Category Archives: Libraries and Learning

For postings about information literacy, learning commons, and the role of libraries in higher education.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The semester is drawing to a close at my college and students in the information literacy course that I’m teaching are deep into their work on their final projects. I’m taking a breath before the grading begins and already starting to reflect on the semester: what worked well, what didn’t, what I’ll tweak over the summer and what I can use again in the fall.

One thing has been apparent since my students turned in their annotated bibliographies last month. To put it bluntly: their sources are awesome. Each of them has found solid information on their research topics from a wide variety of sources including scholarly books and articles, conference proceedings, academic websites, specialized reference materials, newspapers, magazines, blogs, and other internet sources. I can honestly say that it was a delightful experience to read their bibliographies.

The students chose topics of interest to them which definitely seems to have helped them embrace the research process. But I think that the main reason they were able to find such excellent sources is time. We had time over the course of the semester to explore where information comes from; how and by whom it’s produced and distributed; how to search for, find, and evaluate it. We also spent time discussing when to use different kinds of information, for example, when it’s appropriate to use a journalistic source and when it’s better to find something scholarly. Like the old joke about Carnegie Hall, this semester my students had time to practice.

I don’t know that I’ve emerged on the other side of this assignment believing that credit-bearing courses are the one and only best way to teach information literacy, but my experiences this semester have certainly been eye-opening. It’s not that taking one course magically creates information literate students — as with English Composition courses and writing, this is just the beginning. But I do feel that the students have built a solid foundation that will serve them well as their information competencies continue to develop over the rest of their time in college and, I hope, throughout their lives.

Realistically, it would be difficult at my college to require an information literacy course of all students; there just aren’t enough available credits in most degree programs. So another thing I’ll be thinking on over the summer is how to port some of the successful strategies I used during the course over to the one-shot sessions that still represent most of the library and information literacy instruction we provide. And I’m hopeful that strategies from both kinds of instruction can continue to evolve and inform each other.

Designing A Library For Learning

We would all agree that learning takes place in an academic library – and other library buildings too. When members of the user community are at our libraries using a computer to find information it can result in learning. When student groups prepare for an assignment in a library study room it can facilitate learning. When they sit in a quiet space and contemplate reading material students will engage in learning. Then again, if learning is defined as a permanent change in behavior, we really never know if any actual learning happens in the library. But what if we could design the library building environment that facilitates “intentional” learning and brings people together in new types of communities for education and relationship building? We’d want to do that, right?

I recently had the good fortune to attend a presentation by Scott Bennett on the topic “Libraries and Learning: A History of Paradigm Change”. You may know Bennett as a library space planning consulting and Librarian Emeritus of Yale University. I was somewhat familiar with the topic because it is based on Bennett’s article in the April 2009 issue of portal:Libraries and the Academy [note: portal is now providing public access to forthcoming articles but has not yet done the same for the back files]. In the presentation Bennett explained the three paradigms, reading, books and learning. Early academic libraries were reading centered and featured grand reading rooms, such as the University of Washington’s Suzzallo Library Reading Room. That’s a well known example of a library space intended to offer the community a place for contemplative reading. The next great academic library paradigm was book centered. My own research library, built in 1964, is a good example as the design is cleared intended to maximize book storage and browsing over the needs of people using the library and those who work there; the two are kept apart.

Bennett spent the bulk of his talk on achieving the new learning paradigm. There’s been some evolution here. The Levy Library at USC. The growth of the information commons. The hallmark of this paradigm is greater proactivity about creating spaces where intentional learning happens. Bennett was quite adamant that we needed to design spaces for intentional learning, not simply adding cafes and lounges because it is trendy but because the design will be learning centered – and we’ll think in advance about the purpose of each space and how it can contribute to learning. But what do we mean by intentional learning and how would spaces make it happen – what about librarians? Our job is to think more like educators than service providers. In closing Bennett showed us a chart based on his many studies of library building programs on which there are just two columns. The left represents resources dedicated to “library mission” and the other represents learning mission. It’s clear that the library mission – resources dedicated to providing services – is much greater than the learning mission.

So how do you design a building that supports intentional, or what I might call, authentic learning? We may have to wait until Bennett shares news from his next exploration project in which he’ll identify 12 behaviors that contribute to intentional learning – and how the library’s design can stimulate and support those behaviors. The more we know about what helps students learn and what’s important to them, the better able we are to design the space to support it. To my way of thinking Bennett struck me as a constructivist who would have students spend more time in study rooms learning on their own or from each other. But after some discussion we found common ground on connectivism where the learning is achieved through relationships and community. Students also learn when they create, and libraries designed for intentional learning should offer spaces where students synthesize existing information to create new ideas and course projects.

After hearing Bennett I am cautiously optimistic that it is indeed possible to design a library building that promotes intentional learning. That said, for a new library building it is also possible and even desirable to evoke the past with an eye-catching reading room – or some modern variation on it – and blend that with some book-centered spaces. A library for the 21st century can blend the two paradigms of the past with Bennett’s new one for the modern library.

Keeping Up With Learning Technologists

On Thursday May 21, 2009 John Shank and I had the pleasure of co-hosting an important webcast event held by the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community. Josh Kim and Barbara Knauff, Senior Learning Technologists at Dartmouth College co-presented a webcast titled “Becoming an Educational Change Agent”. The presentation was based on an article Kim and Knauff published in EDUCAUSE Review titled “Business Cards for the Future” in which they discussed how the role of the instructional technologist had evolved over the previous decade and how it was evolving further into something new that they termed the “educational change agent”. What made the webcast significant is that it celebrated one of those rare occasions when academic librarians gathered to listen to and learn from their learning technologist colleagues. To be certain, many of us have occasional interactions with the learning technologists on our campuses, but far less frequently do we engage outside of the workplace to discuss our common issues, and learn how we can work together to help our faculty and students achieve academic success.

Back then, I would say that Kim, who is a Senior Learning Technologist at Dartmouth College in Hanover NH, was a relative unknown to academic librarians. As we head into 2010, that may no longer be the case. In his role as the learning technology blogger over at Inside Higher Ed, Kim is becoming more familiar to the academic library community, especially after two columns that raised some questions and controversies and got quite a bit of feedback and attention from the academic library community. While Kim took a few shots from commenters who might have thought we’d all be better off if Kim stuck to what he knows best, I have to praise him for stimulating some conversation between our two camps. If anything, Kim’s posts about academic libraries show how much we still have to learn about and from each other – and that there are great ideas to be shared.

Creating better communication among and collaboration between academic librarians and instructional technologists was one of the original motivations for the Blended Librarian concept. In the original article laying out the six principles of blended librarianship, number five speaks directly to this goal:

5. Implementing adaptive, creative, proactive, and innovative change in library instruction can be enhanced by communicating and collaborating with newly created instructional technology/design librarians and existing instructional designers and technologists.

In one of his posts Kim did his part to encourage his colleagues and other academic partners to do something that librarians have had little success with – getting our non-librarian colleagues to spend more time listening to our conversations and learning about our issues. Kim recommended a number of resources to follow for keeping up with academic librarians. I hope it will create some change and encourage more interaction between librarians and educational technologists. I thought I’d return the favor by sharing some resources I find useful for keeping up with learning technology, and encouraging academic librarians to follow them:

Educational Technology is a good filter blog for keeping alert to the latest developments in the field. It provides just a few headlines each day so it certainly doesn’t overwhelm. At times more of the posts are K-12 oriented, but even those items report good new technologies.

EdTechPost is perhaps a better example in that is more like the traditional commentary style blog with a mix of pointing to new resources and practices and sharing thoughts about them.

One of the better blogs for keeping up on the latest developments in learning technology, which more opinion making if you like that sort of think, is Stephen Downes’ OLDaily.

If you like the occasional post on how technology is impacting writing rhetoric take a look at Kairosnews. I’ve been following this one for years now and it’s helped to understand some issues our writing colleagues encounter.

Sure, Campus Technology is a more commercial publication, but it’s a good way to find our who’s doing what with technology at different college campuses. You may even learn about some new technologies coming to the campus.

What else? Too many to mention. I spoke with a few other learning technologists to find out what they use to keep up. What I found interesting is that many routinely follow resources that cross boundaries – not just educational technology blogs and newsletters. Most mentioned subscribing to a variety of RSS feeds from EDUCAUSE and you could start by following a few of their blogs. Others mentioned participating in webcasts by fellow instructional technologists, vendor webcasts and following #edtech group on Twitter. While there are still a number of valuable journals in the field, such as On The Horizon (I follow TOCs for a number of these), I get the sense that our learning technologist colleagues pay less attention to them.

I think Josh Kim’s posts do help to create better bonds between academic librarians and learning technologists – or to at least get us asking each other questions. When we do get together it’s a combination that is sure to contribute to the academic and research success of our faculty and students. I’m not sure whether this post will reach many learning technologists, but perhaps ACRLog readers can share it with their colleagues at their institutions, and ask them what resources they use for keeping up with learning technology. It could be a simple way to start the conversation. If you hear of any good resources, share them in a comment.

Staying the Course

Classes started at my college last Thursday, officially bringing the winter intersession to an end. While the library was fairly quiet in January, I kept myself busy with a couple of big projects, including getting ready to teach our library’s first credit-bearing course this semester.

It’s been exciting (and, I admit it, a little scary) prepping for the course. I spent lots of time researching courses offered by academic libraries while creating our course last year before it passed through the college’s curriculum approval process. I’m using a textbook and supplementing it with lots of readings from articles, books and websites. I’ve sincerely appreciated the willingness of my fellow academic librarians to share their syllabi and class plans online, which helped enormously as I updated my syllabus last month.

And it’s no surprise that it’s a big time investment to teach a semester-length course. Since this is the first semester out for us our enrollment is on the low side, which will lessen the amount of time I’ll spend on some aspects of the course, like grading. But we expect enrollment to increase in the future. There are several new majors in development at my college, and some of the faculty in those departments have expressed interest in requiring their students to take our new course. It’ll be interesting to see how the course develops.

There has been and continues to be lots of debate over whether credit-bearing courses are the best way for academic librarians to advance information literacy at their institutions. I’m of the opinion that there’s no one right way for IL, and that different strategies will be successful at different institutions. I see our course as another way to offer library instruction; we’re still continuing with our one-shots, individual research consultations, and other instruction options.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to is the chance to work with students for a full semester. While I enjoy teaching one-shot BIs, of course there’s never enough time to cover everything I’d like to in one or even a few library instruction sessions. It’ll be great to tackle topics like the production of information, evaluation, and information ethics in much more detail in the course than is possible in a one-shot. Let the semester begin!

What Can We Learn from “Lessons Learned”?

It has taken me way too long to get around to reading Project Information Literacy‘s progress report, “Lessons Learned: How College Students Seek Information in a Digital Age.” Some of the key findings from their survey of over 2,000 students:

–They spend a lot of time getting a grasp of context: the big picture, the words being used to describe what they’re investigating, what they’re supposed to produce as a finished product. (This, it seems to me, is particularly true of novice researchers – or any researcher who is investigating something they know little about.)

–They don’t report using searching Google as their first step in starting a research project; they consult course readings to get their grounding. (Google and Wikipedia come first for non-classroom research needs.)

–Most of them don’t seek help from librarians. They seek it from their professors. Only about 20% consult librarians, and that is most often for help with search terms and with finding full text sources already identified.

–They consistently use a limited number of sources and strategies based on what has worked before. In large part their problem isn’t finding sources, it’s limiting the number of sources available so they can complete a project.

–putting off research because of “library anxiety” seems to have been replaced by confident procrastination.

–In addition to Google, almost all students report using library databases. Databases are useful for locating credible sources, and credibility matters to them (though brevity is also appreciated); Google is helpful in understanding context and figuring out what those sources mean.

–Most students also consult the catalog as part of their research process.

–The traditional “research strategy” still found on some library websites – moving from general to specific by means of reference books, then books, then articles,then the web – bears no relationship to student research practices. (I can’t resist adding that I thought that “research strategy” was bogus twenty years ago.)

The authors raise some thought-provoking conclusions which mirror some of my concerns. Does the kind of work these students do using library resources contribute to life-long learning, or are they preforming tasks that will get them through college and then be abandoned? If they are taking their cues from faculty, shouldn’t we be sending cues to faculty? Maybe rather than providing library services most students find unimportant to them, we should spend more time working with their research mentors: their teachers.

More will be coming from this project – including an analysis of instructor assignments. Which reminds me – I’ll bet faculty would be interested in the findings of this survey. See if you can use a few nuggets from it to start a conversation.

photo courtesy of oceandesetoile and the Flickr Creative Commons pool.