ALA Annual Conference 2011: Your Library on High Tech

June 26, 2011

There probably are still plenty of people who think of nothing but printed books and being shushed when they hear the word “library.” But you won’t find many of them here in New Orleans attending the American Library Association (ALA) 2011 Annual Conference.

A 90-minute session yesterday, organized by ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy, highlighted and celebrated four innovative projects designed to meet library users’ needs with varying degrees of creativity and playfulness: North Carolina State University Library’s web redesign program, which gave the library’s online presence a cleaner and more dynamic look than it previously sported; the OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons (DRC); the Creekview High School (Canton, Georgia) Media 21 project which helps students match technology with learning opportunities; and Orange County (Florida) Library System’s Shake It! mobile app to match readers with the books they are likely to enjoy.

Technology and library users come together very effectively in Media 21’s transformation of a school library into a first-rate social learning center and Orange County’s Shake It! Project. Media 21 makes at least some of us wish we were back in high school again—admittedly a major accomplishment in itself—and Shake It! appears to be so playfully addictive that it could easily make us want to read even more books than we already do just so we can shake our mobile devices again and see what reading recommendation the app will offer next.

But we’re talking about far more than diversions here. ALA Learning Round Table colleague Buffy Hamilton, who was founding librarian of that social learning center at Creekview High, sees the project as a setting in which “students are helping us create the library of the future,” she told her ALA audience yesterday. “I was struggling with two questions: how to create flexible and fluid learning spaces, and how to embed the library in the lives and learning spaces of students.”

The result has students engaged in learning via a huge variety of social media tools including, but far from limited to, Netvibes to curate and collect information; Google Docs so students use the same tools found in the contemporary business world to collaborate and share; Skype to have live conversations with experts around the world; Prezi, Animoto, and Wordle to more effectively present their ideas; and social bookmarking tools including Diigo and Evernote.

“For these students to see that the library is a learning space…was very powerful for them,” she concluded.

The sense of fun for library users at Creekview is equally apparent in the Orange County Shake It! app, Library Director and CEO Mary Anne Hodel told and showed her audience through a brief presentation that included videos documenting the playful approach to bringing books to library users. The most difficult part of developing the app, which works when the user shakes a mobile device with the app installed and causes three wheels to turn until they come to a rest displaying a book based on three elements: audience, genre, and preferred medium.

“We launched this in July 2010,” she told her audience. “There have been over 4,000 downloads of the app” and coverage of the popular innovation in the Orlando Sentinel and USA Today.

She also displayed a solid vision of where she expects the library to continue going: “We have a lot of fun things on our website [but]… we’re definitely going in the direction of mobile apps for as many things as we can think up. We think that is the next wave and that’s where we want to be.”

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On the Horizon Report: Training-Teaching-Learning Innovations (Part 2 of 2)

February 9, 2010

We will, if the authors (Laurence Johnson, Alan Levine, Rachel Smith, and Sonja Stone) of the 2010 Horizon Report are as accurate as they have been in the past, soon be as proficient in and comfortable with simple augmented reality, gesture-based computing, and visual data analysis as we currently are with other more familiar educational tools and trends.

The report itself suggests that simple augmented reality, “the concept of blending (augmenting) virtual data—information, rich media, and even live action—with what we see in the real world, for the purpose of enhancing the information we can perceive with our senses,” will reach maturity as an educational tool within two or three years. Simple augmented reality, the writers note, “is older than the term itself,” having first been used more than 40 years ago. As is often the case, however, diffusion of innovation has occurred gradually and appears to be working its way into educational settings for “discovery-based learning.” Current applications already include augmented reality in showing learners how to repair cars, interact with books and other physical objects, and work in collaborative learning environments.

Right behind augmented reality is gesture-based computing, according to our Horizon Report colleagues: “In schools where the Microsoft Surface has been installed in study areas, staff report that students naturally gravitate to the devices when they want to work together to study collaboratively.”  Those familiar with TED talks have already seen the MIT Media Lab demonstration of the Sixth Sense gesture-based system which shows where we might be headed with this technology, and Georgia Tech University researchers “have developed gesture-based games designed to help deaf children learn sign language,” the Horizon Report writers note.

We come full circle in our exploration of overwhelming amounts of information when we reach the final of the six trends explored: visual data analysis, a way to “make it possible for almost anyone with an analytical bent to easily interpret all sorts of data.” Tools including Many Eyes, Wordle, Flowing Data, and Gapminder are already available to trainer-teacher-learners, and they are helping us spot patterns which might otherwise remain hidden.

“The promise for teaching and learning is further afield,” the Horizon Report authors tell us, “but because of the intuitive ways in which it can expose intricate relationships to even the unitiated, there is tremendous opportunity to integrate visual data analysis into undergraduate research, even in survey courses.”

What this suggests, of course, is that those of us involved in workplace learning and performance need to see the simple augmented reality writing on the virtual wall: if students—future employees in the workplaces that we serve—are already using these resources in their educational endeavors, we are going to have to be equally adept at and comfortable with these tools if we’re going to be prepared to meet their workplace learning needs.


On the Horizon Report: Training-Teaching-Learning Innovations (Part 1 of 2)

February 7, 2010

Because training-teaching-learning never ends, we’re continually inundated by a flood of information and innovations which threaten to overwhelm us. When something as stimulating as The Horizon Report: 2010 Edition comes our way, I’m completely willing to dive in without thinking about whether I’ll ever come back up for air.

This annual collaborative report produced by the New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative uses conversations with “hundreds of technology professionals, campus technologists, faculty leaders from colleges and universities, and representatives of leading corporations” and the work of an advisory board to identify those technology tools and trends most likely to have an impact on education over a five-year horizon. The results are as much a road map as they are an e-learning experience in and of themselves.

For those who work diligently to follow tech trends, some of what appears in the report—mobile computing, open content, and electronic books–may seem already to be old news, while other concepts—simple augmented reality, gesture-based computing, and visual data analysis—may be somewhat or entirely new. But exploring the report offers new twists even to the most familiar of information as the writers document what they call “the particular relevance of [each] topic to education, creativity, or research.” The results are worth whatever time it takes us to absorb them.

One of the many impressive elements of the annual reports is the way the authors (Laurence Johnson, Alan Levine, Rachel Smith, and Sonja Stone) use what they describe. The 2010 report, for example, describes the growth of visual data analysis as an educational tool; the New Media Consortium then, on its own website and with little fanfare, provides an example of visual data analysis using Wordle: “a word cloud, which gives a visual representation” of the themes which have been most prominently featured in all seven of the annual [Horizon] reports. Those of us who are immersed in reading and producing blogs are obviously familiar with tag clouds, but what our New Media Consortium colleagues have produced here as a supplement to a free online “boxed set” of all seven Horizon reports adds a stunningly beautiful and inspirational twist to what has become commonplace for us.

Another impressive element is the often overlooked e-learning potential of the hyperlinks—provided within the report—to other learning resources. Having called attention recently to the potential for online learning provided via innovative websites such Smarthistory and even through well organized archives on blogs such as one created and maintained by Lori Reed, I was particularly ready to pursue the opportunities provided by the “in practice” and “for further reading” sections following each description of the six horizon technologies explored in the 2010 report. Like any good online bibliography, these sections serve as rudimentary knowledge management systems that lead us to additional information when we are ready to pursue it—just-in-time learning at its best.

What better way to control that flood so that we as trainer-teacher-learners have a chance to swim rather than to sink?

Next: Horizon 2010 Technologies


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