Tag Archives: Blackboard

The Library is Open

For the past couple of years I’ve been wearing two main hats at my job: one as an information literacy librarian and the other as a lead on a collegewide pedagogical grant. I’ve had several opportunities to connect the two, which I think strengthens both my library and my grant work. This year the connection I’m working on most actively is between the library and a new digital platform that’s been developed via the grant: the City Tech OpenLab.

The OpenLab is a website that faculty and students can use in their work on courses, but it’s much more than a learning management system. The website also provides spaces for projects and clubs to collaborate and promote their work; it hosts our student eportfolios, too. As a commuter college we’re hopeful that the OpenLab will help strengthen the City Tech community by providing our students, faculty, and staff with a virtual space to connect and collaborate.

We built the OpenLab using the open source applications WordPress (blogging/sitebuilding software) and BuddyPress (social networking software), much like successful efforts at our university and others, including the CUNY Academic Commons and Blogs@Baruch, as well as the University of Mary Washington’s UMWBlogs. All of these platforms share a commitment to openness that’s missing in most conventional learning management systems (like Blackboard) and even open source systems like Moodle and Sakai: the ability for users to make their work publicly visible and to share it with the entire university and beyond.

Academic librarians have been successfully working with learning management systems for years now, and there are lots of articles, blog posts, and other sources to consult for ideas and strategies about how best to collaborate with faculty and connect with students as embedded librarians in these platforms. At City Tech our librarians do a bit of embedding in Blackboard, the LMS that our university uses, too. But the OpenLab is different: it’s not just for coursework, and the tools available on the platform — discussion boards, blogs, collaborative documents, and file storage — are available to any member, project, or club.

It definitely makes sense for the library to be involved in the OpenLab, and my colleagues and I have been grappling with the question of how our presence on the platform can complement and augment the other ways the library uses to reach students and faculty. It would be great to use an OpenLab space to answer questions from library users, to point them to resources and services, to share news, and to highlight librarian profiles. But we already have a library website, which includes one page for each of our library faculty, as well as a library news blog.

We might need to be careful about duplicating our efforts excessively in the two spaces. Will patrons be confused if some library content is available on the OpenLab and other just on the library website? We can presumably use RSS feeds to bring content over to the OpenLab from our blog, so we won’t need to reproduce that content in two places. And we don’t have an interactive area for patrons to ask questions on our website, just a suggestion form and email address, so it’ll be interesting to see if we can attract Q&A in a more synchronous way from students and faculty on the OpenLab.

We’re actively brainstorming other ways to take advantage of the opportunities that the OpenLab offers, and I’m eager to begin experimenting in this new pedagogical space. Have other academic libraries worked with students or faculty on open educational platforms? I’d be interested to hear about your experiences if so!

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

A New Courseware Trend?

This news item caught my eye. It announces an agreement between Blackboard and NBC in which the former will now offer access to the latter’s content. It states:

Blackboard is providing academic users with access to historical multimedia resources from NBC Learn. The two companies today announced that that they’ve inked a deal to make historical and current events materials from NBC News accessible within the Blackboard Learn platform. Through NBC News Archives on Demand, college and university students and faculty will have access to thousands of video and audio files, as well as textual materials, covering a wide range of topics, from politics to health.

The details indicate that there is only a free building block that enables access to the NBC News Archive. There is a fee for the content. But we’re already paying hefty fees for access to text and multimedia news content found in any number of library databases. I wonder if this is the start of some sort of trend where content providers of all types, including the traditional library database producers, will seek partnerships with Blackboard and other courseware vendors to integrate their content directly into the product. That would raise an interesting question about who would pay for it, and what access options would be possible. To some extent, academic librarians are working to integrate the library content into courseware. Perhaps this just takes it to the next level. The question is, as the traditional campus negotiator for and provider of research content, how do we fit into this scenario?

How Do Your Meeting Rooms Smell?

I had to chuckle when I came across Acadamit’s advice to new colleagues to avoid meetings scheduled for the campus library:

Do not attend any meeting being held at the library. Those conference rooms always smell mildly of piss, the chairs are uncomfortable, and the coffee shop makes terrible coffee.

Our stacks supervisor once reported an oddly yellowish, wet stain among the book shelves that gave off a quite foul odor. We wondered if a student had brought a dog into the library or whether someone’s small child had an accident of some sort. We never did unravel this mystery. But as far as library meeting rooms that smell like a rarely traversed subway concourse (you city dwellers know what I mean), that’s a new one for me. Better perform a smell check on your meeting rooms – and keep a bottle of Lysol handy just in case – or a container of your cafe’s coffee. That might make a pretty powerful disinfectant as well.

ALA DIS-Connect?

A colleague with whom I serve on an ACRL committee made an interesting comment about doing our committee work on ALA Connect, the relatively new community for ALA members. While you can find and link with friends or create you own sub-community (like this one for ALA members who love cats) most of my interaction with the system has involved committee activity. On one hand the system succeeds because it does provide a platform for communicating with fellow committee members. There’s no need to set up an email distribution list; just post your message and it goes to all committee members. If you have a document to share, you can upload and attach it to your message. If fellow members want to reply, they need to log in to Connect. That’s what my colleague pointed out. We were pondering why so few of our fellow committee members commented on a document we shared. He pointed out that when he served on the committee two years ago, there was great interaction on the committee with lots of exchanges. Now you might say that a different set of people will respond differently. Or you might say that creating a barrier, such as having to log in to ALA Connect anytime you want to add your voice to a conversation, could potentially reduce committee discussion. I did point out that all members get an email with a direct link to the committee community, so it’s not that hard to respond to a colleague. Still, you need to log in first, and then you can reply to a posting. That’s not much of a hurdle to jump, but it might be just enough to discourage someone’s desire to connect. What do you think of ALA Connect? Has it impacted your participation for better or worse?

Creepy Treehouse

I’ve just learned a new technology term – “creepy treehouse.” I first heard the term via an article in Inside Higher Ed on Blackboard building an application so it can be accessed from Facebook.

In doing so, the company is implicitly conceding that students are less inclined to flip through Blackboard pages to kill a few spare minutes. “This is specifically to take advantage of the fact that college students spend a tremendous amount of time on Facebook,” said Karen Gage, Blackboard’s vice president of product strategy. “I think that what we know is that socializing with your friends is more fun than studying.”

Well, duh.

“Let’s face it,” the app’s introduction page says. “You would live on Facebook if you could. Imagine a world where you could manage your entire life from Facebook — it’s not that far off!”

Oh, I can’t wait. Why would I ever want to leave Facebook for even one minute?

“You have to access a different system to get your course information and you don’t always know when something new has been posted or assigned, so it’s difficult for you to stay on top of your studies.” (Only if your face is so constantly stuck in Facebook that you don’t have a life.) “We get it. That’s why Blackboard is offering Blackboard Syncâ„¢, an application that delivers course information and updates from Blackboard to you inside Facebook.”

Okay, maybe that actually sounds kind of helpful, being able to push readings and assignments to a place where students can be reminded of them. But I was mostly struck by one of the comments on the article: “This is creepy treehouse.”

A creepy treehouse is a place built by scheming adults to lure in kids. Kids tend to sense there’s something creepy about that treehouse and avoid it. Hence, a new definition: “Any institutionally-created, operated, or controlled environment in which participants are lured in either by mimicking pre-existing open or naturally formed environments, or by force, through a system of punishments or rewards.”

It’s an interesting take on that vaguely unsettled response we sometimes get from students when we try to be too cool, try too hard to seem fun and playful, when we make familiar toys unpalatably “educational.” Setting up an outpost in an attractive playspace with an ulterior motive is just . . . creepy.

And maybe students want a different space when they’re working. On our campus students come to the library to study. They like being surrounded by books, they like the sense that this place is different than their dorm room. Sure, they goof off and check their Facebook profile and sometimes catch a few z’s. But when they’re working, they enjoy being in a place that dignifies their work, and they like the ambiance of seriousness, one that connects their work with a larger purpose. They’re writing about ideas in space filled with words and ideas, and they become connected. It’s a very different kind of social network, one where they become part of an age-old conversation.

This is not to say this academic conversation is not playful – we learn by playing, and at its best, our learning is play. Philosopher Michael Oakeshott said it well in his essay, “The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind.”

In its participation in the conversation each voice learns to be playful, learns to understand itself as a voice among voices. As with children, who are great conversationalists, the playfulness is serious and the seriousness in the end is only play.

Maybe the library itself is a place for that form of play, once students get clued into the fact they can join the conversation. Then we won’t have to build a creepy treehouse to entice them in.

photo courtesy of noricum

Some of this post was previously published at infofluency.