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The Short Game And The Long Game

“Librarianship is not a set of skills to be learned, or a set of degrees to be mastered. Librarianship is a conversation that has taken place over millennia.”

David Lankes recently had a great post about engaging in the big questions in the profession. He said that “bad conferences are filled with ‘how we do it good’ pieces.” His point is that what is really important is to invite others into a bigger conversation as opposed to talking about just what you do or how to do something.

There is a great deal of value in talking about how to do something. It’s practical and people can see the tangible effects right away. My posts on this blog about iPad apps or Twitter are by far my most popular. But our profession isn’t solely about keeping up on the newest tech or trends. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day of your job or focus on new technologies that you can bring back from a conference, but if we don’t regularly ask bigger questions we’re compromising our future.

I see this other places as well. In library instruction its easy to concentrate on tools or how to do things, such as how to successfully navigate the databases. We’re experts in these things and students need to know how to use them to succeed on assignments. But they are just tools. If we only spend time on them we’re giving students skills for the present, but compromising their future. Tools change. We have databases and catalogs and discovery and Google today. There’ll be things we can’t imagine yet. That won’t be true in the future. In addition to teaching students how to succeed now, we also need to give them the skills to succeed in the future. We don’t want them to succeed just in their upcoming assignment. We want them to succeed in life. And knowing how to use a database is not the answer, or at least not the whole answer.

We need to be helping students develop the habits of mind that are crucial in research and lifelong learning. These are things like critically evaluating different pieces of information, perseverance in the search for information (not just giving up after a failed Google search), and a spirit of inquiry and constant questioning. These skills will last much longer than learning a database whose interface will change in the next few months.

We need to be playing both the short game and the long game in teaching and in the profession. There are tangible, practical skills that students need and that we need as professionals to succeed in our short term pursuits. But we can’t get so caught up in what we are doing right now that we forget to teach habits of mind or have the bigger conversations that will shape our future.

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4 Reasons Librarians Should Join A MOOC

Notes from an Online Class

Me learning math and whatnot

I am now in my fourth week of a Coursera course called Introduction to Finance. It’s a massively open online course (MOOC) that I am taking with thousands of other people from places like Ukraine, Malaysia, Indore, and Bogota. The class involves video lectures, working through problems, discussion forums with other classmates, quizzes, and even math. And even though I’m not quantitatively inclined, I am loving taking this course despite the work and number crunching. It was something outside of my training and education, and it gave me the opportunity to open myself up to a different perspective. There are a lot of good reasons though for librarians to sign up for a MOOC themselves. Here are a few:

Explore Innovations in Higher Education

There is no shortage of talk about new experiments and especially disruption in higher education. There are a lot of amazing startups, projects, and ideas that are gaining traction in the realm of education. Higher education, due to the high costs and new available methods of delivery will continue to change and evolve rapidly, and it’s important to be aware of those changes. Instead of waiting on the sidelines to see what happens, by enrolling in a MOOC or exploring other higher ed innovations, librarians can be an active participant and contributor to the future of higher education.

Update Your Skills

We can’t learn everything in library school and there are other things I wish I had learned there. But luckily librarianship is the ultimate extensible profession. We are good at learning and, MOOCs are one way that we can gain skills and competencies that would enhance our work. There’s a wealth of classes available that could be extremely useful in librarianship. We could understand how to make decisions based on data, learn how to code, study applying game elements to non-game problems, or even design our own class and learn from one another.

Learn From Great Teachers

The professor for my finance class, Gautam Kaul, is a professor at Michigan and has won various awards for teaching and research. More importantly he is a great teacher. He is authentic and brings passion for his subject into the class. He says things like “my role is to show you the beauty of finance,” and “learning happens when you’re happy.” He talks about finance, but also life and love and even pokes a little fun at accounting. I have learned finance concepts under his coaching, but I have learned from him as a teacher. As educators, librarians can learn a great deal in observing other teachers and how they structure classes, deliver content, and relate with their students. When taking a MOOC the learning is important, but observing the teaching can be equally rewarding.

Do Something For Yourself

It’s important to take care of yourself, develop yourself, and recharge. Similar to choosing to do yoga, enrolling in a pottery class, or taking up photography, finding a class you are interested in online is a way for you to challenge yourself and try something new. It’s not necessary to take anything even remotely related to your career. There are classes on mythology, philosophy, or even a beginner’s guide to irrational behavior (which might help in some of those faculty senate meetings). MOOCs are another way to explore yourself and your interests in a new and low investment way.

Taking a MOOC, like other learning, can be genuinely rewarding. Last week I was studying in a Barnes and Noble and got excited (probably causing-a-minor-scene-excited) when I worked through a really difficult example that the professor put up and was able to actually go through it step by step, understand it, and get the correct answer without looking. Learning can, and should be, fun and exciting especially now that the options for learning are increasing. If you’re interested in learning more about the future of higher education, you’re in luck. There’s MOOC starting up in October from some of the pioneers in large open online classes including George Siemens. The class is called Current/Future State of Higher Education, and I’m already signed up. Hopefully I see you online.