August 14, 2017

New Opportunities in Learning Experience Curation | From the Bell Tower

Steven BellAcademic librarians are campus experts when it comes to curation, from books to data. Is there a new opportunity on the rise in the field of learning experience curation?

At the ALA Midwinter convention the big theme “Libraries Transform” garnered lots of attention. To get attendees in the transformation state of mind there were multiple programs offered on change and innovation under the “transform” umbrella. I went to hear Jo Ann Jenkins, described as a “dynamic change agent.” The most innovative idea she related was her own decision to leave her Library of Congress position to start a new career at AARP. I thought it had more to do with a professional infatuation with change and innovation. We may enjoy talking about it more than actually making it happen. One way to get to more innovation is to look beyond libraries, even if it means looking to connect dots between higher education and academic libraries.

Spotting a New Possibility

There’s no dearth of recognition that creativity, change, and innovation are critical organization and personnel attributes if academic libraries are to have a bright future. One hardly sees a library job description that doesn’t express a desire for those types of talents. Rare is the lone creative genius who spews forth great ideas for innovative change. It’s often much more the case that new opportunities emerge from the hard work of reading, exploring, and connecting dots among internal and external trends. Then, through the exchange of ideas between colleagues, the possibilities may be recognized. This works especially well when it positions the academic library as a campus leader in identifying new ways to support student academic success. In the emerging world of unbundled higher education, the best opportunities lie where academic librarians can apply their unique skills to new learning environments. One of those skills is curation and that’s where a new possibility exists.

Curation is Value

One of the reasons people are willing to pay so much for higher education is the curation process by which the course sequence is recorded, maintained, and preserved so that current and future employers, or graduate programs, can readily obtain evidence that a diploma was earned. Things are changing, and while traditional colleges and universities are here for the long haul, higher education is evolving beyond simply taking 120 credits, start to finish, at one institution. Even at one institution students have learning experiences that the existing curation process fails to capture. Now add to that a multitude of external experiences students will gain over the course of their academic careers. It’s possible we’ll see students who bring a package of unbundled learning experiences such as boot camp credentials, MOOC certificates, competency credits, and others that don’t fit neatly into traditional diploma curation.

Applying Library Curation

Many academic librarians are familiar with educational credentials that can come in the form of digital badges. The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) has an interest group for those interested in expanding their use in libraries. Fewer of us create badging programs to allow students to capture their library learning experiences. Then again, when we want to innovate with credentialing research skill-building it can be a tough sell, particularly if we seek to do this collaboratively with other academic support units, IT, or the registrar. While there are credentialing systems designed for collection, and e-portfolios are an earlier version of alternative containers for recording academic accomplishments, there is always room for innovation. To my way of thinking, academic librarians could do for learning experience curation what they’ve done in the digital curation space. At my own place of work, colleagues recently presented on the high quality curation going into the development of our new state service hub of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). We could apply similar skill sets to the curation of student learning experiences. The DPLA work is an example of what our profession can accomplish when we apply those skills at a grand level.

Adapting to Unbundled Higher Ed

There’s been talk about revolutionary change in higher education for several years. Some innovations that support an unbundling effect are being seen, such as a wider acceptance of competency-based programs, or when traditional colleges accept credits from MOOCs or partner with boot camps. We hear it will reduce costs, increase accessibility, better suit the needs of adult learners, and in general add the type of flexibility lacking at traditional institutions. Mike Buttry and Matthew Pittinsky, two executives from the for-profit side of higher education writing about the developing unbundled environment, observe that “While the structure and order of experiences that comprise a degree will need to look quite different from the traditional model, we believe a college’s ability to curate learning experiences remains critical.” That’s where academic librarians may find a new opportunity to innovate, by developing better ways for students to curate those learning experiences.

Support for Lifelong Learning

Among the messages one finds in the “recommendations” section of the latest Project Information Literacy (PIL) report on college students and post-graduation skills for lifelong learning is that higher ed’s current system for credit accumulation and reporting may actually be doing students a disservice. Instead of allowing students opportunities to develop much-needed information skills for lifelong learning, they are advised to quickly acquire credits so they can move to the next stage of life. PIL’s report has much to say about needed improvements to our current system to prepare college students for lifelong learning. There’s a clear need for learning opportunities, either bundled with the current curriculum or as unbundled programs, where students are able to develop the necessary skills for asking questions and being savvy, competent information problem solvers. One barrier to offering them is the inadequacies of higher education’s current transcript system. Academic librarians could contribute to a new, more innovative system of learning experience curation that captures the many different skills students learn that would both be of interest to employers and help our students become true lifelong learners.

Steven Bell About Steven Bell

Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, is the current vice president/president-elect of ACRL. For more from Steven visit his blogs, Kept-Up Academic Librarian, ACRLog and Designing Better Libraries or visit his website.

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