Class Week 11: Twitter, PLNs, Webinars

It was good to be back in class after being out sick one week, then have a “bye day” the other. I enjoyed discussing Twitter: we had a thoughtful discussion on using the social media site not for socializing in our personal lives, but for professional development. At first, I was a bit surprised at what seemed like overall negativity toward using Twitter professionally. My experience with the service so far has been positive and I usually find that I learn something new after reading through librarians’ and other scholarly folks’ conversations on Twitter. However, after breaking out into small groups to talk about the pros and cons of Twitter for professional development, I can see my classmates’ point about some of the obvious downsides of Twitter for professional uses. It can be overwhelming to sift through the vast, rapid stream of tweets, and also difficult to sift through a tweet itself if it is full of hashtags, user handles, quotes, and links (all in 140 characters!).

Discussing the professional benefits of Twitter led to a broader discussion on building professional networks: our next topic was PLNs (personal/professional learning networks). In this small group, we talked about building a PLN for yourself as an academic librarian. The obvious members would be other academic librarians, at your own institution and at others far away. Other categories included scholars and researchers related to your field of interest, especially if you’re interested in subject specialization (as several of us were); scholarly publishers; and digital humanists. This was all relevant to advice I received in an advising appointment: seek out the scholars/researchers in the field with which you are interested in liaising, so that you may better understand the tools they are using and the tools or knowledge they need to do their work.

Class ended early this week, which gave my webinar group a chance to practice our webinar in the software (always a good idea! We worked out a few bugs.)

Class Week 10: Missing Out, Webinars, Catching Up

I was unfortunately absent from this week’s class due to illness. Fortunately I have wonderful classmates who were happy to fill me in on what I missed! It sounds like there was good discussion and good tips on webinars (thought I did hear there were some technical difficulties setting up webinar accounts–thanks for the tips, Jessica!) I was sorry to miss the discussion on what makes a good webinar, how to balance audience participation with your presentation, etc.

I was also sorry to miss the other part of the discussion on embedded librarianship. Based on the readings and my own conception of what an embedded librarian does, the job seemed pretty straightforward. However, it sounds like in class my fellow students broke down the job description a bit. What is the difference between a good library system with good, caring librarians and an embedded librarian? It sounds like, in class, everyone discussed why we don’t use our SI librarian more. I can’t speak to that because I’ve sought her out specifically, though not in office hours (once over email, and once because I saw her on the reference desk). She was very helpful and I do think she was able to better answer my questions and find good resources for my Dead Media research paper because she is a communication studies/media/LIS librarian.

This also makes me wonder about the differences between embedded librarians and subject specialists. Are embedded librarians different because they are out in the “field” more than subject librarians? Are they handling more day-to-day subject questions, while subject specialists have more expertise in the area and are teaching more formal classes for their departments? These types of questions are intriguing because I can see how they shape the new types of LIS jobs that continue to be created.

Class Week 9: One-shot Workshops

This week we met in the same groups as our book clubs and conducted our one-shot workshops in pairs. While there weren’t any snacks this time around, we did have very thoughtful and engaging conversations where everyone had something to say–a benefit of a small group of around ten people. My partner and I went first. Our topic was an idea from Kristin’s lecture one day: whether to note “bad” books in catalog records, and on the ALA’s stance on labeling and rating books. An example of a “bad” book would be Michael Bellesiles’s Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, which was outed as fraudulent research after having won several awards. Should librarians note that in the book’s catalog record, or should they let users figure that out on their own? (“Bad” could also mean other things to other people, too, like often-challenged books or books of an adult nature.)

I had a slightly harder time wrapping my head around this than the book clubs. Strangely, I was less familiar with book clubs than workshops because I’ve never participated in a book club before; I’ve been a participant in workshops many times as both a student and as a professional, and I’ve also taught a one-shot workshop (it was two hours as opposed to twenty minutes, though). We planned our workshop thoroughly–the analysis and outline part of the ADDIE document really helped–and used the “jigsaw” method, where we split the group in half and gave each group a different article to read and discuss about the topic. Then half of each group switched and told the other participants about what they read. Perhaps it was the twenty-minute time limit, but it was hard to interrupt people and tell them it was time to switch while they were having really lively conversations–which was our goal! We even got some constructive feedback on this, that the participants wished they could have talked more with less guidance from us.

Maybe the reason I was having some trouble conceptualizing the idea of these particular workshops was that they felt a lot like the book club, except this time we chose ethics-themed articles to read and discuss, and we had a much more structured outline of events. Upon reflection my confusion seems like a good thing. I used to think of workshops as places to learn a new skill, like TEI encoding or learning how to use databases to find scholarships. This week showed me that workshops can also be a chance to have a structured discussion with established learning objectives, and that discussing and working through a topic can be a skill, too.

The other workshops all went well. It was fun to participate, and to appreciate the hard work my peers did–everyone was obviously well-prepared. I did notice that the more structured workshops, with clear methods (pair up and read this article, or half read this article and half another, or list the pros and cons of 3D printing) produced more lively discussion.

Class Week 8: Ethics and Workshop Prep

One of the parts of 643 I’ve been enjoying most is the “meta” nature of class–Kristin often teaches us by example, like using a Socratic seminar-style discussion to teach us how to do a Socratic seminar or book club. And the actual content of those discussions are still very relevant to class and are intriguing, complex examples. This week we began class by going over the one-shot workshop and trying to glean what makes a workshop bad or good. It was easier to pick out the bad traits than it was the good. I tried to think about what made the good workshops I’ve attended so good, and all I could come up with was that the instructors were confident, entertaining, and conveyed knowledge and passion for the material. They were also all relaxed and made me feel comfortable and OK with not knowing the answer to everything.

After that we discussed the ALA Code of Ethics, and whether we would change anything. Once again, as with other texts in this class, I got a little shot of motivation from reading the document; it gave me a feeling of affirmation to read about and feel more a part of my future profession and the way it functions. My small group really couldn’t find anything we wanted to change about the code of ethics. There were parts we felt were a bit… wishy washy, like the statement about being balanced between intellectual property rights holders and users. While I wish the ALA had taken a stronger stance on that, I also understand why it was worded that way. Perhaps in the next 10-15 years that part of the document will change. We moved on to discuss some ethical issues that have come up in the news recently. The Toronto Public Library was thinking about implementing two new features to deal with impending budget cuts from the city: one, selling advertisements and printing them on the back of date due receipts, and two, putting “buy this” links for books in their catalog (which would take them to a third-party vendor website). Both made me feel queasy. It was like a Would You Rather…? game, where neither option was appealing. Like I said in class, I feel that public libraries are a sort of haven, and shouldn’t be tainted by commercialism; perhaps the receipt ads would be better because they could feature local businesses, where the “buy this” link would be sending business outside of the community.

As I see several other bloggers in my cohort have already commented upon, I was also a bit disappointed that we didn’t discuss the Lenker reading that had the case studies on ethics and “dangerous questions”. I wanted to hear what others had to think about his use of case studies, his approach using the value ethics model, and his rather abrupt way of ending the article–that Lenker would be happy if all it could do was elicit “sophisticated confusion” for LIS student readers. Both the content and the context of the article were worth unpacking. On the other hand, I like that it brought us together in even deeper discussion in our mini blogosphere!

Class Week 7: How Our Book Clubs Went

I left class Monday evening feeling energized, happy, and proud of myself and my fellow classmates. The three hours (OK, a little under three) flew by as we took turns conducting our five book club sessions. Sarah and I went first. We were a little unsure of ourselves as no one had gone before us, so we didn’t have anything to go off of other than our discussions in class and from the readings. The latter prepared us for writing decent questions: we clustered them around each idea we had about the story, or a specific quote we wanted to talk about. We tried to stay away from jargon-y language, like asking about what “devices” the author used, etc. We also tried to avoid leading questions in favor of more open questions.

It was an interesting experience to have the list of questions in front of us when we began. I felt that just reading down the list wouldn’t be as fun for everyone, so I opened up the discussion by first asking what everyone thought of the story. The group was happy to dive in and begin conversing about it immediately, and covered some of the questions we wrote before we got to them. There were a few times where there was a lull in the conversation, and I wasn’t sure whether to leave the ten seconds for someone to pipe up, or whether to start scanning my list for a good follow-up question–this seems like a skill that comes from practice.

I struggled a bit with the role of a leader. I think I did a pretty OK job, but at times I felt a little strange nudging my peers to expand on their thoughts, as opposed to being more of an equal in the conversation. In fact, one piece of feedback we got was that one way to improve would be adding our own thoughts on the book club selection. If it were a casual book club, I could absolutely see the “leader” participating just as much as everyone else. However, I’m not sure how that would go if I were a librarian in an academic library with students or other university-affiliated individuals. It wouldn’t be exactly like the teachers in last week’s reading who were working with kids, but it also would be slightly more formal than a group of friends meeting at someone’s house.

I really enjoyed being a participant in others’ clubs. It was great fun to hear my classmate’s thoughts and talk with them on stories and non-fiction far outside the realms of normal classroom fare.

Class Week Six: Book Clubs

This week we discussed different kinds of book clubs, new formats for book clubs in the 21st century, the way they might function in different libraries, and also Socratic seminars. I was glad that we did the Socratic seminar exercise in class. From the readings, I could see the value of the exercise for K-12 students, but couldn’t see how the seminars would play out in a university setting. However, I ended up actually enjoying the discussion a lot (part of that had to do with the subject matter of our seminar: the Prensky article on banning paper books from campuses. We were all very passionate on the subject!) First, it was entertaining to watch Kristin have to hold her tongue to keep her influence on the discussion to a minimum (I did like hearing her opinions when she broke the fourth wall, so to speak, since she has more knowledge of Prensky than we do). It was also a kind of meta demonstration of how to lead a thoughtful, intellectual discussion.

The discussion/seminar ended by Kristin prompting us to go around the room, one by one, and state what our biggest takeaway was in about one sentence. It was a simple exercise but very effective and a good tool to keep in mind for the future. First, it forced everyone to participate if they hadn’t already, but that shouldn’t have been too scary because we had already been talking about our takeaways from the article in detail. Second, each student had to distill a lot of big ideas into very few words, which is a beneficial exercise in itself. And third, it was nice to hear each class member’s opinions and thoughts–everyone thought of something that I hadn’t considered or had a different perspective on.

Going backwards in time: when we broke into small groups at the beginning of class to discuss the readings, I found an interesting disagreement on one point between several students and I–interesting because the class is generally of the same mind. One of the readings for the last class described new types of book clubs for the new century. I thought the idea of online book clubs was an awesome idea! There are intense communities on the Internet that grow out of similar interests, like a specific book genre. Harnessing that in the form of a local book club would encourage young adults, reticent adults, and those who can’t make the club meetings in person to participate. Some of my classmates were more skeptical of it than I, and it was good to talk about the differences in opinions.

Class Week Five: Gamification and Transfer

This week in class, we talked some more about Jane McGonigal’s TED talk on gaming, gamers and their potential to change/save the world. I think we were all happy for the chance to discuss the substance of her talk after listening to it the week before. There was certainly some skepticism about whether gamers would be able to transfer their productivity, urgent optimism, and work ethic to a different kind of game–an educational game, essentially. I appreciated that, as a class, we approached the topic conservatively, using Henry Jenkins’ framework of a “spinach sundae”; that educational games don’t taste very good and aren’t very good for you either, that “most of the ‘edutainment’ games on the market have all the entertainment value of a bad game and all the educational value of a bad lecture.” There seems to be a fine line between those two elements, entertainment and education; most kids would be able to see right through the “sundae” portion of a mediocre game. What makes some, like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and Oregon Trail, more engaging (and legendary) than Math Blasters?

One instance of gamification that I’ve personally seen be successful is the AADL’s Summer Game. The first summer I felt a bit sheepish playing along, since I assumed it was meant for kids and teens. But some of the prizes are unmistakably aimed at adults (I played chiefly to win the excellent RoosRoast coffee beans and AADL mug set this year, for example). Everyone benefits: you earn points for checking out books and movies, points based on how many pages or minutes the item has, as well as points for reviewing, rating, and tagging items in the catalog. There are also many different badges to earn by tracking down information on the library’s web site and in their online collections. You can then use these points for some very cool prizes. The game greatly increases circulation, increases knowledge among patrons, and engages users with their library. The AADL gets more people in the door and has their catalog greatly enhanced. While this type of game doesn’t quite fit with McGonigal’s view, as the AADL’s game isn’t completely online nor is it as immersive, the AADL is still taking advantage of gamers’ competitiveness (the Summer Game has a leaderboard) and intense work ethic to achieve something good for users and the library.

Talking about gaming and the traits of gamers fed nicely into our discussion about transfer and working with prior knowledge. I don’t know if I’m an overly cynical person when it comes to school, but I was feeling some cynicism when we looked at the example of comparing the French Revolution and the Egyptian Revolution; if I imagined myself as a teenager in the class, I might feel as though I could see through the exercise and through the teacher’s intentions and be a bit skeptical of investing time in the exercise. But as I reflect on my reaction, I’m not feeling the cynicism anymore. I know the use of “hook” questions, like the example of a teacher saying, “You’re a grad student whose parents offer to buy a car. How do you decide on one with the best gas mileage, cheapest insurance, etc.?” would automatically make my want to flex my problem-solving skills, versus hearing “Today we’re going to look at Consumer Reports Online.”