Testing… Testing

Just checking to see where this goes when I post something. It’s been a while since I’ve used this blog, and I can’t remember if it automatically posts anywhere else.


A Post at Last

I told my wife and son the other day that maybe I should rename this blog: “Insert Clever Post Here”!! I really should write here more often… even if I don’t have anything clever to say. I just have not had time! Here’s an attempt…

Since I last wrote, a lot has happened in my professional life, all of which has kept me plenty busy. So maybe I could say I have an excuse…. maybe. What’s been going on? Well…

  • A number of people left my department for one reason or another last year (retirements, moving on to other positions, etc.); one of them was my co-leader of the Research and Instruction Department
  • I became the sole leader of  R & I, a now more merged group of librarians and academic technologists (I am no longer Director of Technology for Research and Instruction, just Director of Research and Instruction)
  • I led a search for and filled four open positions – three library liaisons and a web applications manager/systems librarian. The last two positions were filled in January. (I should note that I had fabulous and dedicated search committees who helped me tremendously through it all.)
  • Last fall, I and several other members of the Library and Information Services staff (including academic technologists and several librarians) stepped up and team-taught First Year Seminar library sessions, many of us for the first time. (I think we did quite well!)
  • I helped write and received IMLS and NEH grants with my collaborators at Brown University, the University of Virginia, and several other institutions for the TAPAS project, a digital humanities tool for publishing and archiving text encoded documents
  • I’ve been meeting for the past few months with a faculty working group to try to define how Library and Information Services fits into the curriculum and to discuss Information Fluency

And there’s been a lot more!

It has been an interesting year to say the least: constantly changing, often challenging. But I have to say I am really excited about my department and the directions my projects and our services are headed these days. The collaborative project I am involved with outside of Wheaton, the TAPAS project, is moving out of the planning stages and is starting to be developed. And at Wheaton, four new, energetic, and intelligent people have joined an already collegial, smart, creative group. We’re ready as a department to do great things.

So now, I need to get back to writing about them!

Shallows or Depths?

Yesterday, we had a Tech N Talk on the effects of technology on student learning. Psychology professor Grace Baron and three of her students led a conversation about what they learned in a senior seminar in the Fall Semester.

My quick opening remarks went something like this:

There can be no doubt that we are now immersed in a digital environment. Whether you are actively using technology as a teacher or not, it is effecting teaching and learning. We have ubiquitous wireless on campus combined with 3G and 4G networks, which together essentially ensure that we have access to the Web just about everywhere and 24/7. Add mobile devices like iPhones to the mix and now we don’t have to be at our desk or even carrying a laptop to take advantage of that access. In addition, many of the new tools now take advantage of this networked environment, many that we’ve highlighted in our Tech N Talks: Diigo, GoogleDocs, onCourse, Voicethreads, blogs, wikis. They rely on a networked, connected environment for their success.

And this connected environment has really changed the way that faculty teach and students learn. onCourse provides access 24/7 to information about the course and in some instances a place to carry on conversations between classes. Class blogs can serve a similar function, but they also allow students to interact with those outside the classroom and give students experience with writing to external audiences. GoogleDocs, Voicethreads, Diigo, and wikis enhance opportunities for collaboration at times even erasing the boundaries that define authorship and ownership of a text. Access to information for research or even simply as fodder for discussion can now literally be in the palm of your hand. And modes of sharing information in academia have become decentralized; it’s no longer centered on the publishing industry or even on the academic paper.

Given this environment what are useful questions for faculty to ask? What do faculty members need to think about when teaching within this environment? Here’s what I came up with:

  • How is my chosen technological tool helping me reach my pedagogical goals?
  • Can my chosen tool change my goals? Do I want it to?
  • What technical skills do my students need to be professionals within my discipline?
  • How does the networked environment influence my discipline? Does it change the way we publish? Does it change the way we write? Does it change the way we communicate in general with others in our discipline? Does it change the way information in the discipline is created and consumed?
  • How can I help my students navigate all of the information in this networked environment?

Professor Baron and her students went on to discuss their own and their discipline Psychology’s hopes, concerns, and fears about the effects of this digital environment. They were all heavily influenced by Nicolas Carr’s The Shallows, which they read in the class and while they acknowledged many of the benefits (social, intellectual,etc.) that technology brings, they also worried, like Carr, that today’s students are losing the capacity for deep reflection. Grace Baron argued that we need to build more of this kind of reflection about the effects of technology into the curriculum.

My own opinion? Being an academic technologist and a bit of an evangelist myself, I probably find myself falling into the “Never-Better” or the “Ever-Wasers” camps, which Adam Gopnik recently described in a New Yorker article which surveys the different books that are currently out there about the Internet (of which The Shallows is a part):

All three kinds appear among the new books about the Internet: call them the Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers, and the Ever-Wasers. The Never-Betters believe that we’re on the brink of a new utopia, where information will be free and democratic, news will be made from the bottom up, love will reign, and cookies will bake themselves. The Better-Nevers think that we would have been better off if the whole thing had never happened, that the world that is coming to an end is superior to the one that is taking its place, and that, at a minimum, books and magazines create private space for minds in ways that twenty-second bursts of information don’t. The Ever-Wasers insist that at any moment in modernity something like this is going on, and that a new way of organizing data and connecting users is always thrilling to some and chilling to others—that something like this is going on is exactly what makes it a modern moment. One’s hopes rest with the Never-Betters; one’s head with the Ever-Wasers; and one’s heart? Well, twenty or so books in, one’s heart tends to move toward the Better-Nevers, and then bounce back toward someplace that looks more like home.

But I think it’s important to note that this is a moment of change and transition, and we are both losing and gaining something in this moment — as we have done with almost every technology that was introduced. It would be foolish to try to stop it, because the benefits are very real. But we need to be cognizant about what we’re losing as well and try our best to identify and hold onto what’s valuable among those things that might be slipping away.

Is the web dying?

Is “Geeky Mom” on to something in her recent post, “Thoughts on being online”? A sampling:

Over the last year, I’ve noticed several blogs pass into oblivion, either with or without an announcement…. Several of the blogs of people I’ve been reading for 5 or 6 years are either gone or on a very sporadic schedule.  Twitter and Facebook seem more popular….  My WoW guild is having an existential crisis of sorts….

I have a couple of thoughts about what appears to me to be not a “death of blogs” or “death of the online world” moment, but certainly a moment of transition.

I also think the online world is being used for other things.  Gaming thrives, but older games like WoW are losing their appeal, especially for those who’ve been playing for a while…. Video has exploded, bringing our tv mentalities to the web.  So we pull up video on Hulu and watch for a 1/2 hour or hour and then we feel like we’re done.  And then there’s our phones and other devices, like the iPad and the Kindle, which offer other kinds of activities, most of which are disconnected.

I realize there are some people out there just now discovering all the wonders of the Internet, but for me, it’s starting to lose its luster.

It does seem like we are starting to see a shift in general these days away from active engagement with what’s online, back toward a more passive almost TV mentality — evidenced by the rise of Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, Pandora. And this is being reinforced by devices that get things from the internet, but don’t necessarily let you use engage in a back-and-forth fashion with the stuff you get: Roku, the iPad, the Kindle, even gaming systems like XBox and Playstation. I enjoy many of these new technologies myself, but I also can’t help wondering about this moment of transition. Are we losing something.

Wired Magazine recently announced the “The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet.” (http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/08/ff_webrip/all/1). Many proclaimed that as too extreme… but maybe they have a good point.

Under Construction

The first day of classes is today, and a sense of change is definitely in the air as the campus comes to life. New students arrived over the weekend, returning students arrived over the last few days, faculty are here as well… and all are returning to the sight of the New Science Center almost fully framed and actively under construction. This morning they had the final beam out for everyone to sign; I along with many others could not resist.

To me, this construction serves as a good symbol for the upcoming year at Wheaton, especially for Library Information Services. We’re actively reconstructing how we get our work done as people change and/or take on new duties. We have a new leader adjusting to her new role and helping us set priorities for the coming year(s). Susan Wawrzaszek moved from her position as Deputy CIO and University Librarian at Brandeis University to Associate Vice President for Library Information Services at Wheaton on August 9.

We’ve “constructed” a few new things over the summer– making some significant adjustments to several of our core services for the new academic year, some of which we are still putting the finishing touches on! One change is the redesign of the Library website, which significantly improves how users access our resources and find information about Library happenings. It is a vast improvement over the old site in my opinion, but we also know that it isn’t perfect. We’ll definitely be using the feedback we get from our users to improve it and other websites within LIS over the course of this year.

We’ve also changed our Learning Management System’s architecture (we use Moodle) to allow for better navigation and archiving of online course materials. In addition, we upgraded to a new version of Moodle this summer, which brings new features to faculty and students. Over the course of this year, I hope to continue to look for ways to improve this service.

And LIS has implemented a new print management system on campus and introduced Multifunctional Printers/Scanner/Copiers. This new printing/copying system will continue to allow students to print for free, but will hopefully also reduce the amount of wasted paper on campus. With this change in particular, (but with the others as well) comes a whole set of needs and anxieties from our users as they adjust. And that’s where the real work starts for many of us. It is our role within LIS to construct a network of support that will ensure that our users can adjust to our changes as smoothly as possible.  We have documentation in place and will continue to make adjustments to it as we discover holes in it. We have already done some training, more will come. And as with most small liberal arts colleges, we will also provide a lot of one-on-one help.

I’m told that in a few minutes, they’ll be raising that beam up onto the Science Center. I plan to go out and watch. The framework is in place; now over the course of this year they’ll be filling in the rest of the building. I think the same can probably be said for several of the things we’re working on in LIS…

Technology Literacy

Technology Literacy… or Digital Literacy… or Media Literacy… or Information Fluency…

There are many names for what I’m interested in here, and I know that each of the names has a slightly different definition. The latter maybe closer to what we are interested in our merged Library/IT environment at Wheaton — a fluency for our students that involves a good understanding of how to gather and use information and communicate that information through various kinds of digital tools.

At Wheaton, at least, I can point to language that was used to describe the college’s strategic plan. According to this plan “the college community’s goal for 2014 ” is to be an educational institution that “develops global citizens prepared to lead in a complex world. Its transformational learning environment prepares graduates to live purposeful lives, be engaged in their communities, be scientifically and technologically literate, and act effectively to promote change.” (emphasis added)

Though we haven’t integrated technology literacy into the curriculum in a programmatic way yet, I think we’ve made some good strides in this direction. At the NITLE Instructional Technology Leaders confernce last March, I presented a five minute talk on all of our efforts and how I hope we can push forward in the coming years. I’m posting my Prezi from that talk below, along with some notes as a reminder to myself about what I hope to accomplish and perhaps as a way to start conversations with others!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Notes for the talk:

[Click 1] I hesitate to present this in a showcase, because this is not about a finished or flashy project or even necessarily a success. It’s more about where I hope Wheaton is headed with Technology Literacy/Fluency – Media literacy/Fluency (whatever you want to call it) with its students. We’re moving in good directions so far, and I hope my group can push us more in this area in the coming years. I’d also be curious from hearing from any of you who are already here and how you got there.

[Click 2] Why “technology literacy” at Wheaton? As you can see I have a number of reason, I am sure there are more. [Click 3] It’s right in our Vision Statement. In 2006, the President led the campus through Strategic Planning and this is where we are headed for 2014. [Click 4, 5, 6] Our accrediting organization, NEASC, also states in their standards that students should use technology as an integral part of their education. [Click 7, 8] Alumni have recently begun pressuring faculty members. In one case, we had a former student tell a faculty member that they wish they had had more experience with SPSS before going out into the real world. [Click 9, 10] The topic has also been coming up from time to time in Workshops and Lunchtime Tech N Talk conversations that we’ve been having with faculty on technology related topics. Should all students in the English department learn various Powerpoint methods like Takahishi or the Lessig method? Should all students have some time in First Year seminar devoted to Wikipedia? Should all Economics majors have experience with applications like Maple that allow them to visualize complex formulas?

[Click 11] So those are the pressures. Here are some of the attempts that have been made over the years… some of them recent and show promise. [Click 12] Several of these attempts spring from the brain of Jenni Lund, an instructional technologist at Wheaton who I am channeling through much of this presentation. [Click 13, 14, 15] She has tried things like student Peer Training (software training sessions held by students for students on specific software packages), Peer Tutors (called software tutors), and last year implemented a requirement for all LIS student employees to prove that they were proficient with basic productivity software.

[Click 16, 17, 18, 19] She is also responsible for our January Technology Immersion Program, which started in the 90s as a way for students to learn software outside of their regular class times during January break. It was resource intensive and only benefited a few students, so abandoned. We picked it up again this past January as a way to generate some revenue and tackle Tech Literacy again. We ended up offering two classes: web design and graphic design. The students did love the experience.

[Click 20] Apart from that one success, though, I think that we have found that students would rather learn the technology as part of their course work. I discovered recently that we ask Students on a Senior survey how they would prefer to learn technology and most would prefer it as part of the First Year Seminar or in their discipline. [Click 21] This works well in small pockets… Graphic Design at Wheaton has a lab section, for example, where students learn how to use Photoshop and InDesign and Illustrator.

[Click 21, 22, 23, 24] While this does happen in some isolated instance, it is not programmatically part of the curriculum. Except in one department… The Chemistry Department (along with every other department) was asked to come up with a Writing Plan. Something they struggled with, until they rephrased what was being asked of them… they were really being asked how to help students in their program communicate within the discipline.  So, they structured the progression through the major around this idea. And you’ll notice that technical skills are built into their plan. They need to know how to create a graph with Excel in the 100s. They need to know how to build a molecule with software at the 200-level. They need to know how to annotate a spreadsheet at the 300 level. This seems like the real way forward to me. Technology fully integrated into the curriculum and stated explicitly. In Chemistry they even have students use a textbook for the software.

[Click 25] So there are several challenges that we need to overcome before we have a real programatic approach to Technology Literacy: the economy, needing to have leadership on board with the idea, overcoming preconceptions that digital natives already know it all, and perhaps the biggest one for liberal arts colleges: overcoming the bias away from “practical skills based learning” as something that belongs to professional schools as opposed to the liberal arts environment.

[Click 26, 27] Next steps for my group at this point, would be to try to overcome that bias by doing things like

  1. reframing the discussion so that it is also about critical thinking about tools that students are using
  2. collecting better data. These are two questions I want to add to that senior survey to see if there are a lot of students who feel like they need to be better prepared
  3. I’d also like to see us taking productive steps forward like actively working with faculty members as they create their communication plans in their departments so that technology is an integral part of the curriculum… and perhaps someday even expanding the basic Literacy requirement that we currently have within LIS into the First Year Seminar program.

[Click 28] And of course, while I am here, I hope I can hear other ideas from those of you in the room who have been making some good strides forward in this area already.