Category Archives: Libraries and Learning

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

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.

There’s Something About Mary George

. . . that you should know. She’s just started blogging for Inside Higher Ed. Woo hoo! She has an almost Dickensian flair for description (“that murky blob marked library on your campus map . . . the Great Grimpen Mire of academe”), but she also has a purpose in mind. She wants to help faculty set up more successful learning opportunities for their students by trouble shooting unanticipated failures encountered with student researchers.

Teaching faculty have immense persuasive power; we librarians do not. What we do have are sweeping views of what scholars are up to, a grasp of how researchers do their business and what evidence ensues, and a knack for identifying and locating that evidence. By and large faculty and academic librarians respect one another’s expertise and collaborate happily. But where and how do our apprentices—either undergraduates or graduate students — learn the process and logic of source seeking? That is the question that haunts me and inspires this blog.

The nexus of knowledge transmission, of teaching, is the assignment, the place where faculty intent becomes student incentive. One thing I hope to do in this blog is to suggest ways to invigorate library research assignments that don’t seem to be working.

Whether faculty will be willing to share their challenging moments, even anonymously, is an open question. It’s much easier to get people to share what has worked for them than what hasn’t. But let’s hope she’s able to coax some conversation out of faculty whose students get stuck in the Grimpen Mire.

In case you don’t know Mary, she’s a librarian at Princeton who is the author of The Elements of Library Research.

Newsflash: Professor Visits Library

Thomas H. Benton, a.k.a. William Pannapacker, writes lyrically in the Chronicle about what the library meant to him as a student.

My undergraduate research projects were not particularly original, but I did learn that there was a continuing conversation on almost any subject that I could listen in on through books and—in those days—printed journals. The library taught me to take responsibility for my education and to question anyone who claimed to possess the one-and-only correct interpretation of any subject.

His students seem to take information too easily at its word as an unquestioned body of knowledge; he wants them to have the kind of experience he had. But he’s nervous that libraries may be considered by some administrators as a costly anachronism, so has some advice for strategic changes:

For undergraduate libraries, those changes might include, for example, offering even more online resources, providing more-flexible work spaces for students, offering more extensive digitization services, providing local expertise on copyright and intellectual property, training faculty members and students in the use of new media, and, perhaps, providing food services in a collegial atmosphere.

Experimenting with such changes does not mean that libraries need to capitulate to the worst tendencies of collegiate consumerism and techno-boosterism. None of those changes is inconsistent with the traditional mission of college libraries, and all of them can be done in the context of the preservation and study of books and other research materials. . . . There needs to be a stronger alliance between content experts and information managers, between the professors and the librarians, in order to achieve our allied goals in a rapidly changing technological, economic, and cultural context.

Well, amen to that, but I can’t help but wonder when he last visited his library. I’ve been there. The Van Wylen library at Hope College library is lovely, and the librarians there are already doing much of what he proposes – and have for years. In fact, ACRL’s award for Excellence in Academic Libraries was presented to Hope College in 2004 in part because of their collaboration with faculty to build a strong instruction program.

Benton does admit that “librarians are working hard to reach out to the campus community” and faculty haven’t always returned the favor, so he can understand why librarians retreat to their “fortresses of silence, order, and continuity.”

. . . Their what? Dude, you have to get out more. That’s not what libraries are like these days. And we wouldn’t go there, even if it existed.

Though I will give three cheers for his pledge to reach out and engage in collaboration.

[W]e as faculty members can work more effectively with librarians to design research projects and to develop collections that support the undergraduate curriculum. We can design assignments in consultation with librarians so it becomes impossible for students to pass through college without learning how to write a research paper, produce an educational video podcast, or accomplish any other goal that requires the critical evaluation of sources. If we can reconceptualize our teaching as collaborative research with students and librarians, then the library could become analogous to the laboratory in the sciences, and it would become impossible to imagine the future of any college without it.

By working more closely together, and responding to new technology while preserving the traditional culture of scholarship and books, I am convinced, professors and librarians can put the library back at the center of undergraduate education, where it belongs.

Welcome Back, Dr. Pannapacker. I look forward to reading your future columns. I’m just sorry that it’s taken you all this time to discover a place that I suspect Hope College students already call home.