Training-Teaching-Learning and Librarians: Describing What We Aren’t

July 15, 2014

Having recently written about the wicked problem of trying to find words that adequately describe what we do in our ever-changing work environment, I found myself completely drawn into a question forwarded by a colleague (Jill Hurst-Wahl) via Twitter this morning: “What are some things a librarian isn’t?”

ASTD_to_ATDThe basic question about what any of us isn’t is one that far transcends librarianship and obviously extends into the entire field of training-teaching-learning (of which I clearly believe librarianship is a part) and many other fields. One current example is provided by the way the American Society for Training & Development recently completed a 2.5-year-long effort to find language other than “training” and “development” or “workplace learning and performance” to represent the work its members do; the solution was adoption of a new name (Association for Talent Development) that is far from the obvious solution Association managers were seeking.

Tackling the question of what librarians (and other trainer-teacher-learners) are not, I quickly found myself sinking deeper and deeper into quicksand. Trying to be absolutely ridiculous, I started with the idea that we’re not ditch-diggers—but then realized I know of librarians who occasionally become involved in digging into the soil within library gardens. Then I mulled over the idea that we’re not plumbers—but recalled working with colleagues who had to unclog plugged drains and toilets in library facilities. I even briefly thought about the idea that we’re not chauffeurs—but was quickly able to recall colleagues picking me up at airports or hotels and delivering me to sites where I’ve been involved in facilitating library events. So I puckishly fell into the only response that made sense to me in the moment: a librarian is not a cab driver; nearly everything else is on the table.

And that, I believe, captures part of the beauty, wonder, challenge, and difficulty of looking at librarianship, training-teaching-learning, and so many other professions that exist or are about to exist. (For more on the theme of trying to imagine what sort of work we’ll be doing just a few years from now, please see Michael Wesch’s moving video “A Vision of Students Today” and one of the students’ comments about preparing for jobs that don’t yet exist.)

The context for the question about what librarians are not is the University of Syracuse iSchool (the School of Information Studies) IST 511 “Introduction to the Library and Information Profession” course currently being taught by R. David Lankes. In the draft course syllabus, Lankes encourages his learners to engage in “content exploration” through participation  in poster sessions centered on the question of what a librarian is. Some of his learners have obviously taken the challenge a step further by asking what librarians are not—themselves inspired by the Magritte image of a pipe, accompanied by the words “Leci n’est pas une pipe”—and  it makes me wonder how training-teaching-learning colleagues would answer a similar question about our own profession.

ALA2014--LogoWhat struck me, during recent conversations on this topic with numerous colleagues at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas, was how much we are all struggling with finding exactly the right, concise word or combination of words to describe what we do. “Librarian,” for the average library user (or former user), is still a term firmly connected to the use of books—which completely ignores the numerous other roles library staff members play (e.g., subject-matter expert, often in more than one field of study; learning facilitator; innovation facilitator, through makerspaces, innovation centers, and other learning centers; community partner; grant-writer/fundraiser; manager/supervisor; writer;  and so much more). In the same way, “talent developer” and “trainer” are equally and woefully inadequate to reflect our roles as learning facilitators; change managers/change facilitators; coaches and mentors; instructional designers; evaluators; writers; presenters; and so much more.

As the learners interacted with each other via Twitter today—and thanks to Jill Hurst-Wahl and others, with many of us not previously affiliated with the IST 511 course—they were clearly having fun with the topic. One student suggested “a librarian is not an obstacle on the path to equality,” “a librarian is not a building or a shelf of books or a search engine OR a computer,” and “a librarian is not a follower.” Another learner suggested that “a librarian is not a book-sitter but is a community advocate.” And Jill herself suggested that “a librarian is not timid.”

What is clear from the exchanges so far is that librarians (and other trainer-teacher-learners) are also not the kind of people who limit their exchanges to well-defined insular spaces; the extension of this class project into a larger virtual classroom that includes many of us not formally enrolled in the course is just one of numerous examples that librarians and many others are defined and driven by their ability to function within a variety of settings that quickly shift without warning.

From "Virtual Dave...Real Blog"

From “Virtual Dave…Real Blog”

I don’t envy Lankes’s learners as they struggle with the overall question of defining what they aren’t and what they are: Trying to define what librarians aren’t (or are) in just a few words appears to be an impossible task—one that is equally daunting for trainer-teacher-learners (a term I’ve consistently used for lack of anything better to suggest the scope of the work many of us do). But I do envy them for the possibilities that are before them as they build upon the work of those who preceded them; find ways to partner with colleagues in the larger training-teaching-learning sandbox; and continue to define and create labels, policies, and practices that will help them maintain the key roles they play in the communities they/we serve.


#etmooc as an Example of Connected—Rhizomatic—Learning

February 4, 2013

If you’re discovering that your personal learning network is expanding wonderfully and unpredictably in an almost viny, plant-like manner, you’re already engaged in what Dave Cormier calls rhizomatic learning—a process of learning that mirrors the spreading of rhizomes so there is no center, just a wonderfully ever-expanding network of learning connections rooted in creation, collaboration, and the building of communities of learning.

etmoocCormier has done plenty to help trainer-teacher-learners understand and apply the rhizomatic learning model to our work through his 300-word introduction to the topic, a longer blog posting, a scholarly examination of the subject, and the presentation he recently facilitated as part of #etmooc—the Education Technology and Media MOOC (massive open online course)organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and several “co-conspirators.” And his work served as a wonderful conclusion to an exploration of connected learning, the first of the five #etmooc topics to be explored in the course.

Highlighting a variety of large themes—including our perceptions regarding the purpose of learning—Cormier leads us to an idea of learning as “preparing for uncertainty.” He suggests that learning, at its broadest level, can be seen as an attempt to prepare learners for a world that doesn’t yet exist, as Michael Wesch and his students documented in their “A Vision of Students Today” video (2007). And we’re not just talking about learners in formal academic settings, either; those of us involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts face learners who are worried about their inability to keep up with the rate of change in their workplaces, the need to continually learn new technologies and software, and struggle with the evolving role of social media tools in their workplaces.

His #etmooc rhizomatic learning presentation provides a foundation through his “Five Things I Think I Think”:

  • The best learning prepares people for dealing with uncertainty.
  • The rhizome is a model for learning for uncertainty.
  • Rhizomatic learning works in complex learning situations.
  • We need to make students responsible for their own learning.

Cormier, seeing MOOCs as a great medium for rhizomatic learning, offers five steps to succeeding in MOOCs (and, by extension, in rhizomatic learning): orienting yourself to the setting; clearing yourself so others can interact with you; networking; forming clusters with other learners, and focusing on the learning outcomes that are driving you to learn.

“Think,” he suggests, “of the MOOC as a gathering place”—a concept much different than what comes to mind for the average person who has heard about MOOCs and other forms of online learning but has not yet had the experience of seeing how engaging, inspiring, and effective they can be.

Couros himself, noting how much engagement there was in the live chat during Cormier’s presentation, suggested that participation in the rhizomatic learning session reflected our decision to “walk through the same door on the Internet so we could think together,” and Cormier responded by observing that what is created through this sort of interactive MOOC produces the equivalent of a networked textbook in that the content learners create together and share online becomes part of the learning community’s learning resources.

Finishing the module and all that it inspired me to do makes me realize that the learning experience is not complete without a summary of my own rhizomatic connected-learning efforts. My own learning rhizomes spread through the acts of:

  • Realizing, after reading Sasser’s article, that her experiences with that composition class mirrored my own recently with Social Media Basics learners in an online course I wrote and facilitated
  • Exploring the Cynefin framework—with its simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic domains—to see how rhizomatic learning helps us deal with complex learning situations
  • Writing this piece and others to make more colleagues aware of rhizomatic learning and the value of a well-organized and innovatively-delivered MOOC

“The most interesting stuff is what happens in the complex domain,” Cormier observed, and I’m looking forward to exploring more of that “interesting stuff” as our course moves into digital storytelling for the next two weeks.

N.B.: This is the third in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


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