03 Jun

The role of academic libraries in connected learning

Earlier this year, I spoke at ALIA Information Online about my approach to teaching and learning, which you might call connected learning.

The presentation was designed to be an overview of my approach to teaching, and a provocation. I wanted to encourage dialogue around the way academic libraries currently engage with students. I told the audience that I don’t want a liaison librarian to run a two hour information literacy training session for my students. I’d rather they spent two hours engaging with my students in our online learning spaces. For example, I’d love to have a liaison librarian comment on my student blog posts, to help them with finding and citing resources in an appropriate way.

Teaching the way I and some of my colleagues do means that traditional approaches to librarians trying to embed themselves in courses just don’t work any more. I do most of my engaging with my students online in a learning community. I need the library to be there with me.

While academic libraries are great at providing static resources to help students with learning, I am increasingly aware that it is personal engagement that makes the connected learning model work. I think we’ve seen this play out in MOOCs, where many of the failings in the MOOC model have been about lack of interactivity. Connectedness and community are incredibly important because fundamentally, learning is social.

In my presentation, I emphasised that while I’m not the sage on the stage, I also don’t want to be the guide on the side. Instead, I am in the learning community with my students, facilitating, managing the community, curating resources and sharing. I’m in there as a co-learner.

I finished the presentation with a challenge. I asked academic libraries to consider where they sit, whether they’re in our learning communities or poised to jump in there, and what role they might play.

I am genuinely interested in having a conversation about this because I don’t have the answers. I’m interested both as an educator who wants to draw on the services of academic libraries more, and as a librarian and teacher-of-librarians.

I believe academic libraries need to rethink the way they do business and find ways to engage with learners that work for new and emerging approaches to online education. The library at my own institution have been very supportive in this. Our liaison librarian has created resources for us and jumped into an online community for one of our units. But I’m not sure to what extent this is the norm.

Do you have ideas about how academic libraries could embed themselves in connected learning communities? Or maybe you’re an academic who sees a need or opportunity. I’d love to have a broader conversation about this. Please share your ideas or questions in the comments.

12 thoughts on “The role of academic libraries in connected learning

  1. Pingback: #blogjune day 2: The role of academic libraries in connected learning | when the moon shines

  2. Hi Kate,

    Thanks for this, I missed it at Info Online.

    For the last three years, the wonderful Karen Miller ( @infoliterati on Twitter ) has acted as an ’embedded librarian” in my units, specifically dealing with citation queries from my students.

    We use the library’s APA6 guide as the “bible” for marking referencing here at Curtin. Although I do not always agree with their approach, if a student follows this, then they are marked as correct.

    I have a forum on the main discussion board that starts with a movie of me and Karen, introducing her as a wonderful resource and explaining that students are expected to have read the library APA6 guide and that she will not be answering queries if it is very clear in the guide. There are, of course, many many grey areas and the students are extremely thoughtful about what they ask. Karen subscribes to the forum via email so the queries are delivered straight to her inbox.

    This approach has lots of advantages:
    1) Students get clarification straight from the source they are required to follow
    2) The library gets feedback about grey areas where they may need to clarify in the guide (eg. how/when to cite para numbers)
    3) Library school students get to see a librarian in the field doing their job – and realise the relevance of learning to cite correctly …

    The downside is that Karen is really doing it out of the goodness of her heart and because she has a lively intellectual curiousity and desire to understand more about students and teaching … and I do not think it would be sustainable across all units in the course, let alone the university …

    … but … what if this was seen as a priority by academic libraries… ????

    • Yep, this is the thing. We rely on these individual, awesome professionals to do these things, when really this stuff is core business. And then what happens when Karen gets a new job? There have been a couple of people who left my institution’s library over the last couple of years whose departure I really felt. These guys would proactively pick up my ranty tweets and solve my problems (or suggest solutions) without me having to ask for help. Mind you, they’ve kept doing it since their departures, too. And this is how it is in libraries: a couple of great people do great things, and then those things disappear once they do. Reminds me a lot of your post the other day about your old role playing with emerging tech. This stuff is core business and shouldn’t just be a fun little side project for that technology savvy librarian over there. It *should* be seen as a priority by academic libraries.

  3. Great post Kate – I completely agree with your argument that it is much more effective for librarians to be actively participating in the online community for a course, than to parachute in with an “information literacy” session. Love a good provocation!

    • Me too! I have lots of provocative thoughts in my head and I’m busting to get them all out. But… thesis. Gah!

  4. Kate,
    I’m doing research around this idea, but in the sense of creating an online space for collaboration much bigger than interacting with one class. So many universities are creating common areas for collaboration but students who never go to the library, distance learners, and online students never get impacted by this. Where are these spaces?

    • Good point. My observation is that universities invest a whole lot in creating innovative on campus spaces but there isn’t the same investment in online spaces.

      We’re in the process of building a Blackboard site for the degree where we can put all information about study plans and so forth. The problem is the social tools in Blackboard are awful.

      I would LOVE to have a social platform for my degree where my students can hang out, but there isn’t one. I could build it myself, and indeed I do build my own spaces for individual units, but I’m not so keen to do that with a degree-wide space because there are invariably technical issues that would multiply with volume students.

      I do know that our students create there own social spaces for the cohort using Facebook Groups. A couple of times, I’ve suggested to a student who has told me about angsty conversations in this space that they might like to suggest people come and chat to me, but it’s very much their space and I would never join it, even if they asked me (and I’m sure they wouldn’t!).

      It’s a tricky question, but an important one.

  5. One way that we make sure that our information literacy sessions are strongly connected to student needs is to go into the classroom of as many classes as possible that have a research-based assignment (that we have access to), and teach the library skills, tutorial style, that students will need to complete that assignment. We time it so that it occurs a few weeks before the assignment is due, and the student love it because it’s practical and they can immediately put what they learn to use.

    We are wary of embedding ourselves into the online learning space (the LMS) as we don’t have the staff time, and there is the danger of overlapping with the online tutor in a not-good way, but we do post the occasional bit of advice if we know there is some tricky referencing or common problems that occur in a particular subject.

    The ‘virtual librarian’ link within the LMS is also great for interaction with our online students.

    Thanks for your thoughtful article!

    • Going into classes and teaching research skills is really helpful, but assumes a traditional approach to classroom teaching. I don’t lecture, but instead make short pieces of content including videos and blog posts, and I use class time for guest lectures or workshops. I don’t have classes every week, because my philosophy is to use whatever medium works best for a particular content set. And when I do run classes, after the first few weeks, I have about a 30% attendance rate in the on campus classroom, about another 10% or 15% attending live online, and the rest of the students will watch the recording. Or, they’re supposed to watch the recording. In reality, maybe another 10% watch it if I’m lucky. So no matter what I do in classes, there’s a good chance that half the students will completely miss the material. These are good attendance rates compared to what I know others in my school get. I’m also totally okay with students not attending (everyone is busy) and I understand why they don’t watch recordings (there’s no way I’d sit and watch a two hour class recording). So we have to think about alternative ways to engage with those students who don’t show.

      In terms of time: I think it’s just a different way of using the same time you’d spend in a physical classroom. How long does it take you to prep and deliver a tutorial, including getting to and from the tutorials? What if you divided that time up and jumped into the course forums for an hour a week, or roughly the same amount of time you’d spend on a traditional IL class in the online space over the course of the semester?

      I’m certainly not suggesting libraries take this on as an extra service. I think they should be looking at it as a replacement, at least in some courses where it’s appropriate.

      I’m interested in what you say here about overlapping with the tutor in a not-good way. Have you seen that happen? What do you think the risks are? Any ideas on how we can mitigate them?

  6. I liaise primarily with online units, and have a presence in several units in the form of a discussion thread. I have also customised some library tutorials which are also embedded in those (and other) units.
    It does take a fair bit of my time to check the threads, but because that’s where the engagement is happening for those students, and it’s my brief, it works well.

    • That’s great to hear Susan. I know it’s time consuming, but I think we can redeploy the time usually spent on IL instruction in different ways. I’m guessing it takes a handful of hours to create a presentation to deliver in a class, plus time to get to and from the class, and time spent in the class. This could be six or seven hours, maybe more (thinking about how long it takes me to prep a lecture I’ve given before). If we convert that into an hour a week of online interaction over six or seven weeks, I think that’s a good trade off and more valuable to the students.

  7. Hi Kate,
    I know this is an older post but I’ve just been catching up on your blog and engaging with my online students is something I’ve been struggling with.
    I mostly embed myself in blackboard units via a ‘Ask a Librarian’ discussion board that I subscribe to. The time required is quite minimal, because it just doesn’t get used. For units where there is a lot of usage of the discussion boards, students are more likely to post research/referencing type questions in general board and the tutor answers the question. And for units where there isn’t much usage of the discussion boards, students don’t seem to bother going to this area.
    So what’s the solution? I really don’t know. I love Kathryn’s idea of a video introduction of the librarian. My gut feeling about being a librarian is that we have to make the personal connection for students to feel comfortable reaching out. That’s what the face to face IL session is about for me. If after 30-50 minutes the only thing students remember is that I’m friendly and happy to help – then I’ve done my job. So to make this initial introduction online might help.

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