Alchemical Thoughts

Less MySpace or Facebook, more using the actual book

Posted on: April 9, 2007

I wanted to make the headline slightly different than the post that prompts this post, "Less Facebook and More Face in Bo0k," but it was kind of hard to make it too different since the title is so perfect. It pretty much embodies what I say now and then when I feel like bothering to say it: the technogurus of 2.0 worry too much over the latest toy and pleasing the kids who are all stuck online, and when it comes to academic rigor, not too much thought to that. The post, written by Steven Bell for ACRLog, points to an article out of Inside Higher Education on "iCranky" where the author, Laurence Musgrove, looks at how he is now forced to "learn" about online tools like Facebook in order to better teach the Millenials. Mr. Musgrove makes some interesting points, and as someone who has faced some pretty bad inservices and professional development training sessions, I can certainly sympathize and relate. Some highlights from Mr. Musgrove's piece:

  • "Nobody asks us what we already know and do. Nobody wants to know what the personality of our learning is. Nobody really wants to hear what we have to say. We’re stuffed into row after row of folding chairs facing the PowerPoint torture of illegible pie charts, tables, and data we need to remember so that we’ll be better prepped to perform in the learning community breakout sessions just after the chicken wraps at lunch."

I can certainly agree there. I have seen many a session where the audience is treated like a bunch of five-year olds who have never seen a computer or done whatever it is the alleged workshop is supposed to teach. This is a basic lack of research on those preparing presentations: find out what your audience already knows and go from there. Our trainers at the local teaching and tech center suffer from this. They repeat the same workshops semester after semester. Sure, there are always newcomers who can use some of those workshops. But once you have done the basics, there is really nothing else left to learn from their workshops, most of which are at very basic levels. Apparently the assumption locally is that a lot of faculty and staff are almost technologically illiterate. I mean, how many times can you do a workshop of inserting pictures into Word documents?

  • "And I’m cranky because this attempt to equate pedagogy with technology confuses ends with means. 'Student engagement' has become the latest assessment buzzphrase, and thus, the newest once-and-for-all measure of and purpose for learning. In other words, any desire to understand the value of learning to individual students is replaced with the desire to promote the most efficient and engaging mode of learning by as many students as possible. And faculty better get in line to be online."

In the above, you can also add librarians. The library sector of the blogosphere is pretty notorious for making those not getting in line to be online pretty much feel like Luddites (or worse). It seems at times the educational establishment worries more about having the latest tech to keep the students happy than actually using it to educate in any substantial way.

  • "What our students need is not more of what they come in the door with. They don’t need more of the same in the same way they got it before. They need to be confronted with people who talk about ideas that matter. They need to become people who can confront and talk to other people about ideas that matter. They need to sit in a room of people and learn about humanity.

    Also, not more Facebook, but more faces in books, extended periods of silent and sustained reading and writing, developing intellectual stamina and the ability to ask questions that don’t lead to easy answers or a quick and final Wikisearch."

I had a colleague once remark to me casually that we are ruining a generation. I may have mentioned this before or not; I am not sure. But the idea behind that remark is that the students today may know how to get on MySpace or get to Wikipedia (usually because they google something, and the Wikipedia entry is one of the first links, not because they even find Wikipedia directly), but they really can't cope with difficult texts or substantial reading and research. A large part of my work here is to help some of these students find what they need in terms of their research. At times, this does include a little help in figuring out things like how to read an academic article. The comments that Mr. Musgrove's piece received may be worth a look.

Steven Bell brings up Musgrove's piece to make the connection to librarians; librarians should be talking to the faculty about their needs and address them accordingly. There was a comment on the Musgrove piece from an IT technologist saying that sometimes the marketing and going to the lowest denominator is what it takes to get 3 people to show up. I will say, and this would go for my local IT folks, if you are only getting 3 people, maybe it's time to create some new workshops and stop offering the "How I Buy a Digital Camera" or "Introduction to Blogging" that you are still offering semesters later. Maybe the rest of us who are a bit more technologically advanced would like some different topics. Maybe if you ask us, we might even help you develop a new workshop or two. The lesson is applicable to librarians as well as Mr. Bell points out. As Mr. Bell writes in his post, "This may be our opportunity to leverage the current mood to seek out greater collaboration with faculty to integrate library resources in assignments and classroom learning."

Anyhow, just some more food for thought for this librarian.

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April 2007
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