Author Archives: Brian Mathews

April 28, 2014, 1:45 am

Are Hackathons The Classrooms Of Tomorrow? My journey to the frontier of education

VT Hacks, 2014.

Last weekend I unexpectedly stumbled into a learning community. It was at a hackathon on my campus called VT Hacks. I was familiar with these types of events at places like Facebook and even in academic libraries, but this was my first opportunity to attend one.

I knew people would be writing code, but I didn’t anticipate the wide range of hardware that they would be programing: quadcopters, glass, Kinect, iBeacons, 3D printers, leap motion, Pebble watches, Fitbits, oculus Rifts, and Raspberry pi. It was eye opening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent a total of ten hours across three days observing and interviewing participants. I knew I wanted to blog about it, but I wasn’t exactly sure what my angle would be.

VT Hacks (which happened over Easter Weekend) drew together over 400…

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April 18, 2014, 2:37 pm

Google as Place – two years later

Two years ago this week I visited the Googleplex. It was a mind-stretching experience. I also went to PARC, d school, the lobby of IDEO, Facebook, a handful of startups, and a few accelerators. It was a fantastic and exhausting journey. Google stood out for its blend of hospitality and the sheer shock-and-awesomeness of the place.

As I reflect back– these are the things that stuck with me:

Everything you’ve read is true! Google consistently ranks highly in the best places to work listings. Nap pods. Yoga studios. Meditation spots. Childcare. Laundry. Free shuttles. The bikes. It’s all there. I knew that it would be but seeing it live is unbelievable—in a positive sense. It was like being on a movie set. It was the most amazing and comforting place I could ever imagine.

Diverse spaces. I was able to visit four different buildings. While they each had “the Google look &…

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April 15, 2014, 3:15 pm

WHAT IF OBAMA PAID FOR YOUR ELSEVIER SUBSCRIPTION? The Cost of Universal Knowledge Access

What if Obama paid for your Elsevier subscription? Or rather—what if the federal government covered the expense? Package it as a STEM or innovation initiative– something along those lines.

This is a hypothetical question, but obviously the free thinking from last week has carried over.

The short of it: there is a lot of conversation around open access and federal mandates for data and publications, but that feels like a slow road. The prestige of commercial journals is too ingrained—so how about a different approach?

What if we changed the scale? Instead of individual libraries (or consortiums) battling it out with the likes of Elsevier and other academic publishers (I’ll never forget the audacity of Nature’s 400% increase!) — what if the government purchased access to major academic journals (and eBook packages?) for all citizens. Or all households? Or for anyone…

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April 9, 2014, 4:56 pm

NO CLASSROOMS, JUST EXPERIENCES: “free thinking” the future of higher ed

I’m serving on a “Student Experience Task Force”— which among other things is exploring the relationship between residence halls, classrooms, laboratories, dining facilities, student centers, libraries, gyms, and outdoor spaces across my campus—with an eye toward long-term strategies. This is a yearlong process.

Our first assignment was to “free think” one possibility twenty to thirty years from now. These ideas were not expected to be grounded in reality— but to intentionally be provocative, disruptive, or transformative.

a_desk_for_every_student

Virginia Tech: Burchard Hall. A desk for every student

Mine was to do away with classrooms. Instead of lecture halls I would give every student their own desk or workbench—similar to what you find in architecture departments. There is an amazing community that forms around…

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March 24, 2014, 3:31 pm

DATA ACROSS THE CURRICULUM: is personal data the key?

Jer_Tea

Jer Thorp talking with the Honors Residential Community @ Virginia Tech

Last week we hosted data artist Jer Thorp for several days. As part of our Distinguished Innovator in Residence Program (a partnership between University Libraries and TLOS with others contributing as well) we bring in creative thinkers to meet with students, brainstorm with faculty, give a public lecture, and essentially spark new conversations across campus. I highly recommend his Ted Talk.

I was fortunate to hear Jer speak four different times to diverse audiences. A theme that surfaced and resonated with us was the notion of Data Across the Curriculum, which is analogous to Writing Across the Curriculum. Our CIO added, “what if we had a common data set?” similar to the Common Book concept. Imagine the interdisciplinary possibilities …

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March 10, 2014, 3:16 pm

ACRL: if we are putting everything on the table — how about “change literacy” too?

ACRL is working to redefine Information Literacy: draft. I’m very happy to see that Threshold Concepts are making it into the conversation. I would like to offer one suggestion: change literacy. I have a forthcoming essay in portal that will hopefully be out this summer, but here is an unedited snippet that touches in the concept. In short, I view the ability to anticipate, create, adapt, and deal with change (in the broadest since) as a vital fluency for people today. If we treat change as a literary then we can better prepare students for the challenges they will face tomorrow.

Forthcoming in portal (July 2014):

CHANGE LITERACY

Librarians have long been invested in literacy. Historically this involved advocating for reading, and several decades ago information literacy emerged as a focal point for academic libraries. Today new literacies such as data, visual, digital, health…

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February 25, 2014, 1:39 pm

[DON’T] SAVE THE TIME OF THE READER: a disconnect between librarians and teaching faculty?

From time to time I receive faculty feedback that surprises me. There is a contrasting view that occasionally emerges around the notion that learning should be hard: specifically that the process of identifying and locating information sources should be difficult. I’ve encountered this everywhere I’ve worked. We’ve even been called out for making things “too easy for students.”

Our reference and instruction program exists for the purpose of helping people navigate resources and making it easier for them to do research. Our web tools, such as link-resolvers, subject guides, tutorials, and discovery-layers are intended to get people to the content they want as efficiently and seamlessly as possible. I mean, come on, “save the time of the reader” is baked into our DNA. Libraries exist to help make people’s lives easier/better.

Most of the librarians I know believe in…

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February 21, 2014, 2:14 pm

Voices From The Past Reflecting On The Future (Number 5): Status & The Inferiority Complex

Continuing the Voices Series:

There was an interesting discussion by the College Library Advisory Board at the 1937 annual meeting of the American Library Association. This one isn’t a prediction on the future, but it definitely touches on a conversation that we’re still having today:

“Do you think it is intellectually possible for the average professor ever to come to the belief that a librarian is his educational equal?”

There was conversation about differences in salary and educational background. And one librarian offers this insight:

“We have tried having the librarian teach a course and have found that it works excellently. He teaches freshman English. In that way the librarian is looked upon more as a teacher than as a person who puts labels on books. If our librarians are not the intellectual equal of the rest of the faculty, they are not going to have equal…

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February 20, 2014, 6:40 pm

Voices From The Past Reflecting On The Future (Number 4): Dorothy Sinclair, Reference & Automation

I’m interested in the impact of automation on libraries. It makes sense to look at the topic from the collections lens, but I’m really fascinated by the service perspective. In the 1960’s we have Licklider talking about an Intergalactic Network of Computers and an electronic commons open to all. He gives The Mother of All Demos showing video conferencing, hypertext, word processing, dynamic file linking, and a collaborative real-time editor – essentially launching a computer revolution.

What were library leaders thinking while all of this emerged? Dorothy Sinclair, who served the president of the Public Library Association and was the president of the Reference Services Division during the late 60′s published this interesting paper: The Next Ten Years of Reference Service. Here are a few quotes:

“Contributors to this paper did not altogether agree in picturing the user of…

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February 19, 2014, 4:29 pm

Voices From The Past Reflecting On The Future (Number 3): Melvil Dewey & Our Book Fetish

Melvil Dewey needs no introduction. He is a household name and probably the most famous librarian ever… after Nancy Pearl. Much as been written about Dewey’s accomplishments as well as his scandals, but today I wanted to share a quote from a talk he gave at ALA Annual in 1926. Charles Beldon, who I profiled earlier in this series, invited Dewey to imagine the next fifty years. This is what he had to share: Out Next Half-Century

“Most librarians are inclined to make a book something sacred. But we ought to recognize and employ it as a tool to be used not a fetish to be worshipped. Perhaps the library of fifty years from now will have outgrown the present book and relegated it to the museum with the older inscriptions on clay. Our great function is to inform or to inspire, or to please; to give to the public in the quickest and cheapest way information, inspiration, and recreation…

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