new ideas for library experimentation. ACRLog will have one more post in this series about the ALA Conference from this year’s class of ACRL Emerging Leaders.

I generally go to ALA and other conferences to get ideas for experimenting at my library. This year’s conference schedule is packed with programs that will likely provide many interesting insights, ideas, and motivation to bring progressive change and innovation to your local campus. Although there are at least 25 sessions I would like to attend, based on my interests in instruction, library assessment, and general innovation, there are a few can’t miss sessions you will find me attending:

* Bringing the Immersion Program Back Home – ACRL’s Information Literacy Immersion Program has no doubt had an impact on countless librarians (including me). However, until now, the work of participants has largely gone unknown outside the local context. This session in bound not only to highlight the impact of ACRL Immersion, but also provide great insights and motivation for librarians wishing to improve their professional practice.

* Demonstrating the Value of the Library: Assessment Tools and Techniques – Anyone interested in implementing some of the recommendations from the ACRL Value of Academic Libraries may want to attend this session. The report identified a number of difficult challenges for libraries, so additional discussion and suggestions for realizing those recommendations will certainly be useful for many of us.

* Making Information Literacy Instruction Meaningful through Creativity – I like the sound of this session for a couple of reasons. First, it is put together by the Instruction Section Interest Group of ACRL who put on some nice programs in the past. And second, it’s objective is to help instruction librarians put a little excitement and creativity into our instruction sessions, something many of us could benefit from.

* Innovation in an Age of Limits – This program has some great speakers and will surely inspire us to be innovative in our practice and is followed by a poster session that will likely invigorate our creative energy.

These are my top picks, but whatever you decide to attend, commit to experimenting with at least one new thing when you return to your campus. Keep this personal commitment in mind as you plan your schedule for the conference. Learning about new ways of doing things, information technologies, and professional practices will help ensure that your institution remains a relevant and vital part of your campus.