There’s loads of activity happening in the world of educational technology. New startups. Dozens of websites for managing learning activities. Apps by the dozens. Academic librarians seem out of the loop.
A few months ago I subscribed to the weekly email newsletter from an organization called EdSurge. It’s subtitled “a weekly newsletter for innovators in education.” Depending on you how you feel about the phrase “innovators in education,” you may be thinking that’s exactly who you are—or maybe you’ve had your fill of innovation talk. While EdSurge does dedicate about half of each issue to the K-12 startup scene, there’s also reporting on the latest educational technology resources and utilities. Some of these are startup websites that may or may not be here for long. What it reveals is a veritable flood of new educational technologies. It leads me to question if academic librarian educators are managing to keep up with all these new resources. Are we taking time to investigate and explore these new tools or are we falling back on our old familiar standbys? Based on some time I spent listening to an instructional technology discussion at ALA Midwinter, I think it might be the latter rather than the former.
Some Old Wine
Admittedly, some of these new instructional technologies are simply variants, or even outright replications, of existing educational technologies. Coggle, for example, is hardly the first web-based mind-mapping tool, but it claims to add new collaborative sharing capabilities. Some replication is expected, because it’s well known in the startup world that the trick is not always being first to the market but being the product in the marketplace that catches on with users (think MySpace and Facebook). However, that strategy is no surefire path to success. Right now a slew of imitators are trying to move into Snapchat’s space, but so far the original is still number one with the user community. Still, while discovering some truly original utilities takes a bit of work, checking out newcomers to an old space may lead to a great new find with better options or performance (think screencasting utilities).
There is ample research to show that a community based education model can greatly enhance the learning capabilities of its members. Moreover, learning is inherently a communal activity, which is perfectly exemplified by the classroom setup, where a group of students interact amongst themselves and with the faculty. Transpose this behavior to the world of internet and we have what we call online learning communities.
What is an Online Community?
An online community is a group of people united by similar interests and purpose using the virtual medium to interact with each other. These are communities first, online second. In the real world also, whether it is due to a particular geographic area where one resides or professional space where one works, we all, voluntarily or involuntarily, are a part of one or the other community. When these real world communities use internet as a medium to connect with each other, communicate, work together and pursue some common interests over the course of time they take shape of online communities.
Learning, Meet Community
A community that has collaborative learning as its primary purpose and uses internet as a medium to achieve the same can be referred to as online learning community. There has been growing buzz about the impact and benefits of building online learning communities, and particularly, the last few years have seen a tremendous growth in the number of such communities. The increasing clout of social networking, greater internet penetration and easily available computing technology can be held responsible for this proliferation. Although online education itself is not an entirely new phenomenon, dating back to the times when even internet didn’t existed, large scale online community building started with the Web 2.0 era in the last decade.
And yet, we know in our bones that secular humanism is one of the greatest sources of strength we possess as a nation, and that we must protect the humanities if we are to retain that strength in the century ahead.
I do not exactly hail from the center of the humanities. I’m an economist, with a specialization in health and economic development. When you ask economists to weigh in on an issue, the chances are good that we will ultimately get around to a basic question: “Is it worth it?” Support for the humanities is more than worth it. It is essential. Read more…
For all the concern expressed about the imminent demise of the college library, there may never have been a time when librarians seemed more vital, forward-thinking—even edgy—than they do now.
It’s a dated reference, but today’s information professionals often remind me more of Ian Malcolm, the “chaos theorist” played by Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park (1993), than of the eyeglass-chain-wearing librarians of yore, if they ever existed in significant numbers. (I have seen only one, Mrs. Evelyn, from my elementary school in the early 70s.)
It’s not that many of today’s librarians routinely dress in sunglasses and black leather (though some do). It’s that, more than any other class of professionals in higher education, librarians possess a comprehensive understanding of the scholarly ecosystem. They know what’s going on across the disciplines, among professors and administrators as well as students. No less important, they are often the most informed people when it comes to technological change—its limits as well as its advantages. Read more…
On a recent visit to the new Hunt Library at the Centennial Campus of the North Carolina State University, I observed an unusual sight – for most libraries that is. A group of individuals, they might have been prospective students and their parents or perhaps just a group participating in some summer workshop, was highly immersed in a rather unique library experience. They were learning about and watching a demonstration of the Library’s robotic Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS), and rather enjoying how the Bookbot’s robot arm moved crates of books to and fro. The visitors were clearly immersed in this particular library experience. With a glass wall through which it could all be observed, the building’s designers clearly intended for this spectacle to catch the attention of all those entering the library. While it delivered a unique experience, did it motivate anyone in the crowd to search the catalog or move on to the stacks to find a book of their own? Or did they simply move on to the next destination point the way one might if touring the White House or Hoover Dam?
The question of the extent to which we should be re-thinking and re-designing the library experience as both immersive and interactive was the subject of an essay questioning similar work in the world of art museums. The author, Judith H. Dobrzynski, asks if it shouldn’t be enough to just view the artwork by yourself or with other people and obtain enjoyment or satisfaction from being exposed to great art. Why does it have to be embellished by some sort of artificially attached experience? She writes:
For decades, museums have offered social experiences — the fact that you can talk while you’re in the galleries has always given them an edge over the performing arts — and that is good. Now is the balance shifting too far to the experience? Are they losing what makes them unique? Should museums really follow the path of those “experience” businesses…In this kind of world, the thrill of standing before art — except perhaps for works by boldface-name artists like van Gogh, Vermeer, Monet and Picasso — seems not quite exciting enough for most people. What’s a museum to do? Read more….