Google Jockeys For Conference Sessions

If you haven’t heard about Google Jockeys, the basic idea is that an instructor assigns a student to search Google during a class session so that the class can be alerted to material found on the Internet that relates to the class content. I guess to make this work you need at least two monitors or screens in the class room, one to show the instructor’s material and one to show the Google Jockey’s search results. I suppose it could be done with a single monitor or screen depending on how it’s handled. Since this is a relatively new practice there is no research on the impact of Google Jockeys in the classroom.

So I found it interesting to read that at the next Masie Center Learning2006 conference, many of the presentations will feature a Google jockey. According to the latest LearningTrends newsletter from the Masie Center:

During every Keynote/General Session, you will be able to see a screen with the results of on-going real time Google searches, based on the speech or interview. For example, as I am interviewing Lucy Carter from Apple, we might talk about the role of PodCasts for Blended Learning. Our Google Team will do a real time search on key elements,
display it for your interest and provide an edited search list for all participants.

Can something like this really help conference attendees or is it a trendy gimmick? Personally, I think I’d find it distracting to have a screen spewing Google results while there’s a presentation going on. Assuming the idea has merit how do I know the Google Jockey is an effective searcher. Maybe his or her searches are really missing some of the best information on the topic – and it may even be that a search engine other than Google could do a better job retrieving information on the speaker’s topic. And what’s with providing an edited list of the Google results? I could certainly do my own Google search if I was that interested in the topic. I’d much prefer the presenters to develop a resource list in advance and have it for me when I got to the presentation. I can see some merits of Google Jockeying in the classroom, but I’m just not sure it’s going to work all that well at a conference.

The Learning2006 conference is also going to offer real-time mindmap development:

You will be able to watch the development of a graphical MindMap. Every concept, metaphor and conversation thread will be captured in a linkable MindMap. References to books, links and research will be added by our MindMap team. At the end of the speech, the Thought Leader, myself and a team from our CONSORTIUM will edit and expand the MindMap to give to each participant.

Now this sounds like an interesting idea. It could be a great way to obtain a visual conceptualization of a presentation, along with relevant resources. I hope the Masie Center will make some of the mindmaps available to the public. No matter how things turn out I have to hand it to the Masie Center folks for their innovative ideas.

Who knows, maybe we’ll see a few Google Jockeys at the 13th National ACRL conference in Baltimore. Who wants to go first?

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Choosing Where To Be Simple Or Complex

I’ve ranted in the past about my annoyance with those who spout platitudes about library web sites needing to be more like Google or Amazon – although those two sites couldn’t be more different. Why do we need to be more like those web sites? Well if people like those web sites, goes the rationale, then people will like our web site better if it’s more like those sites. Part of the rationale of developing a library web site that is more like Google or Amazon gets back to the simplicity factor. If it’s simple people are more likely to use it – and find what they need quickly. But it may not be as cut and dry as choosing between simple and complex. That’s why I liked what Gerry McGovern had to say about this issue. He says that not everything on a web site can be simple, so it’s up to the web managers to decide what basic items to make simple, one-click resources, and which may take some additional clicks. Like Don Norman, McGovern points out that Google is simple for searching ordinary web pages, but not so simple if you want other features or types of information they offer. McGovern concludes that making a web site simple is not easy work because not everything can be simple. Decisions need to be made about what will require more complexity. Rather than being fixated on coming up with academic library web sites that mimic Google, Amazon, or any other commercial site, consider a library web site that is a reflection of local needs. Where does your community need simplicity, and where can they cope with more complexity? Figure that out and let it serve as a guide to your web site’s development.

Educating The Creativity Right Out Of Students

Education is our business, so it behooves us to pay attention to what experts have to say about the education industry at any level. Higher education and K-12 are inextricably woven together. I recently came across this video of an education visionary giving a talk that I thought was worth sharing. In this 18 minute presentation, Sir Ken Robinson, author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, and a leading expert on innovation and human resources, focuses on how education stifles creativity. The presentation was made at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference, which is an annual event where leading thinkers and doers gather for inspiration. Here are a few of the things he had to say:

“Creativity is as important as literacy.”
“If you are not prepared to be wrong you will never come up with anything original.”
“We are educating people out of their creative capacities.”
“Nobody has a clue what the world will look like in five years, yet we’re trying to educate people for that world.”

Since we don’t know what that world will be like, perhaps the best we can do is foster creativity and innovation that will enable today’s students to adapt to and succeed in a new environment. I’m going to make more of a personal commitment to encourage students to be creative in my library instruction sessions. It won’t change their overall college experience and it will mean taking more risks in the classroom for me, but I’ll feel like I’m making a small contribution to their future.

Dark Days Of Education

When it comes to education visionaries, Chris Dede is certainly no slacker. The learning technologies expert at the Harvard Graduate School of Education takes on what he sees as some current failures of the United States education system in this 8-minute video interview(scroll down and click on Dede’s photo). It’s quite a contrast to Robinson’s presentation. Dede acknowledges that education has to be more than preparation for the workplace, but he discusses the strong links between business and education in those countries that are developing high quality education systems. His main problem with the current education climate, which he refers to as “the dark ages in education”, is that unlike other professions higher education has failed to educate the public about what teaching and learning methods will work best to prepare students for a 21st century global economy. He believes that most citizens are stuck in the 1950s when it comes to visualizing what should be happening in classrooms. Dede’s commentary reminds me of a course in which the instructor asked “What is the purpose of education?” It was clear that for most societies the answer is to build a stronger economy than competitor countries. We might like to think that education has more noble goals, such as liberating individual creativity, but Dede makes the point that most parents want an education system that gives their children more economic opportunity than they had for themselves. Dede’s concern is that in these dark days the US government is moving away from the investment needed to create schools that will give students the necessary skills to achieve economic success in a flattened global economy. Given the ongoing funding challenges faced by the vast majority of higher education institutions (just read about what’s happening in New Jersey right now) it may be quite some time before we emerge from the current dark age of education.

Gotten Any Complaints About Your OPAC Lately?

The discussions about the OPAC and all that ails it go on unabated. I will acknowledge that the tone of the conversation has shifted from mere complaining to a greater focus on ways to improve the OPAC. For example, see Eric Morgan’s discussion of the next generation catalog posted at LITABlog. Given all the discussion about why the OPAC needs to improve you would think that academic libraries are besieged with complaints about the library catalog. Somehow I doubt that this profession’s concerns about the OPAC are shared by library users. As evidence of that I turn to the recent OCLC “College Students’ Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources” report. When the respondents were asked “If you could provide one piece of advice to your library what would it be?” a mere 2% of the respondents suggested improvements to the local library online catalog (see page 4-6). They were much more focused on improving collections and computing facilities in the library. So if 98% of library patrons (Ok, I know it’s statistically inappropriate to extrapolate this finding from a small sample to all academic libraries) have no real concerns about the OPAC, why is there such a fuss being made about fixing something that the users don’t even think is broken? On a day-to-day basis in your library do you see patrons having massive search failures with the OPAC? Are they demanding enhancements? I recall that when I worked at the University of Pennsylvania the greatest patron reaction to the debut of our then new web-based Voyager OPAC was a mass call for the return of the telnet-based catalog. The new OPAC was simpler by far, but patrons perceived no problems with the telnet system which did just what they needed. I agree that we should always be working to improve our systems and make research a more satisfying experience for our user communities. We shouldn’t only give attention to problems when users get vocal about them, but should work proactively to consistently improve our libraries. But reports like the OCLC study suggest that our patrons are more concerned about “quality of life” factors such as having working photocopiers, good customer service and up-to-date book collections than they are about their library’s catalog system. Are we focusing our priorities in the right places? I think I’ll remain content to wait for my ILS vendor to tweak our OPAC while we direct our attention to getting students to use the library’s resources and services.

See You At the Baltimore Acquarium

I recently learned that the Baltimore National Acquarium will be the venue for the Saturday night social event held at the ACRL 13th National Conference in Baltimore. The conference goers will have the whole Acquarium to themselves that night, and it should be a great opportunity to see the exhibits without needing to fight the crowds. I love Acquariums and Baltimore’s is certainly one of the best you’ll find anywhere. I hope to see you there.

Where Do Good Publishing and Presenting Ideas Come From

As a participant in the College Library Section’s Your Research Coach program I volunteer to assist other librarians conduct a research project that leads to publication or presentation. What I find is that the greatest barrier to publication and presentation isn’t the research, it’s coming up with the right idea for a research topic. Academic librarians can be challenged to find good ideas that seem worth pursuing for further development. So where do you find good ideas, or how do you generate new ideas? Are there techniques available for stimulating new ideas, especially ideas for research projects?

Rachel Singer Gordon gives some suggestions for finding ideas right within your own workspace when she suggests “write about what you know”. She gives some excellent advice but it can be difficult in the static of the constant buzz of the workplace to filter out the noise to find a particularly unique idea. You may really know about information literacy if you deal with it all day, but what new idea can you add to the thousands of articles already in the literature on this topic. I also suggested some ways for how to generate new ideas in something I wrote called “What Works For Me“, but these approaches are based mostly on developing a keeping up regimen, and that might not work for everyone.

Here’s another suggestion. I came across a new webcast presentation that may be of interest to those who want to expand their thinking about idea generation. Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO, is captured giving a lecture at MIT on “Innovation Through Design Thinking”. Listen to this discussion of the 3 I’s – Inspiration, Ideations, and Implementation. I think that idea generation is both art and science. Brown presents ideas that can be used in both spheres of idea development

When it comes to generating new ideas and innovation, some folks are better at it than others. But by applying methods identified by those who do it well, those who don’t can boost their idea generation skills. Sometimes, as we find in the Your Research Coach program, polishing a rough idea or turning an idea that can’t be implemented into one that can is often a matter of sharing it with colleagues, brainstorming it, breaking it down and building it up again, and otherwise picking it apart until a new or revised idea emerges. I will continue to share resources for idea generation as I discover good ones.

More On Learning What Users Really Want

Previously ACRLog has discussed the use of new methods to better understand our users and what they really need – as opposed to what we think they need. The use of ethnographic research for this purpose was reported in the computer industry and in a library. Last week’s issue of BusinessWeek featured an article titled “The Science of Desire” about the growth of ethnography in the corporate world. As one expert put it, “Ethnography has escaped from academia, where it has been held hostage.” The article profiles a variety of firms that are using ethnography to study their customers and then use what is learned to improve existing products or develop new ones. From the article:

The beauty of ethnography, say its proponents, is that it provides a richer understanding of consumers than does traditional research. Yes, companies are still using focus groups, surveys, and demographic data to glean insights into the consumer’s mind. But closely observing people where they live and work, say executives, allows companies to zero in on their customers’ unarticulated desires.

You might not get that excited reading about a company that used ethnography to perfect a tool to help consumers do a better job of clearning their bathroom, but with so many companies – and service industries such as hotels – using ethnography to transform how they think about their users and develop services for them – it might get you thinking that ethnography might just be a powerful tool for improving how academic libraries deliver resources and services to their user communities.

To Improve What You Do – Study People

Academic librarians are no strangers to the process of asking our users “how are we doing?” Conducting user surveys, either for measuring satisfaction or service quality, are traditional methods for gauging how well the library meets the needs of its users. The results, we hope, will better inform us on how to improve library services, operations, and resources. The challenge with user surveys is that we don’t really know how accurately they measure our success. Usability studies have gained popularity more recently, but those efforts tend to focus solely on the library web site. But the idea is correct. Learn to improve by watching what people do when they use your systems, services, or resources. ACRLog has previously reported on how librarians at the University of Rochester are using anthropological techniques to study their user community. Clearly, the popularity of using such techniques is growing.

The latest issue of PC Magazine has a lengthy article on “corporate anthropology.” It discusses how computer makers are hiring anthropologists who spend time with product users to better understand how consumers are actually using the products. From the article:

Product development has historically been predicated on a “build it and they will come” basis. But times are changing, consumer choice is increasing and the game plan has evolved. Ethnography, a branch of anthropology, uses a variety of research methods to study people in a bid to understand human culture. Since top companies across several industries are treating ethnography as a means of designing for and connecting with potential customers, technology companies have recently begun investing significantly more research time and money into the field. At chip giant Intel, for example, the company spent approximately $5 billion on ethnographic research and development during 2004.

The reference to “build it and they will come” should resonate with academic librarians because that is frequently how innovation occurs in our libraries. We tend to put new services or resources out there for our user communities, and then we wait to see if anyone uses it. In those situations where new efforts flop we lack the methods to better understand why and what corrections to make. And even if these new resources or services are used, without a design approach there is no formative evaluation in place to identify where improvements can be made. I see the use of anthropological techniques as fitting into a design process in that it is a more thoughtful approach to the planning and implementation of services. But I also see connections between the use of “library anthropology” and “non-library professionals” in that most smaller university and college libraries, those with greater resource constraints and the inability to add folks like anthropologists to their staffs, will be more challenged to improve their libraries using these innovative techniques.