On Wednesday I attended a CoFHE event at the Open University in Milton Keynes.

The event was titled “The Terrible 2.0s? Web 2.0 without tears” and covered a variety of Web 2.0 topics such as podcasting, blogging, wikis and social software in general.

The keynote speaker was Peter Godwin, who started the event with a talk on Information Literacy and the Google Generation. Peter’s presentation was very interesting with lots of thought-provoking points made about today’s students (like those made in the CIBER report earlier this year). The main theme emerging from the talk was how today’s students are visual learners who like to learn in small chunks. Like Peter admitted though, doesn’t that describe a lot of us? Definitely something to think about when I’m next preparing material on “boring” (Peter’s words not mine!) topics such as Information Literacy though! He also included one of me favourite YouTube videos, A Vision of Students Today, which it was great to see again. Here it is for anyone that hasn’t yet seen it, really made me think when I first saw it:

I’ve previously written about Peter’s book which he co-edited with Jo Parker, Information Literacy Meets Library 2.0, but just to highlight it again, it really is a very interesting read for anyone involved in teaching information literacy skills.

The next talk was by Jane Knight and Steve Burholt from Oxford Brookes. They shared their experiences of podcasting for libraries from both a librarian and a techy point of view. I found this approach very interesting, it was good to hear about the practical experience for the librarian but was very refreshing to also hear from the techy side. I think it made a lot of us in the room (including myself) realise how much effort is needed to successfully implement a regular podcast for the library. The enthusiasm of the group from Oxford Brookes is certainly to be commended! You can view a copy of the slides for the presentation here.

We then had a break for lunch, which was a great opportunity for networking. I had a number of interesting conversations with other people at the event, mainly discussing new technologies and examples of good practice, as well as the inevitable hurdles people are encountering when trying to implement these new Web 2.0 technologies.

After lunch we had a session on social software by Christian Cooper, a lecturer from Thames Valley University who favours a social constructivist approach to teaching and learning. He discussed educational uses of social software including group critiques (particularly useful for Art and Design students), reflective journals and collaborative learning. The main content of his presentation concentrated on the use of blogging as a tool for learning by encouraging students to use it as a reflective journal of their learning experiences. You can view a copy of the presentation here.

Following a short CoFHE AGM, we then had the opportunity to have a guided tour of the Open University library, and explore the DigiLab, a room within the library for all OU staff and researchers to use to encourage them to explore new technologies and think about how they can apply these technologies to learning.

The DigiLab visit was my personal highlight of the day. Keren Mills, Digital Services Development Officer, gave us a brief introduction to the room and the main purposes of it before taking us to have a look. The room contains different areas of new technologies – it has an area for gaming (including a Wii, Xbox and Playstation2 amongst others), a PC area (for both gaming and advanced software packages), a Mac area (for podcasting, video editing etc.), and a mobile learning area (with PDAs and Smartphones). There are also a number of publications for general interest (I’d be in heaven in there with all the geeky magazines!), as well as copies of reports demonstrating how the technologies can be used (e.g. there was a report on mobile learning and some factsheets for anyone who is new to the area). The room is designed to be a creative space and is very informal in nature, it has comfy chairs and even Lego, plasticine and pipe cleaners to encourage creativity! What I particularly liked about the space was that it is open whenever the library is open and anyone is free to use the facilities whenever they want to. When we first went into the room, there was a group gathered around the Macs and PCs discussing their project on Second Life and it was great to see academics and researchers really embracing the new technologies and thinking about ways to use them to improve learning. The room is still in its infancy and Keren says there are still some concerns from staff that trying these new gadgets is just playing rather than working. I think for the majority of people that have visited the lab though, it is clear that it is an educational space and I hope more academics will take the opportunity to visit it and use the technologies. OU is a pioneer in this sort of thing, but I really hope we see similar schemes being set up in other Universities.

At the end of the day I had a brief tour of the Open University library, which I hadn’t realised had only quite recently been opened for students and the general public (when I say recent, I’m talking years not months, but I’d always naively assumed that all academic libraries were mainly used by students). I was surprised at how relatively small the stock area of the library is, but I hadn’t realised that OU don’t offer a postal lending scheme so the stock they have is only really for academic staff and local students. I can see why they don’t have a postal loan scheme as I’m sure it would be a logistical nightmare, as well as very expensive. Aberystwyth currently offer this for their distance learning students (I’ve never used it though to be perfectly honest!) but then they don’t have anywhere near the student numbers of the OU studying from a distance. It really highlights the importance of schemes such as the SCONUL Access scheme to allow students to borrow or at least use the material at their local libraries, and also the importance of providing access to e-books and e-journals so that OU students can access material from home. The OU Information Helpdesk is in the staff office too, as all their enquiries are taken by phone, e-mail or online chat. It was very interesting to see an academic library which supports a totally different user base to the traditional academic library. I think we were all a little bit envious of not having to deal with group study room bookings and various other annoying things, but I’m sure there are the fair share of problems working with student from such a distance!

All in all it was a very enjoyable day with a good mix of sessions and great networking opportunities. I also happened to meet fellow blogger Clari who works at the Open University, it was nice to meet her in real life. 🙂

For anyone with similar RSS feeds to mine, you’ve probably seen a fair few of these tag clouds from Wordle recently. I thought I’d have a play myself and you can see my del.icio.us tags in the tag cloud below (click for larger image at Wordle):

Wordle tag cloud

Although Wordle appealed to me, I hadn’t really thought beyond the fact that it’s an interesting way to display del.icio.us tags or a block of text, but then I read Sarah Faye Cohen’s blog post with her thoughts about possible uses for Wordle and it got me thinking. Her idea of getting students to use Wordle to help them understand what an article is about is a very interesting concept, and I particularly like the idea of using text from a discussion to identify main themes. This could be really interesting as an extension to forum posts on a VLE. Over at the School Library Journal there are some other interesting ideas.

Then I began thinking about wider applications. Wouldn’t it be great if we could ask our users for feedback and combined it all into a huge tag cloud to see what they are saying about our services? We could display it on our webpages and on displays around the learning centres. Or we could use material we create about the services to get a snapshot of what we do. I’m sure that would be a very interesting (and quick!) way to show what we’re about to new students.

Anyone else any other ideas of how Wordle could be used?

Another problem/solution based post, this one is something I’ve been thinking about for ages but haven’t been able to do anything about yet. I thought it might be useful to see if anyone out there has a solution to help with the nightmare that is reading lists? It’s one of the responsibilities which seems to be shared by almost all academic librarians. During my experience supporting different academic schools, each seems to deal with their reading lists in different ways. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a standardised procedure so that all academic staff, library staff and students knew where they stood? Is that really too much to ask?

The problem:

Firstly there’s the issue of length, which seems to vary massively. Some academic schools limit the number of texts recommended on each module. It seems relatively common for this figure to be around 8-10 books. Some schools however don’t seem to have a limit and I have checked the odd reading list with, and this is no exaggeration, 11 pages of recommended texts (yes, 11 pages – for one module!). I’m presuming the students aren’t expected to consult each one of these books but even so, an 11 page reading list can be quite overwhelming just to look at! What happened to students learning to find their own resources and do their own research?

Next there’s the issue of key texts (sometimes called core texts) and recommended texts, and what this means. In some schools, students are expected to buy key texts (therefore the library is expected to have a few copies but encourage students to buy their own copy); in other schools the key texts are those that they should definitely consult during the module (therefore the library is expected to have plenty of copies). It’s often not clear which makes it very confusing for students (and causes problems when they expect the library to have plenty of copies of all key texts).

But the main problem isn’t necessarily the lists themselves but the procedure of reading list production, checking and publishing in the module guides. I appreciate that reading lists aren’t the most exciting of things, but I do think it’s important that both librarians and academic schools should work together to ensure that the reading lists are appropriate for the module (i.e. reasonable number of up-to-date resources, students not expected to buy out of print (or very expensive) books etc.) and that we have the resources available to support the courses.

The current situation:

Some schools have administrators who ensure that module leaders have submitted their module guides for the next semester well in advance. Other school administrators don’t do this role, and some schools don’t have seem to have general school administrators at all. Some schools have some form of repository, be it our VLE or Public Folders on Outlook Exchange, to store all module guides to ensure they are relatively easy to find and anyone can get access to them (providing they have access to the repository of course!). Some seem to leave it up to the module leaders as to where (and if) they publish the guides. This has meant that sometimes librarians don’t get to see the guides until after the students (sometimes when a student alerts us to the fact that we have no copies of one of their important texts!), and often have to keep searching through the VLE in the hope that they may have added the module guide.

When we finally do get hold of the guides we check the stock on our OPAC, note the number of copies we have, and order more if we need to. This involves lots of paperwork which I’m sure will be streamlined in the future. We also check for newer editions and order those if necessary, as well as informing the module leader that there is a new edition available. Then when the lists are finalised (newer editions added, out of print books removed if necessary etc.), we pass them to another team in the department who manually add the lists to TalisList for students to use. All in all, it’s a very long process and I’m sure there must be a better way.

The solution?

There are lots of problems with the process, and although I’m particularly interested in the liaison between academic staff and library staff stage, if you have feedback on any other aspect I’d be very pleased to hear it.

I’d love to be able to set up a wiki of some sort with collaboration with some academic staff so that both they and us can edit the lists and be notified of any changes, do you know of anywhere that has done this? Or do you have a better idea of how to cope with reading lists? Please share any views or ideas in the comments.