Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon Censors LGBT Books

I thought this issue was important enough, and certainly relevant to librarians, that I'm reposting from my other, personal blog:

The recent and on-going imbroglio over Amazon's seemingly intentional censorship of LGBT books (despite their claims denying it) got me thinking: what else might the mega-information companies (Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, our Government, the telecoms, etc.) that we all now pretty much depend on, be influencing/censoring/favoring based on political/social/religious beliefs, that we don't even know about yet?

Kind of scary, isn't it?

On the other hand, the fact that this Amazon thing (which I won't discuss, as far more knowledgeable people than me have done that already here, here & here) was caught so early and then publicized so widely and loudly by the blogosphere as to make Amazon rethink their stance, gives me hope that there is power in the collective citizen potential of web 2.0 (and beyond) technologies.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Info Lit on the Rise at MPOW!

Fact: the level of student information literacy skills at MPOW is scarily low, in just about every measurable facet. Don't get me wrong, there are many very smart and very talented and very motivated students here, they just aren't directed (i.e., forced) towards learning opportunities in this area. This is to be expected, I suppose, when talking about working adult, distance learners, many of whom haven't been near a library or a research paper beyond the high school level in decades, if ever. They are juggling work, family and school responsibilities, so participation in strictly-voluntary online info lit instruction sessions can only have limited reach, even if we had a giant marketing budget and the active support of all our faculty (which we don't).

There is no requirement for students to get any sort of information literacy or library instruction; not even a library orientation (granted, we don't have a physical library, so it would be a virtual orientation). There is an optional Info Lit course, but it is not taught by a librarian and the content, from what I can tell, is not tied into our resources or current learning theory much at all. Since all classes (there are hundreds) are either entirely online, or blended at our regional locations, and there are only 3 FT librarians on staff (none at any of the regional locations), delivery of course-level instruction is virtually impossible. Instead, in theory, a watered-down and generalized Gen. Ed. "information management" requirement is "infused" into the curriculum. Whether these requirements, let alone a more rigorous set of skills as outlined in ACRL standards, are given much consideration in the instructional design process is up for debate.

A few months ago I participated in an assessment of our Information Management rubric using a sampling of papers provided to us from various classes. Of the 100 or so papers that I assessed, only about 2 or 3 (that's not a typo!) cited any sort of peer-reviewed source or even anything from any of our library databases. Many (far too many) cited only the textbook and or a couple of dubious-quality web pages. Even then many facts were not cited and the citations included often followed no formatting style. I was thoroughly disheartened/disillusioned/frightened after this experience and I made it clear (as the only librarian serving on that assessment team) that we needed to address this asap.

A little more background: the college was chartered without a physical library (we started out in the 70's as a correspondence college), and the online library is managed by the office of Ed Tech (which is itself viewed with disdain by some faculty). I think librarians here have always been viewed as 2nd class citizens by both the faculty and the administration, and the idea of faculty status is greeted mostly with silence. When I started 5 years ago, the library consisted of myself and the library manager. There was (and never had been) any direct library instruction offered to students (except what could be done via phone and email reference interactions). A limited amount of instruction was aimed at faculty, with the idea, I suppose, that faculty would then incorporate these skills into their instructional design and or pass it along to students in other ways. In addition, tutorials were placed on the website, and a flash-based orientation to the library was buried in a CD about technology at the college, and given to all new students.

Two years ago we did break through the barrier a little when I was tasked with designing and coordinating a pilot program of online, hands-on basic skills workshops for students who can drive into one of our regional centers, in cooperation with a cadre of newly hired, front-line academic support directors (who do have faculty status). Keep in mind also that instruction is not a primary part of my performance program and I had little teaching or instructional design experience at that point (and I still have a ton to learn!).

It appears the assessment outcomes, and the constant pleading from the librarians has had an impact. We have been doing the online workshops for students for more than a year (and now offer a version that students can participate in directly from home) and I got some hints from my boss that I should start investigating the possibility of designing a credit course of some kind.

So things are looking up in the information literacy biz here, thankfully. And hopefully after I come back from the Info Lit Immersion program this summer, I'll be brimming with great ideas and a solid theoretical foundation on which to build a more in-depth and innovative info lit program.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Virtual, Collaborative Info Lit Instruction at the Consortial Level?

As I sit here at 4am Saturday morning , insomnia stubbornly staving off slumber, I thought I'd take a stab at reviving this blog with a random thought.

I've been using an online, synchronous classroom tool called Elluminate Live! Academic for a while now to teach simple one or two hour, hands-on, voluntary workshops, both to students who can come into our participating regional computer labs located throughout the state (each regional center is semi-autonomous & not every one participates in this program for reasons I have yet to figure out, but most likely territorial), and directly to students at their home computers. The program has mostly been a success so far (the @Home version is still in pilot phase), although not without a few hiccups along the way.

I should mention that Elluminate is also tentatively (there are many administrators and faculty who have a hard time with this kind of technology, and many centers and units do not yet have the equipment or technical support know-how to use it effectively) being used throughout our geographically dispersed college centers and units as a means of convening virtual meetings, and by the language faculty as a way of doing live language speaking exercises with their students.

In addition, I've also offered up our library's Elluminate room as a means of holding meetings for the SUNYLA instructional subcommittee I sit on. I have also suggested that SUNYLA, SUNYConnect (the body that purchases library resources for use by all SUNY institutions) or even SUNY as a whole, think about purchasing a consortia-wide subscription to this product or something similar for use by libraries, faculty and administrators.

I view such an initiative as a parallel to today's economic crisis and Obama's stimulus plan. We need to spend money up front to save money in the long run and make things run smoother. On the financial side, a consortial-wide subscription would allow us to negotiate a large discount, as well as save everyone who serves on various SUNY- or SUNYLA-wide bodies tons of money on travel and lodging.

On the academic side, it could potentially open up a whole new avenue for collaboration. For example, I could see interested instructional librarians coordinating on planning, delivering and assessing a suite of workshops targeting many kinds of information literacy skills to students (and faculty) at various levels of experience. With the ability to team-teach (and offer a great way to mentor & train new or even still-in-school instructional librarians) and offer exponentially expanded instructional opportunities across institutions as well as to students regardless of physical location, this could have a major impact on the acquisition of basic information literacy skills, which I would guess continues to be a major concern at all institutions.

Alas, whether a large and varied consortia like SUNY can ever come to a consensus on what product to purchase, how to pay for it, and how to administer it, let alone whether it's worth the price up front to do it, is a challenge far beyond my meager strategic experiences. But I think it's certainly worth looking at.