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I guess McLuhan was right…(9751 weekly response #13)

My undergraduate degree–completed almost twenty years ago now (sigh…)–was in Film and Communications at McGill. To be honest, “Film and Communications” was actually an “area of study” under the umbrella of the English Department. So, instead of reading and writing essays on, say, “Restoration & 18th Century Literature” or “Literary Theory for Post-Modernists” (I made that up; I have no idea of that could be a course), I studied everything from the history of communications (yay-Gutenberg!) to the history of film (Battleship Potemkin, anyone?) Understandably, Mr. McLuhan‘s name surfaced from time to time–along with his famous statement: “The medium is the message.”

A second pair of eyes (and a  third, and fourth...) is always useful...

A second pair of eyes (and a third, and fourth…) is always useful…

I’ve always thought I pretty much understood “[t]he medium is the message”. Which was why it came to mind last week when I received critical feedback from colleagues on my evaluating websites learning tool. Many of the comments had to do with the “video” tutorial I created (as opposed to the “website”):

  • video was long: could be a struggle to hold young users’ attention
  • images/screenshots on video hard to see/too small
  • font choices/colour scheme on video, washed out/hard to see
  • too much information on “slides”; overwhelming

My colleagues were certainly justified: these were all areas in which I had concerns as well. And when I started thinking about it, these issues were generally the result of trying to move content from one medium into another. For example, the length of the video was driven by the amount information presented on the website. This was done because the video tutorial was a stand-alone; it wasn’t there to support the website, it was there as an alternative way to access the information presented on the website. Therefore, it ended up being about 10 minutes long. Additionally, something like colour issues with fonts illustrates the fact that what may look good on the website, doesn’t necessarily translate in the video version. In trying to match colours and styles as closely as possible–to create a sense of continuity between the two–I didn’t consider how each presents individually.

Another example that was mentioned, was that by bolding the text in certain areas, which I did to highlight important information (a standard feature of print non-fiction), I confused my colleague as she thought the bold illustrated a hyperlink. She’s right of course: bolded text in an online environment has come to signify a link. So again, we have to be aware that the features and norms of one medium may not signify the same things in another. (Of course, some of the issues such as screen shots which were too small, or over crowded slides were based on inexperience or bad judgement…oops.)

So my colleagues comments really drove home the fact that you simply can’t move information from one medium into another without considering how the information is formatted, how it’s being accessed, and the user’s expectations or needs, i.e. short attention spans!

What does it hold...

What does it hold?

Anyway, all of this got me thinking that I should maybe reread some McLuhan–maybe his work might offer some new/different insight into what we’ve been looking at this term. After all, McLuhan spoke a lot about the technology, and information, and the impact on society, so it seemed quite apropos.

Admittedly, I find reading McLuhan pretty dense, but I think I’ve now realized that I really didn’t have a good grasp on “[t]he medium is the message”…However, I think what I (now) understand is actually a lot more significant in terms of its impact on distance learning. As I now understand it (or at least think I do!), is that the impact of the way in which we, as in a society, change and react to a medium, is actually “the message”. McLuhan explains “…it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action” (McLuhan, p. 9). So, it’s not the individual message transmitted via the technology (like how to evaluate websites, answering a reference questions via Twitter, or participating in a museum tour in Second Life) but how we as a society have changed our patterns and relationships based on the fact that we can do these things.

But now that I’ve gone this far with my thinking I get kinda stuck. It’s kinda like there’s too much “stuff” for me to pull together at this point, to make connections between, so that I can make some kind of clear and coherent comment…this is prime time for a discussion with colleagues.

So, I guess I’m not quite sure what the message is when it comes to distance learning–whether it be for students, librarians or teachers. And that may be in part because we simply don’t know yet: the part it has to play, its impact, on our society has yet to completely unfold. Maybe it has something to do with an evolution of education, of new literacies, or new languages, of the way in which our brains actually process information.
I really can’t say.

But I’ll certainly stayed tuned in to see what happens…

Cheers for now!

Resources:
McLuhan, M. (1994). Understanding media: The extensions of man. L. H. Lapham (Ed.). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2012 in 9751 stuff...

 

Everything I ever needed to know I learned (online) in kindergarten?!? (9751 weekly response #12)

Week #12…

Wow.

Hard to believe 3 months have gone by…at the same time, given that I’m looking out on a snow covered yard, and sitting in front of a lit fireplace, warm sunny September seems very far away. And actually the fact that I’m AM sitting at home on my couch, in front of said fireplace, typing up this week’s response seems apropos: distance learning at it’s finest! (While I’d love to add a glass of wine to my perfect scenario as well, it’s still a bit early in the day…)

So this week’s focus is on blended or hybrid learning. So, to get started I read a couple of articles from the “EDUCAUSE” website, as well as listened to (my first) podcast.

I thought the podcast on online learning would be a good place to start. After all, I had just mentioned in a previous post “Mobile Me…in 5 years” that I had never listened to one, so I thought: “Here’s a prime distance learning opportunity!” The podcast was given by 3 directors of online learning from colleges/universities in the US.

What I found most interesting were the comments on teaching (I guess no surprise there…) and its role in online learning. That “good teaching is good teaching”, regardless of presentation format and that it is key to student retention and engagement. Really? What was the first clue? Sorry for the sarcasm. I have to be honest here, I have for the last year vented–to those who would listen (apologies if you were one of the kind souls)–about the fact that as an elementary or secondary school teacher, we have had explicit instruction on how to teach. Depending on the school, that equals 1-2 years of post-graduate level instruction on teaching philosophy, pedagogy, differentiate instruction, and the like. But post-secondary “teachers” need not have any “teaching” lessons at all. It really irks me that when education is free (K-12; of course, I realize that some pay for private school, but that’s usually by choice), teachers have to be certified. But when education gets costly (i.e. post-secondary), “teachers” need only be experts in their field of study: this does not always translate into “good teaching”. So, I felt somewhat validated when one of the online learning presenters, Ann Taylor, the Director of the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute at Penn State University, made similar comments. She went on to acknowledge that faculty development is particularly crucial to ensuring quality online courses. To that end, Penn State has created a “Managing Your Online Course” tool for professors which includes milestones/timelines as well as best practices and expectations. There is also the opportunity for peer review of online teaching as well.

Moving onto the readings…The first article I read was “Seven Things You Should Know About Flipped Classrooms“. I first heard about the “flipped classroom” this past summer from my brother-in-law. He and his family live in the Bay Area (near San Francisco) where there has been some experimenting with flipped classrooms–even for elementary students. Having never heard this term, he explained to me that this type of teaching had the “lessons” being “taught” at home, and the “homework” done at school. Now, I don’t remember how he described how the lessons were taught (video, podcasts, etc) but I do remember being confused about how it would work…

Having now read the article, I have to say my brother-in-law actually described it pretty well: basically, “…the lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed” (Educause, p. 1). As it’s further described, the “lessons” (most often in video lecture format) are viewed by students at home (or wherever their mobile device and access takes them!) so that class time is devoted to cooperative activities, or projects, or discussions.

Philosophically and pedagogically, I think this sounds like a great way to learn. Well, at least for me. I like the idea of being able to access the information first, think on it, and then come to class with the opportunity to discuss or apply it. For those of us who take some time to process and mull over information, it would allow time for questions to percolate, which we could then share (or ask for clarification) in class. In a F2F lecture, I’m so busy just listening, I’m often not able to contemplate or make connections to the information I’m hearing until later…and that’s when I realize that I either don’t understand something or come up with a question. Of course, I can always go see or email the prof, but sometimes what you don’t know doesn’t become clear until you’re talking about it with others or trying to apply it to a problem. So, for me, this idea of in-class time being “homework” time, sounds perfect.

However, I would suggest (and this was mentioned in the article), that this type of format puts the responsibility for learning squarely on the shoulders of the student: it is essential, that you come to class prepared in order that you are able to get the most of the session AND offer the most to your colleagues/classmates. I’d also have concerns about accessibility. Do all students have access to the lessons? Particularly since they’re in video format, do students have the bandwidth at home? That being said, seeing as these courses do include a F2F component, I guess we could assume students are on campus at some point, so perhaps they could access the lessons from a computer lab…? Although, assuming is never the right thing to do.

What I’m still curious about is how this works outside of post-secondary, or even secondary? How does it apply in the K-8 world? That’s something I still want to explore…

And actually, that works as a segue to article #2…Well, chapter 16 from the book Game Changers: Education and Information Technology: “The Postmodality Era: How ‘Online Learning’ is Becoming ‘Learning‘”. Essentially, the focus here (as I was able to understand) was the fact that the format of course presentation is less important to students than a) getting the courses they want/need and b) flexibility (having courses fit into lifestyle schedules).

Most of the information was of a post-secondary perspective, but skipping to the end of the chapter, there was a bit on the “K-12 Perspective”. Here I read something that made me give pause–or perhaps a gasp of sorts, would be more accurate. Of course we know that high school students can take courses online or in some form of blended learning format and that kids are taking these types of courses now more than ever. Furthermore, in some states (Michigan, Alabama, and Florida for example) now require students “…to take at least one online course in order to graduate” (Hartman, p. 225). And I have no particular issue with that: it’s good practice for both time management and post-secondary courses. In fact, Florida has “…mandated that each of its sixty-seven K-12 school districts provide virtual-learning options to students” (Hartman, p. 226). Here I thought to myself, but we’re really still talking about high-school…right? But then, the next sentence was a doozy (well, to me it was!): “…it is now possible for a student in Florida to complete his or her entire kindergarten-through-high-school experience completely online…”(Hartman, p. 226).

Really?!?

What and why do you need to learn online in kindergarten–or any of the primary years, for that matter?  I’m not saying that there aren’t valuable learning opportunities to be had using technology, for young learners. But I also believe in the importance of social and peer interaction, along with cooperative, hands-on learning; comments like this, even if only in theory, concern me. I bet the play-based learning people must be having a field-day with that one…

Resources:

Cavanagh, T. B. (2012). The postmodality era: How “online learning” is becoming “learning”. In Game Changers. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/library/resources/chapter-16-postmodality-era-how-“online-learning”-becoming-“learning”

Educause. (2012, February 7). Seven things you should know about flipped classrooms. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/library/resources/7-things-you-should-know-about-flipped-classrooms

Hartman, K., Wyatt, R., & Taylor, A. (2012, October 23). ERO podcast conversation: Online education. Educause. Podcast retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/blogs/gbayne/ero-podcast-conversation-online-education

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2012 in 9751 stuff...

 

“Hello? Hello? Is anybody in there…”[9751 musings; week #12]

I had a distance student moment the other day…(with apologies to Pink Floyd).

As a soon-to-be graduate of the MLIS programme, I received an email from the faculty’s administrative staff asking if I would take the time to fill out a graduate survey about the programme. I assume it’s kinda like an “exit interview” type affair: what you liked, didn’t like, hoped to see, etc. The reason I say “assume” is because as a distance student, I have no survey to fill out. You see, the survey is placed in each student’s mailbox at school. Let me clarify even more: it’s a real mailbox not a virtual one. In fact, even if I were at school and could pick it up, I wouldn’t be able to find it because I don’t have a mailbox. I am currently taking one course-my last one-via distance. As such, I have no on-campus mailbox/pigeonhole type thing. What-ever-you-want-to-call-it, I just don’t got it. So, what do I do? I know, I know: I could email and explain the situation and without a doubt, someone would send me something to fill out. But that’s not the point. The point is that the distance student has not been considered. Or at least it appears that way.

And this isn’t the first time I’ve had this brought to my attention. Earlier in the semester, an opportunity to sign-up for job-shadowing placements was sent out via an email broadcast. In order to put forward one’s job-shadowing request/application, one had to (essentially) fill out a form. A form which was located in our resource centre. On campus. In this case, because I really wanted to get a chance at a job shadow, I emailed the professor who was acting as coordinator. He was great and quickly explained (in a follow-up email) how distance students could “apply”. So all was good–and I got a job shadow. (Yay!)

Ultimately, these aren’t huge issues (and basically, I’ve gotten out of having to fill out the survey). But the fact remains, there are gaps when it comes to ensuring equitable access for distance students. Anyway, as I said, just a distance student moment…

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to listen to The Wall

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2012 in 9751 stuff...

 

Dictionary decisions… [9751 musings; week #11]

In my last post I mentioned something about language evolution: specifically, how technology (among other things) has created a new lexicon (I was referring to the using of “IMing” for “instant messaging” as it was used in an article.

…look under “M” for “mwhahahaha”.
Image credit: Microsoft Office Clipart

Apparently, I’m not the only one who finds this interesting (for lack of a better word). A recent snippet on CBC’s  Lang & O’Leary Exchange had Amanda Lang weighing-in on the mobility of language (it’s at the 3:45 minute mark); this was brought about by  Oxford Dictionaries’ choice  of the word “gif” as the North American Word of the Year.

By the way, the British Word of the Year is “omnishambles”. This CBC news article fills you in: “Oxford says ‘omnishambles’ Word of the Year in Britain“.

Oh! and by the way: did you know “e-learning” (along with “group hug” and “mwahahaha” among others) was added to the Oxford Dictionaries in August of this year?

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2012 in 9751 stuff...

 

Mobile me…in 5 years (9751 weekly response #11)

It’s funny the things that make you pause…

I had just started reading the the “Are You Ready for Mobile Learning Article?” and didn’t get any further than the anedoctal preamble when I stopped to consider the influence of technology. You see, in the anecdote there was a reference to a student sending an IM (instant message) to a professor (regarding course work or something to that effect). As if the fact that the acronym (IM) without explanation (therefore assuming the reader understood) wasn’t enough, further on the reader sees the term “IMing”; so, “instant message+ing”. And while I didn’t give the IM a second glance (either proving automatically understood the acronym or–and more likely–proving that I need to pay more attention when reading for information), the “IMing” threw me for a minute. I mean there was a moment of “Why are we talking about a Ming Vase?” that went through my head (proving that I was at least paying enough attention to realize that contextually, “hey, that didn’t make sense”) before I was able to put together the meaning of the term.

And that’s what gave me pause.

The idea of the introduction of new vocabulary into our daily lexicon. And certainly, ever evolving technology is one way that this is done. Just think of all the words that we now use that are the result of new technology (and I’m not even talking text-speak short forms): IM, Google, podcast, anything Apple-iPod, iPhone, etc.; even the word “text”: while the word itself is not new, we now use it as a verb, whereas previously, it was mainly a noun.

Anyway…moving on. (Really and truly, it’s amazing that I get anything done…)

This article was published in 2007. I find it interesting to reflect on what was considered “the brave new world” of mobile learning, half a decade later. Good predictions? Bad? Or, status quo? Which technologies lived up to their hype and which were left lingering a slow death on the roadside?

There was quite a bit on podcasting and its role in the learning environment, even so far as to offer pedagogical suggestions as how to best create a podcast (not too long, and not too broad a topic: stay focussed). While I’ve created a podcast (as part of coursework), I have yet to listen to one. Even for entertainment purposes and certainly not for any learning purpose; I’ve had no profs or (teacher related) professional development opportunities offered as podcasts. In fact, I rarely use my iPod. To be truthful, I don’t like sticking stuff in my ears. It makes me nauseous. So I suppose that none of my MLIS profs decided to use podcasting as a means of teaching, is a good thing for me. But I’m curious: how often are they used? I do remember reading about a UK school that offered iPod borrowing at the school library: the iPods contain exam review/revision material for O-levels or A-levels. Students would use them to prep for their upcoming tests. Apparently, students marks went up significantly after introducing the devices.

Studying hard…or hardly studying?
Image Credit: Microsoft Office Clipart

One of the benefits of mobile technology is that it allows for meeting students where they are (wherever that may be). So yes, offering the opportunity to listen to a lecture on the loooong bus ride to school, or being able to text (or in the very least email) your prof/TA/study partner when the question comes to mind, those are both ways of multi-tasking and offering just-in-time learning opportunities. But is it conducive to learning? Really, learning. Like, if I’m on the bus listening to my lecture, and looking around and being distracted by a two year having a tantrum, am I really taking in information? Or, if I’m able to text or email a question (and if lucky, receive a quick response), do I ever bother to try problem-solving myself? After all, someone will get back to me–won’t they?

The article also offers a pro & con list of mobile technologies and I have to say: what is an “UMPC” and does anyone still use PDAs? Haven’t the Smartphones (another one on the list) basically usurped those? And as for the “UMPC”, which is an “ultra mobile PC”, still what is that? Like a tablet (iPad-esque)? ‘Cause, if it’s not there’s one piece of technology that didn’t really rise to the occasion (or did it, and I just don’t understand what it is?) I also find it funny that the USB stick is considered a mobile device. I mean, I know it is, but I was thinking about something that demands a little more interactivity. I guess an example of how the article’s dated is the concept of cloud computing–I mean that allows for pretty serious mobility–isn’t even mentioned. 5 years-that’s all.

Once again–and the article does bring this up–I’m reminded about the digital divide that’s created when we start to expect everyone to have a smart phone/an iPod/a laptop etc.; this worries me in the educational environment. Given the way technology changes (5 years remember!!) and updates, it can be extremely costly to keep up with the digital Jones…will all kids get the same access to both information and education? I dunno.

What’s it going to look like in 5 years?

Corbeil, J. R., & Valdes-Corbeil, M. E. (2007). Are you ready for mobile learning? Educause Quarterly, 30(2), 31-58.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2012 in 9751 stuff...

 

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! (9751 weekly response #10)

I have to say that this is the first article that I have read (possibly at all, but certainly in a long time) with a focus on a special library. (Apologies to all those who work in a special library!) I found it really quite interesting–although I have to be honest, what I found most interesting was the actual job-working as research librarians in (what appeared to be) a newspaper environment. How cool would that be?! Though, I’m sure it would be quite stressful given the deadlines that dailies demand. I had a previous career in publishing–working for a magazine, for a not-for-profit professional organization, and for a graphic design firm–so I have a little bit of experience with that type of deadline driven environment. Though certainly not the type of turnaround required for a big newspaper. But I think some of the zeitgeist would be similar.

I never thought of newspapers/journalists utilizing the skills and services of a librarian. Don’t know why…I mean I know that organizations like–well, like the CBC, have librarians to maintain in-house media libraries. But I guess that’s where my thinking ended: in the librarian as curator type role. (In fact I think there was a recent job posting at CBC for that type of position.) And I think my ignorance is based on the fact that I always thought that part and parcel of journalism was researching. I never stopped to think that they might need the support of professionals other than an editor and, well, a photographer! (Shows how much I know!) But it does make sense now that I think about it: all of that background information to be sifted through–particularly when time is of such the essence.

I was struck in a couple of places how much “embedding” a librarian into the newspaper situation was similar to that in an education environment, particularly when the article outlined how the librarian role was changing. For example, it was specifically mentioned that a “[t]ransition from a ‘generalist’…to a more content-specialized…” (p. 541) was one trend that had been noticed, along with the idea of the embedded librarian being more pro-active and better able to support the needs of the patrons, as opposed to waiting to be “invited in” (as it were) and therefor only being reactive to the needs of the patrons. Both of these ideas were discussed in an article I read earlier on embedded librarianship in the academic environs (though for the life of me, I can’t remember which one just now; I think it’s somewhere in a blog post!).

Concern…”that editorial staff wouldn’t take to kindly to having librarians plunked into their midst.”
Image credit: Microsoft Office Clipart

Furthermore, I was also struck by the similarity of the challenges; that in placing individual (or small groups of) librarians into different editorial teams, that librarians were concerned that they would look touch with each other : “Concerns included loss of team cohesion…” (p. 543). And also that editorial staff wouldn’t take to kindly to having librarians plunked into their midst. This is also similar to the way in which librarians perceived faculty welcoming their arrival–or not.

Ultimately, the change to the way in which the library (decentralized) and librarians (embedded) operated at Fairfax was significant; overall, it appears it was a successful decision. I’d be curious to know how things worked out in the long term. After all, the article is from 2007 and so much has changed since then in technology, media, and information services. A quick look into Fairfax Media shows that it is still a large media empire. I did scan through the job board to see if they were currently hiring information/library professionals but nothing was posted just right now, so that proves nothing.

Maybe a little more research on my part is needed, yes? Hmm…does anyone know a good librarian to help me?!

Brown, D., & Leith, D. (2007). Integration of the research library service into the editorial process; “Embedding” the librarian into the media. Aslib Proceedings, 59, 539-549. dpi: 10.1108/00012530710839614

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2012 in 9751 stuff...

 

“…and is there anything else I can help you with?” (9751 weekly response #9)

Part of last week’s “class” involved a discussion on virtual reference chat. A couple colleagues who have experience in this area were sharing some of their experiences and insight into this aspect of librarianship. As someone who has never had the opportunity to work in reference–virtual or otherwise–I found it quite interesting. More in fact because just that day I had done my job-shadowing at Conestoga College and one of the librarians who was hosting me, did have an ASKOn (the virtual reference service offered by Knowledge Ontario and used by a variety of public and college libraries in the provide) session that day. I wasn’t there for the whole thing, but he did give me a quick overview of how it worked.

My natural assumption of VR chat was that it would be challenging, primarily due to the fact that those involved would miss out on both the physical cues of communication as well as the auditory ones (unless of course there’s voice chat). My next natural inclination, also based on a lack of visuals, was that a VR interaction/interview would also take longer than f2f because of you can’t “show” the patron the set of steps taken or what the screen looks like, etc. It just seems to me there would be a lot more “description” involved. (And I only based this supposition on the challenges I’ve faced when trying to “walk”–over the phone–my mother through how to create a Word file/manage her email/download photos from her camera.) And, it appears that I wasn’t far off. Colleague Research Guardian shares some of her thoughts and experiences as an Ask A Librarian (the virtual reference service offered by a group of Ontario universities) intern in a recent posting on her blog, Distance Librarian, and she highlights some of these specific issues.

“Service with a smile…”
Image credit: Microsoft Office Clipart

I then decided to take a read through the article “Are We Getting Warmer? Query Clarification in Live Chat Virtual Reference“. Interestingly, one of the most important things I took away from the article, also supports an observation made by Research Guardian: the importance of customer service. Here are two quotes to highlight that “service with a smile” is golden with patrons (whether virtually or in person):

  • “…74% users reported that relational, interpersonal factors were more important than content-related factors in assessing FtF reference interactions…” (p. 261)
  • “…asking users the follow-up inquiry of whether their question was answered completely to be a strong predictor of satisfaction” (p. 262)

The other thing I find interesting about reference–and again, this is reference in general and not specific to VR–is how often patrons don’t really know what they want to ask. I know we all learned that in 9003, but it still kinda surprises me. And in fact when I was job-shadowing, I asked just that of one of my hosts. And he said it was true: that what someone thinks they need or want is rarely that. To that end, there’s another cool quote in the article describing question negotiation. It’s defined as “…one person’s attempt ‘to describe for another person not something he knows, but something he does not know” (p. 260). Try and say that 10x fast!

Oh! And finally, the other thing I didn’t really think about–which would add to a patron not really being clear on what he or she was asking–is the fact that many reference interviews/interactions occur because of “imposed queries” (p. 261): for example, questions that are the result of an assignment, or asking on behalf of someone else. In terms of the assignment aspect, this is where academic librarians would benefit from liaising with instructors in order to have a heads-up about upcoming research assignments. This is in fact what they do at Conestoga: have copies of assignments in the Library Resource Centre in order that should a student require specific course related reference, the librarians do have a sense of what is required. Of course, this works best in a smaller library environment. (Can you imagine it working at Weldon?!?)

Article:
Radford, M. L. et al. (2011). Are we getting warmer: Query clarification in live chat virtual reference. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 50(3), 259-279.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2012 in 9751 stuff...