April 22, 2018

Lost Control? Not a Problem | Office Hours

In a discussion after a recent presentation, an educator stood to make a counterpoint to my take on participatory teaching. “I’m paid to have control,” she said. More than one person in the room gasped.

I should have directed her to the new Horizon Report. Among the key trends identified as those impacting teaching and learning for 2013 is an emphasis on “open.” The report states, “Open is a key trend in future education and publication, specifically in terms of open content, open educational resources, massively open online courses, and open access.”

Open teaching, open courses, open minds. It struck me that emphasizing control over what students read, how they respond to discussion questions, and how, essentially, they learn might not be the best path forward when technology and other trends are rapidly changing the learning landscape. The evolution of trends marked by the Horizon Report is fascinating. (See my columns “Learning Everywhere,” LJ 4/15/12, p. 48, and “Scanning the Horizon,” LJ 3/15/11, p. 86, for previous explorations of the report and its relation to LIS education, libraries, and librarians.) The 2013 trends include the aforementioned open everything, the significance of informal learning opportunities, socially focused connected learning, and the hurtling locomotive known as MOOCs (massive open online courses).


I always apply the Horizon trends directly to LIS students and the work they will do in various information environments. The Horizon Report notes that in addition to formal coursework, “allowing for more open-ended, unstructured time where they are encouraged to experiment, play, and explore topics based on their own motivations” can benefit students and prepare them for the world of work.

I’m reminded of Finland’s school system, where an emphasis on “whatever it takes” and play as learning has created one of the best educational systems in the world. Students in the United States are missing out, especially as teaching to the test replaces these key concepts.

In the workplace, I hope new librarians are given a chance to “play” as part of a continuous emphasis on learning. The commenter who wrote in a letter to LJ that “[n]one of those who don’t have enough time to get the work done have time to ‘play,’ ” I would respectfully disagree. Henry Jenkins defined play as “the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-­solving.” Isn’t that the type of librarian we want as colleagues? Problem-solvers who can find solutions by active consideration of the issue? To me, that’s a significant component of “learning to learn.”

Flipping out

Another key trend—“The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators”—speaks directly to the open versus control debate above. I would advocate flipping everything we can in LIS education. Flipping is defined as inverting norms within education. Flipped classrooms might come in the form of open social spaces where students can learn, reflect, and interact with practitioners. Flipped resources might occur in the form of open source textbooks that grow and evolve as quickly as ideas and trends do. How much longer is it feasible and useful to require students to purchase books that cost $60 or more when these static tomes collide with the potential of open access articles, chapters, and inter­active content?

Massively cool

A buzz-worthy, hot topic of the day is that the MOOC brings these ideas together. An arena of connected, open learning—offered for free—has the potential to impact not only higher ed but library services as well. How will we support students of all kinds in MOOCs? What happens to the potential for professional development and lifelong learning when courses can gather the best of the best in a field and offer experiences and exploration anywhere? What barriers need to fall in our institutions to promote these opportunities?

In these spaces, control flips as well. Guess what, educator—you are no longer in charge of your realm! Giving students control recognizes them as active contributors to the learning process, engages them in a way in which they’re accustomed to operating, and is built on mutual respect.

Consider the future of the hyperlinked library. It might be a little less structured than that to which we are accustomed. It might be messy at times. But there’s synchronicity in some of the recent themes of my columns—chaos, participatory culture, learning everywhere—and the trends identified in the report. The shifts noted above will surely impact not only LIS education but all libraries that support learning. Losing a bit of control opens the heart and the mind to what the future will bring.

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Facts Matter: Information Literacy for the Real World
Libraries and news organizations are joining forces in a variety of ways to promote news literacy, create innovative community programming, and help patrons/students identify misinformation. This online course will teach you how to partner with local news organizations to promote news literacy through a range of programs—including a citizen journalism hub at your library.


  1. I always loved teachers who asked for your opinion about a reading assignment and how it made you feel and then they promptly told you your opinion was wrong. I thought the whole purpose of expressing your opinion was to start a discussion about an assignment not to make the teacher’s opinion the only one that was right.

    Really liked your article (unless someone thinks my opinion is wrong :P)

    • I like your opinion! :-P I hope I am constantly learning from my students when they weigh in on a reading or media-based module.

  2. This is great insight into the evolution of education. People bring different perspectives and new information to the learning table which means participation may be the key to reaching maximum retention rates for learners.

    In turn, a good instructor should know how to facilitate participatory learning by fostering conversation as well as moving it along to stay on point. Basically, he/she should remain in control of an out of control situation.

    • I get that. I also would willingly allow the conversation to take some tangents if it’s providing insights and ahas for those on the journey.

  3. massive open online courses, not “massively open online courses”

  4. Wow, powerful things to consider, Dr. Stephens. When it comes to discussing control, I’ve found that when I release control of some of the details, I actually gain more control of the the important stuff, such as respect and trust. People are more likely to enjoy their work, begin to think “outside the box,” and become more innovative and collaborative when I invest trust in them and their ability to do the job.

  5. Comment Continued- As an example, when you assigned us a context book report in your “Hyperlinked Library” class, I had heard of a particular author who addressed some of the central issues we are dealing with in the class. I requested permission to read it, and you okay’d it. I knew that these ideas we are working with in the class, participatory culture, transparency, and trust, were not just words on a page, but you really believed that these are key elements in innovation and development.

    By releasing control of the content, you garnered more respect and trust from me, and I greatly benefited from reading the book about dealing with change and how to work with, and manage, it.

    • Michael – Thanks for commenting here about our #hyperlib course and your thoughts on control! I learned about new ideas via the book you chose to explore.