Category Archives: University Tech

Highlights case studies and forward thinking campus-based technology.

Information Concierge: Chronicle Covers Embedded Librarian

I saw Gardner Campbell and Ellen Filgo present about the Twitter-embedeed librarain at EDUCAUSE Learning Initiatives 2010. Nice to see their model getting press. I’d like to see many more examples of this trend:

At the start of each class session, the professor, Gardner Campbell, asked the 11 students to open their laptops, fire up Twitter, and say hello to their librarian, who was following the discussion from her office. During the hourlong class, the librarian, Ellen Hampton Filgo, would do what she refers to as “library jazz,” looking at the questions and comments posed by students, responding with suggestions of links or books, and anticipating what else might be helpful that students might not have known to ask.

“I could see the sort of germination of an idea, and what they wanted to talk about,” she said, noting that it let her in on the process of students’ research far sooner than usual. “That was cool for me,” she added. “When I work with students at the reference desk, usually they’re already at a certain midpoint of their research.”

When the class was discussing the work of the science-fiction author Clifford D. Simak, for instance, she tweeted a link to his archives at the University of Minnesota.

“One of the students said, ‘Hey, is there anything like that for Rilke?’,” Ms. Filgo said. “He was all excited. I don’t even think he knew of the idea that a library might collect an author’s papers.”


Interview with Dr. Troy Swanson – Community College Blogging Research

Via Gordon’s Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) Blog comes this interview with Dr. Troy Swanson:

I’ve know Troy for sometime and was very pleased to watch his research unfold. Here are some details from the post:

On Thursday I had the pleasure of talking with Dr Troy Swanson, an Associate Professor / Teaching and Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, IL. In December Troy completed his PhD in Community College Leadership at Old Dominion University. His dissertation is titled The Administration of Community College Blogs: Considering Control and Adaptability in Loosely Coupled Systems. In the podcast, Troy discusses some of his findings.

Here’s some dissertation background from Troy:

Web 2.0 technologies present an unlimited potential for outreach to the public by college employees. This presents a conundrum for community college administrators that David Weinberger calls “the conundrum of control.” This conundrum is that organizations need to find a way to organize people around technology to ensure that it is used to further the organization’s mission. Yet, in terms of 2.0 technologies, the more controls that are put in place, the less useful the tools become.

There is also a second conundrum around technology that challenges mangers. This is that the more controls that are in place around a technology, the easier it is to communicate and transfer that technology across the organization. But, the more difficult it is for organization members to adapt the technology to meet new needs.

As one of oldest form of 2.0 technology, the management of blogs presents lessons that we can use for other, newer, 2.0 technologies.

I interviewed administrators and blog authors at community colleges across the US to see how colleges were managing their blogs. The focus was on administrative blogs as opposed to course-related or faculty blogs that discussed their research.  The larger purpose of the study was to see how easily the technology could adapt to new needs and whether campuses were restricting the use of blogs. What kinds of guidance were campus leaders giving to bloggers who were representing the college?

Listen to the podcast here:

Listen for a discussion of trust, policies for blogging and social software and more!  Listen for “I can’t get what I want from IT, so I’m doing it on my own!” :-)

Emerging Roles in 21st Century Learning Support (Updated)

Download the full poster here: ELI_Poster_acad15_v5

Michael Stephens, Gail Matthews-DeNatale, and David Wedaman recently conducted a proof-of-concept research project on perspectives of higher education academic support staff. We’ll present a poster on the topic at the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. in mid-February, 2011.  A brief overview and the fifteen emergent key themes are posted here; you can also see a more detailed overview document.

The “Academic 15:” Emerging Roles in 21st-Century Learning Support

I. Overview

We interviewed 24 library and I.T. professionals serving in positions that directly supported teachers, learners, and researchers, to understand their perspectives on curricular change and the ability of library and I.T. organizations to deal with that change. The project is on file with the Dominican University Institutional Review Board as “Perceived Changes in the Context of Teaching, Research, and Scholarship.”

We felt the experiences of academic support staff would provide a valuable insight into evolving curricular change in higher education. We also felt that a qualitative research project collecting and analyzing those experiences would be a beneficial supplement to existing instruments gathering wide-scale perspectives of higher education constituents, such as NSSE, FSSE, LibQual+, MISO, the ECAR Student Survey, and others.

We see this project as evidence that such an undertaking is feasible and valuable, and that it will return information that can help library and I.T. organizations in conceptualizing service provision, reconsidering their structure, and making strategic plans.

Next Steps

In a second phase, planned for Fall 2011, we will recruit sponsorship from library and I.T. professional organizations; hire professional ethnographers to interview and analyze responses; review and strengthen our methodology; and expand our scope to 50 participants.

II. Key Themes Emerging from Our Interviews:


1. Fundamental reconsiderations of pedagogy are having a dramatic impact on the curriculum and challenge us to rethink our strategies for supporting learning.

2. Cloud-based and consumer-oriented, third-party services create user expectations we struggle to meet in an era of limited staff budgets and funding.

3. We’re challenged to balance generalist support of basic services with the advanced technology and information needs of increasingly sophisticated faculty.

4. We find it difficult to staff and fund the support of established services while also investing resources in research and development and innovation.

5. The redefinition of the academic library in the digital age is a point of tension for library staff and the academic community.


6.  We need to evolve from providing tools for users to the more demanding work of forming communities with users to collectively understand evolving curricular needs.

7.  We need to communicate better within our organizations and between our organizations and our community.

8.  We need to redefine our staff roles to promote people-focused, flexible, creative, entrepreneurial, community-integrated work groups.

9.  As our roles change, creating meaningful opportunities for professional development becomes crucial.

10.  Managing the effects of change on people is perhaps our most salient challenge.


11.  We’re rebuilding library and I.T. organizations to thrive in the post-”sole provider” era.

12.  We’re engaging the community and building relationships with other academic support units, attempting to be visible, and to communicate well. We’re increasing collaboration with peer institutions.

13.  We’re turning to a re-working of the traditional library “liaison” role as one way we’ll integrate with the community.

14.  We’re also beginning to advocate for a climate that can encourage and reward risk-taking.

15.  An increasing desire to better understand our users is leading towards incorporating qualitative research in our ways of knowing.  We’re rethinking the evidence we gather for decision-making.

(Originally posted here:

Thoughts on Learning Communities & Support

David Wedaman at Brandeis has a couple of thoughtful posts up at his blog Theatrical Smoke. I’m very happy to be working with him and Gail Matthews-DeNatale on a poster presentation at next month’s EDUCAUSE Learning Initiatives conference.

Take a look at his posts:

Your community will learn its way forward.

It’s people stuff, it’s faith, it’s risk, it’s scary, it’s trust, it’s vulnerability, it’s Negative Capability, it’s relationship-building, it’s engagement on an ideas plane, it’s meaningful personal and community development. It’s perhaps the opposite of everything we’ve ever done. It’s perhaps everything we’ve consciously and subconsciously veered away from and protected ourselves from and eschewed and avoided and bemoaned.

That is, make sure your classrooms are safe learning spaces, OK. But then make your institution be one, too. The art of teaching being sufficiently amazingly complex and wonderful, people doing it might need to grow better at it, that is, be able to continually learn about it. And that if we want them to do that, we need to give them a group, and a safe space. And let them make some agreements. And let their feedback feed back. Etc.

We might sometimes think of the teacher as an established professional incapable of further development, a fixed cog, as we kind of do for grown-ups in general, and we when we do that we might not really go out of our way to give them the very things we would work so hard to give other learners in the very same institution. Though we should. Teachers need a class, too, I suggest. A long-term, on-going, opt-in, safe place for them to continually learn and adjust their teaching. And say naive things like, “Are grades THAT important?” This idea–of a learning community for teachers–is of course self-evident to many. But I suggest perhaps not as self-evident as it could be.

The Workshop: RIP!

Don’t miss this post by David Wedaman:

Library and IT staff pretty much have one tool in the tool box when they set out to help faculty come to grips with a new application or service. The Workshop. I’ve been associated with Library and IT Workshops for faculty for a long while, and I’ve noticed them sliding away from relevance. And attendance.

It could be that Workshops never were a very great vehicle for anything, and I’m only now noticing it. If it’s true they never were a very great learning vehicle yet we rolled them out continuously and people trudged into them dutifully year after year, that’s just sad. In any event, I’m pretty sure people are now increasingly less willing to trudge into them, and I’m not sad about it.

What’s wrong with Workshops? Well, a few things come quickly to mind.

  1. Content Kills Hope. Workshops are generally framed around content, and not very exciting content at that: a tool, a new Learning Management System, say. A tool often NOT chosen in consultation with the attendees, so from their perspective, an arbitrarily-imposed thing, somebody else’s content. What’s worse than boring content? Somebody else’s boring, imposed content that you don’t want. As a friend and pedagogue famously said, learning’s not about covering (content), it’s about UNCOVERING. (Uncovering the people, really).
  2. The Encapsulation Fallacy. The thing Workshops cover is usually one small mechanical slice of life presented as a self-contained whole, whereas faculty (like everyone) are probably more likely struggling to come to grips with a complex and integrated reorganization of their information and learning systems. So if they come, they are probably asking themselves the whole time “how the heck does this help?”
  3. The Carpet-bagger Syndrome. Workshop teachers are often presented in a kind of clerk-like role. They’re there to teach the topic, then they generally have to run off to do a variety of other things. Answer the phones, show a faculty member how to create a blog, attend a committee meeting, sit at the Reference Desk, help a student submit an inter-library loan request, what have you. All important, necessary, valuable things, but the point is that you may never see them again. They probably won’t be around when you have to do the thing in your real life. They’re like a traveller from an ancient land where tools are vast trunkless legs of stone in a desert, that is to say, easy to learn in decontextualized ways.
  4. Fear of What Should Not Be Feared. The Workshop isn’t really a place where engaged learners and teachers participate actively in the conversation about ideas that I imagine is at the core of a learning community. Ha, you might exclaim. What is it? It’s more like a protection from a conversation about ideas, because ideas take time to think about, particularly to think about together with other people, and the workshop has 40 minutes. It’s as if the Workshop teachers were just cramming the time full of activities like logging into the computers and typing in sample forum entries and imaginary search terms so that there’s no unscheduled portion that might generate an unpredictable conversation with the potential to change our assumptions about life, or anything else interesting.

Click through to read David’s suggestions for alternatives.

The Conduit Metaphor – A TTW Guest Post by David Wedaman

Kurt Fischer noted (in passing, at a Mind, Brain, Education Institute) that the Conduit Metaphor of Learning is defunct. This is the idea that education is essentially a kind of pipe whereby knowledge travels from the mouth or mind of a more- to a less-learned person. That the learner is a receptacle to be filled with knowledge. Learning, it ends up, is actually much more complex. And knowledge is apparently not a paper package of data tied with string moving across the meat counter. Which is just as well, because the Conduit Metaphor taken to the extreme leads to students thinking of the “product” of their learning as a purchasable thing, like a refrigerator, and the instructor as a functionary, and they (the students) as having no role in the construction of the refrigerator, whereas in reality they must fabricate their own compressor.

The Conduit Metaphor also governs how IT and library staff interact with our communities. It’s ready to be replaced there, too.

If you scratch the surface of your representative library or IT staff member you’ll find someone who thinks they are providing a passageway for people to get to things, whatever those things might be. Information. Computer Help. Study space. What have you. That the organization is a kind of storeroom of resources or services or skills, and its customers a kind of chaotic mass of generally needy and bemused people operating according to the principles of Brownian motion, needing to be channelled into tidy streams, have their velocity restrained somewhat, and their questions and needs regulated, prior to the provision of service unto them. The channels? Your service desks or call centers or liaison staff or webpages–windows or openings or . . . Conduits.

Relegating your community to people on the other other end of a conduit, and yourselves to the role (undeserved, really) of the Guardian of the Conduit, and your services to those that are simple enough that they can actually be conduited (if you will) is generally dehumanizing. Not only does it not really win you the hearts of your people, it blocks them from you. It re-enforces the black box reputation your library and IT organization should do everything to combat. It makes your work no fun. It closes down your opportunity to hear the needs of your community and to use those needs in a pedagogical way–to teach yourself what services you should actually provide. And it doesn’t allow people to do together what they are designed to do together, which is, in my humble opinion, to learn.

The Conduit Metaphor might be OK in a static world. But the world is not that. If there was ever an age when people were willing to be pigeon-holed, it isn’t now. If there was ever a time you should be feverishly looking for ways to build community with your academic community, to be seen as people engaged in learning, it is now. Now is when your library and IT staff should use every opportunity they can to learn about how to be relevant and meaningful in the digital age. The conduit doesn’t help us do this, and so we must emerge from the conduit.

What does service in the post-conduit age look like? Efficient online help tickets? Artificial intelligence-based answering machines instead of staff? Probably not.

Here’s what I predict: we’ll wade in among the people and become them, engaging in the definition and resolution of problems that are unconduitable, because unique, complex, asymmetrical, or political. Our service provision will be indistinguishable from the normal activities of our community. We will flit happily among those teaching, learning, and doing research.

There won’t be a community over there and a service organization over here and a box office window in between with the sliding door seemingly always either closed or about to close. There will just be a community.

A few thoughts by way of postscript. I suspect some base fear is behind all this desire to protect ourselves from the community. Perhaps it’s the ubiquitous and pernicious slippery-slope fear of being overrun by a horde of ravenous users,checking out all the books! or asking for more help than we can give!, making us work too much! (For my part, I say let your users overrun you. It means you’re meaningful.) The great gift of the bureaucratic mentality is to milk the C0nduit Metaphor of Service Provision almost infinitely to stave off users from disrupting the administrator with their needs. One can even reason oneself right into wishing for what I call the “Administrator’s Dream,” which is–a sad Holy Grail–to find a way to provide a service to no users. The other day I heard it said that library staff love more the book on the shelf than the book in the users’ hand (I really don’t think this is true, but if it were, it would be an example of the Conduit Metaphor taken to a pathological extreme–the Closed Conduit).

David Wedaman is Director of Research and Instruction Services, Brandeis University, and sits on the board of NERCOMP (the NorthEast Regional Computing Program) and on the advisory board of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative.

He blogs at

Cross Posted here:

Butting In: A TTW Guest Post by David Wedaman

I stumbled across an old presentation (December 2009) and I liked it, so I thought I’d share.  It’s called “Butting In” (click here for the PPT).

“Butting in” is the idea that we in the Library and IT world are in what I call the “Cloutterdammerung,” or the Twilight of our Clout. We have a little window of time to use this clout to get ourselves inculcated into the places in our schools where the futures of teaching, learning, and research will be decided (or to help create these places if they do not already exist).

Our advantages: people mostly like us and people are looking for partners. Our disadvantages: people don’t totally understand what we do and don’t see us in the role of leaders of the future of teaching and learning and scholarship. They don’t expect us to show up in the places where this future is forged.  Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, though, and they show up anyway; so should we.

I propose 10 ways we can get ourselves a seat at the big people table.  These are repeated below.  They read like a Political Organizing 101 sort of brochure, and that’s the point: libraries and IT should focus on (re)becoming part of the learning polis.

1. Get into the places where the future of your institution is being figured out.

Find the conversations or host them.  Talk to influential people.  Sit on Committees.  Convene committees.

2. Be unified.

Don’t let one branch of you undermine another branch of you.  Let the grass-roots knowledge from one root feed the other roots.

3. Invest in R&D.

Use your research expertise to understand where teaching, learning, and research are going.  Contribute from a position of knoweldge. Develop and propose new ways to teach and do research (someone is going to).

4. Paint a vision of your institution’s future.  Put yourself in it.

If you frame the picture, make sure you’re in the frame.  Note: being in the picture of the future probably requires you to look different.

5. Don’t use jargon.

Library and IT gobbledygook ain’t gonna cut it.  Frame your position in terms of learning, teaching, scholarship.  Adopt the institutional perspective.

6. Cause projects to be that are symbolic.

Create new, achievable things that can symbolically represent you and the institution in your future roles.  Projects that help answer the questions about where the school is headed.

7. Develop street cred and presence and allies.

Appear in all aspects of student and faculty and staff life.  Be helpful.  Do things on faith.  Help people do things that they would not otherwise be able to.  Help people who are dispossessed.  The relationships will pay off.

8.  Leverage space.

While people still come to us, let them do things in our space they can’t do elsewhere.  Things that tend to answer questions about how we will teach and learn and do research in the future.

9.  Open your books.

Don’t ask people to do your thinking for you.  But let them into your decision-making process.  Share your strategic desires and challenges.  They have desires and challenges, too.  You will likely discover you share the same desires and challenges.

10.  Learn from politics.

Pay some attention to the things that make political campaigns successful.  This isn’t necessarily bad, or disingenuous, or anti-academic.  It’s about having a clear message, making a value proposition, organizing yourselves to work together, being in the right places.

David Wedaman is Director of Research and Instruction Services, Brandeis University, and sits on the board of NERCOMP (the NorthEast Regional Computing Program) and on the advisory board of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative.

He blogs at

Look Like your People – A TTW Guest Post by David Wedaman

People used to need the help of library and IT staff to do things like find articles, edit videos, create databases, install a VOIP phone system, etc. This is changing. People are increasingly sophisticated users of digital media and computers. Third-party software applications and web-based services (read: not made or vetted by your local library and IT staff) are increasingly accessible.  Obvious, I know, but it bears repeating.

People don’t need us as they used to; yet we librarians and IT staff sense we can still be helpful (good for us!).  Our challenge is therefore this: we have to A) figure out new ways to be helpful and B) let our users see us being helpful in those ways (they won’t buy into the idea until they see it).

This is easy enough to say, but how do we do it?  I’m not sure.  Here’s a proposed rule of thumb: If you want to understand what someone needs, you can’t go to far astray if you start by doing what they do.  Look Like your People.

To put it another way: in a world of change our compass is the things that aren’t changing: people will still need to learn, teach, do research, and produce scholarship. How they will do these things is evolving. How we will help them do these things should be evolving, too. We need to be involved to evolve.  Not involved as external supports doing mystical things inside an organizational black box but as integral partners shoulder-to-shoulder with teachers and learners in the trenches.  We need to “embed [our] resources and expertise into the systems and tools students and faculty use in their daily lives,” to quote library visionary David Lewis.

If we engage in things that look and feel like teaching, learning, research, and scholarship, we’ll be ok.  If participating in these activities doesn’t immediately solve the problem of how we’ll be helpful to the academic mission, it will at least help us be much more familiar with and engaged in the core of that mission, and being present is the first step.  Opportunities will follow.

Some examples from our own work place.  Trying to figure out how to teach the academic use of multimedia, we partnered to develop a semester-long, hands-on course carefully integrated with an established Journalism course. Eventually our media course was recognized as a legitimate product on its own, added to the course bulletin, and our “teacher,” to that point a regular old Library and IT staff member, was honored with a faculty appointment, and is now an actual teacher. This would be an example of us looking like a teacher.

Another: trying to learn how to engage students meaningfully at the point of need — their class project — we’re testing out what we call a “project studio:” our staff join opt-in work teams with students, and the team decides what its learning goals will be and how it will go about meeting them.  We’re a partner and we learn with and from the students, adding library and IT know-how where necessary, learning new know-how constantly.  Result–we’re looking like a student.

Do these two projects solve the question of how IT and library organizations can be relevant to their communities in an era of change?  Not fully, of course. But they are helpful now and they might grow into something bigger.  And the staff involved at the very least will be in a wonderfully preferable position as we slouch further into the digital era–that of seeing teaching, learning, and scholarship from “within” those activities.

David Wedaman is Director of Research and Instruction Services, Brandeis University, and sits on the board of NERCOMP (the NorthEast Regional Computing Program) and on the advisory board of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative.

He blogs at

Fast, Open, and Transparent: Developing the Smithsonian’s Web and New Media Strategy

A flurry of work today getting ready for classes! Don’t miss this from the Smithsonian’s Michael Edson:

Michael Edson: Fast, Open, and Transparent: Developing the Smithsonian’s Web and New Media Strategy

View more documents from Michael Edson.
This is a most useful document for designing our own Web and new media strategies for libraries and other institutions. Careful articulation of “pain points” followed by an ongoing, transparent strategic plan seems to me to be a formula for success – especially with layers of administration.