Backward is Forward

Dr. McDaniel teaches history at Rice University, which is just a few miles down the road from where I live in the south suburbs of Houston. This semester he is teaching a survey course in American History (I can see some of you are already falling asleep. Wake up!), but he does not want this to be a traditional survey course. Dr. McDaniel is going to teach this survey course starting in the present and going backwards into the past.

This is not an entirely new concept, as McDaniel points out in a very well reasoned argument about why a survey in history especially benefits from starting at the end. While the idea itself is compelling, it is the methodology of the course he envisions that strikes my imagination.

Dr. McDaniel wants the course to be question driven. Questioning the material and facts is a level of learning that students never achieve simply listening to lectures. It forces students to understand what they are learning and create new avenues of thought based on those new facts.

Students will read and review primary sources and then investigate some aspect of that source, an unfamiliar name or event mentioned in the source, for example. Based on their investigation, the students will then create a list of questions.

In class, the questions and issues the students have generated will be discussed as a group. The class, as a group, decides the top questions they wish to explore further. On the next class day, Dr. McDaniel will give a lecture that addresses the questions the class has identified as the most important.

This backwards, participatory approach not only forces the students to be engaged in their own learning process, it gives them the ability to control the direction of the class. It is mob rule learning at its finest.

As Dr. McDaniel points out, this process will also develop information literacy in his students. He says,

“Focusing my efforts on “historical thinking” will, I hope, better prepare students to critically analyze the history and pseudo-history they will encounter throughout their lives, whether at the movies, on cable news, or in written form.”

Dr. McDaniel has developed a course that teaches students how to navigate and evaluate information they will encounter in the real world, not just memorize facts on a timeline. I hope Dr. McDaniel updates us on the progress of his class over the semester and at its conclusion. His new approach has all the hallmarks of a course in which the students will be engaged and aggressively seeking a new understanding of their world. Bravo, I say, bravo!

–Jane, thanks to my friend Andromeda for sending this my way

Interview for Wired Campus

I had a nice chat over the phone with Alexandra Rice from the Wired Campus at the Chronicle of Higher Education last week. She posted the interview today.

I really would like the discussion about how people are using the wisdom of the crowd in the classroom to be something that happens more often. A lot more often because I really do feel that this can revolutionize the way we approach the classroom.

–Jane, likes the unpredictable mob

New Unconference and Mob Resources

Here are a couple resources that might be useful to you if you are new to the idea of the wisdom of the crowd or if you need a little inspiration for your own mob: – Though the blog on this site is not updated often and much of the information was posted long ago, there are a plethora of resources on unconferences here. There are explanations of unconferences, facilitation styles, how tos, and a discussion about Open Space Technology.

Open Space World – The original site on Open Space(OST). It is a must read for noobs.

Unconference LibGuide – This is a resource site put together by some librarians who have attended many unconferences. There are some great checklists for planning and some other resources.

Crowdsourcing in Higher Ed IT – This is a step by step guide from Educause on how to use mob rule to make campus and even multi-campus wide IT decisions.

25 Great Ways Colleges Are Using Crowdsourcing – A fabulous list to inspire your own ideas to improve your teaching or impact your community. Some of the ideas are only marginally related to Higher Ed, but they are still very interesting.

–Jane, what mob are you growing today?

Curating A New Learning Experience

My local NPR station recently started playing talk radio all day (hallelujah!) and I have been wallowing in all the wonderful shows I used to listen to regularly when I lived in Dallas. Last month, I had Talk of the Nation on and Don Tapscott was talking about higher education. My ears perked up immediately and, though I had to stop listening to feed my toddler (pesky kids), I went back and found the transcript. It was a great interview with some fabulous comments from listeners. If you are at all involved in higher ed or education at all, you should read this interview.

Tapscott, author of, among other things, Wikinomics, Macrowikinomics, and Grown Up Digital said that our current education system is not only not meeting the needs of our students, but its failure to adapt since its creation will be its demise.

Tapscott said, “All these kids that have grown up collaborating and thinking differently walk into a university and they’re asked to sit there and passively listen to someone talking.” He goes on to talk about the new research that is beginning to show that not only do students learn different and multitask, but the very fact that they are multitasking and learning different is changing the way their brains function and grow. The students in our classrooms now learn different because of the world they live in and yet we are still teaching them the same way we taught people when the classroom was invented. We ask students to sit and learn, to be containers for information instead of creators.

It is not just that we are asking them to be passive, but we are also cramping a process that could be broad and more enriching than a lecture. Tapscott gave an example:

I was talking to a youngster at Harvard, and he said: Why would I sit there and listen to a TA talking to 300 of us, a teaching assistant. I can’t even ask a question – the topic is Peter Drucker- when I can go online and interact with a real-time Peter Drucker.

Social media allows us not only to study a topic but to interact with it. The student from Harvard correctly points out one of the major flaws in our education system. We often ignore a resource rich world and force students to learn in a resource desert: the traditional classroom. Tapscott goes on to talk about how the way we do everything has changed and evolved as our understanding of the world has changed and evolved, except the classroom. This is something I also discuss in the second half of Mob Rule Learning. We have a teaching pedagogy that has not changed in hundreds of years.

One of the callers, Mandolin, talked about her experience in college with professors that did or did not understand their students learning styles, but she goes on to talk about her subsequent experience in the work force. The problems with higher education do not stop when our students graduate. Unfortunately, one of the things that students are learning in our colleges and universities is that multitasking is not an acceptable form of hard work, even though the newest generation in our organizations works better as multitaskers.

Multitasking has had some negative connotations lately and arguments abound regarding if increased multitasking is causing the ruination of society or making us better, stronger human beings. For the sake of this argument, I want to define multitasking as a form of multi-learning. What I mean is a learner that pulls in information from many different sources and media at once, reflects on the information, and then creates new content based on that information that is then shared with other learners in an interactive way that often allows those learners to also learn and create. This is the way that true multitasking in learning works. It means using everything at your disposal to create something new in the discipline. This is what students do now and this is what our traditional classrooms are hampering. As Tapscott points out, a student can listen to a lecture on something or they can go interact with that something. They will choose the latter almost every time and so would I.

What kind of student would you rather have in your classroom? A student who comes and listens quietly to your lecture as a passive learner or a student who comes, uses their laptop to look up additional information on the subject, later corrects an error on that subject page in wikipedia, and develops understanding for the topic on their own?

Another caller talked about an interactive textbook that he helped create and Tapscott’s response was this:

…what we just heard was a teacher acting as a curator rather than a content creator. And imagine if we had this global network for higher learning, there was a platform where all university faculty and educators could cooperate together where we could reach out into the public Internet to curate a lot of this content, like some of it obviously won’t be good, but some of it is spectacular, as the caller just alluded to And you know, we can do this. It just requires some leadership.

As teachers, we should be guides and curators. This is also where librarians are essential to the process. Librarians are curators of information already. We pride ourselves on curating information so that is accessible to as many people as possible. In the learning process, librarians should be making themselves indispensable in the curation process. We can help both with the discovery of information and with the curation of the new content being created by students.

Librarians, who have experience in curating (like cataloging), can help colleges, universities, and educators to move into these new roles, roles librarians have been filling in other capacities for some time. If we are going to change the way higher education works, we will all, teachers, librarians, and students, have to work together, in true mob fashion, to make the changes needed to make the education system reflect our new understanding of the world around us.

–Jane, wrote this with a lap full of 5 month old

Do we practice what we preach?

I am still trying to figure out how to plan my work, house, and napping needs around the hours of my day. I think I am finally getting an idea of what is and is not possible in a 24 hour period for the stay-at-home Jane.

I am catching up on some much needed reading this morning and read Meredith’s post (finally) on Building 21st Century Librarians and Libraries. Meredith points out that it is not just SLIS schools that are to blame. As I have stated many times in frustration, our organizational cultures are not equipped to be flexible enough to allow for the growing need of tech skills in ALL our public services staff. Meredith says:

It’s also the way organizations are structured. So many libraries have a 1.0 org chart for a 2.0 world. They’re not structured to support public services technologies like blogs, wikis, etc. They’re not set up to allow for the sort of experimentation and agile decision-making that is required to meet the changing needs and wants of our users. So I don’t know that in an environment like that, hiring an emerging technologies librarian or a 2.0 librarian or whatever is the answer. You’re just putting a band-aid on a problem that goes to the heart of how your organization is structured and how decisions are made.

How do we make our organizations more nimble?

I think we have to start with the belief that all public services staff should have some level of tech skills. We have to stop relying on those one or two people to figure things out and then hopefully find time to teach the rest of the staff. We should all be learning and sharing with each other all the time or we should have someone on staff to train and plan for technology.

That kind of sharing is how the online tech oriented librarians learn from each other. We learn and share all the time. I certainly do not know everything and see all the cool stuff first. I am linked to a plethora of really smart people that I keep my eyes on, librarians and non-librarians. That is the only true way to “keep up.”

Not only do we need to believe that public services staff should know how to use technology, we should require it. Our users, our customers expect us to know it; we should expect it of ourselves.

This also begs the question: If an organization is unwilling to devote time and money to training its staff in technology skills are they really trying to be flexible and innovative? If an organization does not allow time for their staff to learn new skills are they really supporting continued learning?

–Jane, put your money where your mouth is

What does this teach students?

I am not sure expelling this student for being the admin of a virtual study group is the answer to this problem. If what the students say is true, they were only using the group to help each other, much as people do in a real f2f study group, not give answers to homework or tests. There has to be a better way to have this discussion with students.

It is likely that the administrators of Ryerson University do not know what was actually going on within the facebook group and do not understand how the students were using the technology. This is a classic example of cutting of your arm because you have a hangnail on your finger.

–Jane, doubts many of the “adults” in this situation have spent time in facebook

Thoughts on Academic Librarianship, part one

I have decided to write this post in two parts because it may end up being a wee bit long for one gigantic post. I wanted to write about the positives of working in an academic library first because starting out on a positive note is nice. This post could be subtitled: Why academic libraries are good places to work.

I became an academic librarian for two reasons: 1) I love academia and thus wanted to stay in higher education without staying in graduate school and 2) it was the first job offer I received, I desperately needed a job, and I was bound geographically to Houston. Technically, that is at least four reasons, but go with me here. The job was an answer to many prayers, hopes, and dreams. In many ways, it lived up to my expectations and in some ways it did not.

I have condensed the good into five themes.

There was always money in the bank. In many places, library budgets, including academic library budgets, have been slashed to ribbons. However, the larger universities in Texas have not had this problem. We still compete heavily with other departments on campus for money, but I have a dean who has excelled in getting money for the library and our budget goes up every year. As a result, I have always been able to buy almost anything in print I wanted. I was able to get some very nice electronic resources for my subject areas, the ethnic studies areas, even though they are small and interdisciplinary. We also had money for new computers, renovations to our building, and many other things.

As a result of having money, collection development has never been a headache. I do think, with the way approval plans work these days, librarians should be spending a lot less time doing collection development. I have actually said in a meeting, “Any monkey can buy books.” It won me some raised eyebrows, but I was being honest. When you have the money you need, choosing books is not hard. That is a discussion for another post. In general, academic libraries are well funded and that is definitely a good thing.

Faculty are fun and challenging. Working with faculty was one of my favorite things because they were almost universally thankful for the help. In addition, the research they were doing was always interesting, thought provoking, and challenging. Their questions were the kinds of things I envisioned answering when I was sitting in my “how to do reference” class in graduate school. I have been lucky to work with some wonderful faculty and I will miss hearing stories about their research, their classes, and their families. My faculty were delightful people, who treated me like a colleague, and I will be sad to leave them, even in good hands.

This is not to suggest that all faculty interactions are easy. Sometimes they are frustrating, especially when you are trying to convince a faulty member that the assignment they gave their classes can not be completed because research has not been conducted that way for at least 15 years. Semester after semester of dealing with the same stubborn faculty member, giving the same assignment that does nothing but set students up to fail and be frustrated by research can be deflating. These interactions only count for a small portion of what you encounter, hopefully, and all the good interactions more than make up for that one curmudgeon.

Even if you have pseudo-faculty status, you have a great amount of flexibility with your time. I call this status Pretend Tenure. At MPOW, we are not faculty, we are not staff, we are somewhere in between with our own tenure process (much less rigorous than what faculty go through) and governance documents. With faculty or pretend faculty status, you have more flexible hours than librarians who are simply staff at their institutions. We were eligible for time off to write or sabbaticals to do research. This status also means that there was no clock punching. If you needed to come in late one day, you did or if you needed to stay late, you did that too. This flexibility is nice when family obligations suddenly spring up, you need a mental day at home, or you just need to stay at home to get work done. (by work here, I mean work related to your job) I am twice as productive at home then I am in the office. It is one of the reasons I am such an advocate of virtual or blended teams (teams with both virtual and f2f components) in the workplace. I think it is the combination of home comforts and the flexibility that I like when I am at home on my laptop.

In addition to having flexibility with your time, pretend faculty status usually means a requirement for participation in professional organizations. MPOW pays about 45-48% for us to go to 3 conferences a year. While we always groused about wanting more money, that is far and above what most librarians receive to travel every year. This money has allowed me to attend many conferences and meet fabulous people, both for which I am very grateful. This is also a by product of having money in the budget.

Teaching students. Students, like faculty, have their *headdesk* moments, but teaching students is incredible. I have been lucky and have been able to teach classes in many subjects and on many different levels. It has been fun and challenging to keep the students engaged, active, and learning the things that will help them complete the research before them. I loved their questions, especially when they asked me to demonstrate something I had not planned on showing that day. This most frequently occurred in drop in workshops and only occasionally in course related classes. I had no formal teaching experience before I started this job and yet teaching has become one of my favorite things about my job. In fact, there were days and weeks, that it was the only thing I liked about my job. I love to teach and this job, crediting mostly talented colleagues and an amazing former boss, taught me how to be a great instructor. I owe them so much.

Being on a campus can be invigorating. I loved college and not just because the beer was cheap and we drank it often. I love the atmosphere of higher learning. Sometimes the intellectual conversations I overhear at MPOW make me long for the classes and professors I adored. There is plenty of inanity, but you can almost hear people learning and pondering Big Thoughts. It makes my geeky heart swell.

These are the things I will miss the most about being an academic librarian. I think I have learned a lot of positive things from my time in this aspect of librarianship. I am curious to see how these lessons will play out in other library related endeavors. I have my whole life ahead of me to find out.

–Jane, packs up her knowledge learned to use later

Out of Context or Being a Hypocrite

Either way, you look like an ass hat.

On Being a Hypocrite

Two things recently popped up that make my want to wash my hands of the constant hand wringing and “I am better then the common man” librarianship that seems to be the common backlash against innovation and free thought. One involves me personally.

I believe Michael Gorman was sad that we were not talking about him anymore and thus wrote the most ridiculous thing he could imagine. Jason Griffey firmly slams many of Gorman’s arguments. I would only add two things.

There is this sentence:

The task before us is to extend into the digital world the virtues of authenticity, expertise, and scholarly apparatus that have evolved over the 500 years of print, virtues often absent in the manuscript age that preceded print.

It made me wonder if Mr. Gorman ever studied coterie writing and if he found that too to be lacking. I wonder if all of the minority scholars, many of them unable to publish for years because of their gender or race, are less valuable because they were not readily accepted into the Authority of Print.

Secondly, Mr. Gorman managed to insult my belief structure as well as lambaste a form of communication which he himself used to publish this ridiculous tripe. Good Job.

On Taking Things Out of Context to Make a Scholarly Point and Thus Making Yourself Look Less Than Scholarly

This bothers me more because I was used as an example of why blogs are bad at the most recent NASIG conference. In a presentation at NASIG, the speaker was bashing blogs because of our trivial writing and cited, of all things, this post I wrote after CiL.

Updated: Here is the link to the presentation summary from NASIG. And another. (thanks to kgs and Kathryn).

I find it amusing that the speaker would use me as an example at all. There are more trivial blogs out there. My blog is semi-professional to begin with and I never claim to have any authority except over myself. But for a scholar, to use that post, instead of this one, or this, or this, in a presentation at a national conference to say that all librarian bloggers are trivial is harmful and wrong. A lie one might say.

Taking things out of context and making them more important than they truly are does nothing to prove your point. That CiL post was trivial. I wrote it that way and I do not claim to have any authority because of it. What it does prove is that you are afraid.

You are afraid that I have been given a voice. You are afraid that people actually read what I have to say. You are afraid because I am young and do not buy into your pedagogy of librarianship. You are afraid that I am stealing some power you believe you hold. You are afraid of change and the turning of the seasons. You are made of fear and you think that your fear can hurt me.

I am not afraid. You can not take away my ability to write what I choose and give it voice in a place where people can read it and respond. Your fear is what gives me authority.

–Jane, “I will not be moved.”

Google Says No to Cheating

Google has decided to ban the advertising of paper writing firms from its side bar. I applaud their decision. According to the BBC, Mathew Wilson, managing director of one such firms, says that this ban:

…will punish the legitimate, transparent companies, which sell essays, but which warn students that they must not be used dishonestly.

Not used dishonestly? What does Mr. Wilson think that students are doing with his essays if not using them to cheat? Whatever planet of fantasy he lives on, I think I would like to join him.

–Jane, has bags packed