New Librarianship MOOC: Information, Knowledge, and the Conversations in Our Heads

Trainer-teacher-learners, including those working in libraries, need not worry or shy away from those conversations we have with ourselves within our own heads, if R. David Lankes is to be believed.

New_Librarianship_Master_Class_LogoThose conversations, he suggests in his “New Librarianship Master Class”—a massive open online course (MOOC) under the auspices of the University of Syracuse School of Information Studies— and his book The Atlas of New Librarianship, are part of our learning process and support our efforts to transform information into knowledge.

Building upon the Conversation Theory work initiated by cyberneticist Gordon Pask in the 1970s, Lankes takes us through a fascinating exploration of how knowledge is created through conversation. Then, bringing us full circle through that exploration of knowledge and conversation rooted in the cyberneticists’ fascination with studying systems, he leads us through a summary of how the various levels of language we use—ranging from basic non-contextual language to subject-specific jargon—affects the systems we develop for those we ostensibly serve. (Lankes uses library online catalogs as an example of one less-than-elegant system for his learners in the New Librarianship Master Class; we could just as easily look for examples among the systems used to deliver massive open online courses—MOOCS—along the lines of the online master class that is inspiring this series of reflections.)

There is a depth and richness to all of this that is, quite frankly, inspiring comments from course participants about how opaque the entire field of Conversation Theory is. But none of it is completely foreign to anyone involved in training-teaching-learning—as so many people working in libraries increasingly are. Lankes notes that New Librarianship promotes a shift in focus from information to knowledge, and there clearly is a similar shift, in some ways, within the larger field of learning that so obviously is part of what library staff pursue daily with library members. He also helps us to understand that the internalized conversations we have as we engage in learning—asking ourselves questions along the lines of “Do I really agree with what I just read?” or “Does what I just heard from that instructor make sense?”—are an integral part of the process of transforming information we have obtained into knowledge that we can apply as we attempt to attain a state of wisdom.

In the course of his explorations, he brings us back to the libraries and librarians who are at the center of the master class and The Atlas: “The quiet room within the library for quiet reflection is not quiet to prevent conversation. It is to enable individuals to converse with themselves more readily,” he says in his “Knowledge and Conversation” lecture online.

He also, in an effort to set an even broader context for library staff and others involved in facilitating the learning process, reminds us through an “Introduction to Knowledge” lecture online, that “We need to move away from the whole idea of information and think that we are in the knowledge business, that librarianship is very much about helping people learn…We need to focus on how people learn…how data is used….We also have to be in the conversation business…if we’re seeking to help people learn, we have to facilitate conversations” both overtly in our communal learning settings and through those wonderfully productive conversations in our heads that too few of us take the time to think about, nurture, and utilize to our own benefit and to the benefit of those we serve in our day-to-day work as learning facilitators.

N.B.: This is the third in a series of posts inspired by the New Librarianship MOOC.

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One Response to New Librarianship MOOC: Information, Knowledge, and the Conversations in Our Heads

  1. I now this is off-topic…but…You remind me of grad school, when I sat in the intro to librarianship class (or whatever it was called) and realized that the professor was using words that I didn’t understand. As we did in the old days, I wrote them down and looked them up later in a paperback dictionary. Looking up those words led to interesting conversations with myself. Why did the professor use “that” word? Did he really mean to use “this” word? What does that word convey that a synonym does not? My self conversation was creating knowledge. It also helped me realize that even the most learned can say one thing when they mean another! Imagine the noisy conversations that people are having with themselves as they read books, web sites, etc. If we can help those conversations to occur, then we’re doing well.

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