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4+1 interview with Diette Ward

July 18, 2013, 8:00 am

Profile-Pic-3Welcome to installment #2 in an ongoing series of 4+1 Interviews with interesting people in math, technology, and education. Our first interview in this series, with Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching Director Derek Bruff, is here. I have several more in process now, and I’ll be posting these about twice a month.

Today’s interview is with Diette Ward. Diette is an Electronic Resources and Instructional Librarian at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. I met Diette during my week at the Appalachian College Association’s Teaching and Learning Institute, where I was a plenary speaker and led some workshops on the inverted classroom. Diette was one of a group of “embedded librarians” who partnered with the workshop track leaders to provide support and insight on how libraries can support instruction. I was really impressed by the intelligence and enthusiasm that these librarians brought to the TLI. (They were also a hilariously fun group to be around.) Diette was especially helpful in opening my eyes to the pivotal role of libraries and librarians in implementing the inverted classroom, so I asked her to touch on some questions I had about libraries and librarians and the role that these play in modern university teaching.

1. What do you see as the role of the library, and librarians, in liberal education today?

Academic libraries and librarians have a crucial role in today’s liberal arts education. Our goal is to help students gain, what we refer to as, information literacy. Information literacy is the idea that students will have the skills to find information within a discipline outside of the limitation of what is only available through the Internet. We want to foster a knowledge of how to access a variety of information resources regardless of the format of the resource (electronic or paper) and regardless of the discipline of study. In addition to finding resources, we also want to empower the students to think critically about the resources that they discover. Once they understand the breadth and depth of the resources that are available, we want the students to be able to determine the reliability of the information that they have discovered.

Achieving this goal requires the students’ utilization of the library, and this can be problematic. Studies have shown that today’s students do not see a need for libraries or librarians because they believe that they already know how to access information because of their ability to navigate the Internet. Students do not know how to distinguish between reliable and unreliable information but they believe that what they find online is accurate. This belief leads the students to feel ashamed when they are unsuccessful at finding appropriate information and they are reticent to ask for help.

For libraries and librarians all of this means that we have to find ways to be more involved in the students’ academic lives. We have to continue to evolve to meet the students needs and make ourselves and our resources approachable.

2. What can libraries and librarians do to support students and faculty who are involved with the inverted or flipped classroom?

One of the most popular ways that librarians can be involved in an inverted classroom is to act as an “embedded librarian” for the class. To have a librarian who is co-teaching the class, perhaps by taking the lead on a research project, accomplishes a number of goals. First, embedding a librarian gives the faculty “hands-on” support to accomplish a research project. Additionally, having a librarian in the classroom allows the students to engage with a librarian in a less threatening environment than if they were expected to go to the library and ask for help.

In addition to embedded librarianship, as “The Keepers of the Information”, librarians are frequently the people on campus who are most “up” on currently technologies that are useful for teaching so they can be a valuable resource for an inverted class. One example would be online tutorials. Librarians frequently use a variety of software to create online tutorials for library instruction and could be really useful in helping faculty get started in the same process for their own inverted classes.

3. What’s an emerging technological development that might have the most impact on libraries in the next ten years?

Right now libraries are undergoing a kind of convergence of multiple technologies that are radically changing how our patrons access information. Many libraries are now subscribing to search engines that allow the patrons to search through all of the libraries resources, both paper and electronic, in one search. Patrons love the ability to search in a “one stop shopping” kind of format.

Along with library specific search engines, libraries are also subscribing to more eBooks and eBook databases. This technology has been tough for libraries to accommodate. Patrons love eBooks and want to be able to check out eBooks from the libraries’ collections on their e-readers. Yet the various database platforms have not been very generous in allowing access to their items on e-readers.

In addition to all of this there is also a myriad of social networking programs and apps that libraries are trying to keep up with and assimilate. One of the issues with social networking is that it isn’t always clear what is the most appropriate method for a library to use a social networking site or whether or not it is appropriate for library use at all.

Apps for handheld devices are another new technology that libraries are trying to determine how best to utilize. First there are library and library-related apps that libraries need to use and promote more effectively.  But even more importantly, there are millions of apps now and many of them are well designed, highly educational tools that libraries need to expose patrons.  How to promote these apps is really the hot question for libraries.  Some libraries have indexed apps into their online catalogs/search engines, while others are including apps in their online subject guides, and yet others are still trying to determine how best to disperse this information.  There is also the issue of which apps to promote.  Whether or not libraries should only advocate the open access apps, or also include the apps that have fees is a topic of great debate.

Lastly there is cloud technology for storing information. Since information is our bread an butter, cloud technology is very interesting to librarians. There is a lot of debate right now on how cloud technology can benefit libraries or if it is even applicable to libraries.

All of this to say that libraries are really struggling to find their place in this technological world. We find ourselves balancing between paper and electronic resources and maintaining relevance to our patrons.

4. Do you have any good stories about university faculty members using the library to try to do something?

When I attended the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) conference last April, I was really encouraged by a session that highlighted a campus that had recently revamped their first-year program. The campus determined that their students needed more skills in information literacy and decided that would be the focus of their first-year classes. The first year faculty included research into every project in the classes including the reflective writing assignments. In addition, the campus added a librarian and an advisor as consultants to every first-year class. In the session I attended the library faculty were reporting on the extraordinarily positive outcomes that they had over the last two years of their new program.

One faculty member that I work with as an embedded librarian, also teaches a first-year class, and he and I are going to work together this semester to try out some of the techniques, that were reviewed in the conference, to see if we can start incorporating some information literacy into at least one first-year section. Our hope is that if we are successful with one section, maybe we can convince the “powers that be” that this is an idea that needs further consideration.

+1. What question should I have asked you in this interview?

As the Electronic Resources & Instruction Librarian, I could talk about all of this stuff forever and I’m not entirely sure that would be prudent. But, I think the topic that is not discussed enough is the incredibly high prices that libraries pay for databases and the effects that open source content has on the price structures by the various database publishers. In many ways, libraries are held hostage by these vendors because we cannot stop carrying particular databases and yet we can barely afford to keep them.

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