Anxiety and Purpose: reflecting on the Learning 2.0 Adaptation at an early stage

First, a couple really neat resources I used in building my modules that I wanted to direct other peoples’ attention to:

And now onto the reflection.

I know that in online, asynchronous environments, my anxiety can get the best of me in terms of worrying that other group members aren’t pulling their weight, so I worked hard this time to trust that they were doing so and recognize that if other peoples’ modules, or even the entire site’s design, didn’t look exactly the way it would if I had done it all myself, it would still be useful and helpful. That effort went very well – the best of any online group project I’ve worked on yet, actually – and I felt that as a group we created a great site that I know our site liaison and her tutors are excited to use.

Speaking of, we’ve had good feedback from our site liaison and the tutors – as I’ve mentioned before, our program was designed for a unique set of users with very low technology literacy, so it sounds like their progress through the project will be much slower than if it was being used by library staff. But the users have started to walk through the program with their tutors and are finding ways to interact that we hadn’t foreseen – I think, like a lot of online instruction, we all designed our modules with the idea that users would be learning independently and asynchronously, but we’ve already heard that some users are using the email accounts they created in the first module to email each other.

I wrote in my Learning 2.0 Adaptation assignment, and in previous blog posts, that during this project my anxiety has primarily focused on creating a program that will impart these very important basic skills to our intended audience. After reading Born Digital, I feel even more strongly about the purpose and potential of this project to help close the digital gap, at least in a small way; I have a feeling that the registration process and the reflection/comment process might require a little support – at least from us for the tutors – to be of real use to the library, but it sounds like we are already starting to accomplish some of our larger-picture aims.

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Context Book: Born Digital

Born Digital book cover

John Palfrey: Digital Advocate

I was really enthusiastic to read John Palfrey and Urs Gassers’ book, Born digital: Understanding the first generation of digital natives. Living in Massachusetts, I’ve had the pleasure of hearing John Palfrey several times and have always admired his fearless enthusiasm for the way technology is changing the future of information.

The first time I heard him speak, the introductory speaker showed a series of infographics visualizing statistics from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. As he talked about how many different kinds of information are available at our fingertips, I got so, so excited about the potential for technology to change the way we interact with information. Then he ended his presentation by saying:

Frightening, isn’t it?

That moment made me keenly aware of the fact that, as a Digital Native myself, I have a very different perspective on things like social media and mashup culture than many of my colleagues, mentors and even teachers. In my career, my enthusiasm has been met with caution, anxiety and even fear. This speaker was not pandering to me and my enthusiasm, but to the members of the audience who do think these changes are cause for concern.

But listening to John Palfrey speak to an audience that included coworkers, supervisors and future colleagues, I was hopeful that the promise of projects like the Digital Public Library of America would win out over fear of the change technology brings.

Reading Born Digital: A Way Forward

Palfrey and Gasser provide a balanced way forward that accounts for both the way Digital Natives use technology to interact with the world and the caution an older generation can impart to them.

Key Points

The authors emphasize several key points that underlie the way forward this book suggests:

  • Digital Natives – anyone born after 1980 who has had consistent access to technology – experience the world differently than older generations because of the way technology has been integrated into their lifestyle.
  • Digital Natives have both a digital identity, a collection of digital information about themselves which is under their control, and a digital dossier, which includes their digital identity as well as items like medical records and purchase history that they don’t have control over.
  • Many of the challenges Digital Natives face, including cyberbullying, online predators and managing their digital identities, actually predate the technology where they now face them. While the technology is new, the problems are familiar and familiar ways of dealing with them will still work.
  • The Digital Gap – the gap in access to technology between poor and wealthy nations – will have consequences for the Digital Native generation that we can’t currently foresee. Those without consistent access to technology are excluded from the definition of “Digital Native” because they don’t have the opportunity to integrate technology into their lifestyles in the same way. This makes Digital Natives a population rather than a generation.
  • The way forward to help Digital Natives deal responsibly with the challenges they face requires the teaching and support of multiple networks: parents, educators, markets and legislation.

Born Digital Networks Chart

A Way Forward

Palfrey and Gasser detail the ways in which Digital Natives’ support networks can help them learn to use technology and manage their digital identities in responsible ways.

Parents, guardians and other close role models are on the front lines in terms of teaching their children responsible online behavior. This includes opening a dialogue with the Digital Natives they’re raising about what they see online, who they interact with their and what they share with that community. To do this, parents need to interact with the technologies their children use in order to be able to talk about them and model positive behavior.

Teachers, librarians and other educators also play a large role in encouraging responsible and appropriate online behavior. This includes teaching their students to critically evaluate information they read online and fully understand the strategies they can use to manage their digital identities.

Corporations and other market-controlled organizations can participate by listening to users who ask for clearer privacy statements and methods of managing their digital identities, as well as by keeping promises not to share pieces of those users’ digital dossiers. Users can respond by refusing to use services that don’t comply, allowing the market to dictate the way corporations manage users’ privacy.

Legal policy and legislation should be, according to Palfrey and Gasser, a last resort and a backstop. Each of the other groups named can contribute to teaching Digital Natives to be actively responsible for the way they interact with technology, while legislation only has the potential to control these interactions. Legislating the way Digital Natives should interact with technology is almost sure to backfire.

What this means for teachers, librarians and other educators

In general, educators should expect that Digital Native students will be more and more familiar with technology as time goes on and often have a higher skill level in using technologies than the educators themselves. In addition to teaching students how to find reliable resources online, how to critically evaluate those resources, and how to manage their digital identities, educators can teach students about their digital rights and how to stand up for them. A deep knowledge of the technologies students use both in and out of school will help teachers encourage enthusiasm as well as caution and responsibility.

Conclusion: A Shift in Perspective

After reading Born Digital and noticing the balanced way in which the authors approach the very real challenges facing Digital Natives, I realized that my enthusiasm for technology would do well to be tempered by the caution Palfrey and Gasser suggest. Like many other Digital Natives, I often ignore privacy statements and in many cases am not aware of the strategies I could be using to more responsibly manage my digital identity. The concern I’ve seen members of other generations show when it comes to technology has taken on a new quality as well – while I do believe this concern is most helpful when backed by a deep understanding of the technology in question, an awareness of the possible consequences of adopting a new technology is essential to understanding the challenges it may pose.

References

Palfrey, J. G., & Gasser, U. (2008). Born digital: Understanding the first generation of digital natives. New York: Basic Books.

Transformative Learning: Critical Thinking + Discourse

The question posed for this week’s blog reflection, “Does Learning 2.0 as an organizational/personal learning tool support or align with the theory of transformative learning?”, had special meaning for me while reading Mezirow’s chapter. My Learning 2.0 group, Literacy and Students Learning 2.0, have been in discussion with our site liaison about how to focus our program on the needs of the intended audience, which include a number of native Spanish speakers who are at the library participating in an ESL program as well as many of their tutors. The site liaison has mentioned that many of these users have very little experience with – and potentially some fear of – the technology we’ll be introducing them to.

As a (relatively) young person, an early adopter and someone who works on a development team, I tend to assume that most others in my field share my comfort with technology, so considering how to create a program for the intended audience has been something of a transformative learning experience in and of itself. In reading Mezirow’s chapter on “Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice,” I thought a lot about how crucial it is that we create a transformative learning experience for these users. One quotation in particular jumped out at me:

Thinking as an autonomous and responsible agent is essential for full citizenship in democracy and for moral decision making in situations of rapid change. The identified learning needs of the workforce implicitly recognize the centrality of autonomous learning. – Mezirow, p.7

In creating this program, we’re trying to provide these users with the skills necessary to be autonomous and responsible in environments that will require their contextual understanding of technologies like email and social media. That includes one environment the site liaison has made explicit – the job market, which Mezirow calls out multiple times as valuing the outcome of transformative learning – as well as the larger environment of their communities and the country as a whole, where they need these skills to fully participate.

This audience’s current frame of reference includes relatively little knowledge of the potential of technology to open those kinds of doors for them, and potentially includes a fear of their inability to use it in ways that would be expected of them. My hope is that we can create a participatory and ultimately  transformative learning experience for them that will shift this frame of reference and introduce these users to a larger context in which to understand their own and others’ interactions with these technologies. So my hope is certainly that the Learning 2.0 framework can align with the theory of transformational learning.

That said, another quotation from Mezirow also jumped out at me:

There is an egregious assumption that the acquisition of knowledge or attainment of competencies will somehow automatically generate the understandings, skills, and dispositions involved in learning to think autonomously. – Mezirow, p.9

Mezirow writes often of the role discourse plays in making the leap between acquiring knowledge and integrating it into one’s frame of reference in a way that will “generate the understandings, skills, and dispositions” necessary for learning to really be transformative, for someone to learn to think autonomously. My concern is that for someone who’s unfamiliar with the technologies we want to teach, the potential for each one as a platform for discourse may be unclear and we may not be able to provide the opportunities for discourse required for a truly transformational learning experience. My hope, though, is that through clear explication and consistent engagement and encouragement, we can at least provide the window in which that kind of a learning experience could occur.

 

 

Models of Learning and Practical Applications

Having majored in Psychology in undergrad, the three models of learning – behaviorist, cognitivist and constructivist – were extremely familiar to me, as they correspond to the primary models of the mind. Behaviorism has always made a kind of rational sense to me, which means that it must be much too simple; cognitivism was always a little harder to grasp, which made it more likely closer to the way the brain, or learning, probably actually works; and constructivism is significantly more abstract, fascinating but hard to pin down. To me, constructionism as a model of learning seems to correspond to the growth of social media – it’s a relatively new way of communicating (and learning) that has made living and working a much more social, constructed experience.

 

It was very interesting to read about how these three ways of understanding the inner workings of the mind have been applied to the learning process. I’ve also studied various pedagogies related to writing and literacy, but never with the kind of practical application – even field-specific examples – Booth’s Chapter 5 provided. I feel these examples helped me gain a more practical grasp of how these models can be implemented to reach a number of different learning styles. Polly Alida Farrington’s advice to “design the content for success” with explication and both beginner and advanced interactive features also reflects a practical experience with the way these learning models play out in the actual experience of teaching via discovery-based modules. I feel after this set of readings I have some great suggestions for ways forward as well as ways to understand the theory behind the practice.

Hey all!

I’m Deirdre (deer-dra) – I’m a current MSLIS student at Simmons in Boston, but I live in Melrose, MA (the burbs!).

I’m currently in the second-to-last semester of my program, in which I’ve focused on web design, usability and other topics on the information science side of things.

I’m really interested in learning more about how to both teach and learn using technology, especially in getting to a place where I can stay current. You know how in college, maybe you needed an international affairs professor to teach you how to read the newspaper every day? Sort of like that.

I’m excited to be in this class and a part of this community!

 

Cool data sets

A lot of really neat government data is just around, waiting for people to do things with it.  People use it for apps that geolocate stuff, mashing one set of publicly available data with another; Needlebase (retiring in June) has some really fantastic sample databases that use public data, and it’s really fun to explore how that’s linked.

There are a couple fascinating datasets that have been released recently, or at least have been updated with a fascinating interface.  The 1940’s census data is all over library blogs (libraries – both public libraries and specialized genealogical libraries – are a very popular starting point for ancestry research), and has actually been experiencing access problems because of unexpected demand.  The interface is really pretty beautiful, and obviously I’ve looked up my grandparents’ families and imagined a little about what they were like at the time this census was taken.  The one drawback when exploring the data, though, is that you need to zero in by location rather than by name or any other kind of data point; I know this is the way the data is organized, but it makes it a little difficult to navigate.  Obviously the NYPL has done something about this and created a pathway using 1940’s telephone directories, which is pretty simple and brilliant.

There’s also the 2011 Federal Taxpayer Receipt, which calculates what your federal tax paid for in 2011 based on either your tax information or your estimated income.  I love the way they’ve designed this interface, and it really helps humanize the data to see what my personal contribution was.  I wish I could see the data as one big set, though, and I also wish a large percentage of it had not gone towards ongoing military operations, but I do appreciate the transparency this information represents.

What I Learned from Cat Videos

Every Friday, I send an email to a handful of my coworkers with links to a few animal videos I’ve come across during the week.  These are people who help find information for doctors and researchers in specialties like neurology or orthopaedics, and many of them are former nurses and have subject specialties of their own.  Cat videos are something almost anyone who is on the internet regularly might be able to claim as a specialty, so you wouldn’t think that there’s a lot to learn in “curating” a small collection of them to email out once a week.  But in thinking of them as a “yay it’s Friday” morale and relationship builder, I’ve learned a LOT from committing to sending these emails out and trying to make them as satisfying as possible.

First, don’t assume that since you probably know more about something you can anticipate what people who know less than you might want. Of the people who have expressed interest in this email, I am the only one with an un-orphaned Twitter account, and I believe I can safely assume the only one who might regularly check in on Buzzfeed, Reddit, Cute Overload or Cute Roulette, so I was pretty sure I had a handle on providing a cat video experience that would blow these people’s’ minds.  Maru was a big initial hit, but I experienced declining returns with other popular internet cats – keyboard cat, for instance, was a complete dud.  That’s when I stopped assuming I knew what was going to make someone’s Friday morning awesome and started asking.

As it turns out, only one recipient was a true cat person (weird for a library, I know) – other people had dogs or no pets at all, and weren’t interested in the cat-internet community.  So I branched out and started including other species – I try to include one cat video every other week because one person REALLY loves them, but also one dog video and one video of a more exotic species, which always ends up being a great “I didn’t know!” conversation topic (last week’s red panda video led to some research on whether red pandas are more closely related to pandas or raccoons [raccoons, although they haven’t been close in a very long time]).  I’ve also gotten very positive feedback about videos that include more than one species, so I try to mix it up a little that way too.

The other major realization for me has been about quantity and the time it takes to absorb it.  Animal videos are awesome, right?  So an email FULL of animals will be amazing!  Except someone sitting at the circulation desk trying to field walk-ins, telephone calls and whatever other desk tasks they’ve been assigned is not going to have time to watch half a dozen animal videos, even if they really want to.  In fact, one woman told me she forwarded it to her personal account and watched them over the weekend! The last thing I wanted was to inadvertently assign homework, so I knew I had to change my methods immediately; I limited myself to three links, two videos under two minutes and an image or slideshow.  When I learned that people were still struggling to figure out when in the day they would watch these videos, I started including notes about the media type – “3 minute video,” “8 slides” – along with the little blurbs I wrote about them.

So here’s my ultimate formula – three links.  Two videos of cats and/or dogs, bonus if they include other species (goats have been popular lately, and I recently had a special request for otters), one image or slideshow.  A little blurb about each, mentioning a specific recipient if there’s been a special request or we’ve developed some kind of inside joke, and a short description of the medium.  I’m happy to report today that everyone looked at/watched everything in the email and we all had quite a few laughs!  Here is today’s tiny collection:

It strikes me that 1. usefulness and 2. minimal content are both things we covered in my web design and information architecture course, and would be two of the first things I would be mindful of if I were designing a website or interface.  But I had to learn them all over again over cat videos!  The truth is, I think I thought I knew all I needed to know because I knew a lot about cat videos, but that had nothing to do with making my coworkers happy on Friday mornings.