The Fall 2012 Instruction Learning Community won’t get underway until the end of September, but I couldn’t resist a quick post when I saw that one of the authors of our selection (College Libraries and Student Culture: What We Now Know) for this semester, Andrew Asher, started a blog on library ethnography, I had to post!
If you’re interested, his blog is available: http://www.andrewasher.net/BiblioEthnoHistorioGraphy/
I’ve also linked it into our syndication, so new posts to his blog will show up in our feed; as we discuss the book this semester via our blog, his posts will also show up–pretty neat!
I’ll be back soon with more about this semester’s learning community!
ACRL just announced that Char Booth has won the 2012 ACRL Instruction Section Irene F. Rockman Publication of the Year Award for Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning:
Note paragraph 3, where the announcement indicates that many library “book groups” are already using this book as a guide
Congrats, Char! We’re definitely looking forward to reading this book as a group this semester.
This is the official first post of the VT 2012 Instruction Learning Community! Although this post was written and published via my personal blog (https://blogs.lt.vt.edu/informationlitany), it is also published on the Instruction Learning Community mother blog. This blog will aggregate all the posts from the 13 learning community participants–and I have the distinct privilege of being the first author to have my post aggregated on this site.
Soon, many other reflections will be posted here. I can’t wait to read them!
(p.s. Ignore the posts that came before this one–they were posts that I wrote on my “information litany” blog for another community)
After reading this week’s Awakening the Digital Imagination piece–Kay and Goldberg’s “Personal Dyamic Media”–I am going to try to dig out my old VTech Precomputer 2000!
I remember receiving this “toy” as a Christmas gift somewhere around 4th grade, and I loved it! It had 4 levels of instruction about BASIC programming, spelling games, typing games, math games, and more. I hadn’t thought about this in years, but the Kay/Goldberg piece reminded me of it when they started discussing ways that children could use Smalltalk to program computers with what they thought SHOULD be there. Perhaps I’ve even avoided Jill’s fate of computer phobia by my early exposure to these sorts of devices and programming!
Regardless, after reminiscing for a moment about my Precomputer 2000, I started to consider some of the other points made in this piece. For example, the imperative to not treat the Dynabook as a simulated paper book, and the express goal of the Dynabook to not be worse than paper in any important way (395). Thinking about the new reading technologies that we do have available–Kindles, Nooks, iPads, etc.–I think that we have largely failed, according to this vision. Although the possibilities of the Dynabook reach far beyond e-reading, this is what I (as a librarian) automatically jump to. There’s a LOT of discussion going on in libraries right now about how we handle the e-book and e-reader revolution. A particularly intriguing piece came out last week that actually scared me a little bit. E-books have been embraced by publishers as good business models, and libraries have embraced the idea because they can get good deals, and save on storage space. However, students (and other readers) are reluctant to use e-books because they are actually WORSE than paper books. Many e-books are nothing more than badly digitized copies of their paper partners; at best, they are bodies of content that allow full text searching and minimal annotating. Why would anyone want to read that on a computer, or any other electronic device? We say, “oh, students love it because they don’t have to carry around heavy textbooks, pay less for textbooks, etc., etc.” But we seem to be missing a huge opportunity here. And I think Tim identified this exact problem in his blog post for this week.
It’s come up in our class before that metaphors, especially in the electronic world, limit us more than almost anything. This seems to be the case with e-books, and many other functions provided by the devices available to us. Why can’t we think beyond the book for something more than the “blah?” The answer is largely money, and our reliance on the paper metaphor. I don’t have any solution to this, but I will certainly be thinking about it, especially as my profession engages in a meaningful discussion (and hopefully, negotiation) of electronic information and other content.
This post revolves around ideas presented by Ted Nelson in Computer Lib/Dream Machines–relevant pieces of this text from the New Media Reader is available here http://www.newmediareader.com/book_samples/nmr-21-nelson.pdf.
There is a lot in these few pages. Like Jill, I had pretty extreme emotional responses to several of Nelson’s opinions. Nelson writes that the “emotional aspect” is “a legitimate part of our fantic design,” so I’ll start there–with my emotions–as I digest and try to make sense of these ideas.
First of all, was I the only one who was distracted, and at times, confused by the layout of the work? It felt like I was reading a (popular) magazine, and I struggled to try to make everything fit into the “unifying vision” that Nelson must have had for this piece. Initially, I blamed the New Media Reader editors for my problems, but as I continued to read, it started to dawn on me that Nelson seemed kind of crazy, and that his original work may have looked just like this. So, of course, I checked out Newman Library’s copy (which I’ll bring to class tonight), and sure enough, the NMR copy is true to the original! Perhaps I’ll just blame my inability to follow this nonlinear form of thought on the educational system that has turned off my mind and cut short my human potential. Which brings me to my first real emotional reaction to Nelson’s ideas…
I felt downright defensive (and angry) when I read through “No More Teachers’ Dirty Looks.” I think I was sort of with him, up until the point where he started bashing learning theory (as he understood it). I felt attacked for spending as much time as I have with my efforts to become a better teacher; have my educational psychology and instructional design classes and research done nothing for me, other than influence me to teach as an automaton? Certainly not. I think Nelson wants people–particularly educators AND students–to have a strong emotional reaction to this piece, and really grapple with these ideas. While I disagree with him that learning theory has no real relevance to actual education, I can’t help but agree with him as he talks about breaking down false structures, e.g. subjects) within curricula. I can imagine that many students, when reading this piece, would get pretty excited. Furthermore, I like the statement that Nelson expresses (below), but am not sure I agree with it:
The enhancement of motivation that will follow from letting kids learn anything they want to learn will far outweigh any specialization that may result.
However, I can completely agree with Nelson’s ideas about usability. In fact, I think it should be required reading for librarians who deal with technology! I often joke with students that, because many of our databases are so difficult to search, librarians have job security (I don’t really find this funny). Right now, librarians are having a very similar discussion surrounding what we call “web scale searching.” You may have seen it implemented this summer when we rolled out Summon, our “library search engine.” Many librarians are like the computer scientists described in Nelson’s piece: they want people to learn to do advanced searching (similar to learning programming languages), so that they can do more. But library users don’t need to do that if we can provide the tools for them to do it more easily! Again, I’ll go back to Nelsons ideas:
it is absolutely necessary that computer systems for complicated purposes be simple to use…the last thing you will tolerate is for your computer screen to introduce complications of its own.
Will these ideas convince anyone? Probably not, but, like my interpretation Nelson’s view of education, perhaps it will cause them to think a little more deeply about it!
Although it may be too early in the course to admit Dr. Who fandom, this week’s readings deem that admission completely appropriate, I think!
Both the Wiener piece (“Men, Machines, and the World About”) and the Licklider piece (“Man-Computer Symbiosis”) immediately brought to mind the Cybermen of Dr. Who’s world; Wiener, for bringing the prefix “cyber” into English usage and Licklider, for envisioning “human brains and computing machines…coupled together very tightly” (p. 74). You can read more about the Cybermen here, but the general idea is that they were originally a species of humanoids that began adding artificial parts in order to preserve themselves, ultimately developing an emotionless race that will “delete” anything incompatible with system (which is, of course, often their downfall, especially when battling the Doctor).
I think that both Wiener and Licklider (or “Lick,” as I’ve discovered he was known to acquaintances) would be Dr. Who fans. The show portrays both good and bad uses of technology–technology used to its potential, and technology abused past its potential. Lick seems to see the almost unbridled potential of technology, emphasizing how it can “amplify” human intelligence. The Doctor would agree with this–he’s no Luddite! The Doctor’s time machine–the Tardis–provides a perfect example of this (as does his sonic screwdriver, etc.). When technology is developed and used “properly,” it like the Tardis, can break down barriers (such as language) that prevent humans from reaching their potential.
But, like Wiener, Dr. Who (the show) highlights “the use of human power for other purposes than the greater glory of God” (p. 72). Wiener’s invocation of the monkey’s paw and the genie in the bottle are scary references–much like the Cybermen, or the Daleks (the Doctor’s other arch nemesis). Wiener and Vannevar Bush both fear the potential (probable) use of technology for anything other than helping the human race meet its potential for good and growth. However, neither offers much in terms of knowing when we’re crossing that line into those “other” purposes. So, thinking about Bush, Weiner, Lick, and the Doctor, I suppose that’s my ultimate question: at what point does intelligence amplification become, in a word, evil? As Jill noted, Wiener’s awareness of this potential of technology seems mainly influenced by his hindsight (guilt). But again, I think he only came to these conclusions because of his experience.
So, those of us tinkering with technologies without similar (personal) experiences may be having the difficulty that Licklider referenced when he wrote that “many problems that can be thought through in advance are very difficult to think through in advance” (p. 75). None of this provides an answer, or even a question (as Poincare might point out, p. 75), but it does bring to mind Melvin Kranzberg and his first law of technology: Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.
As a librarian and technology enthusiast, I have been acquainted with Vannevar Bush for quite some time. And I still have some problems with his vision, particularly in this essay.
I understand that here, Bush imagines a world without technical restrictions; even more, Bush goes so far as to imagine a world where man overcomes “human” restrictions and learns to wield information (and all that comes with it) for his “true good” (47). But I think there’s an element of this discussion that needs to be addressed: the economics of information. Bush would be the first to acknowledge the value of information–he might even place a higher dollar amount on it than today’s journal vendors or research universities have. However, his vision of the memex and the “modern great library” assumes access–equal access–to information (40).
Let’s start with the “modern great library.” Bush writes that it can, at most, be “nibbled by few” (40). I wholeheartedly agree with this statement, but not for the reasons that Bush gives. The modern great library is only accessible to the privileged few who may or may not choose to nibble at it. Many modern technologies–citation mapping, RSS, Evernote, and electronic journals–come close to meeting Bush’s vision for the memex and its power of creating unique, individualized associations among pieces of information. But the other part of his vision–access to information that we make, store, and consult–is simply not possible in the world we live in. Is it?
Open access publishing models provide a partial answer to this idea of equal access to information. When Bush writes about Mendel’s breakthroughs being lost to a generation because it did not (could not?) reach a ready audience, I think about all the valuable information published in Nature or Science that many researchers around the world (yes, even in the U.S.) may not have access to because of poor library funding or systems that don’t support information access. Bush writes about the memex user “purchasing” microfilm that would include books, pictures, newspapers, etc. for use on his memex (45). Who is doing the purchasing, and who controls access to the information? What sort of regulations standardize or create access/barriers for the information? Where do libraries come into this increasingly individualized picture? These are questions Bush doesn’t even think about answering.
Even if all publishers decided to use an open access model (ha!), that would still leave the issue of a digital divide. How many regions of this country, and the world, still don’t have access to modern computers or even internet access? Does Bush envision the memex only for the use of the privileged few? If so, how does that possibly help the entire human race realize their potential?
Don’t get me wrong: Bush’s vision for using science to reach man’s potential is awesome. It just highlighted, for me, some of the real problems that severely limit the way our society can engage with and utilize both technology and information.
Although I created this blog specifically for Awakening the Digital Imagination, a “networked faculty-staff development seminar,” I have had the idea for this blog for some time. I already maintain several different blogs and microblogs to communicate with various groups of people: the department that I serve as a College Librarian at Virginia Tech (http://hnfelibrarian.blogspot.com/), my colleagues at Virginia Tech Libraries http://pd-vtl.blogspot.com/), other information literacy professionals (http://informationlitany.tumblr.com/), and the world in general (http://twitter.com/#!/rebeccakmiller), I haven’t really had a place to brainstorm “out loud.” That’s what I intend to do with this blog–first through the readings and discussion that take place through the seminar, but then perhaps more broadly.
A bit on the name of the blog: as you can see from the tumblr site I linked to above, I claimed the title “information litany” awhile ago. There are a few different meanings behind this title; first of all, it sounds a bit like “information literacy” which is one of my main concerns, and research areas, as an academic librarian. A lot of what I post about for the seminar (and beyond) will relate to and expound upon the concept of information literacy, so I won’t define it here–I’ll point to the Wikipedia page for that!
The word “litany,” though, has more meaning for me than just sounding like “literacy.” It has several different connotations–(1) an invocation or prayer, or (2) a meaningless, (tedious) repetitive chant or list. In my opinion and experience, librarians (and other teachers/thinkers/professionals that deal with the same issues) vacillate between these two different interpretations in their everyday work. Many of us believe that our work in organizing, disseminating, and helping others find information is sacred, but our goals, beliefs, and hopes often start to sound tedious and repetitive when we try to explain or defend ourselves to other people, groups, or even students. The mission of this blog is to walk that middle ground, taking the sacred and philosophical, and applying it in everyday situations or discussions.
A final thought: in church services, litanies often have a call-and-response. Although these responses are scripted, it still creates a nice metaphor for a blog. Response is an integral part of the blogging experience, creating communities and facilitating interactivity among thinkers. It is my hope that whatever is called out from the blog will generate thoughtful, curious, and helpful responses!