MOOCs and Information Literacy Instruction

I’ve been taking a Coursera MOOC and have been thinking a lot about how libraries can utilize elements from some of these new educational models. Daphne Koller, one of the founders of Coursera, discussed in recent TED Talk a key difference between face to face learning and online education models.

Massive online courses, like the Introduction to Finance class that I am taking, are great at evaluating students through things like multiple choice and fill in the blank quizzes. Peer grading and self grading are also being explored with some success. But these courses are still mostly successful at teaching content and practical, how-to skills. The value of face to face education is being able to “ignite creativity.” Face to face learning is best suited for active learning, critical thinking, and problem solving as opposed to delivery of content.

What could this mean in information literacy instruction? Content is important. Students need to know the nuts and bolts of evaluating a website or how to properly cite so as to avoid plagiarism. But I would argue that some of this “content” is better suited for outside the physical classroom. Avoiding plagiarism and knowing the difference between a reputable website and a questionable website are skills that all professors want and that all students need to succeed.

If this content could be delivered outside of the classroom via video, module, game, flipped TED Ed lesson, or other learning objects, in class information literacy instruction could focus on critical thinking about information choices. Lessons could focus on the changing nature of attribution, citation, and ethical uses of information in the digital age. There could be lessons about having a balanced information diet and understanding where your information comes from. These type of lessons have the potential to unleash the curiosity and creativity of our students in ways that talking about plagiarism and how to use a database can’t.

I don’t think that face to face learning will ever be replaced, but some pieces surely will. I see elements of MOOCs and other new online education models enhancing our effectiveness in the classroom as we’re trying to help students become sophisticated information consumers and creators.

How do you see these changing educational models affecting information literacy instruction?


Libraries Are In The Curiosity Business

I was at a conference last month and during a roundtable discussion one of the participants related that his dentist asked him about the future of libraries. The dentist wanted to know if there would be a library at all when his daughter went to college. People wonder if libraries will still be around in 10 or 20 years.

I can’t say I know what the future will be, but I did have an answer to his question. My periodontist’s office burned to the ground in a fire and they were without a home for several months. Finally they were able to set up temporary offices a few miles away. When I went to the new spot it was very different from other dentist offices I had visited. They had a really pleasant waiting room and when I got into the examination room they had massive LCD screens with my information and x-rays all ready to go. They had some really relaxing (non-elevator) music playing. When I sat in the chair I noticed something different there too. They hygienist told me that the chair was softly massaging my back and she could turn it off if it bothered me. It blew me away.

They had changed the experience of going to the dentist from one of annoyance and discomfort (and sometimes even fear) into something pleasant and comfortable. By paying attention to the experience they were able to overcome my  expectations and even surprise and delight me.

My answer to the question about what is the future of libraries was that similar to my new dentist’s office libraries evolve and adapt and improve. The best libraries are the ones that are most aware of and responsive to their community and it’s needs. Those are the libraries are doing amazing things. Libraries will not be the same in 10 or 20 years. If they didn’t change and weren’t responsive they wouldn’t last long.

Dentists are not going to run out of business anytime soon as they are in the mouth business and there are no lack of mouths. They do need to grow, improve, and make use of the latest technology though, to stay competitive. Libraries on the other hand are in the curiosity business. I don’t see human curiosity and desire to learn going away anytime soon. The way people learn is changing, but by paying attention to the experience of users and being responsive to their needs, libraries will be around for a long time.


Positive Vision and Questions in Libraries

“All we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” -Buddha

“A vivid imagination compels the whole body to obey it.” -Aristotle

I just began a 6 week online workshop on Appreciative Inquiry conducted by David Cooperrider at Case Western University’s Weatherhead School of Management. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is an organizational development model and a way of implementing change that focuses not on the problems or deficits of a group or organization, but instead focuses on the positive and increasing what they do well. I recognized right away that this workshop was going to be exploring a lot of questions that I have recently been dealing with, especially the importance of questions in the change process.

One of the interesting elements of AI is called the Anticipatory Principle. This principle states that our current actions and behaviors are guided and deeply influenced by our images of the future. An example of this is Pygmalion Effect in pedagogy. Research shows that students will perform better if their teacher has higher expectations of them. The same is true with organizations or institutions. And of course examples like the Pygmalion Effect or the Placebo Effect are instances of self-fulfilling prophecies. If we have a positive vision of the future we will create that future. If we have a negative vision of the future, that is what we will get.

Then I come across sentiments like this:

I remember coming across this tweet a couple of months ago at the Library Technology Conference, and it seemed pretty spot on. There’s a lot of hand-wringing that goes on in librarianship. We see a “crisis of identity” and “low self esteem.” There’s a lot of hype that libraries are doomed or that the library “empire” is declining and falling.

It’s easy to focus on problems, a future of obsolescence, budget cuts, or change resistant colleagues. But there is a problem with that. If we focus on obsolescence or resistance to change, that is what we’ll get. Focusing only on fixing what’s wrong with libraries is a waste of energy. There will always be more problems. Instead we should be focusing on the strengths of libraries, capitalizing on them and innovating in those areas.

This is a really exciting time in the history of humanity and there is so much potential, not just for libraries but also for human curiosity. There are tons of examples of libraries and librarians innovating, creating new service models, and meeting the changing needs of their members. When libraries are at their best, they are funinspiring places, that foster community and civic engagement, empower citizens of all ages and cultures, and promote literacy and scholarship.

How can we shift our professional discourse away from all the problems facing libraries and instead think about questions like “what do libraries look like when they are at their best” and “what would an ideal library look like?”