Even the most concise introduction to the Salzburg Curriculum, a proposal for a unified approach to preparing librarians and museum professionals for the work they will do within their organizations and the extended communities they will serve, suggests that we’re at the intersection of a number of wonderfully overlapping theories and communities of practice. Those of us who were engaged in #etmooc (the Educational Technology & Media MOOC developed and facilitated by Alec Courous and his wonderful gang of “conspirators” earlier this year) can see the underpinnings of connectivist learning theory and practice and how it serves communities. Those of us in Lankes’s New Librarianship Master Class, where the Salzburg Curriculum was reviewed extensively in Week 2 materials within the four-week course, can see Gordon Pask’sConversation Theory in action. Those of us who read Horizon Reports or have an opportunity to serve on Horizon Report advisory boards can see an extension of the conversations on the topic of technology in learning that the New Media Consortium is fostering between trainer-teacher-learners in school, community and technical college, university, museum, and library settings. And anyone involved in any sort of community-based project—whether face to face or online—can see tremendous foundations, within the core values behind the curriculum, for all we do:
Openness and transparency
Empathy and respect
Continuous learning/striving for excellence
Creativity and imagination
Coming out of discussions conducted at the Salzburg Global Seminar on Libraries and Museums in a Participatory Age in 2011, the curriculum strongly parallels the work Lankes promotes in his master class and The Atlas—which is not at all surprising since he was a key player at the Salzburg Global Seminar. Topics addressed in the curriculum include “Transformative Social Engagement,” “Technology,” “Management for Participation,” “Asset Management,” “Cultural Skills,” and “Knowledge, Learning, and Innovation”—topics obviously important for anyone involved in libraries, museums, and other organizations with clear roles to play in training-teaching-learning.
We’re in an era of participatory culture, Lankes maintains, so our educational and our day-to-day workplace efforts can benefit from what was codified within the framing statement for the curriculum: “The mission of librarians and museum professionals is to foster conversations that improve society through knowledge exchange and social action”—a statement that closely parallel’s Lankes’s mission statement for New Librarianship. It’s a framing statement that leads us into a variety of areas familiar to trainer-teacher learners: facilitating conflict-management in ways that “create a civic and civil environment”; taking a proactive view about service rather than a passive view about what service means; taking a lifelong approach to learning rather than acting as if any single formal academic program can prepare us for everything we face within learning organizations; and using technology “to reach out to a community to the community’s benefit” in ways that “bring the community closer in conversation and learning.”
And, as has been consistently promoted through the New Librarianship Master Class and The Atlas, there are considerations of providing the maximum benefits to the communities who rely on libraries, museums, and other organizations to make valuable assets accessible, in meaningful ways, to the communities they serve rather than merely seeing those assets as “stuff” to be preserved for the sake of preservation.
The Salzburg Curriculum also proposes to help learners master communication skills and intercultural skills, and to develop an appreciation for and attentiveness to languages and terminology in ways that serve communities. But above all, as Lankes suggests in one of his online lectures on the topic, we “must be out in the community, learning from the community, working with the community to build, which means [we] must understand the community at a much deeper level than their [community members’] demographics.” If we, in our trainer-teacher-learner roles, can contribute to the development of this sort of dynamic curriculum with an eye toward serving communities as active participants, we may actually see far fewer articles or hear far fewer conversations, about the impending death of libraries and other organizations that strengthen our communities.
It’s a huge challenge—one that Lankes reminds us is not something that is going to be nor should be accomplished solely by librarians working to develop and implement their own agenda. It’s a cohesive mission and a perceived mandate built upon and extending traditional roles while responding to contemporary and evolving needs. It’s something that requires community collaborations and partnerships without regard to political labels—although, it should be noted, there has been a bit of a discussion by blog and tweeting, from at least a couple of course participants who perceive New Librarianship to have an obvious “liberal” leaning. Lankes himself directly addresses that perception in The Atlas: “…librarians are activist—not liberals or conservatives but simply dedicated to real change through doing” (p. 118) and leaves it to the rest of us to decide whether we want to engage in conversation by label (e.g., conservative and liberal) or conversation by possibility (e.g., what should/can the future of libraries and librarianship be?).
“Ultimately, we need to be responsive to our communities in what we are trying to do,” Lankes says in his “Librarianship: Theory and Practice” lecture online. “We need to look at the deeper roots about how people learn and knowledge occurs, how our mission shapes how we interact with our communities, what our community needs, what we see as a better day for them.”
As I’ve noted throughout my own reflections on the content of the course and the book, I see incredible opportunities for community-building and collaboration through what Lankes and course participants are exploring. This is an approach that combines theory with a call to action. It calls for a collaborative and in many ways comprehensive approach to librarianship, learning, conversation, and creating/developing knowledge through sharing while not losing sight of the fact that great efforts also require tremendous moments of reflection so we can ground our actions in cohesive value systems established by members of communities rather than having values and agendas imposed upon communities.
It’s a view that, while attempting to shift our concepts of “collections” from objects to the people who make up communities, also is broad enough to acknowledge that the collections and tools that are important to members of those communities must be developed and maintained in ways that guarantee their use by members of the communities. Librarians, Lankes asserts, can be vitally important players by helping others see the relationships between elements of those collections and, more importantly, how those elements serve the needs, values, and agendas created by community members themselves.
There is plenty of ambiguity within New Librarianship as proposed, and that, Lankes says, is natural since there is plenty of ambiguity in the evolving face of librarianship and the communities it serves. Librarians (and, I would suggest, other trainer-teacher-learners) can help resolve some of those ambiguities by working with community members rather than ignoring the ambiguities and other challenges, he continues.
The efforts extend across multiple platforms. Changes are needed in the way librarians (and others) approach and participate in formal education and lifelong learning. Changes are needed in the way librarians (and others) approach leadership and innovation. Changes are needed in the way librarians (and others) define libraries and librarianship.
What unifies all of these wonderfully overwhelming challenges is that learning is part of the landscape. And that’s something any trainer-teacher-learner can appreciate—and embrace.
Lankes, in his course lecture on improving society though innovation and leadership, addresses his target audience—librarians—with words that are a call to action for anyone involved in training-teaching-learning: “Innovation and leadership are fundamental values [for us]…You are to be an innovator….You are to be a leader…It comes from this: We must model the positive change we want to see within our communities.”
He reminds us that the places in which we work, those places we provide (onsite and online libraries for libraries, any learning space in my extended view of what Lankes so aptly documents), “are places of constant learning and therefore constant change….Learning is change…[so] we must be constantly changing.” And leadership, he maintains, is part of the equation.
This is far from a utopian cry for ill-defined results. In connecting these assertions to a broader goal of “improving society,” Lankes helps us see that if we are focused and successful with our efforts, we are contributing to meeting an essential need within the individual communities and larger society we serve: facilitating the conversations and other learning opportunities that strengthen communities. It comes back to a theme running through the course and the book: we can make substantial positive contributions if we are part of the conversations taking place and affecting our communities, and if we are helping to facilitate positive change through implementation of the mission statement Lankes consistently promotes: “The Mission of Librarians is to Improve Society through Facilitating Knowledge Creation in their Communities”—a mission statement that can equally be applied to any trainer-teacher-learners and, again, that begs for collaborations between anyone involved in those endeavors within or outside of libraries.
Lankes does a wonderful job at emphasizing the importance of what we do collectively: “We can’t have one person in charge of innovation. Everyone must be in charge of it,” he reminds us, and I would extend that statement to say the same of leadership, of training-teaching-learning, and of the social media tools that so many of us are using to facilitate the conversations Lankes is promoting.
“Librarians are radical positive change agents,” he reminds us, just as any trainer-teacher-learner is a radical change agent—and the best are the ones who are not rolling out the same lesson plans year after year, or avoiding opportunities for innovation not only at the large-scale level that generally comes to mind when we talk about innovation, but also at the small, personal levels that each of us has the possibility of pursuing—if we view ourselves as potential positive change agents who must assume leadership roles whenever we can.
“We need to evangelize our profession,” Lankes adds near the end of his lecture on innovation and leadership. “We need to take every opportunity to tell people that we are here for them. And we’re not simply here waiting for them. We are here to make their world better, and we’re going to do it in an active way.”
And if all of us take the time to read The Atlas or view some of those wonderful lectures that will remain online long after the current course formally ends, we might be inspired to make magnificent strides for our communities, the organizations and clients we serve, our learners, and ourselves simply by reaching across the aisle and embracing collaborative opportunities with other trainer-teacher-learners with whom we haven’t yet collaborated.
“Participation in a system, however minimal, exerts pressure on that system,” he explains, and that thought reminds us that whether we’re facilitating learning in physical and virtual library settings or in any other environment, we must be actively engaged with our learners if we want to understand and effectively meet their needs.
I suspect that many of us connected with learning efforts in or through libraries understand, viscerally, the importance and the rewards of being integrally involved in our communities; if we’ve read the Urban Library Council’s Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development (2007) report or been following Maureen Sullivan’s American Library Association (ALA) presidential initiative “Promise of Libraries Transforming Communities,” we have very strong reminders of how important involvement and activism within a community is. I am not, on the other hand, at all convinced that trainer-teacher-learners across the board have that same sense of how far-reaching our efforts are within the communities we serve; responding to employers’/clients’ needs with our (in the best of situations) finely honed learner-centric endeavors, we don’t often enough take into consideration the importance of evaluating the results of those endeavors where they most matter: among the customers and clients who ultimately benefit from how learners apply what they have absorbed—or suffer from those learners’ inability to successfully apply what has been offered.
Lankes, obviously focusing on the world of librarianship and libraries, continues throughout his course and book to offer guidance, inspiration, and provocative ideas not only for that target audience of library staff, but to anyone involved in training-teaching-learning. He encourages us to think about how we can open up our systems to those who are ultimately affected by our resources, our offerings, and our actions. He reminds us that “people will go where they can have an influence. People will go to where their voice is respected or listened to”—a confirmation that if we want to be effective in facilitating learning, we need to act in ways that demonstrate our willingness to partner with our learners, listen to what they say, and respect what we are hearing from them.
He takes us even further in his discussions of community through his online lecture “Communities: Environments” and sections of The Atlas (pp. 97-101) where he documents efforts by staff at the Free Library of Philadelphia to renovate and expand the main library in ways that serve the community rather than in ways that solely reflect library staff’s perceptions of community needs. Discussions with community members led staff to focus on proposals for an Entrepreneurium that would support community entrepreneurs at their greatest moment of need; a writing center that would provide writers with the salon opportunities and publication opportunities that were most important to them and their community; and a music center that would meet musicians’ needs for performance spaces and newly-written compositions that have been performed. Having that level of exchanges with our learners and those affected by the ways those learners apply what we provide could have magnificent impacts on how we dream about, design, deliver, and evaluate the learning opportunities we offer face to face and online. And the payoff for the communities we serve could be incredible.
In the third of his three lectures on community—“Communities: Assessment”—there is a concluding line that ought to be pasted on our learning walls: the reminder that we are stronger if we avoid fragmentation and seek inclusiveness in our efforts. Rather than think of ourselves in terms of “public librarians” or “academic librarians” or any other sub-category of the larger field of librarianship, he encourages course participants to simply think of ourselves as “librarians.” And the same, I believe, can be said of learning facilitators regardless of the venue(s) in which we work: we should be far less concerned with whether we refer to ourselves as “teachers” or “instructors” or “trainers,” or whether we work primarily in face-to-face or online or synchronous or asynchronous learning situations, and much more concerned with the fact that we are involved in learning—as facilitators and as learners, regardless of whether we work in libraries or in schools or colleges or universities or in other workplace learning and performance (staff training) settings.
The foundation that keeps us productive and essential members of our communities is a dedication to learning—and that’s where we need to maintain the focus that comes from one of Lankes’s final questions in his presentations and writing on community: “What are people talking about? What do they want to learn?”
But it is his follow-up comment in the lecture that particularly resonates for those of us who work both with library colleagues and with colleagues in other organizations where learning is facilitated: “I think a lot of instruction in libraries should be about things within the community and not about the library itself”—an idea I’ve supported consistently through a “Rethinking Library Instruction” course for ALA Editions.
In the same way that learning facilitated within libraries ultimately is at least as much about serving community members’ needs as much as it is about making library services and resources accessible, the learning facilitated in other organizations is at least as much about customers and clients served as it is about the learners who are employed by those organizations. If trainer-teacher-learners are reading, hearing about, and talking about anything these days, it is about how we are fostering a learner-centric approach to our efforts. That learner-centric approach can be most productive when it helps learners themselves make connections between what they are learning and how it helps them serve others. So as we bring that back into the context of librarians and other members of library staff who are offering learning opportunities that move far beyond a focus on bibliographic instruction and explicitly address libraries and their staff as partners within the communities they serve, we have yet another reminder that there is plenty of room for, and much to be gained by, greater collaboration between the trainer-teacher-learners in libraries (i.e., almost every member of library staff who interacts with those relying on libraries and librarians as trusted resources) and the trainer-teacher-learners who serve other organizations and constituents without ever realizing that partnerships with library staff can expand the successes of what all of us are attempting to facilitate.
And it goes beyond that, beyond the learning process: It is, Lankes suggests, “about bringing people to action”—a theme he explores extensively in the course and in The Atlas: It is about being outside of our organizations, being visible within the communities we serve, and being part of the conversations that shape the directions our communities take.
Our role as facilitators—librarians as facilitators, in the context under discussion by Lankes, and trainer-teacher-learners as facilitators in the broader context I’m pursuing here—is critically important. And this role provides another example of the common ground we share: Librarians, Lankes says, are constantly learning and “need to be constantly learning”—a statement that is equally true for anyone involved in helping others learn.
That necessity to continually engage in learning reveals another challenge that is, at the same time, an attraction for many of us: The requirement that we provide stimulating environments for learning and innovation while, at the same time, being willing to learn alongside those whose learning we are expected—and have offered—to facilitate. We don’t necessarily have to know about everything that is going to take place in a learning environment such as the makerspaces that are becoming increasingly prevalent in libraries, he suggests, but we do have to be willing to learn with the learners who are working within those spaces: “This idea of creating a safe place for experimentation, for innovation, is part of what librarians need to do,” he adds in a lecture on facilitation and environment, and the same applies to trainer-teacher-learners outside of physical and virtual library (and other learning) spaces.
“What we need to think about,” he continues, “is our physical spaces and our digital spaces: ‘How can we create inspiration? How can we create an environment where people instantly walk in and feel smarter, or feel part of something great, and know that they are part of something great, and not [be] intimidated?”
The ultimate payoff for libraries and librarians, he concludes, is that “Libraries are safe places, but they are a safe place to come up with dangerous ideas. They are a safe place to come up with revolutionary ideas. They are a safe place in which we can plot the future greatness of a community that may need to overthrow the norms of community.”
And that, for me, is as fine a description of what any great training-teaching-learning endeavor I’ve ever seen or helped facilitate can offer. And produce.
Building upon the Conversation Theory work initiated by cyberneticistGordon 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.
Given that so many members of library staff are involved in facilitating learning within the onsite and online communities they serve, it’s no surprise that Lankes’s expressed hope “that members and communities beyond libraries find value in the Atlas” (p. 11) does, in fact, match the potential to appeal to many involved in training-teaching-learning regardless of whether our work takes place in public, academic, or special libraries; in (other) academic settings; or in the workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs served by my colleagues in the American Society for Training & Development.
Lankes begins by reminding us that worldview helps shape the very questions we ask (e.g., “What is the future of Libraries?”) and, therefore, shapes the ideas we consider and the actions we take as a result of our explorations. In a particularly fruitful example of how questions and worldview affect the world we help create, he takes us through variations that product distinctly different responses and results:
“What is the future of libraries?” becomes
“What should be the future of libraries?”—a less deterministic view in that is doesn’t assume there is one already clearly-defined future to consider—then becomes
“What should be the future of libraries and librarians?”—which then becomes
“What should be the future of libraries and librarians in a democracy?”
And that’s where an astute reader makes the leap that Lankes facilitates without directly adding it to his agenda: applying that style of employing a series of evolving questions to challenge and reshape our worldview can have a positive impact within any profession—particularly the field of teaching-training-learning. This, for me, is another confirmation of my own long-held belief that librarianship is in significant ways part of the larger playing field of training-teaching-learning rather than being a field completely unto itself.
“Worldviews matter,” Lankes says in his lecture. “Worldviews help us shape policy. They really do shape our thinking.”
Furthermore—in defining the mission of librarianship as “to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities”—he tells us in his “Mission” lecture that “Journalists can see themselves with this mission statement. Teachers can see that. Publishers. Authors. Lots of folks can see that mission, so the mission statement is not enough to define librarianship.” But it is enough to remind us that we have colleagues and potential partners across the aisle, and that tremendous collaborations that serve our overlapping communities of interest are possible if we’re willing to step away from our traditional desks and workspaces to engage with those potential collaborators.
Lankes also, in that lecture on mission, explicitly confirms that “in new librarianship, we focus primarily on how people learn….Learning theory becomes a fundamental part of the worldview of librarianship, of new librarianship.”
If we are astute enough to pursue this line of inquiry and action, all of us involved in teaching-training-learning—whether within or outside of libraries—will be closer to playing the transformative role that Lankes documents in his book and course, and that our profession-vocation inspires.
As is the case with much of what Lankes provides in the book and in the course, new librarianship reaches far beyond those working in or for libraries. Often focusing on the training-teaching-learning roles that librarians and libraries have long assumed, the course and book are a rich source of exploration for anyone involved in facilitating the learning process for learners of any age. And in a particularly fascinating passage, Lankes also steps back long enough to explore what he perceives to be the difference between “public” and “civic” spaces—a theme of interest to anyone who cares about and becomes involved in community development, collaboration, and partnerships (within or outside of libraries and librarianship).
“A public space is not truly owned. It is an open space,” Lankes writes (p. 65). “A civic space [e.g., a library], on the other hand, is a regulated space on behalf of the public. That means it is beholden to a whole raft of policy and law. A group can gather in a public space. They have to have permission to do so in a civic space, and that permission must be given in an equitable and nondiscriminatory way.”
While the distinction that Lankes offers provides plenty of room for exploration, it also addresses an almost vanished concept in a world where nearly every space is civic in the sense that it is under observation by citizens via cell phones and video cameras as well as by outright government surveillance and regulation, as is obvious to anyone thinking about how regulated public gatherings are at events ranging from national political party conventions to barbecues in public parks. Even our city, regional, state, and national parks are more “civic” than “public” under this definition when we think about how tightly regulated they are: they are treated almost as if they are living museums, where artifacts are meant to be preserved and where we are discouraged (for good reason) from removing plant specimens or even picking and eating wild berries, and permits are needed for overnight camping so that they have moved beyond that “public” unregulated state of existence.
And yet there is far-reaching value in considering what Lankes says of libraries as civic rather than public spaces, for it carries over into so many other aspects of daily life that includes, but goes far beyond, what libraries, librarianship, and librarians (as well as other members of library staff) provide and inspire within communities: the aforementioned development of community, the fostering of collaboration, and the creation and nurturing of partnerships that produce far more as “civic” efforts than could ever be accomplished without the organized efforts that accompany the best of civic endeavors.
Lankes and those of us taking the New Librarianship Master Class are engaged in discussions about that precise library/librarianship topic at one significant and obvious level, but engagement at that level need not restrain us from taking the larger view of civic engagement that accompanies our collaborative explorations. When we become involved in projects along the lines of the volunteer-driven community-based Hidden Garden Steps project in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset District—an effort to transform a public space into a civic space through the creation and installation of a 148-step ceramic-tile mosaic, public gardens, and murals—we agree to work with all the various partners who are stakeholders in that space: neighbors; existing nonprofit organizations; local government employees and elected officials; and numerous others whose interests have already moved that public space into the civic realm.
Community organizers struggle together—just as librarians and other members of library staff struggle—to define community/civic needs and goals; to work together to bring these evolving dreams to fruition; to create moments of acknowledgement and celebration to mark whatever successes we have; and to recognize that civic development is never a one-time start-to-finish endeavor. There is always something new to consider, something new upon which we can seek areas of agreement and coordinated action; and something we can nurture in response to changing circumstances.
That’s the beauty of what all of us do as we attempt to define what is public and what is civic; what libraries are and should be becoming; and what librarianship must include to be successful in meeting the needs of the ever-expanding onsite-online communities it serves. If we think about, respond to, and act upon these ideas of public and civic spaces, and seek the most inclusive group of partners we can identify and attract, our public spaces—libraries included—will continue to serve as civic spaces that reflect our highest aspirations.
We’re far from finished with our efforts to determine how massive open online courses (MOOCs) will fit into our learning landscape, recently published articles and personal experiences continue to suggest.
Through her thoughtful and encouraging “A Record of My #ETMOOC Experience, 2013,” Canadian educator-philosopher-writerChristina Hendricks provides one of the most encouraging in-depth surveys I’ve read from a MOOC participant. The article is a great example of what a well-facilitated MOOC delivers in terms of learning that produces quantifiable results; it also draws more attention to the #etmooc community of learning that continues to thrive in Google+, on Twitter through the #etmooc hashtag, and through other online exchanges. The concrete results, from that MOOC that fostered explorations of educational technology and media, include blog pieces that are, in and of themselves, learning objects organized through a wonderful blog hub hosting more than 3,300 postings from a group of more than 500 individual contributors; videos that can be used by other learners interested in exploring educational technology and media; the thousands of tweets that provided learning resources and extended conversations among learners worldwide; and examples of tech tools used to produce learning objects by learners engaged in learning.
Hendricks concludes her “Record” with the suggestion that “[t]hat’s it for my ‘official’ participation in ETMOOC, but I am certain my connections with others will continue…”—as fine a tribute to effective and engaging learning as I can imagine reading.
Steve Kolowich, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this month, offers a different view with his opening sentence: “In California, the MOOC revolution came to a halt unceremoniously.” He accurately describes how a state legislator and educators at San Jose State University backed away from the strong support they had been expressing for MOOCs just a few months earlier, and cites problems the university had with its initial MOOCs: “…a lower pass rate than the face-to-face version” of a course and “similarly underwhelming outcomes” in other MOOCs offered through the university.
Students who earned university credit will, he notes, “get to count those credits toward their degrees,” but those who opted only for certificates were left with little to show for their efforts, the chair of the university psychology department was quoted as suggesting: “You can’t take that and get a cup of coffee with it.”
That can’t-get-a-cup-of-coffee approach, for me, illustrates why reactions to MOOCs in their still-early stages of development continue to vary so widely from person to person: Those seeing them only in terms of academic credits while ignoring the positive learning experiences they can produce are justifiably unimpressed; those of us who are motivated by a desire for learning and participation in effective communities of learning find ourselves amply rewarded by and enthusiastic about what we experience—particularly in the connectivist MOOCs that can foster high levels of long-term engagement.
Participation in the “New Librarianship Master Class” MOOC is offering a view from a position somewhere in the middle of the to-MOOC-or-not-to-MOOC debate. Far less connectivist in its approach, New Librarianship is centered around online pre-recorded lectures and quizzes—but that doesn’t mean that self-motivated learners didn’t find ways to push it a bit toward connectivist interactions. When many of us leapt beyond the confines of the official course bulletin boards and found ourselves engaging with the instructor and each other via Twitter, the levels of engagement began to flow as they did (and still do) through #etmooc. Tweets provided links to related material, inspired conversations through cross-postings on blogs, and even drew comments from people not formally enrolled in the master class—an amazing demonstration of how learning benefits from permeable (physical and virtual) walls. They also reminded us that those initially involved in the development of MOOCs saw these levels of connection/engagement as integral to this type of learning rather than viewing MOOCs as just another way to transfer onsite learning into an online environment.
The writers of the New Media Consortium (NMC)Horizon Project2013 Higher Education report note that “George Siemens and Stephen Downs in 2008, when they pioneered the first courses in Canada…envisioned MOOCS as ecosystems of connectivism—a pedagogy in which knowledge is not a destination but an ongoing activity, fueled by the relationships people build and the deep discussions catalyzed within the MOOC. That model emphasizes knowledge production over consumption, and new knowledge generated helped to sustain and evolve the MOOC environment…. As massively open online courses continue their high-speed trajectory in the near-term [one-year] horizon, there is a great need for reflection that includes frank discussion about what a sustainable, successful model looks like” (pp. 11-12).
Pieces like those produced by Christina Hendricks, Steve Kolowich, and many others contribute to that frank discussion; reports documenting the importance of preparing online learners for their online learning experiences point to the obvious need to support learners in whatever venue they decide to learn. All of these efforts have the potential to inspire us to continue deeply diving into the intoxicating waters of training-teaching-learning and helping us become members of dynamic communities of learning—and they make us far better learning facilitators and learning advocates capable of serving the learners who rely upon us.
The article by Deneen and Cowling is thoughtful, balanced, and inspiring. The writers begin by describing how a vice chancellor at an Australian university is suggesting that as students return to onsite learning this year, lectures “would be much less common and not a ‘crutch for poor pedagogy.’” They deftly dive into an exploration of the idea that lectures will “be replaced by superior, technology-enhanced substitutes.” And after exploring our long-standing love-hate relationship with lectures in learning, they circle back to what is, for me, a perfect, well-reasoned conclusion: “We need to reject the notion that lectures will sink our students and technology will save them. Instead, let’s dig deeply and critically into both, reflect upon how to improve our practices, and apply sound teaching methods and practices to create learning engagements that are captivating and profound.”
Kim, in posting (on Facebook) a link to the article, offered the briefest of comments: “I think the issue is engagement. Some lecturers can be very engaging. Many are not. Creating space for the learner is one of the criteria for engagement.” And that’s where the fun starts, for Barry Altland, a cherished ATD (Association for Talent Development) colleague here in the United States, responded to Kim’s comment with this opening salvo: “This [comment] states the ‘lecturers can be engaging.’ By their very definition, they are not. Facilitators are. But lecturers, presenters, speakers and instructors are not. Nor are teachers. For those are all movements that one does ‘at’ another, not ‘with’ another. Only a Facilitator invites the voices of many others into the learning conversation.”
My response did little to hide my surprise: “I’m seeing the ‘lecture’ format evolve in engaging ways, and don’t sense that an appreciation for what first-rate facilitators inspire and accomplish precludes an appreciation for what a first-rate lecturer inspires and accomplishes. 2) I wouldn’t trade memories of lectures I have attended by Stephen Jay Gould, David Halberstam, Ann Patchett, Eric Whitacre, Jeremy Gutsche, R. David Lankes, and numerous others for anything. Furthermore, TED talks I’ve seen or attended suggest how vibrant, engaging, and transformative a lecture can be when the lecturer uses the power of storytelling to draw us into powerful communal experiences. And the best of the teacher-lecturers I’ve found in formal academic settings have had a lifelong impact on my approach to work, learning, and play. Really sorry if you haven’t had experiences along those lines. As Lankes would say: Expect More!”
Dave himself, tagged in my response on Facebook, almost immediately joined the conversation: “The best lectures stimulate a dialog within the individual. A good book can be engaging, a song can change a life.” Which drew a response from Barry: “Books and songs are inanimate. When human beings come together, they both have something to offer the learning moment.”
With the ball back in Dave’s court, the exchange continued: “You used the word ‘engagement.’ A good lecture spawns conversations, internal and between people. Also, a lecture can absolutely be interactive one to many and many to one. I absolutely know the power of facilitated learning and workshops. Mastery requires going beyond lectures to practice. But to dismiss lectures as a simple broadcast of inherently less value I find problematic.”
Quoting from the original article, Jill continued: “‘Instead, let’s dig deeply and critically into both, reflect upon how to improve our practices, and apply sound teaching methods and practices to create learning engagements that are captivating and profound.’ I like the phrase ‘how to improve our practices.’ We are not taught as teachers how to improve our lectures. I remember when I joined my academic institution, I asked for advice on how to prepare for three-hour class and was told that what I did was up to me. I would have welcomed advice and training! Over the years, I have learned from workshops, by watching others, and by doing. Imagine if all teachers—no matter how they got into the profession—were taught on how to be engaging when they needed to lecture?”
And directing her final contribution to Dave, she added the following: “Like a lecture, if a book, song, video, etc. causes me to think deeply and have a conversation with myself, I will learn.”
The final contribution (at least up to this moment) comes from long-time ATD (Association for Talent Development) South Florida Chapter colleague Laura Fothergill: “Loved the article, really dislike the title and perpetuation of us vs them (lecture vs technology). Can we stop even putting this into the ethos? Why not title it ‘Be critical, be reflective, be better’ or ‘Lose your Assumptions.’ By spinning the concepts into either or and inviting that conversation we are not helping individual faculty with their own personal professional development.” So, in a relatively brief period of time, we went from lectures and learning to whether lectures and lecturers (and presenters, speakers, instructors, and teachers) could even be engaging or whether engagement was exclusive to facilitators. And, just for good measure, Dave and Jill took us down the intriguing path of what learning is and how we learn, with Laura advocating for elimination of the us vs. them element of our explorations.
Although the obvious starting point for me is a preference for a “learners as co-conspirators in the learning process” approach to learning (as compared to the boringly passive approach to learning that is obvious in the worst of lectures and lecturers) in the settings in which I work, I was intrigued by the fond memories of what I had learned from the best lecturers I have heard—and I also thought about how my own approach to “lectures” has continued to evolve. When I work synchronously face-to-face onsite, online, or in blended environments (combining onsite and online learning into a cohesive, seamless package), I play with and combine numerous approaches. I find it rewarding, for example, to follow a Flipped Classroom model approach by providing learners with pre-session prep work (videos or short articles) so that our time together “face to face” onsite or online focuses on application of what we have learned—with a strong emphasis on what the learners will do with their newly-acquired knowledge/skills the minute our time together comes to an end. In asynchronous settings (e.g., through the four-week online courses I design and facilitate for the American Library Association), I start with weekly “typed lectures” that provide my own content interspersed with plenty of links to other people’s videos, articles, and online, easily accessible resources to support the learners’ explorations. I also include focused exercises that encourage the learners to apply what they are learning, interact with other learners, and even adapt the assignments in ways that produce something they can use in their own workplaces while and after the course is underway. The emphasis is always on having learners define what they need to know and encouraging them to focus on what addresses their learning needs as quickly as possible.
Just as participation in a creative online learning opportunity exploring The Innovator’s Mindset(led by George Couros in 2017) made me rethink my perceptions about what “reading” is in the early 21st century, the exchanges via Facebook have inspired me to further rethink my perceptions about what a great “lecture” is in contemporary times. It is focused. It is engaging. It inspires inquisitiveness by serving as an invitation to explore a topic further. It can—but doesn’t necessarily have to—be creative in its use of tools available to the lecturer and the people sharing in that learning experience. (I often think, for example, of how Jonathan Haidt so effectively turned the TED Talk lecture format on its head by doing a formal lecture that “ended” a few minutes early so he could offer an entirely different version, during the final few minutes of his allotted time, by seamlessly and in the most stunningly successful of ways completely integrating video into the live presentation. I also think of how effectively Eric Whitacre incorporated a demonstration of a virtual choir into a live lecture on virtual choirs at a conference I attended a few years ago.) The learning, in each of these cases, was effective, engaging, inspirational, and transformative—because of, not in spite of, the “lecture” format. The rethinking continued over the weekend when I finally made time to watch the first couple of lectures in The Great Courses’ series on “The Learning Brain”—a series of 24 30-minute lectures captured on a CD and accompanied by a course guidebook. As I sat there in the comfort of my own home with the book in hand and the first few minutes of the video playing, an obvious revelation struck: The lecture can very much be a like a part of a spoken (audio) book, and the book can very much be like a set of printed lectures–even if it isn’t actually one of those lovely books providing the text of lectures. Both, when produced effectively, can be and are engaging. Dropping them completely from our learning toolkits makes no sense to me, and arguing against them in absolute, non-nuanced terms, seems counterproductive. The important decision to be made is when each is the best tool for a particular learning situation, and then to produce the best version of the learning resource that we possibly can produce. So we learn. With our learners. To inspire the best results possible.
Celebrating Life. Making positive connections and collaborating with people from around the world. Living everyday with positive energy, possibility, passion and peace of mind. Learning from a School Counsellor lens. I'm not a Counsellor because I want to make a living. I am a Counsellor because I want to make a difference. Gratitude for ETMOOC roots.