Monday, 29 June 2009

M-Libraries 2009 – The Round-Up

Last week I was in Canada for the m-Libraries Conference 2009…so was the 13 hour travelling time worth it…was the jet-lag an okay price to pay…were the extensive call charges back to the UK worth their money…OF COURSE!! I have not been to many residential conferences but I would have to say that m-Libraries have really pulled it out of the bag. Previously I have had experiences of being ‘conference snubbed,’ that is, you begin talking to someone, when they find out you are not quite of the stature they had anticipated they hastily make their excuses to go and find someone that more suits their ‘mould.’ M-Libraries was not at all like this, other delegates were genuinely interested in hearing about my work and there was a sense of solidarity amongst delegates in their quest to adopting more mobile futures within their institutions. Everyone was keen to share knowledge and experience and that is something that will stay with me for a very long time.

The conference was organised yet laid-back. Let me explain. The registration desk staff were always extremely helpful in advising delegates on the UBC Campus, m-Libraries Conference or Vancouver itself. They knew what was happening and where and were always happy to help. There were tours to attend, an evening trip out to Granville Island and a Conference Banquet. There were bountiful breakfasts of baked goods (not good for the waistline!), plenty of fresh fruit and local produce and lots and lots of strong black coffee!! The days were packed with numerous sessions in which delegates were free to chose which path they would like to follow – you didn’t have to book into particular sessions, you could do as you pleased. There was a fun Twitter back channel tweeting the event – through which I met new Twitter friends, and actually got the chance to meet in person with a few ‘old-time’ tweeters that I’ve been in contact previously with. There was no mad rush for the dinner queue with elbows out as with some conferences, nor was there actually much of a wait time as everyone ambled along, talking to old friends and new.

I presented on the second day of the conference and was pleased to have attracted a friendly looking crowd – many of whom I’d sat with over breakfast, lunch or tea and already given insights into my research – it was lovely to have their support.

The sessions I attended were thought-provoking. During the conference I realised how well we’ve done at LJMU in actually trying to drive a more mobile agenda forwards…I would say we are now at the forefront of this m-learning group which is obviously brilliant for us as an institution. Furthermore, this gives us the opportunity to lead the way, rather than simply follow others. Already, I have several contacts who would like to read the project report and follow up bits and bobs from the conference. The second strand of the m-learning research (student support with mobile devices) has also really created a stir with a lot of people requesting access to the second report when it is finished.

The m-Libraries experience has really raised my confidence in my own ability. I had a lovely time, met some lovely people and hope to keep in touch with lots of them, helping to raise the profile of the m-learning project as much as possible.

The m-Libraries week was a funny old week. There I was half way across the world, in a brand new country, presenting at an International Conference, I had notification that I had been awarded a 1st for my MSc dissertation – I was on a mid week high. Then the following day whilst sat at the airport waiting to return home, the tragic news of Michael Jackson’s sudden passing flashed up on a TV screen. I think it would be imprudent to gloss over such a monumental moment in history, even though it does not directly relate to the m-Libraries Conference, I will never forget where I was when I found out Michael Jackson had died.

And on that note, I must say a massive thank you for Sue Thompson for her continued support of the m-learning research, without her faith in the project and kindness I would never have been given such an amazing opportunity……

M-Libraries 2009 - The Concurrent Sessions (Day 2)

Day 2 was a day of interesting facts – good for those who enjoy a bit of trivia or like to partake in the odd pub quiz…

Parveen Babbar and Seema Chandlock from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), India
On the second day I attended a very interesting session delivered by Parveen Babbar and Seema Chandlock from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), India. Firstly think about this for an amazing statistic – IGNOU are the largest University in the world with 1.85 million students. Phew!

India is the 2nd largest mobile market in the world with approximately 10 million new subscribers per month. The mobile market benefits from information access, wherever, whenever and this limitless access provides unique opportunities for the education sector. Furthermore, the interactive capabilities of such devices offers up an interesting dynamic also.

Research at IGNOU indicates that their users want to be able to access a whole host of things via their mobile phone. They want to know (amongst others) their enrolment status (82%), exam times (82%), previous year question papers (90%), library OPAC (60%). They want to access services such as library databases, reference/enquiry help, mobile library circulation, moblogging and video conferencing. As you can see the scope for more mobile mediums is huge at IGNOU. This is even more advanced that the types of m-learning content/activities students at LJMU are asking for.

With all this in mind, IGNOU recognises that the small screen of a mobile phone can cause issues, therefore when adopting more mobile mediums institutions must be careful about visibility and presentation of content. A good example of this is the IGNOU mobile web site through which the following key points are accounted for:

*keep it simple
*test on various platforms
*keep customization on the desktop
*incorporate search
*remember usability
*clean up images
*create more mobile suitable content

The provision of mobile access at IGNOU strengthens the learning in distance education and improves the overall student experience. IGNOU have been successful in making steps to more mobile futures for their distance learners, similarly to the Open University in the UK and Athabasca University in Canada. Traditional universities have a lot to learn from their distance education counterparts.

Elizabeth C. Reade Fong from the University of the South Pacific, Fiji
The other session I was particularly excited about was that given by Elizabeth C. Reade Fong from the University of the South Pacific, Fiji. Now I must admit that my initial reasoning behind attending this session was as a result of sitting with Elizabeth during one of the pre-conference sessions, she was such an interesting and lovely lady I just had to go and support her work by attending her session. I was also intrigued to find out about the culture differences between the UK and that of Fiji with regards to mobile technologies in teaching and learning.

But next, the second interesting fact: the University of the South Pacific covers 33M sq km in 5 time zones (and 2 days)! Now THAT's distance learning if ever I saw it!!!

The University of the South Pacific are made up of a 44% distance and flexible learner mode, they have learning content delivered in a variety of formats such as video conferencing and audio lectures. A number of students were surveyed to ascertain opinion of a possible m-learning future, of those surveyed 94% owned some sort of mobile device with Nokia being the most common brand, there was a minimal 3% ownership of iPhone/PDAs. These finding parallel those here at LJMU as a result of the student surveys I performed earlier this year. Fijian students expressed a preference for 2 way communication (63%) also yet they do not want to pay for mobile learning, this is a major problem as connectivity in Fiji is very expensive. Major financial and management decisions would need to be made at the University of the South Pacific before any m-learning venture could be explored. Consideration would need to be made of a LMS upgrade or even a new LMS altogether to deal with the shift in service delivery and an overhaul of the technical infrastructure would need to be rolled-out also, furthermore there would need to be a revision of library policies. To be fair, up to this point there is not really any culture difference to note between Fiji and the UK with regards to a possible m-learning future, the next point that Elizabeth made however exposes the underlying cultural differences in that the Fijian students feel extremely strongly about the library being a quiet study space, enforcing such rules in due course (unlike many academic libraries in the UK in which you say students flouting the rules of quiet study areas). Fijian students can not get access to a quiet study space at home so it is imperative for them that they get this space whilst at the library.

So what next for the University of the South Pacific? Well ‘mobile learning’ is already in the library strategic plan, the next step is to get it into the university strategic plan in order that a more top-down, rather than bottom-up approach is maintained. The library service at the University of the South Pacific is definitely looking to go ahead with an m-learning environment – students are keen to explore this venture as are the library staff, echoing the findings here at LJMU also.

The second day of the conference made me realise that there are not as many cultural m-learning differences as I had initially thought; universities across the world are faced with similar challenges no matter of time and place. The issues of centring the learner at the forefront of developments, ensuring usability of content and services, and providing parity of access are all key issues for everyone striving to move into the m-learning domain. The sharing of experience at conferences such as m-Libraries is a key player in ensuring that we can draw on others experiences, preventing us from time and time again 'reinventing the wheel' and helping the transition to more mobile mediums be as smooth as possible.

M-Libraries 2009 - The Concurrent Sessions (Day 1)

The concurrent sessions at m-Libraries this year were split into 6 streams:

*Mobile Technologies
*New Mobile Services
*Mobile Libraries for Learning
*Mobile Users
*Mobile Technologies Supporting Development
*Mobile Services For Distance Learners

I attended 3 sessions within the mobile users bracket, 2 sessions within the mobile services for distance learners bracket, 1 session within the mobile libraries for learning bracket (in which I also presented my own paper in this stream) and the final session I attended was in the mobile technologies stream.

The concurrent sessions were diverse in subject matter – from roving reference with iPods in America to changing m-learning models in Spain – everyone that presented was passionate about their ‘mobile’ area.

I have identified a few key sessions from each of the conference days…

Day 1

Faye Jackson and Phil Cheeseman from Roehampton University, UK
One of the most unique sessions I attended was that presented by Faye Jackson and Phil Cheeseman from Roehampton University, UK who presented on a social learning space for faculty staff called the Green Room. This was the first time I’d heard of a university library providing a social space for ‘staff only’ in order that faculty staff can engage and experiment with educational and mobile technologies. Furthermore it allows faculty staff members to share ideas about how best to use such devices in academic arenas (over a cup of coffee in relaxing, chilled surroundings of course…!)

A key aspect of the sustainability of such a space is that the library initially ‘buys in’ specific technologies for staff to experiment with and trial, then, if the faculty staff see its educational value, they ask their faculty to buy in their own batch of useful devices rather than having to use the libraries. Furthermore, the success of the Green Room is as a result of faculty staff recognising the value of mobile technologies from their colleagues, which is more than the library staff could engender if they tried to run the Green Room as a direct service solely from library staff to faculty staff. The unique aspect of collaboration and sharing amongst faculties colleagues resonates well with this group of people.

Of note, the Roehampton team turned to the university learners of tomorrow (school children) to discover the ‘ideal’ learning space…this quote from one imaginative young soul is definitely worth a mention…

“We’ve got the MyPod, it’s like your bed, you fall asleep in it and in your sleep learning flows into your brain and its only £15,000,000!!”

I really enjoyed Faye and Phil’s session and genuinely feel such a venture would definitely be worth considering at LJMU, either instigated here within L&SS, or maybe even by the LDU…??

Fred Rowland and Adam Shambaugh from Temple University, USA
Perhaps most pertinent to my work at present was the session delivered by Fred Rowland and Adam Shambaugh from Temple University, USA who presented on their roving reference initiative. The results of a LibQual survey were a driver for this trial project which registered that there was a distinct dissatisfaction amongst their student body with regards to the library service provisions, furthermore changing user needs and expectations needed to be addressed. At Temple, the student shelver’s were asked thousands of questions a month and it was felt that such questions would be better answered by professional librarian. The guys at Temple had a set timetable for roving (4 hours per day, Tues-Thurs) which followed a specified route and would be facilitated by an iPod Touch device. Unfortunately the trial period produced extremely low statistics, and Fred and Adam made some very broad claims about how students don’t like being approached and that out on the library floor was a student occupied territory, they highlighted that very little browsing was evident and that the use of the library space very directed and intentional. I would have to say that I disagree with the fact that students do not like being approached, having roved here at LJMU I can honestly say that students really appreciate library help at their point-of-need, especially during assignment deadline and exam times, the key is to recognising which students need your help and which do not. I feel that it was maybe a lack of roving training in identifying tell-tale signs of puzzlement and readjusting your body language to show the students you are available to be approached without being overbearing…

I got the distinct impression that the guys at Temple viewed their trial period as a bit of a failure which is a shame as I have seen first hand here at LJMU how effective roving can be if it is done correctly.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

M-Libraries 2009 - The Plenary Sessions

There were four plenary sessions after Lorcan Dempsey’s keynote at m-Libraries 2009. First up was Ken Banks who spoke about the role of mobile phones in the developing world. Ken was followed by Carie Page who focused on engaging the 21st century learner through mobile technologies. Next up was Paul Nelson who highlighted some initiatives in which the NHS have been involved aiming to improve people’s health via the use of mobile devices. The final plenary for the morning was Joan Lippincott who made steps towards realising more innovative libraries through the utilisation of mobility.

My favourite plenary session was that delivered by Ken Banks. Ken gave an extremely inspiring talk about how mobile phones are being used to transform and even save lives in developing countries, such as in Africa. FrontlineSMS is the means to achieving such amazing feats. Ken, did however, keep his session grounded, enforcing that even thought it’s very easy to get carried away with the technology in a mobile environment, helping the people in the developing countries always remains at the heart of his work . This is something that I think we also need to continually reiterate when we look to explore the possibilities posed y technology in education – the learner must always come first – not the technology.

I would have to admit that after an engaging start, Carie Page lost a bit of respect from her audience (reflected in the Twitter backchannel) through her overly focused stance on the “digital native” concept, over-egging the fact that young people are so self-assured and fluent with technology compared to the older generations. I think in a very general sense, the digital native concept does hold some weight, however it is important also to acknowledge that there are many other factors that effect people’s uptake of technology. It would’ve have been nice to have heard something new from Carie Page, rather than just a reiteration of a common concept. I felt it was a shame that she didn’t expand the topic, taking it somewhere new, as she was a very engaging and enthusiastic speaker and I feel that she didn’t quite do herself justice…

I think that Joan Lippincott fell into a similar trap – she didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know. Joan spoke about how libraries now need to try and meet the challenge delivering digital information to a mobile phone, expanding on ways in which libraries can make steps to overcome such a challenge.

Maybe the lack of depth to the plenary sessions was a result of the short time slots that the speakers received, each only having 30 minutes to get their point across – maybe if they had had more time, they could’ve dived a little deeper into the subject area?? I must admit I was hoping for a little more from the plenary sessions, I just hope that for the 3rd m-Libraries Conference, they reassess the time slots in order that their speakers can do themselves justice. I could’ve listened to Ken Banks all morning after all!!

M-Libraries 2009 - The Opening Keynote

Lorcan Dempsey gave the opening keynote for this year’s mLibraries Conference 2009 – ‘Concentration, Connection, Diffusion: Mobilizing Library Services.’ Lorcan eased us into his session through the ‘Obama’ gates starting off with a picture of a dead fly…on a more serious note, Lorcan began by highlighting how the 08/09 presidential election was a watershed for the power that social networking can harness. A result of such high profile acknowledgement is that, now, people can truly understand such technology’s (i.e. web 2.0) potential to communicate and connect people in a way unheard off prior to its rise into the ‘mainstream.’

Lorcan highlighted three key drivers for more mobile and technology-enhanced delivery within education…

Expectations – students and faculty staff have increased expectations in this field as a direct result of consumer/personal experiences with mobile technology
Consumer switch – entertainment/leisure experiences of technology are growing at a rapid rate, now overtaking those experiences in the work environment and education sector, through a greater investment and innovation
Workflow switch – ‘you need to fit into my workflow. I won’t fit into yours’ – users now expect to have delivery of learning in terms that suit their needs, not that of the education provider, including library services.

This leads one to ask, but how do our library services fit into people’s workflows? At the moment, not very well I would have to say. Furthermore, there is now a growing tension between the provisions of technology that the education sector provides and the unprecedented access people now have to technology in their personal lives. The web 2.0 boom and cheaper availability of hardware is becoming a serious issue for education as students increasingly can provide themselves with better equipment and resources than that of their institutions.

Lorcan continued by invoking that mobile communications is more about communications than about mobility. This is interesting as during the m-learning focus groups that I conducted, the students placed a massive emphasis on communication and collaboration in teaching and learning – on par with the importance of convenience and flexibility, with regards to learning, for their 21st century lifestyles. In the last few years, mobile communications has been the fastest diffusing technology ever whilst mobile technology has a resonance with the ways in which young people want to communicate. If this isn’t a huge indication of how education can cater for these learners in relevant formats, I don’t know what is…

Lorcan then moved on to discuss ‘clouds and crowds, concentration and diffusion’ or in ‘plain English’ a 21st century network, connecting people via web 2.0 tools and mobile technologies, allowing them to not only connect, but to collaborate, share, store, develop, create, publish and rework. Interestingly within this mix, Lorcan highlighted the importance of acknowledging that different mobile devices are optimised for different purposes, particularly pertinent for m-learning in education I would say!

Next, the trusty institutional web site came under fire. Lorcan spoke of how the means that an exclusive focus on the institutional web site as the primary delivery mechanism and the browser as the primary consumption environment is increasingly partial in the current technologically rich climate. Lorcan elaborated upon this point in terms of the ‘networks’ that are ever-present in the 21st century learner’s life. Atomization, attention, action-orient and aggregate are the four key characteristics of today’s learners with relation to their information seeking habits:

Atomization – they want small snippets of information, delivered to a place suitable to their needs (an RSS aggregator for example). Furthermore the ‘skimming’ culture that is on the rise across education (including faculty members) has led to metadata being viewed as an important element, as are abstracts.
Attention – they want to be able to rank and recommend, find relevant information quickly.
Action-oriented – they want to be able to find things quickly, retrieve and share sources.
Aggregate – and they want to be able to utilise multiple platforms as necessary

I think what Lorcan was trying to demonstrate was the ways in which networks have changed how we coordinate our resources to reach our goals – it is no longer a linear process, it is now, a more multi-faceted experience. However, integration of networking resources into our everyday lives is resulting in a degree of fragmentation with regards to behaviours, grades of experiences and preferred communication channels, and obviously this is something that education providers also need to consider when rolling out new ways of delivery.

To finish on a library theme, Lorcan recognised that the challenge for libraries is to make themselves invisible. In the current information and technological rich world, users want seamless access to resources delivered in formats that fit into their workflows - hence the popularity of Google amongst many student groups. Single sign-on is a must for academic libraries if they want to make sure that their students are satisfied with the functionalities of electronic access to resources – for many, access to electronic resources is long-winded and at times disjointed, with some students not understanding where they are or what they should be looking to achieve within a given search. I feel that this would further increase the libraries relevance to 21st century students thus helping them to demonstrate how they are of value in the context of growing competition for resources. Ease of access will inadvertently impact on popularity - we live in an ‘I want it now’ culture after all.

Lorcan finished by looking to the future, alluding to increasing availability of eBooks and new output methods for institutions.

Lorcan’s talk was thought provoking, and at times I would have to admit, slightly overwhelming. There is so much that needs to be done in HE at the moment to meet the expectations of current and future users. The library also, need to reassess their content, access and delivery – after a talk so ‘big’ on content, I have been left wondering, where to start with all this? It is such a huge mountain, I just hope that at LJMU we can start to successfully chip away at some of the lower-ground stuff, edging us on our way to overcome some of the massive changes to cultures and traditions of our current education system.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

M-Libraries 2009 - The Beginning

Well after a long day travelling I arrived in Vancouver on Sunday at about 4.30pm local time (12.30am Monday England time…). I was glad to breeze through customs and obviously thrilled when my suitcase came trundling along the carousel pretty sharpish too!! It was a half hour taxi ride to the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus (unfortunately however, with a taxi driver who didn’t quite know where he was going – or maybe he was trying to fleece the ‘tourists’???) It was about 6pm by this time so I got registered for the conference and then checked in at the accommodation, glad to be able to have a shower, stretch out, watch some TV and sleep…I must admit I did try and read the conference programme but I guarantee this was not a good idea at what my body thought was 3am (even though it was 7pm, anyway enough of the time difference moanings, for now anyway)!!

Monday saw the start to the pre-conference workshops. The day had a bit of a shaky start (this next bit is for girls only…my hairstraighteners won’t work here in Canada…argh…!) but I soldiered through and headed down the UBC Irving K Barber Learning Centre. Here, the day kicked off with some lovely fresh fruit and monstrous baked goods, setting me up for my first full day in Vancouver.

The first workshop I attended was hosted by the Open University and here, I was able to create a mobile information literacy learning object. It was a brilliant experience, and the first time I had actually tried to create mobile content (I tend to just talk about it and write about it), and it enabled me to put all my m-learning knowledge into practice. The second workshop I attended was hosted collaboratively by Athabasca University and the Open University and looked to discuss the challenges and opportunities that m-library technical development can pose. This was an intensive and thought-provoking session which covered an awful lot of material; it really helped me to look at the bigger picture with regards to the back-end work of m-learning. This is not an area my research has taken me and the session taught me that collaboration with other institutions is definitely a worthwhile venture with regards to m-learning – there is no point reinventing the wheel after all!!

The evening saw a trip to Granville Island, about a half hour drive from UBC. The coach driver kindly gave a humorous commentary, pointing out some $10,000,000 houses on the way (eek!). I had a lovely walk around Granville Island which readied me further for my evening meal - a lovely 3 course sit down meal at the Dockside Restaurant. I must admit by this time I was flagging, I was sat next to a lovely lady from Australia though so I tried not to complain too much, as she rightly stated, she had the ‘rights’ to jetlag after all!!

So now it is Tuesday, the first official ‘conferencing’ day. I was up at 5.30am – I just hope I can hold out until later for some much needed sleep!! I’m looking forward to the opening keynote by Lorcan Dempsey – I have it on good authority that he is definitely worth getting out of bed for…!

Watch this space for individual blog postings about particularly interesting sessions…

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Where will it all end? - Emerging Technology in the Library: part 2

The afternoon sessions kicked off with Fiona Emberton talking about RFID and how libraries have the choice as to whether they let such technology automate their service or transform it. As with Les Watson’s morning session, this session was particularly relevant to me as LJMU looks to implement RFID as part of the Aldham Robarts Refurbishment project this summer. So far, assistants have been slogging it out all day everyday for the past 2 weeks tagging the book stock to get it ready for the opening of the new Aldham Centre in the autumn, running totals so far have reached 36,737 books with the overall target standing at 251,000. But anyway, that’s a whole different story…!

Fiona began her session by advocating that you should never let technology push you along or push you into doing something – there should always be a need for it first. Fiona claimed that RFID has gone beyond bleeding edge and leading edge, and is now very much a mainstream occurrence. RFID helps with security control and stock management, it has the capacity to read multiple-items making the issuing/returning process more efficient for users and it is good for instilling independence in users with disabilities. So why RFID? What can 21st century libraries gain from RFID? Fiona felt strongly in her view that in the current economic climate, libraries must invest to save and that an investment in RFID would have long-term economic benefits. RFID implementation results in an increase in staff effectiveness, freeing up staff time from routine functions in order that they have the time to provide a more personalised service, making better use of their complex skills set. I have encountered this notion during my current research into roving reference librarians equipped with mobile technologies also. The self-service nature of RFID is also compliant with information commons/social learning zone study environments as it allows these spaces to remain student-centred, without the need for imposing service counters/desks. Furthermore, RFID allows for opening hours to be extended thus providing a more relevant library service to busy 21st century learners who do not have the opportunity to study within the traditional 9-5pm time-scales.

Fiona highlighted the opportunities for new approaches to ways of working as a result of freeing up staff time and new learning opportunities also. For example, the STAR (strategic training for accurate reference) system of answering enquiries ensures that over 95% of enquiries are dealt with effectively and efficiently in the first instance (I think Fiona said typically, without the STAR approach, this number is as low as 55%).

And Fiona’s final words of wisdom (which I absolutely love by the way!): We should entertain a bit more humour in our libraries, students respond to it and appreciate it (rather than our current ‘just say no’ attitude…)

The afternoon drew to a close with an interesting session lead by Nick Woolley centred on e-learning and the role that web 2.0 can fulfil within the e-learning environment. Web 2.0 has been a bit of a buzz word for the last few years now, in terms of the ‘hype cycle’ Nick questioned as to whether we are now on the ‘slope of enlightenment,’ and if so, if now is the right time to adopt web 2.0 in libraries…??

When considered against an e-learning back-drop, it is fair to say that e-learning has never quite reached its full potential – since its emergence it has remained quite a passive approach to learning with virtual learning environments generally being a place for retrieving and reading text-based documents. There is little or no interaction the majority of the time…is this the place where web 2.0 technologies can be integrated to improve the e-learning experience?

Nick indicated that we (as librarians but educators also) need to take the initiative with web 2.0 or we will continue to face disintermediation. Furthermore, students are now paying customers and they want value for money. Some of the key points Nick highlighted about today’s students include:

· Students are part of an instant gratification culture
· They are assessment orientated
· They are competitive
· They hold a different view of intellectual property as a result of the digital age
· They are prepared to be educated.

The possibility of librarians losing clout, coupled with student expectations are key drivers to a more web 2.0 orientated library (and indeed education) system. I personally feel now is the time to adopt more interactive and collaborative working environments, and having completed the Learning 2.0 @ LJMU 12 week training course feel that library staff at LJMU are well equipped to take the lead with such trends.

Where will it all end? – Emerging Technology in the Library: part 1

Yesterday I attended the MmIT North West Summer Conference hosted here at Liverpool John Moores University. The day’s sessions were focused on how new and emerging technologies can be exploited in education to enhance the 21st century student’s learning experience, with particular emphasis on the libraries role within this mix. This first posting highlights the morning sessions, I will blog the afternoon sessions shortly.

Morning Sessions
The day kicked off to an enthralling start – a dazzling array of Russell Prue’s gadgets and gizmos – not to mention Russell’s rather striking orange bow tie and braces! Russell started off with a rather tongue in cheek request for us delegates to turn our mobile phones to silent, or at least sit on them, he didn’t want us to turn them off as we would be expected to use them in the session – yes as teaching and learning aids!!! Russell gave good insights into some of the current problems with our education system (that is now surrounded by a technological world)… educators are doing what they have always done regarding certain technologies, with many schools having restrictions on use of technology in the classroom. From banning mobile phones to filtering internet access, the UK is extremely strict on its allowances of personal technology use within schools and the education system. This is nonsensical though when considered against the fact that ‘Blogging’ is now a paid job in the US. In fact, the job of a ‘Blogger’ brings in a salary of $75,000 a year with approx 452,000 ‘Bloggers’ being paid for their work: the shift has happened. The education sector tends to talk about ‘this shift that is happening’ in relation to emerging technologies, but this is not completely true, we are already there.

Technology has inadvertently changed the landscape for the education system but how is the education sector responding to this shift? It appears that we are always doing what we’ve always done and not allowing technology to pervasively change it as it has the power to do so – engaging students, letting them explore, experiment and learn. At present, in curriculum terms, we spoon feed our children and the prescriptive nature of our education system means our children will never learn to explore, experiment, or think for themselves. Russell showed a video of a one year old child using an iPhone to look through photographs with his dad – he understood how the iPhone functioned, he has grown up surrounded by such technology – so what are the implications for children like this when they enter the education system?

Russell provoked a lot of questions to which at this moment in time, educators are not fully addressing, unfortunately, the chances are that this ‘lack of action’ is going to be to the detriment of today’s and tomorrow’s learners.

Next on the bill was Les Watson who spoke of the importance of technology and learning space design. This is particularly relevant at the moment here at LJMU as the summer months sees a massive refurbishment to the Aldham Robarts LRC. Avril Robarts LRC also lays home to a Social Learning Zone environment so I could relate to a lot of the points that Les raised.

Les maintained that there is as yet, no paradigm for the 21st century library, however on a positive note this does mean that we have the opportunity to drive this agenda forward as we feel fit for not only today’s students, but future students also.

At present student’s unrestricted personal access to technology is a challenge for educators as it is at odds to the provisions of which the education sector provides, hence the talk of digital disconnect between students and their schools (Selwyn, 2006) . Today’s children are digital learners; they have grown up with technology (although this does not mean they know the best ways to use the technology for educational purposes of course). As educators, that should be our job, but we need to be able to fulfil this role without dictating which technologies our students’ should use. So, does this further indicate that educators need to move away from the ‘sage on the stage’ to the ‘guide on the side’???

There will be more information created this year than there has been in the last 5,000 years whilst the power of technology is doubling every year – this poses more challenges than ever for education and libraries as we struggle to direct students through this information and technology dense environment that we now live in. Furthermore, the National Student Survey allows students to drive how we deliver our services, we can no longer ignore the information and technology our students utilise in their study.

Interestingly, Les questioned whether our library buildings have the power to change the education system? How important are physical spaces in a technology-enhanced learning world? The new learning spaces we currently have the scope to design and develop are, at present, predictions. And greater than this we have the power to design buildings that are flexible, imaginative and creative so that if we predict the future of learning incorrectly, it will not matter because these spaces will be adaptable.

On the notion of creativity Les summed up stating that we are all born creative, but, that society suppresses this creativity, partly through the education system. Les continued to finish with the rather inspirational notion that imagination is the most powerful tool we have and that we have the power to exploit this tool within education.

Jane Secker filled the slot before lunch, and at a time when delegates can begin to lag, Jane delivered a thoughtful and stimulating overview of Facebook’s place within libraries, and vice versa…!

At present, there is an enthusiasm in libraries for web 2.0 technologies driven by the ability of such technologies to reach new audiences, engage current users and enhance services. Just recently here at LJMU, all library staff completed a 12 week course, Learning 2.0 @ ljmu that sought to increase staff awareness of web 2.0 technologies and how they can be applied in library contexts. Jane highlighted however, that such enthusiasm is not without issue with their being an underlying concern regarding patron privacy and data protection, not to mention the huge hurdle that staff training in this area can create.

But why Facebook? Why social networking in libraries? Pivotally, Information Commons learning spaces are a key driver for Library 2.0 with many seeing libraries now sitting between academic spaces and social spaces.

An overview of library related facilities within Facebook shows that there are large numbers of applications (including booksharing apps and the facility to search an institution’s library catalogue, some academic libraries have even taken steps to develop their own application to search their catalogue in-house, allowing them to almost tailor-make the app to suit the needs of their students). There are lots of groups for librarians to join on Facebook to share ideas and experiences with more and more library pages appearing also. The library page works like a sort of library profile enabling students to become a ‘fan’ of the library, subsequently receiving news and notifications as necessary.

It would be fair to admit that Facebook is not a new phenomenon, yet the amount of discussion it provokes is phenomenal. A particularly pertinent point that Jane made was to question whether Facebook can convince the ‘Google Generation’ that the library is still relevant? If it can, surely it is not something to be sniffed at?

SELWYN, N. (2006) Exploring the ‘digital disconnect’ between net-savvy students and their schools. Learning, Media and Technology, 31 (1), pp.5-17

Friday, 5 June 2009

Mobile Hardware Trial Update

The mobile device trial in student support settings is well underway here at LJMU. The BOS is up, running and in-use as is the project wiki and it appears that the staff involved in the trial are trying hard to think of new and innovative ways in which the devices can be practically used in HE library settings. Many staff participants have been happy to explore the possibilities that specific apps (such as Fring) pose, even in their own time in some cases which really displays the interest and excitement these devices create. Furthermore it exposes the levels of realisation from current library staff here at LJMU with regards to the ways in which technology can help them in their day-to-day jobs and routine, as well as making the student experience of the library service more positive.

Unfortunately due to the time of year, student contact in roving contexts is sparse, however over the summer we have a large group of international students from Malaysia (who have just started to arrive over the last few days) so hopefully student enquiries will increase.

The devices have received mixed reviews so far. Generally speaking the notebooks and EEE PCs are the better option for in-depth search and retrieval queries as the directly simulate the steps which the students must go through on their laptop or desktop PC. The iPod Touches get a big ‘thumbs up’ for standard roving activities such as book searches with some staff members enthralled by the intuitive device design (some staff didn’t even need training, they just picked up the device, ‘played’ around with it and worked it out for themselves)! Personally speaking, this is a major compliment to the Apple design team! A major problem with the iPod Touches however (which is probably more to do with the design of the LJMU E-Library than the limitations of the device) is that users are unable to jump from the scroll down menu in which Faculty and subject discipline is chosen, to the scroll down menu which stipulates the databases relevant to the users subject area. This means that one of the LJMU E-Library elements is obsolete when using an iPod Touch. Although on a positive note, without having these devices ‘in-house’ our support desk staff would not have been in a position of knowledge when advising students who own such devices as iPod Touches or iPhones. Furthermore, now that we are aware of the limitation of our E-Library with regards to mobile access, decisions can be made on ways to address this.

On Wednesday, one of the EEE PCs took a trip down to London whilst one of the Research and Learners Support Officers took it to a conference. At 10am, a mobile posting appeared on the wiki, updated whilst travelling at high speed on a Virgin Pendolino train, indications show that the device is lightweight, compact and robust – ideal for transportation! This supports the case for more mobile Officers here at LJMU proving that the device capabilities will match the tasks required with library liaison activities delivered within the faculties and schools perhaps.

We are still awaiting the delivery of the eBeam, video camera and MP4 player – watch this space for further updates!!