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The future of academic libraries: An interview with Steven J Bell

Note: An mp3 of this interview is available for download.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Steven J. Bell, the Associate University Librarian for Research and Instruction at Temple University, and current Vice President and President Elect of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). Steven received his Doctorate in Education from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Steven’s most recent book, coauthored with John Shank, Academic Librarianship by Design: A Blended Librarian’s Guide to the Tools and Techniques lays out a new vision for designing the future of academic libraries enabling librarians to become indispensable partners in the college teaching endeavor by integrating themselves into the instructional process.

“What can we do as academic librarians to better prepare ourselves for what is certainly an uncertain future? We just have to think more entrepreneurially and look for these opportunities.”

I first met Steven a few years ago when I contacted him after reading his excellent Inside Higher Ed article on design thinking and higher education leadership.  Steven is a thoughtful leader who constantly experiments with new ways to improve Temple’s Libraries and the profession of academic librarianship.  Our conversation focused on the future and emerging roles of academic libraries, specifically: Blended Librarians, collections, user experience, Massive Open Online Courses, the ARL 2030 Scenarios Report, and change leadership.  Below I’ve summarized some of the projects and articles Steven mentioned during our interview.

Unbundling of Higher Education

Steven thinks new learning initiatives like MITx and Udacity’s massive open online courses are an opportunity for academic libraries to serve non-traditional, potentially unaffiliated students, who he refers to as higher education’s new majority learners. In a recent article from his From the Bell Tower Library Journal column he suggested two possible scenarios for academic libraries within this emerging unbundled higher education landscape.

Scenario 1: “It seems likely that the providers of unbundled degrees, whether primarily OER like MITx or profit-driven like StraighterLine, would have little need for physical libraries. For one thing, no library means significant cost saving which helps keep tuition low or non-existent. These organizations have no research agendas nor do they seek grants, so there would be no faculty needing huge book and journal collections. Just as the case is now with some online higher education providers, library services, if available, are marginal. They can always purchase access to a set of resources that would adequately qualify for whatever passes as accreditation. They might even go to the trouble to pay a librarian to look after all of it for them.”

Scenario 2: “Another scenario might involve unbundled academic libraries that would offer different types of resources and services. A student might connect with one library for help with a question on ancient Rome, but contact another depending on the subject matter or the service needed. This might involve some extended version of resource sharing where academic libraries would serve more than their own local community. We do that now, but think of it on a much larger scale and for much more than just content sharing. Who pays for it? Perhaps the students, who might pay a fee to access the services and content on a per-use basis, or they might get “library credits” from the institution providing their unbundled course that could be used to obtain service at a participating library. An unbundled system of higher education might require academic librarians to think more entrepreneurially about how they operate.”

Some in the press have suggested these initiatives will topple the ivory tower, knock down campus walls, crumble higher education’s monopoly, and start an Arab Spring of free online learning.

Steven has a more nuanced prediction:

Am I painting a scenario in which traditional higher education and their academic libraries have no future? If it reads that way that’s certainly not the intent. I believe many traditional colleges and universities will continue to thrive and provide the type of experience that many students still want, although the number of families who can afford the tuition is likely to decline. Just anticipate fewer traditional institutions,  and fewer academic libraries supporting them.

Rising costs are a major factor forcing change in academic libraries.  Steven is working to address these issues directly through a new textbook project at Temple University.

Alt-Textbook Project

College students are spending on average $1,100 a year on books and supplies. Temple’s new Alt-Textbook Project is trying to change that. The initiative provides faculty members with a $1,000 grant to create new original digital learning materials with the goal of creating free, timely, high-quality resources for students. Steven recently spoke to Temple’s student radio WHIP about the project. Steven discusses the Alt-Textbook project as part of a larger Alt-Higher Education movement.

Blended Librarians

Steven, with his colleague John D. Shank, developed the concept of the Blended Librarian, a new form of academic librarianship that integrates instructional design and technology skills into the traditional librarian skill set. The goal is to better serve faculty and students through deeper engagement in teaching and learning.

Idea Book

The “Capture an Idea” project encouraged Temple University Library staff to record their ideas to improve the library’s user experience.  Photo Credit: Steven J. Bell 

User Experience

Steven’s recent work has focused on improving the user experience at the Temple University Libraries through researching the needs of students, and by gathering ideas from Library staff. Using the Study of Great Retail Shopping Experiences in North America Steven surveyed students on their expectations to “gain insight into what would comprise a “WOW” experience for student members of the academic library’s user community, and better understand in what ways and which areas academic librarians are succeeding or failing to provide the WOW experience”. In 2011, Steven presented his findings at ACRL’s national conference in this recorded presentation, “Delivering a WOW User Experience: Do Academic Libraries Measure Up?”.

Steven also launched a staff initiative called Capture an Idea and gave every staff member a notebook to carry with them suggesting they record community member’s user behavior, things that are broken, complaints and compliments, and general ideas about the library. The notebook’s cover read “Every decision we make affects how people experience the library. Let’s make sure we’re creating improvements”. After several months of collecting ideas the staff discussed them at a retreat and implemented a few their suggestions including a Fix-It Team to address broken things quickly.

Academic Library Roles

In a previous post I discussed ARL’s 2030 Scenarios Project and ACRL’s “Futures Thinking for Academic Librarians: Higher Education in 2025″ report. Drawing on those projects, and my conversation with Steven Bell, I created this chart to summarize my current thoughts on the historical, emerging, and future roles of academic libraries across several topics. I’d appreciate your feedback in the comments section below. View a larger version of the image.

The Roles of Academic Libraries

For more information on Steven’s work please see his From the Bell Tower column, Designing Better Libraries blog, and Learning Times Blended Librarian Community.  You can also find him on Twitter.

Bulgarian students dream about future schools

As we shared earlier, Project Dream School started with a simple question: If you could build a dream school, what would you do?

This morning, I received some inspiring ideas. Elena Stateva writes,

Dear Dr. Moravec,

I would like to share with the you the Dream Schools of my students. They worked on them as a project for their Philosophy in English class (grades 8-11). We are from Bulgaria, and we are part of a summer school program.

And these dreams are inspiring: Robot teachers? No tests? Creativity and the development of individual identity?! Read on:

PROJECT: “JUST A DREAM”
Creators: Radoslav Asparuhov (16), Daniel Rashin (18)

Just a Dream is a school made of technologies, but not only about technology. It places a very high value on the potential of technology to transform the ways we see education. As full-fledged citizens of our dynamic modernity, students at Just a Dream are extensively trained how to use technology in the most innovative and effective way. For example, sculptures and other three-dimensional figures are created on computers, thus enabling students to develop their spatial and analytical intelligences. Top-notch technological innovations render the school one of the pioneers of knowmadic thinking.

Furthermore, Just a Dream gives students the crucial opportunity to have a practical go at their field. Relevant internships at successful companies are provided to each student, through a wide a range of sponsors. The sponsorship by highly acclaimed names in the business makes it possible for the students to go to school and use their modern facilities practically for free. In fact, these companies often recruit graduates from Just a Dream as the most prepared professionals.

In addition, Just a Dream is a school which recognizes extracurricular activities, within and outside the professional field, as essential to students’ academic and personal growth. Therefore, school trips are regularly organized, featuring exciting destinations in the country and abroad.

PROJECT: “MY DREAM SCHOOL”
Creators: Victoria Ivanova (17), Magdalena Kostadinova (15), Blagovest Pilarski (16)

My Dream School is a unique institution, notable for its out-of-the-box, ground-breaking philosophy. Using a student-centered approach, which values what really is best for the student (and not for the administration, for example), My Dream School incorporates a wide range of fundamental practices. Combining the arts and technologies, students experience a comprehensive headstart to their professional careers. All subjects are taught in a way, which does not stifle student’s ideas, but on the contrary – encourages students to have their own opinion. Thus, My Dream School stimulates its student body to be active citizens, able to think critically about the world around them, instead of following blindly the leaders of today.

Moreover, My Dream School defines the term “revolutionary”, with its grade-less system and robotized teacher collective. Originating from the notion of boosting motivation internally (as opposed to externally, which is often the case), My Dream School has removed assessment completely, allowing its scholars to pursue knowledge itself, and not just good grades. The replacement of teachers by robots has further contributed to the establishment of an objective, knowledge- and skill-oriented classroom, free of discrimination and favoritism. Thus, students can learn in a safe, conflict-free and thought- provoking environment.

In addition, My Dream School puts great emphasis on the connection between learning and nature. During the weekends, students can enjoy environmental activities, such as hiking in the mountains, which build up mind and body together. The beautiful parks surrounding the school are themselves a source of relaxation, inspiration and energy.

PROJECT: “ART SCHOOL”
Creators: Elena Kehayova (15), Dafina Nedeva (15)

The name of this school – Art School – already speaks a lot about its fundamental values. And yet, the Art School is much more than a school about art. It is a school where students go not only to grow in the direction of their talent, but where they actually find their talent and grow as a whole person. At Art School only the core subjects are obligatory – Literature, Math, Foreign Languages. The other subjects are a matter of preference: each student has the right to choose every part of their education. This freedom allows the students to explore their interests, inclinations and talents, to strengthen them or create them. Creativity – this is the key word which this school emanates through all its elements – from its facilities, to its curriculum, and of course – its teachers. The teaching collective is distinguished with its sharp eye to talent, broad mind for creativity and liberal view on individuality.

In addition to its exceptional creativity, Art School prides itself with a policy which preserves equality and prevents discrimination. Everybody at Art School is regarded equally, as an equal member of the school community.

Want more? Have a dream to share? Project Dream School invites you to submit your dreams online at http://projectdreamschool.org/

"Reboelje!" – Invisible Learning in the Netherlands

Finally, after several weeks of travel and meetings, I am able to report on the Invisible Learning Tour, which was hosted by NHL in Leeuwarden. The event was an example of self-organization. Given the seed of an idea, three universities, two Sudbury schools, the Knowmads school, and various other partners came together, using social media, to construct a two-day event. The purpose of the Invisible Learning Tour was to raise awareness for the need for innovation in education. Mainstream teaching focuses mainly on the preparation of students for compartmentalized roles and jobs (mainly factory workers and bureaucrats) that contrast sharply with the needs of the modern economy, which requires people that are imaginative, creative, and innovative. We explored ideas, existing options, and new pathways for learning that is relevant for the 21st century.

The first day was built into an open space event, moderated by Edwin de Bree (De Koers Sudbury School) and Franziska Krüger (Knowmads). About 130 participants attended the live meeting, and another 295 joined online. I gave the opening keynote, which is posted on Vimeo (my slides are also posted here):

The first day also included open conversations on how to make Invisible Learning visible, and a few participants self-organized a flash mob (video by Guido Crolla):

The second day involved a media tour to the De Kampanje and De Koers Sudbury Schools, and the Knowmads school in Amsterdam. I produced a short video based on interviews with students and staff members at the two Sudbury schools. What struck me in our conversations was, that despite the fact the students have no teachers (they are responsible for their self-learning), their responses were articulate and cogent — despite the fact they were speaking in a second language:

Unfortunately, my time with Knowmads was cut short as I had to race to the airport to catch my flight back from Amsterdam. As I left, however, one thing was very clear: A tremendous momentum for change is building up in the Netherlands. As Knowmads tribe leader Pieter Spinder puts it, it’s time for a Friesian rebellion: “Reboelje!”

Special thanks go to Edwin de Bree, Franziska Krüger, Christel Hartkamp, Jeroen Bottema, Pieter Spinder, Guido Crolla, and the team at Mooipunt/CMD program at NHL in Leeuwarden (Tom Ravesloot, Tom Klaver, Jeroen van de Bovenkamp, Wout Laben, Peter Klaas, Sanne van der Heide, Julien Hogemans, Robert de Kruijf, Sander Nota, and Robin van Poelje). Without their leadership and contributions, this event would never be possible. Better yet, they turned it into a smashing success!

Thank you!

Invisible Learning conversation with Knowmads – Monday, June 7

20:00 Netherlands and España
13:00 U.S. CDT and Mexico
15:00 Argentina
19:00 Portugal
21:00 Finland
14:00 Chile

Next Monday, June 7, the Invisible Learning project invites you to participate in an open webinar with our invited guests: Knowmads (Amsterdam, Netherlands), a creative, entrepreneurial school for developing entrepreneurs who want to make a difference in this world.

This is not a conference, but an opportunity to converse, exchange ideas and viewpoints among cyber-participants. Participation is open to all.

If you have questions and ideas in the upcoming days before the webinar, you can send them through the Invisible Learning website to @john or @cristobalcobo — or by Twitter (@moravec or @cristobalcobo).

  • The link to join the webinar will be posted at the www.invisiblelearning.com portal
  • Please spread the word about this event by sharing this invitation (i.e., feel free to copy it into your blog)
  • On Twitter, we use the #invislearning hashtag for tracking Invisible Learning conversations.

We will use Adobe Connect Pro to broadcast the webinar, and a recording of the encounter will be posted online immediately after the meeting.

If you would like to know the corresponding hour for this activity in your country, we recommend you use this tool: http://www.timedial.net/world-time-difference-calculator/

We look forward to seeing you at the webinar!
John Moravec
Cristóbal Cobo

Three alternatives to temponormative pedagogy

When most people mention the word “pedagogy,” they are likely to think of it within a temponormative framework. It is a framework that embraces linear time and Cartesian thinking. This continues to be the most prevalent framework within Western educational contexts. A linear conceptualization of time ensures that the learning process has a beginning and an end, with predictable (and measurable) waypoints between. The causal linearity of the temponormative frame allows for the developmental procession of teaching and learning that is often best suited for transmitting explicit knowledge to learners.

The temponormative approach has worked well in the industrial era, but afforded the purposive use of technologies, can we break away from this old framework to one that is organic and synergetic, rather than mechanical — one that supports the creation of knowledge workers and innovators over factory automatons? Pekka Ihanainen (at HAAGA-HELIA and Ihanova) and I think we can. To start the discussion, in a paper we submitted for a special issue of time in Studia Paedagogica, we propose three alternatives to break us away from temponormative pedagogies: pointillist, cyclical, and overlapping. The following text is excerpted and adapted from the paper.

Pointillist learning

Elements for pointillist learning are masses of fragments and pieces – i.e., as used within Twitter messaging. They transmit, separately, beginnings for events, middle-points of events and endings of events in an order that may seem perceptibly vague. Among others, they comprise experiences, opinions, perceptions, comments, and “what if” scenarios.

The spontaneous nature of pointillist learning has always been a natural part of everyday human activity. When pointillist learning is examined from a pedagogical point of view, it opens itself as an anti- or a de-pedagogy. The greatest challenge for de-pedagogy is that we must trust that learning actually takes place, and that de-pedagogical learning is both valuable and significant. For pedagogical activity, de-pedagogy means that, as facilitators of learning, we have to give up our role as teachers and to start being and working as co-learners and peers within the pointillist environments we are involved.

Cyclical learning

In online forums, where participation (usually discussion) occurs within threads as a more or less dialogical activity, densification and diffusion of learning intensity are present to experience and take part in. The cyclical activity and learning is connected with an ability to observe intensive periods of online interaction and to join them. New competencies emerge in the perception of pulses from within emerging processes of thoughts, emotions, and understandings (among others). Often times, people wish to continue their explorations and re-understandings of pointillist events and contextualize the knowledge to better suit their own needs and interests. For this reason, we label this phenomena a re-pedagogy.

Overlapping learning

The above three frameworks do not necessarily exist exclusive of each other, but can coexist and overlap within simple or complex relationships. Overlapping may occur as 1) fragments within fragmentary entities; or, 2) waves within pulsating content processes. In regard to the former, for example, it recognizes the ability to move from pointillist activities to cyclical learning and vice versa. In regard to the latter, this includes an ability to construct new insights, conceptualizations, and contextual applications for knowledge given pulsating waves of cyclical, pointillistic and/or temponormative pedagogies. Overlapping pedagogies may be expressed through the overlapping uses of technologies. For example, in online education, microblogging (a pointillist activity) may be layered with intense activity within discussion forums (a cyclical activity).

Overlapping learning is knowledge building of everything/anything, everywhere/anywhere and at all times/anytime. In other words, overlapping learning is boundless in its scope and capabilities. When the learning of everything/anything, everywhere/anywhere and at all times /anytime is examined from pedagogical point of view, it can be seen as pedagogy of encoding. The overlapping education is therefore labeled en-pedagogy.

Temponormative

Pointillist

Cyclical

Overlapping

Pedagogy

Traditional

De-

Re-

En-

System

Cartesian, linear

Moments

Pulsating

Chaordic

Knowledge produced

Explicit

Personal (explicit and tacit)

Personal and social

Personal and social

Learning happens through…

Direction

Serendipity

Evolution of dialog

Convergence of direction, serendipity and evolution

Learning outcomes pre-defined

Yes

No

Sometimes

No

Examples

Lectures, readings

Microblogging, podcast

Online forums

Mashups

Our challenge

The problem is, although we are familiar with many of the technological tools that enable these pedagogies, we still view the process and the experience through the lens of temponormativity. Recognition of this framework with expanded temporal characteristics calls on us to develop new, purposive approaches that embrace and maximize the best of any configuration of de-, re-, and en-pedagogies.

Afforded the post-temponormative capabilities of online environments, how can we best leverage these multidimensional understandings of pedagogical time to facilitate multidimensional learning and meaningful new knowledge production?

Invisible Learning: Designing cultures of sustainable innovation

cassette 2

Cristóbal Cobo and I are pleased to announce the Invisible Learning (Aprendizaje Invisible) project –and we invite your participation!

Invisible Learning // Aprendizaje Invisible is collaborative book (in English and Spanish) and an online repository of bold ideas for designing cultures of sustainable innovation.

Through the development of 1) a collaborative, printed book; 2) an e-book; and 3) a repository of innovative ideas at www.invisiblelearning.com, we seek to:

  • Share experiences and innovative perspectives, focused on rethinking strategies and innovative approaches to learn and unlearn continuously.
  • Promote critical thinking of the role of formal, informal and non-formal education at alleducational levels.
  • Contribute to the creation of a sustainable (and continuous) process of learning, innovating and designing new cultures for the global society.

This project aims to facilitate the creation of a globally distributed community of thinkers interested on the creation of new futures for the education. Sustainable innovation, invisible learning (informal learning and non-formal learning) and the development of 21st century skills are some of the core issues that will be analyzed and addressed in this project.

Moreover, we want to connect project participants with:

  • The best ideas in transforming informal and non-formal learning
  • The people doing amazing things in innovative education
  • Resources to help them get started on their own initiatives

We welcome you to join the conversation at www.invisiblelearning.com!

Project Topics and Keywords: New theories and ideas in education; Sharing of best practices; Exchange of innovation; 21st century educational institutions Open and distribute learning initiatives; Recommendation for public policies; Training teachers; Non-formal education; Informal education; Building innovative societies; Sustainable innovation.

…and others contributed by you, the authors.

Share your ideas and links using Twitter: #invislearning

Creating and dismantling the library of the future

mplslib
Inside Higher Ed writes that, Daniel Greenstein, vice provost for academic planning and programs at the University of California System predicts:

The university library of the future will be sparsely staffed, highly decentralized, and have a physical plant consisting of little more than special collections and study areas.

Particularly over the past decade, librarians have shown considerable futures thinking into what their institutions might become. One visible example is the Minneapolis Central Library, designed by Cesar Pelli. The building is designed not only to be more green and sustainable, but also to be converted into a structure that can serve a different purpose. The floors, for example, are removable and reconfigurable, allowing the library to adapt to needs and purposes that do not yet exist.

So, it comes as no surprise that Ithaka hosted a talk on sustainability and the future of university libraries –likely creating some unease among librarians. Inside Higher Ed elaborates more on Greenstein’s vision:

“We’re already starting to see a move on the part of university libraries… to outsource virtually all the services [they have] developed and maintained over the years,” Greenstein said. Now, with universities everywhere still ailing from last year’s economic meltdown, administrators are more likely than ever to explore the dramatic restructuring of library operations.

Within the decade, he said, groups of universities will have shared print and digital repositories where they store books they no longer care to manage. “There are national discussions about how and to what extent we can begin to collaborate institutionally to share the cost of storing and managing books,” he said. “That trend should keeping continuing as capital funding is scarce, as space constraints are severe, especially on urban campuses — and, frankly, as funding needs to flow into other aspects of the academic program.”

Read the full Inside Higher Ed article…

Thank you!

The e-competencies conference is over –and, by all measures, it seems to be a resounding success! Many, many thanks go to Cristóbal Cobo and Jutta Treviranus for the co-organization of the event.

I am particularly grateful for our amazing participants. A few of their presentations are already online:

  • Martín Parselis (Video) [UCA]
  • Guillermo Lutzky (Video) [ORT]
  • Tom Elko (Video) [Independent Media Producer]
  • Janet Murphy (Video) [UToronto]
  • Miguel Raimilla (Video) [ONE ROOF ]
  • Florencio Ceballos (Video) [IDRC]
  • Suzanne Miric and Patrick Walker (Video) [UMN / METAMORF Tech.]
  • Roberto Balaguer (Video) [U de la R ]
  • Pablo Muñoz (Video 1 and 2 ) [UDD]
  • Germania Rodríguez (Video) [UTPL]
  • Víctor Zárate and Marilú Casas (Video ) [ITESM]
  • Jorge Silva (Video) [U.Toronto]
  • Jayson Richardson (Video) [UMN]
  • Stian Haklev (Video) [U.Toronto
  • Edgardo Lurig (Video) (ICT Policy Advisor of RNTC and UCSF)

Also, we had some great real-time presentations. Cristóbal Cobo posted many of our slide sets at Issuu:

Finally, I wish to express my gratitude to the amazing support team at FLACSO-México that made the conference possible, especially Ana Karla Romeu, Aarón Láscarez, Javier Cruz, Edgar Gutierrez, Déborah Monroy and Marduk Pérez de Lara. Thank you all!

On top of all these thank you’s, additional thanks goes to Cristóbal Cobo for compiling above lists of presentations.