ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting: Learning How to Make a Meeting

February 1, 2015

When as association like the American Library Association (ALA) sets out to empower its members by fostering collaboration, magic happens, as a few of us saw again yesterday while attending an open discussion about online learning in libraries at the ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting here in Chicago.

ALAMW15--LogoArriving early for a 90-minute session, seven of us who had not previously met engaged in brief, informal conversation for several minutes while waiting for the session facilitator to arrive. And when it became clear that the facilitator was not going to arrive, we quickly decided we weren’t going to take the typical tact of assuming we should leave because the session had been cancelled. ALA, after all, does many things very, very well—including creating opportunities where members interact informally, help shape the conversations we want to join, and extend conversations across onsite and online platforms to be sure no interested member is left behind.

Because most of the members in that room are involved in training-teaching-learning endeavors in university libraries, we’re familiar with how to design and facilitate effective learning opportunities, so we quickly agreed to start by introducing ourselves and the work we do. We then agreed that we wanted a couple of  clear-cut learning objectives: an exchange of ideas about the current state of online learning in libraries, and the possibility of initiating a conversation that would continue long after that initial 90-minute session came to an end. So we exchanged business cards, took a few minutes to describe what we hoped to learn from each other during our time together, and even, thanks to one participant’s action, created an online document to capture highlights from the conversation in the hope that the document would quickly evolve into an ongoing “learning space” where we could continue to learn with and from each other.

One of the most striking elements of this entire meeting created on the fly was how it reflected so much of what is happening in training-teaching-learning today: a recognition that learners gain by shaping their own learning experiences—as we did during those 90 minutes of conversation. And that collaborative or connected learning is most effective when there is no one dominant voice in a learning situation. If everyone contributes, everyone gains—which is what ALA so effectively nurtures by bringing colleagues together in ways that combine formal and informal learning while connecting onsite and offsite colleagues in engaging ways.

Community_College_Research_Center_LogoAs we created our own meeting/discussion within the overall Midwinter Meeting context, we found immediate payoffs. In sharing observations about what is happening among undergraduates engaged in online learning, we learned that the University of Arizona University Libraries has an open source program called Guide on the Side and that is has been successful enough to be adopted by others. We explored the challenge so many of us face in trying to define and support digital literacy and shared links to resources including Doug Belshaw’s online Ph.D. thesis on digital literacy: What Is Digital Literacy? A Pragmatic Investigation. We briefly explored the challenges of working with learners in online environments when those learners have been inadequately prepared to thrive in online learning environments, and heard a bit about the first-rate report Adaptability to Online Learning: Differences Across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas, by Di Xu and Shanna Smith Jaggars, published through the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, at Columbia University.

Moving on to the topic of Open Educational Resources (OERs) in learning, we heard a colleague summarize what she had learned earlier in the day while attending an Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) OER session here at the Midwinter Meeting. OERs, she noted, are offering great benefits for international distance learners—including access to OERs in a timely fashion instead of making those learners wait weeks for standard printed textbooks to arrive via mail. We learned that Rice University is doing great work with OER textbooks through its OpenStax College and that more libraries are beginning to work in this area—actually appointing “OER librarians.” We heard about colleagues who are first-rate resources for us on the topic of OERs, e.g., Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education for SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition); David Wiley, Associate Professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University; and Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian Temple University, through his work on open textbooks.

We heard numerous examples of how colleagues are engaging learners by creating and embedding personal videos in online courses, facilitating online forums that include audio feedback to learners, and using Twitter, Facebook, and Google Hangouts for online office hours and other learning opportunities that are showing online learning can be every bit as personal and engaging as face-to-face learning can be.

A frequently-used tagline used by ALA to describe its conferences and large-scale meetings is “the conversation begins here.” Conversations certainly began in that small conference room yesterday afternoon, and may well continue through extended interactions in virtual “learning spaces” including live tweet chats, development of that shared online document, and even blog articles along the lines of this one. They key is that we are responsible for fostering our own learning, creating our own meetings, and taking full advantage of the learning opportunities that continue to come our way through the simple act of association.


Scanning the MOOC and Open Educational Resources Environment in Libraries…and Beyond

March 7, 2014

The potentially fruitful intersection of massive open online courses (MOOCs), Open Educational Resources (OERs), and libraries is nicely explored in a newly released environmental scan and assessment released under the auspices of the Association of College & Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association.

Written by Carmen Kazakoff-Lane, a librarian at Brandon University (Manitoba), the report should be useful to trainer-teacher-learners within as well as outside of libraries as we all continue exploring the ways that MOOCs, Open Educational Resources, and libraries contribute to our lifelong learning environments.

ACRL_MOOCs_OERs_Scan“Libraries can and should support open education….” Kazakoff-Lane suggests in the opening paragraphs of Environmental Scan and Assessment of OERs, MOOCs and Libraries: What Effectiveness and Sustainability Means for Libraries’ Impact on Open Education, “[b]ut before libraries do so, it is useful to understand the open education movement as a whole, including some of the key challenges facing both OERs and MOOCs…”—a suggestion I believe applies equally to many outside of libraries, for the more we  viscerally understand MOOC and OERs through first-hand experience, the more likely we are to find creative ways to address the training-teaching-learning challenges we face.

OERs, she maintains, “are a natural outcome of several social trends” including open-content movements, “the evolution of a society where individuals actively share information and where many people collaboratively develop and improve knowledge,” Web 2.0 technology that supports the tradition of sharing ideas among colleagues, and increasingly “global access to education via the Internet.”

MOOCs, in a similar vein, are “an evolutionary outgrowth of two major trends,” she maintains: online learning and other innovations including flipped classrooms, and the Open Educational Resources movement itself.  

Among her suggestions to her library colleagues are to address the need “to engage with the OER movement” and explore ways that they can support learners and learning facilitators interesting in using MOOCs as part of their learning landscape. Again, those of us who also work outside of libraries have plenty to gain through similar explorations as well as through explorations of where we might create partnerships with our library colleagues—particularly those who, by working in academic libraries, are clearly in the middle of well-established learning environments.

Our library colleagues, she notes, are in a great position to “provide important intellectual property services and advice” about copyright issues related to OERs and MOOCs; facilitate use of restricted materials; and help learners make successful transitions from being information consumers to being “a community of information sharers.”

etmoocWhile there is much to admire in the report, there are also points where caveat emptor is an appropriate warning. Her assertion that MOOCs “are a largely experimental undertaking that has yet to demonstrate its effectiveness as an educational tool” suggests that she has not yet had the positive experience of participating in an effective connectivist MOOC such as #etmooc (the Educational & Technology MOOC that produced tangible learning successes and produced an ongoing community of learning) or #xplrpln (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC that helped participants expand their PLNs while studying the topic).  

Her presentation overall, however, is well balanced and reminds us that in spite of criticisms about low-completion rates among those registering for MOOCs, those facilitating learning through large-scale MOOCs, are “able to educate more students in one class than he or she otherwise would in an entire career.”

As she brings the report to a close, she leaves us with a recommendation well worth considering: “Libraries can and should play a central role in either [MOOCs or Open Educational Resources], and in so doing ensure that their institutions and users are best served by a sober look at the pros and cons of different models of openness for learners, educators, institutions, and governments, not just in the immediate future, but in the long term as well.”

It’s great advice for those working with and served by libraries, and it’s great advice for anyone involved in any aspect of our continually evolving concepts of lifelong learning.


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