Category Archives: Higher Education

Postings about the higher education industry.

Navigating (New) Relationships with Faculty: Valuing Service

I start my first professional position in less than a month. I repeat: less than a month! I’ll be one of three Information Literacy Librarians on Davidson College’s team. I have been thinking about what the transition will be like a lot lately and one topic really continues to stick with me, worry me, and challenge me. That topic is the idea of building and fostering relationships, not just with my fellow librarians but also with faculty.

The on-campus interview is so imperative for figuring out fit, not just for the employer, but also for the candidate. The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to not just to like the people I work with but also to have respect for them, share values with them, and have the capacity to learn from them. Moreover, if I don’t have a direct supervisor that will mentor me, advocate for me, and evaluate me fairly, I’m not sure any amount of money will make me a happy employee. I was lucky enough to find the right environment at Davidson.

Yet, thinking beyond my tiny department often makes me anxious. One of the great things about Davidson College is its faculty. I won’t be explicit here but when I was interviewing, I often found myself drooling over some of the accomplishments of faculty there. One example is the creation and development of a digital studies program, which makes critical analysis and ethical consideration of technology and its role in our lives a priority. The digital studies website lists the following as goals: “procedural literacy, data awareness, network sensibility, entrepreneurial thinking, iterative design, digital citizenship, information preservation and sustainability, and the ethical use of technology.” Talk about a librarian’s dream! It’s heartening to see these topics integrated into the curriculum in a meaningful way.

Nevertheless, it’s naïve to think that two or three faculty members’ values represent the majority. Moreover, even though I know this department does awesome work, how do I even reach out? Do I bank on healthy relationships already being established? (This isn’t always guaranteed. Sometimes new professionals actually have to spend time re-building relationships that were previously broken.) Do I go out of my way to schedule an appointment or audit one of their classes? Or do I take a more passive approach? I know that I might be complicating this a little bit, but I think this is a valid concern many new librarians face. New librarians in almost all areas, from data management to instruction, have to work with faculty and we have to start somewhere.

A better question I might ask goes beyond just establishing a relationship, one where the faculty member e-mails me once a semester to ask that I “demo the databases,” but also asks how I establish a fruitful, collaborative partnership where my work is seen as complementary and necessary to the instruction that that faculty member is doing. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, mostly because of the great conversation our profession has been having around this topic.

First and foremost, it is worth noting that this question isn’t just of concern to new librarians; even seasoned professionals are still grappling with how to improve their relationships with faculty and help faculty better understand their work. Maria Accardi’s new blog, Academic Library Instruction Burnout, addresses this issue often. In a recent post, “I do not think the Framework is our oxygen mask,” Accardi writes:

Despite my consistent and intensive and strategic outreach efforts, despite my partnering with faculty members who are indeed library champions who do get what we do and why, despite all of my efforts to chip away at the culture that marginalizes the very real teaching and learning work we do in the library, I’ll get a writing teacher sending his class to the library, with no notice, with a fucking scavenger hunt assignment that requires students to work with print reference books only. Please excuse me while I *headdesk* forever.

This frustration is echoed in Lauren Wallis’ post entitled “Smash all the Gates, Part 2: Professional Silenc*”:

This happens when you pitch an idea to a faculty member (perhaps at a campus schmooze event), and they act at least mildly interested–and then when you follow up via email, they never respond.  It happens when a faculty member books an instruction session but then refuses to engage in a discussion about what that session should look like.  It happens when faculty members don’t accompany their classes to library instruction.  There are a lot of examples, all frustrating. All of these silences serve to maintain a situation where subject faculty have absolute control over their students, their assignments, and (to a certain extent) the content of library instruction sessions.

Why does this happen? Why are librarians disregarded, silenced, and misunderstood? Both of the writers above make it very clear that these problems in no way represent the majority of the faculty they work with. Still, why is this a reoccurring issue across campuses?

On June 9th, a Pratt SILS course taught by Jessica Hochman, LIS 697: Gender and Intersectionality in LIS, led a #critlib discussion on feminist contributions in LIS. There were some great conversations on how the feminization of LIS inhibits our work and creates stereotypes that “pigeonhole(s) us in one-shot service models”. There were also examples of librarians’ work and expertise being undervalued and sometimes even ignored. Here’s a great summary of why:

Cudjoe tweet

The feminization of our profession means that we are often only seen as a profession that serves. Our work is often undervalued or forgotten because service is undervalued and many times, forgotten. Our society sees service work as less than, below “making” or “creating”. In “Why I Am Not a Maker,” Debbie Chachra states that the problem with making is that it is “intrinsically superior to not-making, to repair, analysis, and especially caregiving—is informed by the gendered history of who made things, and in particular, who made things that were shared with the world, not merely for hearth and home.” And yet, “not making” is, as she says, is “usually not doing nothing,” and often involves doing things for others, including teaching and educating students.

Roxanne Shirazi’s brilliant talk, Reproducing the Academy: Librarians and the Question of Service in the Digital Humanities, offers a similar analysis. She states that once women start to make up to close to 50% of a workforce, that work is devalued and no longer pursued by men because it becomes seen as “women’s work” or service work. Within her talk, Shirazi begs the question, “do librarians work in service of scholarship or are they servile to scholars?” (original emphasis). She concludes that because librarians’ work reproduces the academy, through teaching students, organizing scholarship, and preserving information, we are often seen as less than and at the bottom of the hierarchy that is academia.

In essence, what is feminized, what is service, what is emotional and affective labor is devalued in our society not only because of the type of work it is but also because of who has historically done that work. Chachra notes, “Almost all the artifacts that we value as a society were made by the order of men.” Worse, the devaluing of our work is often connected to stereotypes of librarians and their function within the academy. In “Ice Ice Baby: Are Librarian Stereotypes Freezing Us out of Instruction?,” Pagowsky and DeFrain write, “Our stereotypes are not just annoying or humorous illustrations of us, they can seriously impact the work we do and the respect we are afforded” (emphasis mine).

Pagowsky and DeFrain find that librarians are in a difficult position, often seen as too “warm,” because of their helping and nurturing status but also often too “cold” or “sterile,” because of the librarian stereotype centered on uptightness and introversion. Moreover, they find that warmth is often seen as mutually exclusive to competence which creates a challenge for “librarians who want to both be taken seriously on campus… and yet who also endeavor to effectively reach students and show care.”

I’ll admit that I’m a little depressed and overwhelmed. Are you? I won’t pretend to offer any solutions here. I think it’s safe to say that this issue is much more complicated and complex than that. I think, though, that all of the insightful librarians that present these issues also leave the profession with something to build an answer upon.

I was originally going to title this post “Establishing and Advocating for Relationships with Faculty: Moving Beyond Service.” Huh, moving beyond service? Reading all of the blog posts, talks, and articles above made me realize that we don’t need to move beyond service. Service is why I joined this profession. I love that I get to broaden and expand my worldview every day simply by helping others do research about topics that I would have never been exposed to otherwise. I love teaching students about the intricacies of information creation and value. I love connecting faculty with information that will improve their research, their research practices, and maybe even the world. My love of service is not the problem. The problem is that service is seen as less than, below, unequal to other functions in the academy.

I realize now that this problem is pervasive to my work, but I can’t solve it alone. Can I solve it at all? Wallis asserts that there has to be some level of acknowledgement of “the fact that there are different power relations at play in these collaborative [faculty-librarian] relationships” and that these relations are “embedded in the hierarchies that make up academia, in both the social stratification of varying job ranks and the hierarchical classification of service and scholarship.” In addition, even though Pagowsky and DeFrain ask that librarians stop thinking of the warm/competent binary as mutually exclusive and instead think of their work and presentation on a spectrum between the two, they conclude that “our place on the spectrum is contingent, in part, on society as a whole changing its expectations.”

It would be absurd to claim that librarians must carry the full weight of changing how they are perceived and valued. The way our society devalues work that is seen as feminized, even though it is critical, central work, is not our fault. It is a structural issue that furthers the oppression of some communities and the power of others.

I think, though, that there has been a call for librarians to start advocating for themselves and the value of the work that they do. Angela Pashia, Kevin Seeber and Nancy Noe led a conversation at LOEX this year entitled “Just Say No: Empowering Ourselves and Our Expertise.” The session walked participants through why, when, and how they should say no to faculty and also gave them a space to practice saying no and reflecting on what that felt like. Here is the litmus test the presenters gave participants for whether or not they should say no:

why say no

But what does saying no really mean for our profession? Wallis suggests that when we always say yes, not only are we reinforcing “the exclusionary nature of academic Discourse,” while also “acting as gatekeepers while simultaneously accepting and perpetuating our own marginalization.” By saying no, are breaking down some of these barriers, little by little. We are practicing what we teach to students, that all voices in a conversation matter and that there is value in all different types of contributions.

This is not easy work. Wallis is right in her assertion that “coming out of silence means we will make some people angry.” But our profession will never be one of true partnership and engagement unless we break our silence. Advocating for our value and the value of our work will, unfortunately, continue to be a very necessary skillset. Wallis asserts that we will have to break our silence as a group, as an institution, as a profession for there to be progress. We will have to share successes (and criticisms) with each other, learn from others’ experiences saying no and then hopefully (eventually) heartily saying yes, and start a larger conversation that teaches all librarians—especially new librarians—that their work is worth advocating for and that they have the support needed to come out of decades of practicing silence.

This brings me to my final point. What advice would you share with the greater library community? When have you said no? How have you been empowered? What tips would you give to new professionals or librarians just starting at a new institution? How do you establish healthy partnerships with faculty members? How do you talk to faculty members that don’t understand the value of librarianship, information literacy, metadata, data management, digital scholarship, preservation, etc. etc.? How do you converse with faculty members that are champions of the library? How do you advocate for your time, resources, and expertise? How do you let help faculty and administration understand that service is central to the mission of your campus?

References:

Accardi, M. (2015, May 14). I do not think that the Framework is our oxygen mask. Retrieved from https://libraryinstructionburnout.wordpress.com/2015/05/14/i-do-not-think-that-the-framework-is-our-oxygen-mask/

Chachra, D. (2015, Jan 23). Why I am not a maker. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/01/why-i-am-not-a-maker/384767/

Pashia, A., Seeber, K., & Noe, N. (2015, May). Just say no: Empowering ourselves and our expertise. Presentation at the annual meeting of the LOEX, Denver, CO. Retrieved from http://www.loexconference.org/presentations/pashiaPresentation.pdf

Pagowsky, N. & DeFrain, E. (2014). “Ice ice baby: Are librarian stereotypes freezing us out of instruction?” In the Library with the Leadpipe. Retrieved from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2014/ice-ice-baby-2/

Shirazi, R. (2014, July 15). Reproducing the academy: Librarians and the question of service in the digital humanities. Retrieved from http://roxanneshirazi.com/2014/07/15/reproducing-the-academy-librarians-and-the-question-of-service-in-the-digital-humanities/

Wallis, L. (2015, May 12). Smash all the gates, part 2: Professional silenc*. Retrieved from https://laurenwallis.wordpress.com/2015/05/12/smash-all-the-gates-part-2-professional-silenc/

Digging Into Institutional Data

I have both a professional and scholarly interest in how the students at the college where I work do their academic work, and (of course) whether and how they use the library. In my own research I’m much more likely to use qualitative than quantitative methods. I prefer interviews and other qualitative methods because they offer so much more depth and detail than surveys, though of course that comes at the expense of breadth of respondents. Still, I appreciate learning more about our students’ lives; these compelling narratives can be used to augment what we learn from surveys and other broad but shallow methods of data collection.

Not *that* kind of survey
Not *that* kind of survey

But even though I love a good interview, I can also be a part-time numbers nerd: I admit to enjoying browsing through survey results occasionally. Recently I was working on a presentation for a symposium on teaching and technology at one of the other colleges in my university system and found myself hunting around the university’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment website for some survey data to help contextualize students’ use of technology. My university runs a student experience survey every 2 years, and until last week I hadn’t realized that the data collected this past Spring had just been released.

Reader, I nearly missed dinnertime as I fell down the rabbit hole of the survey results. It’s a fascinating look at student data points at the 19 undergraduate institutions that make up the university. There’s the usual info you’d expect from the institutional research folks — how many students are enrolled at each college, part-time vs. full-time students, race and ethnicity, and age, to name a few examples. But this survey asks students lots of other questions, too. How long is their commute? Are they the first in their family to attend college? How many people live in their household? Do they work at a job and, if so, how many hours per week? How often do they use campus computer labs? Do they have access to broadband wifi off-campus? If they transferred to their current college, why? How do they prefer to communicate with faculty and administrators?

My university isn’t the only one that collects this data, of course. I imagine there are homegrown and locally-administered surveys at many colleges and universities. There’s also the National Survey of Student Engagement, abbreviated NSSE (pronounced “Nessie” like the mythical water beast), which collects data from 1,500+ American and Canadian colleges and universities. The NSSE website offers access to the data via a query tool, as well as annual reports that summarize notable findings (fair warning: the NSSE website can be another rabbit hole for the numbers nerds among us). There’s also the very local data that my own college’s Office of Assessment and Institutional Research collects. This includes the number of students enrolled in each of the college’s degree programs, as well as changes through time. Retention and graduation rates are there for browsing on our college website, too.

What does all of this student data collected by offices of institutional research have to do with academic libraries? Plenty! We might use the number of students enrolled in a particular major to help us plan how to work with faculty in that department around information literacy instruction, for example. The 2012 annual NSSE report revealed that students often don’t buy their course textbooks because of the expense (as have other studies), findings that librarians might use to justify programs for faculty to create or curate open educational resources, as librarians at Temple University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst have done. And at my library we’re using data on how and where students do their academic work outside of the library, both the university-collected survey results as well as qualitative data collected by me and my colleagues, to consider changes to the physical layout to better support students doing their academic work.

Have you ever found yourself captivated by institutional research data? How have you used college or university-wide survey results in your own library practice? Let us know in the comments.

Photo by Farrukh.

Shifting Scholarly Communication Practices and the Case of Dr. Salaita

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Sarah Crissinger, graduate student in library and information science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Many LIS practitioners are probably already familiar with this story, but here’s a quick recap just in case:

In October 2013, Steven Salaita accepted a tenure-track position within the American Indian Studies program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He subsequently quit his job and made arrangements to uproot his family from their home in Virginia. On August 1, 2014, Chancellor Phyllis Wise revoked his offer—an offer which had been decided upon by faculty within the American Indian Studies program—stating that she would not be passing along his recommendation to the Board of Trustees. Wise cited Dr. Salaita’s tweets as the impetus for utilizing this loophole, stating that “personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them” would not be tolerated. Later, it was revealed that Wise was in close contact with donors that had differing views from Dr. Salatia’s.

These actions have created a “catastrophe” for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for several reasons. First, Wise made a conscious decision not to engage in a discourse about Dr. Salaita’s viewpoint or even the format he chose to express it in, but instead punished him for voicing his opinion by compromising his livelihood. These actions don’t seem to be in-step with the values of the academy. UIUC also exhibited no real due process. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has held that Illinois failed to demonstrate cause without holding any hearings or even providing proper notification.

Most importantly, UIUC’s actions are an egregious violation of academic freedom. But I will assume that I don’t have to tell LIS professionals (who are embedded in academia!) the reasons why. LIS scholars, practitioners, and students have already recognized this violation of intellectual freedom and have agreed to boycott Illinois. In addition, ACRL’s Women and Gender Studies Section has facilitated a discussion about the events on UIUC’s campus. I want to instead challenge librarians to think about Dr. Salaita’s unique case in a new way.

We have reached a pivotal moment in the academy. “Scholarly” communication is being redefined before our very eyes. Next month, I will be involved (at UIUC nonetheless) with an Online Scholarly Presence Symposium, hosted by the library. We will be encouraging students to embrace social media, blogs, repositories, and other public outlets for their scholarship and ideas. I currently teach a workshop about altmetrics for graduate students and faculty at UIUC. It is centered on the idea that scholarly impact isn’t as simple as citation counts; we explore impact by looking at traditional metrics alongside alternative metrics that account for public presence.

The list goes on and on. Scholars everywhere are writing about social media’s impact on their work. Regardless of if their blog or their Twitter handle is on their dossier (I’m guessing it’s not), it still impacts their work. Roopika Rasam, a postcolonial scholar and digital humanist, recently posted an entry on her blog entitled A Love Letter to Twitter, where she stated:

Twitter has opened up the contours of the academy, widening my communities within it and linking me to the world beyond it. By using Twitter as a professional tool, I have become a person committed to working in public. I have learned more about genre, rhetoric, and audience than I ever did in college or graduate school. Ideas for articles, projects, and books germinated on Twitter. Twitter is proto-scholarship; you won’t find it in my tenure file but it’s responsible for everything in it.

Katherine Clancy, an anthropologist, recently wrote a response to a satirically proposed metric, the K-Index. Neil Hall joked that a K-Index (or, you guessed it, a Kardashian Index) would in essence gauge a scholar’s public profile against their “actual” publications by dividing their Twitter followers by their number of scientific publications. Clancy’s response? She finds that this is unfair representation that makes an either/or dichotomy; the scholars who might have a higher K-Index are the ones that are “younger, less white, and less male.” She asserts:

So yes, he’s punching down, and that makes it not funny. There is no dark corner of academic metrics to expose when the people you’re mocking are the ones least well positioned to respond. I would never have gotten that paper published – in a journal with an impact factor of 10.5, no less – because I am one of ones whose profile is built on “shaky foundations.”

All I can do… is blog about it.

Ithaka S+R’s 2012 report entitled Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians found that many historians use their blogs to “test the waters” for new scholarship. Sometimes they even present findings because, as one respondent stated, “I have a book. Maybe forty people have cracked the spine. But, the blog has tremendous readership.” However, the report also finds that changes in disciplinary culture and T&P practices are incremental at best. Only by adapting these practices to new modes of communication and embracing junior faculty that implement them will any real change come to fruition.

Many people argue that “tweets are not the same as classroom teaching (or scholarly writing),” and, to some extent, I agree. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that in today’s academic environment, the two are inadvertently conflated. A scholar’s online presence—especially when it is related to their academic niche—is undeniably linked to that scholarship, and more broadly the scholar themself. Again, leaders interested in scholarly communication are attempting to change the tenure environment so that digital work and social media presence are measured and a more of a portfolio model is implemented. So the current question is, how can Dr. Salaita’s tweets be used to jeopardize his academic career but cannot be used to reflect his academic impact or scholarly success?

I am, of course, illustrating a point that applies more broadly to all scholars. Dr. Salaita’s case has opened a can of worms for academics everywhere. Where is the line between personal and professional, if there is such a thing? What is “fair game” for interpretation or critique? How can we facilitate conversation if we’re fearful of repercussions?

My intention is not to suggest a scenario of big-brother institutions that track down scholars. I think that instead we should recognize alternative forms of scholarship so that they are more fully protected. The AAUP’s report on Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications states that electronic communication does not “warrant any relaxation of the rigorous precepts of academic freedom”. It calls for surveillance to end and for faculty to be involved in IT decisions concerning privacy and academic freedom. It asserts that intramural and extramural communication or “speech outside or inside the university’s walls” is irrelevant in the world of electronic communication.

The report says that it’s a no-brainer if the social media outlet isn’t linked to the scholar’s academic work; personal tweets, for example about political views, are protected. But what about when politics are central to scholarship? As an aspiring librarian, I find myself standing up for what I believe in (and what my profession believes in) not only in my daily interactions but also in my social media presence. There are a whole host of professionals that would probably agree—political scientists, scholars of medicine, etc., etc. Not everyone will agree with everyone else’s methods, conclusions, values, or even presentation! There is no form of scholarship that is neutral. But that’s the beauty of it, right? The academy allows us to converse with each other (aren’t we saying that scholarship is a conversation these days?), even if we disagree.

In many ways, Dr. Salaita’s case is an abnormal one. But it is also a case that has the ability to set precedence, not only in the discussion of social media and academic freedom but also in the conversation about changing scholarly practices. I once had a panel of deans come into one of my classes and assert that scholarship, as a practice, is less about tenure and the vetting processes attached to it and more about changing the world, advancing knowledge, and making a direct impact on the city, state, or nation it is published in. That’s a lofty assertion but it’s one I’d challenge us as librarians and scholars to think more critically about. Scholarship can be communicated in endless formats, often depending on what is most conducive to the audience and topic. It’s time to protect and acknowledge work that looks different than “traditional” scholarship. If we don’t, we risk losing creative and innovative faculty and an engaging conversation that could change the world we live in.

To support Dr. Salaita and the Department of American Indians Studies, please join the students, faculty, and alumni of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at UIUC in signing this open letter.

Academic Libraries and the Adjunct Crisis

The large and growing number of faculty members working off the tenure track at U.S. colleges and universities has been well-documented. Recent years have seen frequent articles in the higher ed media including the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, as well as major media outlets like the New York Times. You may have read anthropologist and writer Sarah Kendzior‘s 2012 article about contingent faculty in Al Jazeera, or any of the blog posts by adjunct writing instructor Lee Skallerup Bessette at Inside Higher Ed, just to name a few of the many articles addressing what’s become known as the adjunct crisis.

As an academic librarian on the tenure track I’ve often found myself thinking on how the rise in adjunct faculty affects academic libraries. The ACRLog blog team has written about this issue in the past, though since the percentage of adjunct faculty has only continued to climb — up to 76% by 2011, according to the American Association of University Professors — the issue remains highly relevant to all in higher education. While hiring adjunct or part-time librarians obviously impacts academic libraries, I’d like to think here on the effects on academic libraries of increasing numbers of adjunct faculty in departments outside the library.

Working conditions for contingent faculty make participating fully in the campus community a challenge. Adjunct faculty may not have office space which, in addition to their potentially complicated schedules because of a need to teach at several different institutions, can mean that adjunct faculty don’t spend much time on campus outside of the classes they teach. Many adjunct faculty have multiple email accounts which may hinder our ability to connect with them if we don’t know which address they check most frequently. While some adjunct faculty return to teach the same courses in the same department over multiple semesters, many do not. At my institution new adjunct faculty are invited to attend an orientation to the college, though time pressures may make it difficult for them to do so. Staying in touch with adjuncts between semesters to keep them in the loop about library collections, services, and resources can be challenging.

As academic librarians we strive to provide access to collections that are most relevant for the disciplines and subjects taught and researched at our institutions. But while adjunct faculty may be teaching a majority of the courses in a department or subject, it can be difficult to involve them in acquisition decisions. Scheduling workshops and meetings at times when adjunct faculty are available may not be possible. At my college adjunct faculty often teach on evenings and weekends, when our full-time library faculty are less available. And though we do offer library workshops in the evenings occasionally, many adjuncts may not be able to attend them (or other faculty development programs) since to do so represents an investment of their own (often uncompensated) time.

The work we do with students can also be affected by whether their professors are full-time or adjunct. Difficulties getting in touch can hinder our ability to consult with adjunct faculty about their students’ research assignments before they come for library instruction. Some adjunct faculty may be unfamiliar with the collections and resources at our library, and may create assignments for students that are a mismatch with what we have to offer. Depending on their backgrounds and familiarity with the institution and the library, adjunct faculty may not realize that librarians are partners in information literacy and can offer research and library instruction. More than once I’ve heard from adjunct faculty members that they never knew that we provide research instruction for all subjects and disciplines at the college, not just English composition.

What actions can we as academic librarians take? We can stay informed about the challenges adjuncts face, and learn more about increasing adjunct activism, including the New Faculty Majority, an adjunct advocacy group. If we work in an institution with a union, we can advocate for health insurance and other benefits for contingent faculty members. Within the library there are small actions we can take as well. We can make a special effort to reach out to adjuncts with information about the library and, if budgets allow, consider offering a stipend to adjunct faculty to attend workshops, meetings, or other programs in the library. I’m sure there are other ways to partner and advocate with adjunct faculty members — I’d be interested to hear about what academic librarians are doing.

Higher ‘Professional’ Ed, Lifelong Learning to Stay Employed, Quantified Self, and Libraries

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Bohyun Kim, Associate Director for Library Applications and Knowledge Systems at University of Maryland, Baltimore, Health Sciences and Human Services Library. This post was originally published on our sister blog, ALA TechConnect.

The 2014 Horizon Report is mostly a report on emerging technologies. Many academic librarians carefully read its Higher Ed edition issued every year to learn about the upcoming technology trends. But this year’s Horizon Report Higher Ed edition was interesting to me more in terms of how the current state of higher education is being reflected on the report than in terms of the technologies on the near-term (one-to-five year) horizon of adoption. Let’s take a look.

A. Higher Ed or Higher Professional Ed?

To me, the most useful section of this year’s Horizon Report was ‘Wicked Challenges.’ The significant backdrop behind the first challenge “Expanding Access” is the fact that the knowledge economy is making higher education more and more closely and directly serve the needs of the labor market. The report says, “a postsecondary education is becoming less of an option and more of an economic imperative. Universities that were once bastions for the elite need to re-examine their trajectories in light of these issues of access, and the concept of a credit-based degree is currently in question.” (p.30)

Many of today’s students enter colleges and universities with a clear goal, i.e. obtaining a competitive edge and a better earning potential in the labor market. The result that is already familiar to many of us is the grade and the degree inflation and the emergence of higher ed institutions that pursue profit over even education itself. When the acquisition of skills takes precedence to the intellectual inquiry for its own sake, higher education comes to resemble higher professional education or intensive vocational training. As the economy almost forces people to take up the practice of lifelong learning to simply stay employed, the friction between the traditional goal of higher education – intellectual pursuit for its own sake – and the changing expectation of higher education — creative, adaptable, and flexible workforce – will only become more prominent.

Naturally, this socioeconomic background behind the expansion of postsecondary education raises the question of where its value lies. This is the second wicked challenge listed in the report, i.e. “Keeping Education Relevant.” The report says, “As online learning and free educational content become more pervasive, institutional stakeholders must address the question of what universities can provide that other approaches cannot, and rethink the value of higher education from a student’s perspective.” (p.32)

B. Lifelong Learning to Stay Employed

Today’s economy and labor market strongly prefer employees who can be hired, retooled, or let go at the same pace with the changes in technology as technology becomes one of the greatest driving force of economy. Workers are expected to enter the job market with more complex skills than in the past, to be able to adjust themselves quickly as important skills at workplaces change, and increasingly to take the role of a creator/producer/entrepreneur in their thinking and work practices. Credit-based degree programs fall short in this regard. It is no surprise that the report selected “Agile Approaches to Change” and “Shift from Students as Consumers to Students as Creators” as two of the long-range and the mid-range key trends in the report.

A strong focus on creativity, productivity, entrepreneurship, and lifelong learning, however, puts a heavier burden on both sides of education, i.e. instructors and students (full-time, part-time, and professional). While positive in emphasizing students’ active learning, the Flipped Classroom model selected as one of the key trends in the Horizon report often means additional work for instructors. In this model, instructors not only have to prepare the study materials for students to go over before the class, such as lecture videos, but also need to plan active learning activities for students during the class time. The Flipped Classroom model also assumes that students should be able to invest enough time outside the classroom to study.

The unfortunate side effect or consequence of this is that those who cannot afford to do so – for example, those who have to work on multiple jobs or have many family obligations, etc. – will suffer and fall behind. Today’s students and workers are now being asked to demonstrate their competencies with what they can produce beyond simply presenting the credit hours that they spent in the classroom. Probably as a result of this, a clear demarcation between work, learning, and personal life seems to be disappearing. “The E-Learning Predictions for 2014 Report” from EdTech Europe predicts that ‘Learning Record Stores’, which track, record, and quantify an individual’s experiences and progress in both formal and informal learning, will be emerging in step with the need for continuous learning required for today’s job market. EdTech Europe also points out that learning is now being embedded in daily tasks and that we will see a significant increase in the availability and use of casual and informal learning apps both in education but also in the workplace.

C. Quantified Self and Learning Analytics

Among the six emerging technologies in the 2014 Horizon Report Higher Education edition, ‘Quantified Self’ is by far the most interesting new trend. (Other technologies should be pretty familiar to those who have been following the Horizon Report every year, except maybe the 4D printing mentioned in the 3D printing section. If you are looking for the emerging technologies that are on a farther horizon of adoption, check out this article from the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies, which lists technologies such as screenless display and brain-computer interfaces.)

According to the report, “Quantified Self describes the phenomenon of consumers being able to closely track data that is relevant to their daily activities through the use of technology.” (ACRL TechConnect has covered personal data monitoring and action analytics previously.) Quantified self is enabled by the wearable technology devices, such as Fitbit or Google Glass, and the Mobile Web. Wearable technology devices automatically collect personal data. Fitbit, for example, keeps track of one’s own sleep patterns, steps taken, and calories burned. And the Mobile Web is the platform that can store and present such personal data directly transferred from those devices. Through these devices and the resulting personal data, we get to observe our own behavior in a much more extensive and detailed manner than ever before. Instead of deciding on which part of our life to keep record of, we can now let these devices collect about almost all types of data about ourselves and then see which data would be of any use for us and whether any pattern emerges that we can perhaps utilize for the purpose of self-improvement.

Quantified Self is a notable trend not because it involves an unprecedented technology but because it gives us a glimpse of what our daily lives will be like in the near future, in which many of the emerging technologies that we are just getting used to right now – the mobile, big data, wearable technology – will come together in full bloom. Learning Analytics,’ which the Horizon Report calls “the educational application of ‘big data’” (p.38) and can be thought of as the application of Quantified Self in education, has been making a significant progress already in higher education. By collecting and analyzing the data about student behavior in online courses, learning analytics aims at improving student engagement, providing more personalized learning experience, detecting learning issues, and determining the behavior variables that are the significant indicators of student performance.

While privacy is a natural concern for Quantified Self, it is to be noted that we ourselves often willingly participate in personal data monitoring through the gamified self-tracking apps that can be offensive in other contexts. In her article, “Gamifying the Quantified Self,” Jennifer Whitson writes:

Gamified self-tracking and participatory surveillance applications are seen and embraced as play because they are entered into freely, injecting the spirit of play into otherwise monotonous activities. These gamified self-improvement apps evoke a specific agency—that of an active subject choosing to expose and disclose their otherwise secret selves, selves that can only be made penetrable via the datastreams and algorithms which pin down and make this otherwise unreachable interiority amenable to being operated on and consciously manipulated by the user and shared with others. The fact that these tools are consumer monitoring devices run by corporations that create neoliberal, responsibilized subjectivities become less salient to the user because of this freedom to quit the game at any time. These gamified applications are playthings that can be abandoned at whim, especially if they fail to pleasure, entertain and amuse. In contrast, the case of gamified workplaces exemplifies an entirely different problematic. (p.173; emphasis my own and not by the author)

If libraries and higher education institutions becomes active in monitoring and collecting students’ learning behavior, the success of an endeavor of that kind will depend on how well it creates and provides the sense of play to students for their willing participation. It will be also important for such kind of learning analytics project to offer an opt-out at any time and to keep the private data confidential and anonymous as much as possible.

D. Back to Libraries

The changed format of this year’s Horizon Report with the ‘Key Trends’ and the ‘Significant Challenges’ has shown the forces in play behind the emerging technologies to look out for in higher education much more clearly. A big take-away from this report, I believe, is that in spite of the doubt about the unique value of higher education, the demand will be increasing due to the students’ need to obtain a competitive advantage in entering or re-entering the workforce. And that higher ed institutions will endeavor to create appropriate means and tools to satisfy students’ need of acquiring and demonstrating skills and experience in a way that is appealing to future employers beyond credit-hour based degrees, such as competency-based assessments and a badge system, is another one.

Considering that the pace of change at higher education tends to be slow, this can be an opportunity for academic libraries. Both instructors and students are under constant pressure to innovate and experiment in their teaching and learning processes. Instructors designing the Flipped Classroom model may require a studio where they can record and produce their lecture videos. Students may need to compile portfolios to demonstrate their knowledge and skills for job interviews. Returning adult students may need to acquire the habitual lifelong learning practices with the help from librarians. Local employers and students may mutually benefit from a place where certain co-projects can be tried. As a neutral player on the campus with tech-savvy librarians and knowledgeable staff, libraries can create a place where the most palpable student needs that are yet to be satisfied by individual academic departments or student services are directly addressed. Maker labs, gamified learning or self-tracking modules, and a competency dashboard are all such examples. From the emerging technology trends in higher ed, we see that the learning activities in higher education and academic libraries will be more and more closely tied to the economic imperative of constant innovation.

Academic libraries may even go further and take up the role of leading the changes in higher education. In his blog post for Inside Higher Ed, Joshua Kim suggests exactly this and also nicely sums up the challenges that today’s higher education faces:

  • How do we increase postsecondary productivity while guarding against commodification?
  • How do we increase quality while increasing access?
  • How do we leverage technologies without sacrificing the human element essential for authentic learning?

How will academic libraries be able to lead the changes necessary for higher education to successfully meet these challenges? It is a question that will stay with academic libraries for many years to come.