What Facebook Teaches

Or, more on being welcome at the party.

Today’s Inside Higher Education tells the story of students at Syracuse University being formally disciplined for their postings on Facebook. While you can judge for yourself whether or not free speech is being abridged in Upstate New York, it’s clear that events like this (and similar events, e.g., stories of students losing out on RA positions because their Facebook profiles suggested that they might not be the best candidates): (1) are providing students with real-life context for broadly-conceived information literacy instruction within the context of what was once-referred to as “computer-mediated communication”; and (2) might explain why students are leery of any university organization (even one as student-friendly as the library) trying to communicate with them through FaceBook (“their” space).

Two things I learned while visiting my campus Facebook: (1) there are several Facebook groups dedicated to the library (but none in an academic way);and (2) our Office of Residence Life advertises for RA candidates on Facebook (which should clue people in to the fact that they might be viewing profiles of applicants, but . . .).

Were I teaching my FYE seminar on Internet Studies again this semester, you can bet this would be a discussion topic.

What Google Teaches

Pamela Martin, in her article “Google as teacher” in February 2006 College and Research Libraries News contends that Google teaches its users to only look at the first page of results, to have difficulty broadening searches, and to feel stupid if they can’t find information quickly. In The World is Flat, Tom Friedman contends that Google is a flattening force in that it enables more people to find information for themselves (instead of going through an intermediary like a librarian) by “just Googling it.” I feel Google has impacted reference work by making the questions we get more difficult. Students now go to a librarian when their first pass through Google doesn’t work or they need more or different information. Recently I’ve been frustrated in that when I show students really good reference books, they just treat them as if they don’t exist. I have trouble understanding this. The book is here, it has really good information, you are right here, why don’t you look at this book? Does Google also teach that print reference books are somehow bad or unnecessary?

Are We Welcome At The Party

Kathryn Wymer’s Chronicle piece took me back to a recent discussion on COLLIB-L about online social communities such as MySpace.com and Facebook. Bill Drew announced that he was going to create a profile for his library in these spaces. That led to some discussion about the relative merits of placing a profile (tantamount to an ad?) of one’s academic library in virtual spaces that are clearly more about social interaction and connecting with friends than academic endeavors. I suggested that it could be viewed by students as an imposition by an unwelcome outsider on their social space. If you think positioning the library in MySpace or Facebook is a good way to connect with your student population, what’s stopping you from handing out your business card at the local pub on Friday nights when your students are partying. When you put it that way invading students’ social spaces, in physical or virtual ways, seems rather awkward if not downright creepy. As Wymer found, she was not readily accepted and it may be that students do want to separate the technology tools that serve as social spaces from those used for their studies. For those who do want to experiment with outreach to students in those social communities, I wish you luck – and look forward to your candid assessment of the experience.

Invasion of the Technology Snatchers

Kathryn Wymer, who teaches English at UNC, has some interesting things to say in this week’s Chronicle about adapting new technologies to teaching and learning, an issue we’ve dicussed here many times. She heard from students that e-mail is just so yesterday and decided she should join them in IM-space – and found that students weren’t altogether happy to meet her there.

Do I, as an instructor, have the right to appropriate students’ technologies for the classroom? Most people would probably say, of course.

Consider, though, what it means to invade that technological space. Students use new technologies as a way to express themselves and their individuality. They develop identities related to those technologies, and those identities are not always the ones they would like to bring into the classroom.

She plans to continue to use her IM identity, though she knows it will take some adjustment on both sides. Libraries, of course, are adapting IM to reference work, and have found other ways to join in the social networks students use, and while that can be positive, it also has a potential downside.

For another take on IM and the classroom, see Cynthia Lewis and Bettina Fabos’s article, “Instant Messaging, Literacies, and Social Identities” in Reading Research Quarterly. They think it’s more important to understand how students use IM and what kinds of literacy practices they engage in (and to help them understand that scholarly discourse is another literacy practice that they, too, can be part of) than to rush out and adopt the technology assuming it will become a channel to reach students. That may be seen as invasive – like deciding that if students want to hang out at a local bar, that’s where you should teach your philosophy course. You certainly could teach philosophy there, perhaps with more relevance to real life than in a traditional classroom. But students might prefer to have the place to themselves.

LIS Forum in March

On March 11th New York-area librarians affiliated with Radical Reference are holding a Library Education Forum for library school students and recent grads (though faculty and not-so-recent grads are also invited) to talk over LIS education. Among the questions they expect to discuss:

  • If technology is changing the nature of our profession, how should LIS programs reflect this?
  • Should LIS curriculums be more practical or theoretical?
  • Were there glaring omissions in your education? Are there skills that you have gained after graduating that you wish had been part of your curriculum?
  • What are the profession’s core values? How should LIS programs reflect them?
  • The Librarian in Black hopes someone will host a webcast with participant chat. Any takers?