Category Archives: Higher Education

Postings about the higher education industry.

Reflections on the 2012 EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Meeting

Two weeks ago I attended the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) meeting in Austin, Texas. EDUCAUSE is focused on furthering higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology. ELI is an EDUCAUSE community dedicated to the development of learning through technology innovation. This was my first EDUCAUSE conference and it was exciting to attend a meeting dedicated to learning, technology, and higher education.

Learning analytics was a big trend at the meeting. In fact, there were several sessions dedicated to projects involving learning analytics and a panel debate on its efficacy and future. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept , learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about student learning. At least from what I’ve seen so far, learning analytics programs are typically incorporated within a course management system as a tool to improve student success by making it easy to tell when students appear to be struggling.  Those opposed to learning analytics are afraid that it is too superficial—how do you define student success based on a number of logins, clicks, and quiz grades? I think that learning analytics has a lot of potential—especially in the realm of online learning, but I doubt it will ever be able to replace the connection between a teacher and a student.

One of my favorite presentations at the conference was given by Janet Zadina, an educational neuroscientist. She presented on her research on brain processes during learning. One of her main recommendations is that teachers need to provide as many pathways or opportunities as possible to allow the brain to make connections. My main takeaway from her presentation is that the ubiquitous “one-shots” library workshops are not allowing for long-term potentiation, or long-lasting signals between neurons. Academic librarians have known all along that our one-shots aren’t enough, but now we have scientific evidence to back up our gut feelings!

The NMC Horizon Report, a product of the New Media Consortium and ELI, monitors emerging technology trends in education around the world.  The 2012 edition was released about a month ago. There was a session at the meeting devoted to the report in which we heard the highlights of the key findings. There weren’t too many surprises. Mobile apps and tablet computing are expected to become pervasive within higher education in the next twelve months. In two to three years, game-based learning and learning analytics are expected to receive widespread adoption. Lastly, the authors see gesture-based computing and the Internet of Things as emerging in about four to five years. You can download a PDF copy of the report here.

The only disappointing part of ELI was hearing presentations on research projects that seemed to neglect the role of libraries. For example, I saw a presentation on a pilot project that examined student use of digital learning resources. It sounded like the researchers did not consult their librarians nor did they include any questions on library usage in their survey. This just goes to show that librarians need to become more involved in organizations such as EDUCAUSE so that we can ensure that our voices are heard.

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.

The Academic Librarian’s Identity Conflict

Just exactly what role do we play in higher education? Where do we fit into the structure of colleges and universities? On a day-to-day basis I suspect that most of us don’t think about this question. We identify ourselves within the structure of our own academic library organizations: cataloger; reference librarian; bibliographer. Our identification may also be shaped institutionally: professional staff; administrator; faculty. But when we attempt to identify ourselves on the industry level, where we sit becomes less concrete.

Identify is important to our sense of self-worth and self-esteem. When our identify is called into question, we may feel threatened or less secure about our standing in the organization. While in our library organizations we have a fairly specific identity, within the grander scheme of higher education academic librarians – no matter what their position or title – tend to get grouped into one of two categories: administrator or support staff.

Most academic librarians working elsewhere than the administrative office do not think of themselves as administrators. You teach a few dozen instruction sessions a year, and that makes you an instructor – not an administrator. You say you have faculty status and that makes you a faculty member – not an administrator. When you work at the reference desk you help students with their assignments which is another way of helping them learn – definitely not administrator territory. I agree with you. Front line librarians spend considerable time on non-administrative matters that would be identified as “teaching” or “instruction”, whether it happens in a classroom, at the answer desk or in a hallway. But when national data about higher education are collected and reported, we tend to be grouped in with administrators or support staff – not instruction staff.

Consider the July 2010 report from the Delta Project,a non-profit organization that studies college costs and accountability issues, . In examing trends in college spending between 1998 and 2008, there are data in the report worth reviewing. One of the findings that received the most attention in the popular press was the growth of funding for student services. One expert, Richard Vedder, in his reaction to the data referred to it as the “country clubization” of higher education – too much money is being spent on amenities to attract students while instruction suffers. But when one examines the data it’s clear that while spending for student services has accelerated in the past few years, the vast majority of college expenditures go to instruction – for which spending has remained fairly static.

I wanted to learn what the Delta Project report had to say about academic libraries. Unfortunately there’s nothing specific there. I did learn that academic libraries are not considered part of instruction when it comes to where the money goes. Rather, the library is grouped with “academic support”, which many faculty and higher education analysts consider to all be part of administrative expenditures. Here are the scope notes directly from the Project Delta report:

Instruction: Activities directly related to instruction, including faculty salaries and benefits, office supplies, administration of academic departments, and the proportion of faculty salaries going to departmental research and public service.

Academic support: Activities that support instruction, research, and public service,including: libraries, academic computing, museums, central academic administration (dean’s offices), and central personnel for curriculum and course development.

Admittedly, academic support doesn’t sound all that nefarious. We know that “administration” has taken on fairly negative connotations in higher education, particularly from the faculty perspective. And if it hasn’t just yet, a crop of new books about higher education that arrived in 2010 will do even more to paint academic administration as a glutton hogging on tuition and growing itself at a pace that is difficult to rationalize. One of these books, in particular, Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — and What We Can Do About It by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, has received significant attention, particularly in the mass media. In varying articles and interviews, Hacker and Dreifus, share their thoughts on what’s wrong with higher education. While they take faculty to task in a way that’s reminiscent of Profscam, they make it clear that the rampant and unchecked expansion of the administration is causing great harm to higher education. It’s hard to deny the racheting up of college administration:

In 1976, for every 1,000 full-time students, there were 42 professional administrative staff members, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. By 2008, the most recent year available, there were 84. At the same time, the number of full-time faculty members for every 1,000 students has declined, from 65 to 55, due to the greater use of adjuncts and teaching assistants.While fewer undergraduates are being taught by full-time professors, the number of administrators keeps growing.

They also point to questionable administration positions they’ve identified in their research: vice president for student success, residential communications coordinator, credential specialist, dietetic internship director, director of active and collaborative engagement, and coordinator of learning immersion experiences. They’re not saying these folks have no purpose, but they question whether the positions are truly fundamental to the mission of higher education or are simply evidence of out-of-control administrative hiring. What might they say about academic library positions such as “director of scholarly communications” or “coordinator of assessment”?

Do academic libraries contribute to the administrative bloat in higher education? Whether academic librarians are administrators or instructors is perhaps not as important as how we demonstrate that we are fundamental to the core mission of our institutions – to educate the students and promote research and discovery that benefits society. With the exception of perhaps a few well-resourced institutions, I believe it is difficult to make a case that academic libraries contribute to administrative bloat. We certainly have our share of assistant deans and department heads, less so in college and small university libraries, but even many of these individuals are doing practical work that enables the library to serve its mission of supporting teaching, learning and research, along with programs and events that contribute to the cultural and intellectual heritage of our institutions.

Front line librarians and other staff may view what happens in the administrative office differently, and any new hire of an administrator rather than a practitioner may be perceived as administrative bloat. The bottom line as I see it is that academic librarians do little to contribute to the administrative bloat described by Hacker and Dreifus, but rather are victimized by it because when our institutions add more vice-presidents, program coordinators and just about anything that isn’t instruction or in direct support of instruction, it drains resources away from academic libraries and hampers our ability to perform our mission.

So what do Hacker and Dreifus have to say about academic libraries in their book? Actually, nothing. I read the book and there are no substantive references to academic libraries. In a way, given the overall tone of the book, I suppose that’s a good thing. But it might have been helpful for the authors to have visited and studied some of our academic libraries (they visited many of our institutions in researching the book). What they could have learned and what they might have said about all the things academic librarians do to contribute to student academic success, may have shed some additional light on our role in the academy and the resolution of the identity conflict.

Just Around the Corner

It’s the middle of August, which means that the Fall semester is coming up fast. Posts about beginning the new academic year on the right foot are starting to pop up all over the higher ed blogosphere. Here’s a couple that have caught my eye recently:

1. Earlier this month Tenured Radical* encouraged us to “conjure–for a second–a week in mid-semester.” What will our days (and nights) look like? How stressed out will we be? What plans can we make now to minimize our stresses later?

While her post focuses on faculty who teach full-time rather than academic librarians, there’s lots of good advice here for us too. A central thread of her post is know your limits, and know when to say no. Of course, saying no can be difficult–I often return to Emily Ford’s excellent post How Do You Say No? at In the Library with the Lead Pipe when I need a refresher on strategies for declining with grace.

*(Tenured Radical’s post was also published at Inside Higher Ed.)

2. And here are a few tips from the good folks at Prof Hacker:

• Before the summer winds down, why not take some time to get your CV in order? Even if a job change isn’t on the horizon for you, it’s a good idea to have an updated CV in case you’re asked for it–for example, many grant applications require a CV.

• How do you keep track of your plans for the new semester? Creating a checklist of things you need to do is a great way to prepare for the start of school. Again, many of these are teaching-specific, but librarians need snacks and supplies, too!

• And while it seems almost impossibly far away, the holiday season is sooner than we think, and the winter holidays arrive when many of us in higher ed are at our busiest. Some advance planning now can help make a smoother end to the calendar year.

What advice do you have for getting the new school year off to a good start? Please share any strategies that work for you!

Chance To Influence Next Generation Higher Education Administrators

I was intrigued by this new initiative created by the folks at Inside Higher Ed and the Association for the Study of Higher Education. It allows anyone to submit a 1,000 word, well-researched and documented essay on any news story published by Inside Higher Ed. While some essays must be based on a set of pre-selected stories, others can be proposed by potential authors. Because the content is targeted to faculty and graduate students in higher education administration programs, as well as current higher education administrators, this seems like an excellent opportunity for academic librarians to share their perspective on library-related news stories and essays that appear in Inside Higher Ed. Doing so could help to influence and shape how future higher education administrators perceive the academic library.

All too often when these stories appear, be they informative or controversial, librarians engage in discussion among themselves on their discussion lists and twitter feeds, or they leave insightful comments to the stories, but rarely is there any organized follow up. In the end those who need to hear what we bring to the conversation most likely never have that opportunity. This new program changes that. Take for example two recent IHE articles, one a news item on “bookless libraries” and the other an essay on “Reviving the Academic Library“. Both generated considerable discussion in the library community, but who knows what message reached the academic administrators who decide on the library budget or whether or not to commit funds to a new library facility.

What do these essays look like? If you go to the detailed information page there is an example that provides a good picture of what’s expected. In addition to the essay authors should develop a set of questions that faculty could use to lead a discussion on the topic. Academic librarians should keep this new program in mind for the next time that Inside Higher Ed publishes an article or essay that could use a balanced and authoritative response from our profession. To not do so allows authors who may have an outdated interpretation or inaccurate understanding of the mission and operation of the contemporary academic library to unduly influence the thinking of academic administrators.