May 31, 2007

My Job in 10 Years: Physical and Virtual Spaces

To recap:

My Job in 10 Years:

(PDF version of whole series, including appendices, for printing here.)

In this essay I'd like to talk a little about some areas that aren't as directly job related as reference, collections or teaching. There are other areas where my role is more as a steward, things that I have an shared interest in along with all my other colleagues, some of whom may be more directly involved. I'd like to talk about the spaces we construct for our patrons, both physically and virtually. Administrators, department heads, systems librarians, IT staff, these are the ones directly responsible for these areas but I think I have a role too in shaping how these things develop and evolve.

I'm treating them together here for a couple of reasons. First of all, from a practical point of view I just want to get this series over and done with and combining the two areas just makes sense from that perspective. As well, I've also written about physical spaces before and don't have all that much new to add, making that section relatively short. And perhaps most importantly, I do think that they're related, these physical and virtual spaces, that we should probably begin to think of them together more often, to think about how they can promote each other, depend on each other and support each other.

Physical Spaces

I've already written a fairly extensive post about physical spaces in academic libraries (added as Appendix 2 in the pdf version) and I think what I wrote before still stands up pretty well, so I don't feel the need to elaborate too much more. I will, however, reiterate and expand a little on some of the main points.

Mostly, I think we need to make sure we continue to give students the kinds of spaces they need for their academic work: formal collaborative spaces, informal group spaces, quiet study, lab spaces where they have access to the software they need to do their assignment and can do research. All these things are important now and will continue to be important in the future. I don't really care what we end up calling it, but certainly part of the mix with be things like information or learning learning commons's where we provide collaborative lab space, open concept or group rooms, with librarians and tech support available.

I think we're mostly getting over our food fetish. We need to figure out food and drink rules that make sense, that all the various constituents more or less support and that we're actually willing to enforce. The smell test, bottles with caps, cups with lids, nothing outrageously messy. If setting up a cafe or lounge in or very near the library makes sense, that's something that should be embraced. In the long run, it's much better to replace a few keyboards or carpet tiles than to create a space that's unwelcoming or trying to enforce rules that the community has contempt for and staff are unwilling to commit to and enforce.

It would be great if we also had some fun and relaxing times and spaces too; I'm pretty sure I'll be organizing gaming nights and other fun events events such as journal clubs or chess tournaments. While not part of our core mission, they'll bring kids into the environment, make it a relaxing and fun space, one that they'll enjoy using. And while there in the space, they might just ask a question or use one of our resources that they might not have heard about before.

Another important point is how we as librarians interact with the people in our physical spaces. We need spaces that are conducive to roaming reference, to ad hoc group consultations in study and lab areas, some sort of reference desk will probably still be in use and of course we will definitely need labs and workshops for instruction activities.

Of course, there will be some interesting challenges in realizing this vision.

A big challenge will be doing all that fun, interactive stuff in what are often small branch libraries while still maintaining quiet space and lab space. It's going to be a difficult balance to strike. We also don't want to create a space that draws in some (ie. rambunctious gamers) but pushes away others (those seeking a bit of contemplation). If we try and mimic the functions of a student centre too much, if we drift too much from using our physical spaces to support the core academic mission of the university, then we risk losing support of senior administrators.

Another part of that challenge is that we are often stuck with older buildings full of stuff. Even if we could decide what kind of cool new spaces we want, how we get from here to there isn't always obvious. While we might like to ship our bound journals and print books off into storage to make room for other kinds of uses, at the moment that would be a huge disservice to our patrons. Those materials are still vitally needed, we're still nowhere near able to make those kinds of choices in a sweeping way. I hope that by the end of my 10 year time frame we'll have started to make a major transformation from stuff space to task-oriented study and social/collaborative space and even some fun space. In the shorter term, we'll still have to struggle with a lot of trade-offs and make do with less than ideal circumstances.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to overcome will be monetary. Adding new space or doing major renovations to existing space isn't cheap. Making the case to administrators and potential donors that the library is still a vital organ for any university campus and deserves the kind of investment necessary to adapt to a new student/academic culture is not going to be easy. That convincing may be easier if we start by showing the kind of vision and leadership that less radical transformations can achieve.

Virtual Spaces

By virtual spaces I mean the descendants of today's library website, OPACs, course management systems and to a certain degree the way we integrate material we license or purchase from vendors as well as material on the open web. Basically all web-based applications, past, present and future.

I have no intention here of going into whether or not our current systems suck or if they're broken because I really want to focus on the future rather than the past. It's pretty obvious to me that library web sites and vendor search interfaces of all kinds have been left in the dust by the Googles & Amazons of the world and getting all dramatic about it doesn't move the discussion forward, it only gets people polarized and defensive. ILS vendors have let us down these last few years, but at the same time I'm not sure we've demanded enough from them over those years either. Not to mention that they are not particularly large companies with the resources of a Google or Amazon to propel that innovation. Can they come through for us in the next decade or are we on our own? Are open source systems going to allow us to build our own systems? The 10 year time frame may very well see larger institutions like universities (and larger public systems) abandoning the front office systems of ILS vendors and embracing something else, be it relying on network level search and discovery tools or building our own systems.

Just as the internet today would be almost unimaginable to us 10 years ago, so too the internet will evolve in unpredictable and unimaginable ways in the next 10 years, thus making any attempt to discern exactly what shape our online presences will take over the next decade will be difficult to say the least. Some things are pretty safe bets: more social, more collaborative, more open, more integrated, fewer product silos. On the other hand, maybe the whole social collaborative thing won't prove to be a big for academic libraries as we thought/hoped? What if you build a collaborative space, and students don't care enough to contribute? To a certain extent, since our presence in faculty and student virtual spaces is omnipresent in all these My Job in 10 Years essays, I just want to talk a little about the attitude we should approach developing our web presences.

First of all, we should not be afraid to make mistakes. We should be most afraid of always erring on the side of caution. Flying headlong into every shiny new technology, magpie-like, is probably a waste of precious resources, but always being the slow and steady tortoise in equally risky. We should neither automatically reject nor embrace something just based on our own personal opinion: new is not always good, old is not always bad and vice versa. It's hard to find the balance here, but there's good advice on that too. We should take the lead from the various interrelated communities dealing with people and machines: CHI, UX, human factors, ergonomics, we should read the tech blogs and books like Information Architecture and the World Wide Web, Ambient Findability, Wikinomics or Everything is Miscellaneous to name just a bunch of recent buzz books. We should figure out what the heck Web Science is. We should be restless, we should see the impossible-to-predict new paradigm shifting trends (like the rise of Google) of the next decade as opportunities not as threats, but as opportunities to engage our communities, to be mentoring our patrons into new technologies rather than scolding them about risky behaviours (hey, we're all guilty of this one sometimes). Or to let our patrons and more adventurous colleagues mentor us into new technologies.

Here's a partial list of some of the technology trends we should be keeping our eyes on over the next decade:

  • E-Science: The way science is done is changing, and so it the way it is being communicated. It's just getting started now, but I thing the next decade will see major changes: ScienceBlogs, e-science, data visualization, geolocation, the semantic web, web science, open access, open data, open source, open peer review. Not to mention electronic lab notebooks, lab wikis and a whole host of other such innovations. To the extent the way science is communicated transforms, we must follow that transformation. Embryonic systems like Nature Network are worth checking out.

  • The social web: Social networking software is the hottest thing going right now, but it's impossible to tell how what shape these embryonic systems will take and how permanent and wide ranging a lot of the innovations will be. Stunning, transformative innovation or flash in the pan that everyone will soon tire of: only time will tell. (I tend to the former, by the way) The one thing I am fairly sure of is that we won't see the web get any less connected or any less about relationships and definitely no less about collaboration. So, applications such as the descendants of today's course management systems, Facebook, Myspace and all the rest are definitely worth watching. We must seize opportunities to be appropriately in the same virtual shared spaces as our patrons.

  • User-created content: It's something that isn't going away either: blogs, wikis, mashups, photos, tags, personal data stuff like LibraryThing databases. And we can't forget that a lot of our science and engineering students essentially already create mashups of data, photos and output of programs such as MatLab or GIS applications for their assignments.

  • Virtual worlds: Second Life, RuneScape and Kingdom of Loathing (my sons' current favourite) and all the other virtual worlds are a very interesting phenomenon to watch. They certainly have a huge future as gaming environments but it will be interesting to see if they take off as business, educational and leisure environments. The potential is there for distance education and for any kind of remote mediated transaction, exactly the kind of things libraries and librarians want to engage our patrons in.

  • Mobile and ubiquitous computing: They are already huge trends and they will only get bigger. Mobile in the sense that a wider range of handheld, portable and wearable devices will have greater and greater connectivity and computing power so we must be prepared to deliver our content to those devices. Ubiquitous in the sense that information and access to information is almost like the air we breathe these days, it's everywhere, part of every device we use, part of every landscape we interact in. We need to make sure that the content we purchase and license and the services we offer are part of that ubiquitous landscape. If it's not, we risk being left out.

  • MicroGoogleSoft: They're calling it "discovery at the network level" now, the idea that people want to use free web search tools to meet all their information needs so we need to make sure our licensed and purchased content is findable via those tools. I more or less talked about this in the A&I Databases installment, but I think it merits a mention here as well. Right now our web presence is partly geared towards directing patrons to A&I databases and then to full text journals. If we're assuming that our patrons don't want to use our web presence directly to find their full text content, but that they want to use a network level tool such as Google, well that's going to mean a pretty major rethinking of what we're doing with our web pages. In a narrow set of circumstances, Google Book Search is already a better tool to find books in our libraries that our own OPACs. That trend is only going to get more pronounced.

  • OPACs: And speaking of OPACs, better minds than me have speculated about the future of that beast. I hesitate to make any predictions myself, but I would be extremely surprised if what we call the OPAC is at all recognizable in 10 years. Or at very least, the transformation into complete unrecognisability will be well under way. Findability, resource discovery, user tagging, integrating with network-level tools are all going to be important trends to keep tract of.

  • Special Collections: One trend that's not going away is libraries creating and publishing their own content, whether it be hosting a journal or institutional repository, digitizing special collections, retrospective digitization of old journal or just contributing content to large-scale digitization projects run by other organizations. And there's no reason we can't host social networks as well, such as the University of Toronto's Biome project.

  • Serendipity: And then there's by far the largest category of stuff we should keep our eyes on: the stuff I've forgotten, can't imagine or seriously underestimate the importance of. Feel free to add some of these to the comments.

Some "on the other hand" considerations that cannot be ignored (My apologies for sounding a bit cranky on some of these but think of it as a way of countering some of the generally boundless optimism in other parts of the series):

  • Creeping commercialization: We can embrace the model of Google & Amazon & Flickr and whatever, be we have to be careful not to embrace the companies themselves too closely. We mustn't forget that we are public institutions and we have a duty to spend public money in a appropriate way. Sure, we need to partner with vendors to deliver the collections and services that our patrons need, but it's not now nor should it ever be our job to facilitate commercial access to our patrons. These companies aren't our friends, they want to make money off of us and our patrons -- and that's fine, it's their jobs. I'm not saying we shouldn't have excellent relationships with our vendors and their representatives, just that we should remember what the relationship should be.

  • Privacy: Our patrons may not care about their privacy, but it is our professional duty to protect it for them whether they want us to or not. They may not be worried about telling all to Facebook or MySpace, but our responsibilities are different since our relationship is different. They are not customers we are trying to exploit but rather patrons whose interests we are serving. Patronizing? So are seat belt laws. We need to find balance between an environment so locked down that nobody can do anything interesting or engaging and one that appropriately protects a patron's right to privacy. If you don't think privacy is important, two words: Patriot Act.

  • Offensive content: Radical trust and user-generated content are great things, but what do you do the first time someone posts racist, sexist or otherwise offensive or hateful content, the first time there's an incident of bullying or harassment of students, faculty or staff. Do we really want to run a clone of RateMyProfessors or have our own Kathy Sierra incident? There's no guarantee that's ever going to happen (and we all hope it doesn't), but if it does we must be prepared to respond with policies and procedures that our communities support. Universities can be very fragile, sensitive places sometimes, quick to explode. We shouldn't be afraid to do interesting things, but we should be aware of the risks and be prepared to respond and not get caught flatfooted.

  • Build it, and ...: What if we build social spaces where patrons can network and create content and...they just don't. It's one thing for people in the 18-22 age range to use the web to have fun and procrastinate, but do enough of them really care enough about their school work to actually contribute to the library's web site? Remember the 80/20 rule. And Sturgeon's Law too, 90% of everything is crap (except this essay, of course, which is all good). How do we make our virtual spaces interesting and fun enough to attract users' attention and yet useful enough to be worth our time and energy -- and theirs too. Students want their own social spaces, and may not be as interested as we would like to think in "official" social spaces.

  • Digital divide: There's a couple of digital divides we have to keep in mind. We have to be aware that not all our students have the economic resources to play with the latest gadgetry so we have to make sure we design our offerings to be accessible to everyone. We also have to remember that not all our students want to be engaged with all the latest technologies; there's a wide range of aptitudes and inclinations within any student body. We have to resist the temptation to lump everyone in the same generation together, assuming they all have the same technology profile; we also can't forget that there's going to be a wide age range among our students, that not all of them are teens still living in their parent's basement. We have to meet our students in the diversity of places where they actually are, not where we would like them to be.

  • Preservation: If we create systems that have user-generated content and if we digitize special collections and host journals, in other words if we are stewards of unique content, we will have to ensure the long-term preservation of that content. Lots of the user-generated content may seem ephemeral, but I'm not sure if we should treat it as such. We will definitely need the opinion of professional archivists on this one.

  • Academic integrity/intellectual property: Sharing is one thing, stealing is another. Or is it? What's the difference and how can you tell? What if students post assignment answers in one of our forums, for example? We have to be prepared to deal with these types of issues if we allow users to create content in our virtual spaces.

  • Patience: This is a hard one. The challenge is not to be too impatient for things to work themselves out. Sometimes good systems just need to evolve from crappy systems, we just don't know how to get straight to the right solution at first. An example of such a transitional technology today is SFX and other link resolvers (i.e. what we call Findit@York). What we have now is not ideal -- we just aren't where we need to be yet. But compare it to what we had to do before: look in the A&I database, check the catalogue to figure out if it is online or not, try various online databases and aggregated databases. Just ugly. So, being too impatient can lead to a kind of defeatist frustration. Of course, if we're not impatient enough, that potentially leads to a complacency, stagnation and failure.

  • Vision drift. In our rush to be all things to all people, we can't forget that our core mission is always going to be connected to the academic mission of our institution.

My job in 10 years? To plan an active role in moving my institution forward in a sane, balanced way that also embraces the endless possibilities of new technological and social patterns. To advocate for better systems and spaces for our patrons, to plan, to facilitate, to organize, to help build, to advertise, to cajole, to promote, to teach. To see the interrelationships between physical and virtual spaces, how one can be used to promote the other, how they are complementary not competing. To promote our physical and virtual spaces to faculty, students and staff. To raise funds to implement grand ideas, to make tough decisions, to understand trade-offs.

Next up: The Earth Shattering Conclusion! (Maybe even as early as next week.)

May 30, 2007

On Computer Science

A couple of recent interesting items that probably don't merit their own posts:

  • Eugene Wallingford at Knowing and Doing on some favourite books and teaching as storytelling:
    For teachers, I think that the key to the effective story is context: placing the point to be learned into a web of ideas that the student understands. A good story helps the student see why the idea matters and why the student should change how she thinks or behaves. In effect, the teacher plays the role of a motivational speaker, but not the cheerleading, rah-rah sort. Students know when they are being manipulated. They appreciate authenticity even in their stories.

    He mentions a couple of Gerald M. Weinberg's books as among his favourites and many of his books are also among my favourites. And apparently, Weinberg blogs here on writing and here on consulting, which I didn't know about.

  • Mike Hendrickson has started doing the State of the Computer Book Market quarterly surveys at O'Reilly Radar, taking over from Tim O'Reilly. His first effort is very detailed and very good, in four parts overview, technologies, publishers and programming languages. I'm not going to attempt to summarize the whole thing because if you're interested in the computer book market, you should probably read the whole thing, but I thought this little bit from the first part was worth quoting:
    n the first quarter of 2006, new interest in web development associated with Web 2.0 and strong performance of books on digital media applications like Photoshop helped to drive the market. In the first quarter of 2007, we hoped that the Microsoft Vista and Office 2007 releases would cause a similar sharp increase in our trend lines. That has not materialized, and in fact, you could say that Microsoft's new releases have not lived up to expectations yet, at least for book sales. I did say "yet" because there are signs that Vista is starting to pick up steam. But the fact is that without a significant bump from Vista and related Office products, the 2007 market has not performed at the 2006 level. I find it very interesting that the web and digital media had more of a market effect in 2006 than a huge, highly anticipated release of a new version of the world's most used consumer operating system and its office productivity suite has in 2007. It's one more sign of the waning of Microsoft's once fearsome market power.

    I particularly appreciated the major/mid-major/min-minor/minor/irrelevant breakdown of programming languages in part 4, as that kind of analysis is very helpful in collection development, especially for identifying the languages that are on the way down as well as the ones becoming more popular.

  • From Journal on Educational Resources in Computing (JERIC) v7i2, A 2007 model curriculum for a liberal arts degree in computer science by Brad Richards looks very interesting. You can see an online version of it here (there are several versions of it; I'm not sure if they are all the final or various drafts). The document itself mentions the author as the Liberal Arts Computer Science Consortium.

May 28, 2007

Publishers must blog!

Michael Cairns of PersonaNonData has a great post of the if-you-can't-beat-em-join-ed variety:, Publishers Must Blog:

If you can’t beat them join them: Developing a social media strategy that encompasses blogging should be a foundation of all publishing house marketing and promotion plans. I have mentioned before (in relationship to book reviews) that I am less convinced of the value of typical marketing programs supporting book promotion. My macro view above can only be mitigated by joining the new media fray and developing networks of interested parties that can nurture, support and perhaps develop content that you produce as a publishing house. As market segments evolve, I think they will become narrower and more defined and publishers that support communities (via social) must be able to participate in these communities in a meaningful way in order to be successful. This is already the case on computer book publishing.

It's quite a long post with a lot of good points, so it's well worth checking out in it's entirety. In fact, Michael makes a lot of points that are relevant to why anyone or any organization with any public presence would want to blog:
As I thought about the theme of the panel meeting, my thought process mirrored the approach I took and the benefits I saw in establishing a blog.
  • Blogging gave me an opportunity to experiment with new technology
  • I became a publisher/content producer and, as traffic increases, one with responsibility to an audience
  • Develop a personality beyond a ‘resume’ or existing professional reputation
  • As popularity increases, the blog becomes a center of a growing network of interest
  • Expands a professional network: who knew there were as many people with shared views and perspectives?

Libraries, library directors, subject librarians, department chairs, profs, deans, presidents, research vps -- I think that Michael's points would be well worth bringing up to a wide variety of actors in the university environment.

May 27, 2007

Web science: a provocative invitation to computer science

From the latest Communications of the ACM (v50i6), Ben Shneiderman has an interesting and important Viewpoint column: Web science: a provocative invitation to computer science:

I urge a richly interdisciplinary path for Web science that also addresses the emerging applications for scientific collaboration, e-commerce, entertainment, social creativity, and social networking [6]. Explanatory theories are needed to understand why, say, eBay remains a huge success with few serious competitors. Predictive models are needed to understand why the video-sharing site YouTube and the photo-sharing site Flickr are so successful and why social networking sites like MySpace, FaceBook, and Friendster have hundreds of millions of users. Multiple scientific studies of Wikipedia would provide valuable understanding and guidance needed by implementers of public health information Web sites, community-response grids for emergency preparedness [8], and policy-oriented discussion groups. Most computer scientists are likely to dismiss these concerns as outside their territory, but Web scientists would eagerly take on these research challenges.


The Web science framework is a provocative research agenda that deserves serious review but that already needs expansion to adequately address such important issues as social computing, universal usability, and interdisciplinary strategies. Visionaries say it is time for a change, but will the traditional computer science community accept the invitation? I hope it will.*

It's a stimulating manifesto, a call to action for the CS community to embrace the social and collaborative possibilities of the web. After all, the web is science and science is the web; computational, distributed and collaborative models are everywhere and a discipline that lets those new paradigms pass it by is in trouble. In fact, Shneiderman does indeed bring the specter of declining enrollments as an impetus to embrace new ways. It's well worth reading in it's entirety.

Shneiderman also heavily relies upon the web science manifesto by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and colleagues, A framework for Web science. The abstract:
This text sets out a series of approaches to the analysis and synthesis of the World Wide Web, and other web-like information structures. A comprehensive set of research questions is outlined, together with a sub-disciplinary breakdown, emphasising the multi-faceted nature of the Web, and the multi-disciplinary nature of its study and development. These questions and approaches together set out an agenda for Web Science, the science of decentralised information systems. Web Science is required both as a way to understand the Web, and as a way to focus its development on key communicational and representational requirements. The text surveys central engineering issues, such as the development of the Semantic Web, Web services and P2P. Analytic approaches to discover the Web’s topology, or its graph-like structures, are examined. Finally, the Web as a technology is essentially socially embedded; therefore various issues and requirements for Web use and governance are also reviewed.

May 25, 2007

Friday Fun: Hanging out in a Coffee Shop Edition

From Greedy, Greedy Algorithms, how not to be a poser:

  1. No one gives a sh*t about your Mac laptop
  2. No one wants to know the details of your frivolous cellphone conversations
  3. When concluding a cellphone conversation, saying "goodbye" in a language other than the one you were conversing in is pretentious and stupid. Cool it.
  4. Reading snobby general interest magazines doesn't automatically make you a world class intellectual
  5. More syllables in your order doesn't make the beverage any better

Bitter, cruel, sarcastic, funny. Read the whole thing.

Great Scoble Show videos

A bunch of really good ones I caught up on last night:

  • BlogHer founders ready for Chicago ConFab is a 48 minute interview with the founders of the BlogHer women's blog community and conference, one that I wasn't really familiar with before. I'd heard of it but not really explored it. Actually it's really interesting, with lots of academic and scitech bloggers that I'd not encountered before. In any case, the interview is mostly about what drove these three women (Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort and Jory Des Jardins) to found the community and conference and their philosophy of community. It might be a little too much about delivering women's eyeballs to corporate advertisers for my liking, but somebody's got to pay the bills, I guess.

  • Getting Photographic at Computer History Museum is true computer history geeky wonderfulness. It's an interview with Mark Richards, the photographer for the new book Core Memory: A Visual Survey of Vintage Computers which is based on the collections of the Computer History Museum. I gotta get me this book (not to mention a copy for the collection, natch).

  • Finally, a four-part State of Second Life: talking with Second Life's embedded reporter interview with James Au (1, 2, 3, 4). A lot here on the inner workings of Second Life, what goes on inside, and how to be a "reporter" in a place that doesn't really exist. I haven't watched all the interviews yet, but what I have seen is pretty good.

May 24, 2007

Finding scientific papers for free

Sandra Porter of Discovering Biology in a Digital World has a series of three posts on Finding Scientific Papers for Free (1, 2, 3). All are very good and well worth checking out. They're basically from the point of view of someone that isn't attached to a major academic or institutional subscriber base but that wants to find high quality, peer-reviewed articles on various topics, mostly medicine and the other life sciences. However, the advice is certainly valid for anyone that is part of such an institution but still has to scramble to find some relevant articles.

Porter's new favourite method, from the third post: going to PubMed and choosing the "limit to free full text" in the limits section. Lots of interesting discussion and suggestions in the comments for the various posts.

An interesting discussion to keep track of, both for libraries and publishers. At what point does what's freely available on the web reach the critical mass tipping point? And what then?

Bora + PLoS = Match made in heaven!

I was hoping that Bora would make this announcement a couple of days earlier so I could draw some cosmic conclusions about good fortune, bad timing and smart organizational decisions. Alas, life doesn't always play out so that we can draw the appropriate lessons. At least there's on example of a smart organizational decision.

Anyways, congratulations Bora on becoming the PLoS ONE Online Community Manager! We're all expecting great things in the future!

May 23, 2007

History of Programming Languages

Now this going to be a cool conference: 3rd ACM SIGPLAN conference on History of Programming Languages, 2007, San Diego, California, June 09 - 10, 2007.

Some highlights from the 12 papers that are going to be presented and that are already in the ACM DL:

What's New @ IEEE

The May 2007 editions kicks off a snazzy new renovated version of the What's New newsletters. A couple of interesting items from the latest ones.

From the Libraries edition:

New Members Join IEEE Library Advisory Council

Four new representatives have joined the IEEE Library Advisory Council. They include: Jose Octavio Alonso Gamboa, Biblioteca Universitaria; David Alsmeyer, British Telecom Library; John Dupuis, York University; and Gerald Steeman, NASA Langley. The IEEE Library Advisory Council brings together international corporate, academic, and government librarians who consult with IEEE to help develop products and policies. For more information, visit here

E-Books Face Failure as Popular Alternative to Print Texts

Electronic books are fated to fail, according to an article from ComputerWorld that examines the feasibility of technology companies putting major e-books on the market in the hopes of attracting the public away from buying print books. A number of disadvantages are cited for e-books, including the high cost of hardware, the lack of discounts for books in electronic form, and the tactile sensations that real books produce in readers. Read more

As you can see from the first item, I've joined the IEEE Library Advisory Council starting this year. I'm greatly looking forward to working with my IEEE colleagues and fellow librarians from literally around the world to help make the CS community a little easier to navigate. We had our first virtual meeting last week and I'm looking forward to our next face-to-face meeting in the fall.

From the Students edition:
Computer Conference Targets Opportunities for Women

Carnegie Mellon University will host a first-of-its-kind conference focusing on computer science research opportunities for undergraduate women in October, featuring a keynote address by IBM researcher Frances Allen, the first woman to receive the nation's top computer science honor, the A.M. Turing Award. Declines in U.S. enrollments in computer science programs, particularly among women, underline the necessity of the conference, organizers say, since computer science is increasingly critical to driving discoveries in a wide variety of fields. At the conference, "OurCS" (Opportunities for Undergraduate Research in Computer Science) participants will learn about research by working in teams guided by scientists from academia and industry, and will have opportunities to present talks on their own research. According to the university, the conference will also feature female graduate students in computer science who will discuss their experiences in graduate school. Read more

Lifelong Learning Critical to Every Engineer's Career

Lifelong learning is critical to every engineer's career, IEEE-USA President John Meredith says in a Point of View column for Electronic Design magazine. "Whether you're a recent college graduate, in the middle of your career, or even counting the months until retirement, you must pursue an aggressive plan to stay on top of current technologies." He recommends that young engineers seek challenging assignments because of their learning potential. Read the column

Online Gaming: Where Dictatorships are a Good Thing

Wealth and property acquired in online games are only stable when players convert them to real-world assets, according to science fiction writer and technologist Cory Doctorow. Games like World of Warcraft and Second Life are absolute dictatorships, but trying to introduce democracy might spoil the fun, says Doctrow. Ownership of assets created or earned in the virtual world are wholly contingent upon the whims of the companies controlling the games, Doctorow says, but an online democracy, the rules of which would stabilize virtual wealth, would only be fun for the rulemakers. Much of the fun in virtual world derives from artificial scarcity, according to Doctorow when he says that the economics of online games are “basically the same economics of the music industry, but applied to every field of human endeavor in the entire (virtual) world.” Read more

May 22, 2007

Wanton Inebriated Librarians Undress

No, don't worry, I'm not changing the focus of this blog.

The post title is merely one of the many possibilities entered in the Re-Inventing the WILU Acronym contest that the conference organizers ran this year. Unfortunately, it didn't work out as they'd hoped. My York colleague (and WILU Co-Chair) Sophie Bury explains, as well as listing some more of the rather amusing suggestions.

And yes, I'm still blogging the conference over at the official blog, adding one or two new session summaries per day. Once I'm done, I'll start reposting them here.

By the way, Mita Williams has been blogging the conference pretty extensively and she's been using a potential new acronym meaning for each of her post titles.

Programming with Pictures

We all know that CS is a hard sell to students these days and that enrollments in most places for mainstream computer science programs are down. So, how to attract students to the field and keep them once they enroll? One strategy is to make the introductory programming experience a lot more pleasant, a lot less like banging your head against a very hard, very nitpicky brick wall. (For what it's worth, I'm one of those that took to programming like a duck to water. My first language was Fortran and I really didn't have too many problems learning to write programs.)

A great article in InsideHigherEd today, Programming with Pictures by Elizabeth Redden, talks about a new programming language/environment called Alice that lets students learn the basics of programming right away while working on cool-looking graphical programs.

About 10 percent of the nation’s colleges now use Alice, an open-source, graphical software program available free online that allows users to learn the very basics of programming — concepts like iteration, if statements and methods — while making 3-D animations. Alice’s growth within college computer science departments has been impressive: Most colleges only began incorporating Alice in their introductory CS0 or CS1 courses within the past 18 months, since the release of an accompanying textbook.

But the software, currently readable to users in plain old English (a major drawback for many faculty who of course teach programming in standard computer languages like Java and C++), is potentially poised to penetrate far more colleges in 2008, when Alice 3.0 comes out in Java — featuring, this time around, sophisticated graphics, made available free by Electronic Arts Inc., from “The Sims,” the best-selling PC video game of all time. (And significantly, Pausch adds, one of the few games more popular with girls than boys. Computer science, he notes drily, has the unfortunate distinction of being the only discipline in the sciences to actually face declining female enrollments percentage-wise in the last 25 years).

It's a well-done article, well worth reading the whole thing. Alice is not without its drawbacks -- it's not object oriented, for example -- and the article does a good job of giving the pros and cons.

May 21, 2007

Walt Crawford for Hire

As we have all read on Walt Crawford's blog, he's being let go by OCLC, effective this coming September. The first part of the post:

Ever thought you or one of the groups you work for or with could use a Walt Crawford?

Here’s your chance.

The RLG-OCLC transition will be complete in September. I’ve received a termination notice from OCLC, effective September 30, 2007.

I’m interested in exploring new possibilities. For now I’m trying not to narrow the options too much.

The basics: A new position could start any time after October 15, 2007 (possibly earlier). January to April 2008 might be ideal as a starting date, but earlier or later is quite possible.

I’m looking for a mutually-beneficial situation, which could be part time, could be full time, could be based on sponsorship of current writing and possible expansion to new areas, could be contract or consulting. I’m open to an exclusive working relationship–but also to more piecemeal possibilities.

Writing is important to me–but so is sensemaking, at the heart of what I’ve done at work and professionally for a few decades. I find numbers interesting (particularly exposing weaknesses in statistical assertions and finding the numbers that make most sense for an organization) and understand them well. I’ve been analyzing, synthesizing, designing (sometimes programming) and communicating throughout my career. I’m interested in the whole range of issues surrounding the intersections of libraries, policy, media and technology, and have demonstrated my effectiveness as a writer and speaker in those areas.

You can get a good sense of what I’ve published here, including my 15 (to date) books and many of the 400+ articles and columns.

I would certainly consider a short-term (say two to four years) situation–but if you have something that makes sense for both of us for a longer term, I have no set retirement date.

If I had to name an ideal, it would probably be roughly two-thirds time with benefits (or full time if Cites & Insights was considered part of the job. But that’s an ideal; an excellent situation could be much more part time.

OCLC aquired RLG a while back and merged RLG into OCLC; it's quite common when such things happen for a certain number of positions to become, as the euphemism goes, redundant. In other words, they just didn't need as many people doing Walt's job in the new organization as the two separate organizations. And it's usually the acquired people that get the boot; that's just the way it is.

I'm not going to quibble with the fact that OCLC may have felt they needed fewer senior analysts or whether Walt should have been one of the ones to walk the plank. I truly believe that someone with his obvious talent for writing, his committment to our common profession, to libraries and librarians, his vision for institutions that can balance change and continuity and most of all, his plain good sense, that someone like that should have a place in any forward-looking organization. Surely Walt could have played a vital role in communications, in long-range planning, in product development, even as a spokesperson, any of a hundred roles where his talents could be exploited.

But I would like to end on a positive note and wish Walt all the best in the future, that the door being closed by OCLC is just the precursor to another, more exciting one opening somewhere else. Oh yeah, and I think I speak for many when I say that I sincerely hope that C&I and other book projects will continue.

May 16, 2007

Blogging WILU

I'll be over at the official WILU blog for the next few days, posting sessions summaries. The blog is open to all delegates, so I hope to see quite a bit of activity.

I will eventually post my summaries here for completeness's sake.

May 14, 2007

Carnival of the Infosciences #71

A quiet couple of weeks in the biblioblogosphere? Maybe or maybe not, but there was only one submission for this edition of the Carnival, so we'll get to that first.

Mark Lindner recommended Iris Jastram's post on Information Literacy and Foreign Language Curricula. An interesting story about how sometimes the profs are a step ahead of us, and we need to play a bit of catchup, an enviable place to be in:

And then I slap myself in the forehead and remind myself that this is a wonderful thing. My faculty are actively engaging the question of how to develop their students' higher reasoning skills, and they've latched onto info lit as one of the methods for accomplishing this. And this isn't actually "my" turf. It's our turf.

And now on to some of my choices for the last couple of weeks, most from the biblioblogosphere and some from the world beyond, but I hope still relevant.

It seems that the buzz book these days (and there's always a buzz book) is Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder by David Weinberger. I picked it up last week at the Unversity of Windsor bookstore, but I haven't read it yet; it seems to be about how traditional notions of organization are breaking down in the face of tagging, folksonomies and very good search algorithm. In other words, you don't need to organize you stuff if you can just tag it, search for it and find it right away. There has been a lot of commentary and reviews of the book so far: Cory Doctorow, Ed Yourdon, Will Richardson and Peter Morville and many others.

Did Digg do something? asks Robert Scoble. His commenters respond. So does Laura Cohen. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, check the Digg Wikipedia page as well as this one describing the AACS encryption key controversy in some detail.

Walt Crawford has had a couple of particularly stimulating posts in the last two weeks: Citizen vs. consumer and Lackluster veteran: Bias, much?. Neither are directly about the library world, but both concern the way we view ourselves both in society and our relationship to technology. Both have tons of back and forth comments, making for an interesting conversation.

Bora Zivkovic of A Blog Around the Clock organized the incredibly successful Science Blogggers conference in North Carolina this past January as well as editing the accompanying anthology. He's announced details for next year's edition here and here. This year Christina represented and next year I hope to as well.

Some quick hits:
If anyone's interested, all the links in

Update: I should also mention that the next Carnival is at Connecting Librarian. Don't forget to submit!

May 12, 2007

The Carnival is coming to town on May 14th!

Update: Don't forget to submit you posts by the end of Sunday!

I'm roaming the halls at CiL last week, minding my own business, harassing vendors and who should I run in to but Chadwick Seagraves. And guess what, I somehow end up agreeing to host the 71st edition of the Carnival of the Infosciences on May 14th. It's something I'd actually intended to do for quite a while, but meeting Chadwick was just the kick in the pants that I needed.

So, send your submissions either directly to me at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or via the normal Submission Guidelines.

For this particular Carnival I'd like to send out a challenge to both the Canuck and scitech libloggers out there to make a special effort to come up with a great post!

Update: I'll be moving this post to the top of the heap every couple of days.

Science faculty & the tenure process

If you're at an academic institution, you probably see a lot of the junior faculty members scurrying around, looking tense and nervous. They're the ones who are hoping to get tenure. But just what are they going through?

Rob Knopp of Galactic Interactions recently vented big time in The Astronomy Community to Rob Knop : "Get out. You aren't good enough" and I thought the post was extremely illuminating. It's generating quite a buzz out there in the science blogosphere and I thought I'd give a little link summary here to give a flavour of the discussion.

But first, a bit from the original post:

The simple fact is that there are too many research astronomers out there in comparison to the number our society is willing to support. There is a lot of evidence to this. How competitive it is to get a faculty job in the first place. But, the simple fact that if you're going to play in this game, you need money: money to travel to conferences, money to travel to telescopes, money to pay grad students over the summer and (ideally) during the year. And, money to convince your University that you're a worthy researcher. If the NSF is only funding 16-20% of the astronomy proposals it gets, even considering resubmissions, there are too many people.

And I'm one of the ones below the cut. Never mind that I'm one of the most popular AAS Shapley lecturers this year, never mind how much I contribute to Vanderbilt, never mind any skills I may have in teaching, never mind how many undergraduate research projects I've mentored. I'm trying to play in a game where there are more people doing it than there is support for it. Vanderbilt can only afford to keep the best, where the criteria for "best" includes "ability to get funding." That's a rare quality that evidently I don't have.

Wow, now that's real insight into the life of a working academic scientist, the fears and insecurities and the irrational craziness of some parts of academic culture. There's lots more, please check it out. Needless to say, the comments are flying fast and furious on this and other posts.

As promised, here's a few other related posts kicked off by Knopp's cri de coeur.

May 11, 2007

Social Network Sites: Public, Private, or What?

danah boyd has a great article in The Knowledge Tree, Social Network Sites: Public, Private, or What?, where she talks about how young people use social networking sites and some ideas on how adults, especially educators, can and should deal with this new reality.

Her thoughts on what makes social networking sites unique:

  1. Persistence. What you say sticks around. This is great for asynchronous communication, but it also means that what you said at 15 is still accessible when you are 30 and have purportedly outgrown those childish days.

  2. Searchability. My mother would’ve loved the ability to scream “Find!” into the ether and determine where I was hanging out with my friends. She couldn’t, and I’m thankful. Today’s teens’ parents have found their hangouts with the flick of a few keystrokes.

  3. Replicability. Digital bits are copyable; this means that you can copy a conversation from one place and paste it into another place. It also means that it’s difficult to determine if the content was doctored.

  4. Invisible audiences. While it is common to face strangers in public life, our eyes provide a good sense of who can overhear our expressions. In mediated publics, not only are lurkers invisible, but persistence, searchability, and replicability introduce audiences that were never present at the time when the expression was created.

And some suggestions for educator engagement (excerpted here):
  1. Create a profile on whatever sites are popular in your school.
  2. Keep your profile public and responsible, but not lame.
  3. Do not go surfing for your students, but if they invite you to be Friends, say yes.
  4. The more present you are, the more opportunity you have to influence the norms.

Some wise words for those of us thinking about the short, medium and long term implications on society and our institution of these sites. And more immediately, whether or not we want to go there, create profiles and directly engage students.

May 9, 2007

Ask an Applied Mathematician

Rebecca answers a two-part burning question from one of here readers, Marius. A quick taste of the full post, rearranged a bit spatially:

What 'computer science' knowledge do you think is most important?

By far the most important knowledge is that of algorithm development. You're going to be using a computer as a tool to find out whatever it is you actually want to find out. So, knowing how to use it well is what's going to take you the farthest.

When I say "algorithm development," what I mean is understanding how to convert the math into something a computer can do, and going about it in an intelligent, systematic, and efficient manner.

Knowing a range of languages, knowing the internal details of the machines, strategies of how to structure your code, anything else?

I think it is important to know one programming language well...

As for what programming language, I'm not interested in starting a programming language war, but if you're wanting to do the sorts of things I'm envisioning that you want to do, you'll want to be fluent in some sort of mainstream programming language such as C++, C, or FORTRAN. Personally, the vast majority of the work I do is in C++ these days, and I'd recommend it because C and FORTRAN are more limited in terms of what you can do with them. To me, it's really nice to be able to write using just about any type of programming paradigm: procedural, object-oriented; you name it, you can do it with C++. Of course, C++ also enables you to shoot yourself in the foot that much easier. I would suggest Java, which is a little safer than C++, but programs in Java run slower than programs in C++, and more importantly, Java doesn't have all the stuff that you will need for your codes, such as parallel extensions.

Some good discussion starting up in the comments as well. Interesting stuff, well worth reading.

May 7, 2007

Bad Software Design: Getting the Level Wrong

A great post at Good Math, Bad Math about how hard it is for software developers to build truly usable systems. A lot of good lessons here for librarians as we work on our and together with our systems departments. I was a software developer for many years before becoming a librarian and I can personally attest to how difficult it is to get systems right, to build them like you users want rather than how we think they want them. That's why most software goes through so many iterations before it's truly usable. We need to learn how to design it right and in many cases, the users themselves don't know what's right either until they've had a chance to work with something that's wrong. Building good systems is hard.

Here's a bit of Chu-Carroll's post:

This kind of thing happens constantly in software. In my own area of specialiation - software configuration management - virtually every tool on the market presents itself to users in terms of the horribly ugly and complicated concepts of how the SCM system is implemented. Looking at popular SCM systems, you'll constantly see tons of things: branches, merges, VOBS, WOBS, splices, gaps, configurations, version-pattern-expressions. To use the systems as they're presented to you, you need to learn whatever subset of those concepts your system uses. But those concepts are all completely irrelevant to you, as a user of the system. What you're trying to do is to use a tool that preserves the history of how your system was developed, and that lets you share changes with your coworkers in a manageable way. What does a VOB or a VPE have to do with that?

I'm not trying to claim that I'm perfect. I spent the majority of the my time working in SCM building a system with exactly those flaws. I'm as guilty as anyone else. And I didn't realize the error of doing things that way by myself. I had to have it pointed out to me by someone who's a lot smarter than I am. But once he made me aware of it, it made me aware of this as a ubiquitous problem. It doesn't just happen in things like embedded systems (the Xerox card reader) and SCM systems. It's in word processors and spreadsheets, file browsers, web browsers, desktop shells, cell phones, music players...

Software developers - like me - need to learn that users don't view systems the same way that developers do, and the right way to build a system is by focusing on the view of the user.

May 6, 2007

Friday Fun on Sunday: Ultimate scientific presentation edition

Ok, we've all been at conference presentations where the speaker just seems to be spouting endless incomprehensible jargon. Their lips are moving but we just can't hear what they're saying...You just have to watch this YouTube video.

And check out the paper the presentation is based on too.

Please don't watch this video while eating, drinking, talking, walking or operating heavy machinery. via Respectful Insolence.

May 4, 2007

Literature roundup

It's been quite a while, skipping ahead to recent stuff:

ScienceBloggers on FaceBook

If you're a science blogger, if you love ScienceBlogs, and if you're on FaceBook, you owe it to yourself to check out ScienceBlogs Fan Club. And if you're not on FaceBook yet, well this might just be the motivation you need. You can even friend your favourite bloggers!

Update 2007.05.05: Fixed link to FaceBook group.

May 3, 2007

TEL@York: Brief notes on other sessions

Doing Copyright in the TEL Classroom by Roger Fisher (Fine Arts Cultural Studies, Fine Arts) and Kathryn Elder (Media Librarian, Sound and Moving Image Library, Scott Library). Roger Fisher began by talking about how copyright is ignored in the classroom, inadequately addressed in law and that sometimes knowledge is power. The more people know about copyright, the less free they feel to use educationally, the less they know, the more likely they are to infringe. What is the TEL classroom: more open access, tech enhances rather than replaces, collaborative, content rich, new ways for everything, instant present -- everything should happen now. Content rich means images, text, a/v, chat. How do we know we can use photos on the web? First question: is the material under copyright? Difficult to know, lots of steps to follow. If it is, who do you ask for permission? Is the intended use actually an infringement? Exceptions to copyright: fair dealing, news & commentary, educational institution. But: what is an educational institution -- premises, digital copies, performances. Three ways to deal with copyright: ignore, panic, hopeful confusion. Does it matter: lawsuits, moral duty to model good practices for students. Solutions: be careful, lobby for reform.

Kathryn Elder then spoke about some specific York Libraries initiatives in fine arts collections such as Alexander Street Press, Films for Humanities and Social Sciences. Also some licensing issues for feature films, artistic images, programs recorded off air.

Who Wants to Ace This Course? Using Technology And Games To Engage Students by Emily Agard (Biology, FSE). Interesting session where Agard talked about using games such as Jeopardy, Taboo and Amazing Race to spice up the classroom experience and get students a bit more engaged. Benefits are: fun for students and teachers, leveraging classroom information & goals for gaming subject matter, kickstart study process, gives students the idea that profs want them to succeed. Considerations include class size, class attendance rate, class dynamics, subject matter, time available in curriculum. Large classes have issues such as attendance, shyness, what to use as a reward, will everyone who wants to participate be able to. Overall a very positive reaction. Jeopardy and other ppt templates available at:

Joys and Thrills of Student-Designed Assignments by Ingrid Splettstoesser (Admin Studies, Atkinson). For an information systems audit course, using materials from multiple disciplines, highly technical, experience-based, case studies. Tried something new and get students motivated and helping each other. Let them create their own assignments: makes for a good activity in the first class, encourages interactivity. foster collaboration rather than competition, small group assignments. Rules were very broad, amazing to watch students create their own assignments. Too simple, ie. multiple choice, were rejected. Had to be case study. Success in improving class participation was immediate, sometimes got bogged down in details. Lessons for instructor: more parameters in what is acceptable, many students interested in getting things done rather than getting it right or benefiting the group.

Enhancing Teaching and Learning with Blogs and Wikis by Ron Sheese (Psychology, Health, and Centre for Academic Writing, Arts), Sarah Chun (CNS Faculty Support Centre).
Used to use word to create a simple website but now want something else and realized that blogs could be used as a website. Using YorkU installation of wordpress almost as a cms results in a professional web presence that students are impressed with. Basically using the two kinds of documents available, posts and pages, you're able to create all the content you need. Pages become the course outline, archives, assignment info. Two kinds of posts: things forgot to say in lectures and general interest post. PSYC4150 Blog is an example. Could have done in webct or moodle but liked flexibility and cleanness of blogs -- no passwords. Intro course has a slightly different focus. A wiki was used in a first year course so small groups of students could create topic-based resource lists, ie. resources to do a paper rather than the paper itself. Some of the teams had fairly serious disputes over content and it's is interesting to see those disputes recorded in the mod history of the wikis, with info being added and deleted repeatedly.

TEL@York Day 2: Keynote by Corey Goldman

Making Connections: Creating Academic Communities to Enhance Student Success by Corey Goldman
(Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto).

Another stimulating keynote speech, this one on how to build community among undergraduate students, both online and offline. I think there are some really important lessons here for academic libraries as we try to build online communities to try and engage students, to get them to contribute to the common good, to have fun and relax. Perhaps in an environment where not other campus player is stepping up to the plate, maybe the libraries can surge ahead.

The two programs Goldman talked about during the session were the BIOME online learning community for biology students and the FLICK (FLC), First-Year learning groups/study groups program.

The two things that the UofT are trying to improve are student success and student experience, both of which are getting very high priority and funding. Refer to the book Challenging and Supporting First Year Students. Student success involves developing intellectual and academic competence, eventually excellence in 4th yr. Establishing and maintaining relationships, identity development, developing program and career goals, diversity and civic awareness. The purpose of higher ed is knowledge acquisition for growth, preparation for employment, becoming an engaged citizen, meeting employer needs/concerns from interpersonal skills to integrity to knowledge base. What is student experience: enjoyment of courses both content and quality of instruction; satisfaction with grades, that they be reflective of effort; connection to campus community, clubs, teams, programs, etc; supportive campus environment, advising, IT, etc. What is a community: an organism, an ecological unit, interrelated.

The first year bio course, bio150. Highest 2100, currently 1700 in sections of 400 & 1300. Large class, even with tutorials not much opportunity to ask questions. 1998-2002 used message board, 2002-2004 online forum. Noticed that students liked on message board, talked about more than just bio150, liked it and wanted it to carry on with later years and other courses. So, they created BIOME online community: portal, message board, news, seminars, tools, student life. Most popular is chat/discussion rooms. divided by year, with some boards for particular courses. Also a free-form general board. Places to ask about phys, chem, math, ask a prof, ask another student, buy & sell, software is Is it successful? Hugely with great stats for usage. Perhaps losing a bit of usage to Facebook the last year or so. Even students that don't actively post gain a lot of benefit from reading. 1/3 do not use it at all, same number only read, and same are quite active.

Elements of successful online community:

  • target a well defined academic cohort, common experience drives usage
  • emphasis on student-to-student communication, little faculty involvement
  • social presence, general chat, relaxation
  • some rules: academic integrity, respect for other users & profs, very few problems so far, all minor
  • comfort zones, casual discourse
  • even lurkers learn
  • allow for identity & fun, avatars, signitures, humour
  • restrict registration to students, one reg per student
  • have administrators and student moderators
  • listen to and involve students

Disadvantages: addictive, distraction, cliquish, swearing/offensive language, inappropriate subject matter, anonymity, place to complain or brag, moderators abuse privileges. Advantages: advice from upper year students, get help & notes, meet people, relieve stress, "other people just like me", learn about various opportunities, interesting discussions ie venting/discussing VA tech, great for large class, friendship, community, like an extra tutorial. Main successes: supports individual & collaborative learning; build relationships; support for critical moments 24/7; support for f2f meetings. Students want BIOME expanded beyond first year.

Other program Goldman talked about, not as relevant to us here, was the FLICK program to encourage formalized study groups, get students connected & stay connected. Bio students. When applying to school, students indicate if interested. Put in groups of 24 all in same classes, labs, etc. Facilitated by upper year student & faculty advisor. Helps students to succeed in alienating first year, especially commuting students. Meet classmates, build academic skills, 15 sessions from sept - apr. Build strong friendships, lots of social activities, team spirit. Build skills & knowledge like time management, study skills, job search, health advice. Very positive assessment. Learning communities such as this really do enhance learning experience, students want to continue into 2nd year & beyond.

May 1, 2007

TEL@York Day 1: Keynote by John Mitterer

Today and tomorrow I'm at the annual TEL@York Conference, a conference on Technology Enhanced Learning. This year's theme is Partnerships to Enhance Student Engagement and is basically a conference about strategies to use technology to improve teaching. It's mostly faculty and given this year's theme it's too bad none of us librarians were able to take advantage and present with partners among faculty. I guess most of the stuff we do with faculty isn't really about student engagement but about student learning and information literacy. Oh well.

Today's keynote was by psychologist John Mitterer of Brock University and it was on Teaching, Communication, and the Effective Use of Technology to Enhance Student Engagement. Mitterer started by noting that students can make decisions about the quality of teaching almost instantly based on the style and attitude of the prof. The timeslicing experiment he mentioned showed that reactions to viewings of 10 second film clips of a prof matched very closely to student evaluations.

The goals of the session were to present teaching as a form of communication, to talk about technology and teaching and to talk about the rhetoric of technology and teaching. First of all, when teaching we have to think about communication which always starts with the sender. As teachers, as senders, we can control how we communicate, the style, the content. Next is the message: this is where we as profs tend to fall down. We spend far too much time working on the content of the message, refining and developing, ignoring the impact we have as senders. We need to pay attention to teaching style -- we all have a teaching style it's only a matter of how well we have examined our own teaching style. Once we have the sender and the message, we next have the medium. Most importantly, we have to check the message and make sure the medium matches it. The receiver, the student: we have to think about the impact of the message on the receiver, this is what makes our communication teaching. Profs are vulnerable to not caring about audience, presenting as if talking to themselves. We must have respect for the student, and respect from the student flows from our respect for them, it invites identification and empathy.

Active learning is the most direct way to communicate. Note the theories of Lev Vygotsky, zone of proximal development. Guide on the side vs. Sage on the stage. Teaching is scaffolding, supporting student deveopment at the edge of their current knowledge. Shift to the individual the burden of learning. The social context of our teaching must emphasize more collaborative, more social learning, cognitive apprenticeships. In fact, an apprenticeship environment is the best way to learn. Seeing the intermediate products of work is helpful, as is learning from others that are just a little ahead in the learning curve, being surrounded by people with multiple levels of expertise. Congnitive apprenticeships.

When we are making academics, it's not treated as a process: students hand stuff in and it's graded, they do socially meaningless work, word that's isolated from real academic work which is iterative. Final product is valued too highly.

Technology: everyone teaches with technology, even chalk is technology, a university course is a kind of tech, technology is just a way of organizing workflow. Digital tech -- computers are metamachines, a metamedium, they amplify cognition, a metamachine is a machine running a machine, ie software. Swiss army knife of the mind. We owe it to our craft to reinvent it at every level, the possibilities are infinitte. We want to know about new tools not for their own sakes but as a means for the end of teaching.

Rhetoric: art of influencing the thought and conduct of an audience, we use rhetoric to distinguish between tech and its uses. Does ppt such? It's just a tool, only its uses can suck. We can think of rhetoric as being about the effective uses of tech for communication, best practices, "how can this tool help me to teach." Only use the tools that make sense for your situation, but first have to have a good understanding of the tools to be able to make the decision.

The rhetoric of:

  • Once we understand a tool we don't tend to call "tech" anymore, like chalk. Julian Beevor
  • Overhead projector: still best choice for some kinds of uses
  • ppt: used to frame a talk, look at Tufte "Cognitive style of Powerpoint," ppt of Gettysburg address. Also what's good about ppt: I am still focus, use multiple media, attend to readability, minimal hierarchy, minimal redundancy with lecture, make available before class, students can use as scaffolding
  • Turnitin: use as a way to teach academic integrity & peer review & interative process rather than punishment
  • webct: organizing social construction of knowledge, learning outside classroom, encourage student to student communication
  • Clickers: interactivity
  • podcasting
  • digital video
  • blogging: vs. web forum, publication of personal thoughts, by making writings more public, students take more seriously
  • wikis
  • games: interacting with immersive worlds,, use power of games to attract students
  • learning objects: don't have to reinvent the wheel
  • also eportfolios & e-assignments

Putting it all together, we have to remember our students, they want social networking and collaboration. We must theorize teaching as a form of communication, articulate a rhetorical stance, reflect on the technologies we need, develope a rhetoric of our teaching and relax -- you don't have to do it all at once.