February 17, 2018

Learning Everywhere | Office Hours

The annual Horizon Report is a valuable guide for LIS professors and librarians to emerging technologies and trends. The 2012 report is no exception. It identifies “key drivers of educational technology adoptions for the period 2012 through 2017.” These can enhance both LIS pedagogy and library service.

For example, “The world of work is increasingly collaborative, driving changes in the way student projects are structured.” Think back to your own library school experience. Remember the dreaded group project? There always seemed to be one student who hadn’t done his assigned tasks, leaving conscientious group members scrambling to fill in the gaps as deadlines loomed. Now, my students use Dropbox to cloud-share documents, Google Docs for group collaboration, and Skype for meetings.

But it’s not just technology, it’s about working with others. The report notes, “Students are increasingly evaluated…on the success of the group dynamic,” as well as the outcome. This might involve peer evaluation and self-reflection in addition to review of the group’s work.

The same expectations can and should apply in our libraries. Employing cloud services, open sharing platforms such as blogs or wikis, and a high level of transparency strengthens collaboration among work groups and teams, since the process and outcomes are available for all to review. Performance evaluations can include analysis of work within these environments and the level of collaboration demonstrated. Team members might review one another’s work as well as the work of the project leader. Extend the practice to administration. How might front-liners and managers evaluate those in charge?

Add to the mix another trend from the report: “There is a new emphasis in the classroom on more challenge-based and active learning.” Projects should not be passive “what if” endeavors. Jill Hurst-Wahl, assistant professor of practice in Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, NY, told me her students embark on a “semester-long team assignment working with host librarians to create plans for new library services.”

Practicing what I preach

This semester, I’m teaching a new class based on Mezirow’s concepts of transformative learning, the work of Char Booth in the arena of user instruction, and the Learning 2.0 model. This is new and exciting territory for me, similar to Hurst-Wahl’s. We’re working with consultant Polly-Alida Farrington, who teamed up three groups of my students with two libraries and a school library consortium in New York State. Over the course of our 15-week semester, each group is adapting, designing, and running a “mini-23 Things” for its assigned organization.

It’s been a fun, chaotic, and messy experience. In our weekly group chats online, the mantra has become “Learn by doing….” Real-world messiness offers a level of experience unmatched by classroom activities. This high-tech/high-touch experience sets the students on course for getting jobs and taking on future projects. Let me know if you’re partnering with those in practice to go beyond prototypes and fictional creations.

Place-based no more

Another trend states, “People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to.” Lately, I’ve heard the term place-based as a descriptor for many of the limitations that confront both students and library users. How many of your administrative processes require people to visit your location? How many could be accomplished via the web or mobile technology? Delivering learning opportunities and access to collections to mobile users seamlessly and without barriers is a positive response to this trend.

Recently, I exchanged emails with a university library that has a unique artifact from a songwriter in its special collections. Teasingly, one page of lyrics is digitized and showcased on its web site. The rest is only available if I travel to this distant institution. No seamless delivery here. The school cited concerns about “preservation and copyright” as reasons why I could not access these documents digitally. Really?

The trend, “Education paradigms are shifting to include online learning, hybrid learning, and collaborative models,” also describes the move from place-based learning and information access. These ideas for change are synthesized in what Henry Jenkins calls “connected learning.” Jenkins, professor of communication, journalism, and cinematic arts at the University of Southern California, offers principles of connected learning that illustrate how far we’ve come and where we might be going: a shared purpose between learners and peers, a production-centered focus on creation and curation of things, and an openly networked atmosphere in which to work and learn.

Providing opportunities to gain knowledge—either formally within networked courses delivered across multiple channels by the university, or via services, collections, and access made seamless and available to anyone wherever they may be—is key for both LIS professors and librarians.

Michael Stephens About Michael Stephens

Michael Stephens (mstephens7@mac.com) is Associate Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University, CA

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  1. “There always seemed to be one student who hadn’t done his assigned tasks, leaving conscientious group members scrambling to fill in the gaps as deadlines loomed. Now, my students use Dropbox to cloud-share documents, Google Docs for group collaboration, and Skype for meetings.”

    I am not following you here — how does the use of these technologies solve the basic problem of dead weight in the group?

    I realize education is becoming more focused on group projects, but educators and trainers should be aware that not everyone learns best from these approaches. Introverts are at a distinct disadvantage in that type of environment and often need individual work to thrive. (Read Susan Cain’s “Quiet” for a fuller discussion.)

    • As in introvert I would tend to agree that group projects can be taxing, but there is something about the online environment that removes you from the immediacy of the group dynamic. I think that the online world can be the introverts haven.

    • Michael says:

      Anecdotally, it seems as though it’s been easier to participate with the technologies I mentioned. If someone goes AWOL, it is also much more visible when documents are shared and updated by students throughout the course of the project in the cloud or on our WordPress sites. I believe what I was trying to say is now, no one has to catch me before group presentation class and whisper that “student XX didn’t do anything…”

      My other comment is something that has been on my mind a lot. Introverts may find less opportunity for individual work in current and future libraries. I want my graduates to be versed in interpersonal communication, collaboration of all kinds and teaching (from groups to individuals). I’m believe the jobs that include solitary work cut off from the public will dwindle.