Tag Archives: academic work

The Anthropologist’s Tale: Lianza #open17

My first view of Aotearoa.

I was invited.  This time I got invited to Aotearoa, New Zealand, and I am so grateful for the opportunity.  I had never been to that part of the world, and this part of library-land was also new to me (even as I had been following some library folks there via Twitter).

The Lianza conference was full of amazing people, it’s a fantastic community, I am so pleased I got to spend time in that room, filled with enthusiasm and criticality, public as well as academic librarians.  You can watch keynotes and sessions recorded at Lianza and I recommend you watch them via their site, here.  If you want to watch mine (including the Q and A, as well as the song they sang to me after I was finished!), that’s here (you’ll be asked to register for the site).

Thank you to Viv Fox of PiCS for sponsoring me, to Kim Tairi and David Clover for excellent advice while writing my talk, and to the scholars whose work I consulted in the course of putting this together (I tried to link within the blog, but have also put together references at the end of this).   Thank you to Paula Eskett, and to the entire conference program committee and team for working hard to make me feel comfortable and welcome.

This is, as best I can recreate, the text of my talk.

Tēnā koutou katoa

(Greetings to you all)

I am from California, near the Pacific Ocean, and also near the high desert in the south.  I lived in Chumash, Ohlone, and Yuhaviatam land.

I live in North Carolina, in the piedmont, between the Appalachian mountains and the Atlantic ocean.  It is Catawba and Cherokee land.

My father’s family is from Louisiana, along the Bayou Teche, we are Cajun.  We were settler people, on Chitimacha land.  My PaPa was beaten for speaking French in school.  My MonMon never learned to read.

My father is Harold John Lanclos

My mother is Judith Cameron Lanclos

I am Donna Michelle Lanclos, named after a Beatles song and my mother’s college roommate

Tēnā koutou

Tēnā koutou

Tēnā koutou katoa

Kia Ora

Thank you for inviting me, thank you for bringing me here.  I am so grateful.

I am at the mercy of people’s invitations, personally and professionally, I get to be where I am because someone, at some point, let me in.

This is true for anthropologists generally–we get to be where we are, to do the work we do, because someone lets us in.

(I talked about my work at UNC Charlotte here in the talk, you can read more about it elsewhere on my blog here.  I made the basic point to the Lianza audience that my work is an anthropology of academia, my responsibility is to research and analyze the logic, the motivations, and practices of academics)

Once anthropologists are let in, then, we do the work of stories.

We collect stories.

We listen to stories

We interpret stories

We put different stories together.

And then we tell stories.  We tell our own, as a way in, we tell the stories of other people, because it is our work, the work of making the “exotic familiar” (and, the familiar exotic). When people talk about qualitative work, especially in contrast to quantitative work, they often invoke stories, they talk about the work of stories.  Some people use story as an epithet, synonymous with anecdote (also meant as an epithet).  But, stories are data, stories are information, stories are ways of representing and interpreting reality.

I started thinking about this talk with the framing of stories in part because I realized early on the link between colonial New Zealand (especially ChristChurch and Canterbury) and Chaucer.  Maybe it’s only a link in my mind, it made me think immediately of my mother, who was an English major at university, and who kept her copy of Canterbury Tales in our house when I was growing up.

Photo by Jim Forest cc-by on flickr https://flic.kr/p/5QqRuR

When I was in my last year of High School, my teacher taught us about Chaucer, and his Canterbury Tales.  We had a textbook that excerpted several of the tales–the Miller’s tale, for example.   But also, and this was formative for me:  The tale of the Wife of Bath.  I had my mother’s book, and I could see that the tale of the Wife of Bath was very very different from the one we were presented in our textbook.  There were words in the college version that did not show up in the high school version.

I was the kind of student who wanted to ask questions about that.

So I did.

I brought my mother’s book to school, and as my teacher was having us read the bowdlerized story of this woman who had many husbands and a lot of sex, I was raising my hand on a regular basis.

“Mr Taylor, that’s NOT what it says in MY book.”

I was not my teacher’s favorite student in that moment, but the story was different!  I wanted what I thought was the “real” story, not the one packaged as appropriate for children.  Chaucer told a story about storytelling, the way my teacher was using it taught me a great deal about the power of who controls stories, and what different versions can do to your sense of reality.

I am also a folklorist, and this awareness of multiple versions of the same story, this is part of what defines something as folklore.  And folklore materials are another kind of data, there is meaning in the stories.  There are always versions, and meaning within that variation.  Think of Cinderella, of  Little Red Riding Hood; who tells the tale informs what tale is told.  Sometimes the huntsman rescues Little Red Riding Hood.  Sometimes she rescues herself.  Sometimes the stepsisters live happily ever after with Cinderella.  Sometimes they lose their eyes to birds as well as parts of their feet to the knife.

I am an anthropologist.

I study people.

I am located in a discipline with a troubled history, and a collusion with colonialism that we can never shake, and we have to acknowledge.  

Social Anthropology in the UK in the early 20th century was literally tool of the man.

Cover of E.E Evans-Pritchard’s ethnography of the Nuer.

After his initial fieldwork in the 1920s among the Azande in the Sudan, E.E. Evans Pritchard was hired by the  Anglo-Egyptian government–the context for this hire was the conflict that the colonial government had with the Nuer people in the 1920s.  

Colonial officials thought if they had more information about the people they wanted to control, they would be able to do so more effectively, and wanted anthropological knowledge to be a part of this mechanism of control.  Control did not necessarily happen, but this was certainly the intent.

 

 

Smithsonian Archives, ” Franz Boas posing for figure in USNM exhibit entitled “Hamats’a coming out of secret room” 1895 or before”

 

Franz Boas took up anthropology as his life’s work after his previous academic life as a physicist, who wrote a dissertation on the color of seawater. He is known as the Father of American Anthropology, and a champion of anti-scientific racism.  In the late 19th and early 20th century, the “extinction narrative” had already quite caught hold, and Native American and First Nations groups were the object of study at least in part because they were framed as “disappearing”

19th century anthropology co-occurred with the systematic dispossession, persecution, and killing of indigenous peoples, the “salvage anthropology” that followed in the 20th century referred to “disappearing” people as if they were fading, not being colonized and displaced by white settlers.

 

 

 

First edition cover for Ruth Benedict’s ethnographic treatment of Japanese culture. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/90/TheChrysanthemumAndTheSword.jpg

In the mid-20th century, during the second World War, anthropological knowledge was leveraged as a way to better understand (and, it was presumed) and so control our conquered enemies, the Japanese.  Ruth Benedict did “armchair anthropology” during WWII, and her resulting work, the Chrysanthemum and the Sword, informed the occupation strategies by the US of Japan after the war.

These are not the only examples of anthropological knowledge being taken by governments and other policy makers as part of their toolkits for control.  The debate within anthropology over the role of the knowledge it accesses, communicates, and creates in the military, and in government, erupted strongly during the Vietnam War, and again with the US war in Afghanistan since 2001.  

 

 

 

 

I keep coming back to the example of the work of Margaret Mead when I talk about the potential of anthropological work.  There are problems with whose stories she told, and for what purpose, but her purposes shifted from those of institutional control to one of understanding, and it is for this that I value her work, in Samoa and also in Papua New Guinea.

Margaret Mead. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/24/Margaret_Mead_NYWTS.jpg

Her intention, as a student of Boas and Benedict (among others), was to make the unfamiliar familiar.  And also, to make the familiar unfamiliar, to question the practices of her own culture with regard to, for instance,  adolescence and childrearing.  She brought what she learned from other cultures back to her own, as a way of advocating for change, as she considered many practices in the US to be toxic.  She used other cultural practices to feed her imagination, for what else might be possible.

Why am I telling you this?  Many of you probably know the colonial history of anthropology, the problems and pitfalls baked into its disciplinary history.

 

So let’s talk about Libraries—This is Andrew Carnegie, founding the Carnegie library in Waterford, Ireland.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/49/Foundation_stone_of_Waterford_Free_Library.jpg

These libraries (in the US, the UK, and also in New Zealand, among other places)  were ways for Carnegie to impose his idea of what communities “should have” as expressed in a particular structure of knowledge and respectability.  The leaders who petitioned Carnegie in the late 19th and early 20th century to have these libraries built in their communities were buying into that particular kind of respectability.  They wanted to be associated with that respectability, and the power associated with it.

This is Libraries as colonizing structures, structures shot through with orientalism, white supremacy, and settler colonialism.  

The problem with these, with any colonizing impulse (OK, one problem among many) is the assumption that if you don’t put a library there, if you don’t establish a colonial government, there won’t be anything.  It ignores what is there.

Aotearoa pre-dates New Zealand.  There were people, long before there were libraries.

In my own work, I see the colonizing impulse in libraries in two specific ways.

The first is the reaction I occasionally get when I present on the logic behind student or faculty behavior that might be confounding to library professionals (eg, using SciHub, citing Wikipedia, not putting their materials in the Institutional Repository).

I talk about motivations, about the competing and conflicting messages that people get around information, and the ways that some things (using ResearchGate, for example) make sense to individuals even if those choices, from a library perspective, are less than ideal.  And I am asked:

“So how do we get them to change their behavior?”

Fortunately, that’s not my job.  But if that’s the end point, I’ve failed a bit in what is my job, that is, generating understanding of the underlying logics behind human behavior such that the thought of what might be “best” can fall away, to allow for a wider range of possibilities.

The second reaction is one that I sometimes get when I propose open-ended investigations of human behavior in universities.  Projects such as the Day in the Life study, which was pitched as broadly exploratory, without particular questions beyond, “what is student everyday life like at universities in the United States?”  And I am asked:

“How will this help me solve X problem?”

In this case, I don’t mean to be dismissive of a particular problem, but problem-solving is rarely the point of exploratory research.  Gaining insight, creating a sense of a bigger picture, revealing context that helps with understanding, these are all things that such research can generate, but those things are not aligned with the metrics that libraries are beholden to, the quantified existence that higher education and other municipal entities are increasingly made to endure.   What value?  How much?  What is the ROI?

I cannot answer that.  I don’t want to.

You don’t do anthropology among students and faculty so that you can manipulate them do to library-style things

You do it so that the library can more effectively shift its practices.

The impetus for change should come from libraries, not from “users”  How do you listen?  How do you change what you’re doing?  How do you create inclusive spaces?  Spaces that welcome whether someone has been invited or not?

How do you find out the stories behind the people in your library?  How do you find out stories about your community, whether they are in the library or not?  Anthropology can be one way.  In particular, the anthropology that invites you to de-center yourself, your perspectives, your biases, and take on the priorities and perspectives of the people you are interested in learning from.

I want to contrast the “understanding people to control them” anthropological heritage from the “understanding people to connect with them” piece that I think should actually be the goal.   Trying to get libraries to understand the difference is crucial–we don’t want to be the colonizing library. No matter how much power librarians don’t think they have, you have so much more power than the people who are in there using the library.  So, you have a responsibility to be careful.

In the long history of colonialism and anthropology, there is a thread of interrogating practice without valuing it, and for the purposes of control.  We should rather be engaging with communities via research, exploring in ways that are about generating big picture insights, not “action research” problem solving and repetitive projects.

What are the stories we need to hear, and retell, from the people in our libraries, in our communities, whether they are in the libraries or not?

Anthropological fieldwork can’t help you if you’re still only interested in telling the library’s story.

So what can we do?  How can we reframe?  I’d like to suggest a couple of things.  

First:  Syncretisim, a concept which might be one way around the solutionism that I see so much in libraries.  In my experience I have encountered syncretism most in anthropology of religion, to refer to that cobbling together that people do around beliefs and practices, especially in colonial situations, but also in contexts of migration.  Population movement and contact brings people together from different places, and the power relations that also inform that context result in not a seamless blending of religious practices, but a seaming together, a picking and stitching so that you can see the original component parts in the something new that emerges.

I think syncretism emerges in the ways that people approach libraries these days.  They come to libraries, public and academic, with an already formed set of practices around digital and information.  When they come into contact with library practices, their own don’t suddenly disappear–they make room for new practices if they serve them, and incorporate them into their own.

As educators in libraries we have a reasonable expectation that we can teach people in our communities new and useful things about information, about research, about reading and interacting with all of the resources that libraries can serve as a portal to.  We should also expect to be taught by the people in our communities what libraries (and the content and expertise within libraries) are for to them.  

Second:  Decolonizing. Breaking down the power structures that are barriers to inclusion in institutions such as libraries.  Libraries, like anthropology, emerge from and reproduce colonizing structures.  They “other” in defining who belongs and who doesn’t, what “fits” and what doesn’t.  And here I am particularly indebted to the work of Linda Tuhiwai Smith, nina de jesus, April Hathcock, and Fobazi Ettarh

I also want to recognize that this is not a new idea to New Zealand, even as there is still clearly work to do.

If we acknowledge that libraries are colonizing structures, we should ask what it would mean to not have the library define itself, but to listen to the people who are in the library, but not of the library?  How can we make space, fight for space so that the definition of library emerges from the community in which the library sits, so that the library becomes indelibly the community?

We need to move away from the language of “user” because that privileges the buildings and structures of libraries.  I want to follow Chris Bourg here in emphasizing that what our responsibility is, is to our community.  This word “community” does an end-run around “users”–because the construction of user suggests that the significant people to libraries are only those who are in their buildings or in their systems.  But our responsibility is to our community, whether they are “in the library” or not..

I want us to think of and speak about and emphasize Libraries as a social place, with a mission that is beyond content.  

Who is in your library?  Who is of your library?  

Public libraries have a much better handle on this than academic libraries.  There’s far less “how do we get them to library the way we want them to” in the air in public libraries, and we in academic libraries would do well to pay more attention.  This, too, anthropological approaches can help with.  But only if we follow the line of anthropology that moves away from colonizing structures.

He aha te mea nui o te ao?

(What is the most important thing in the world?)

He tangata, he tangata, he tangata

(It is the people, it is the people, it is the people)

 

 

 

References:

Bourg, Chris  “Feral Librarian” (blog) https://chrisbourg.wordpress.com/

de jesus, nina. “Locating the Library in Institutional Oppression. In the Library with the Lead Pipe.” (2014). http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2014/locating-the-library-in-institutional-oppression/

Ettarh, Fobazi “WTF is a Radical Librarian Anyway?” (blog) https://fobaziettarh.wordpress.com/

Hathcock, April “At the Intersection” (blog) https://aprilhathcock.wordpress.com/

Johnson, D. (1982). Evans-Pritchard, the Nuer, and the Sudan Political Service. African Affairs, 81(323), 231-246. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/721729

Leonard, Wesley. “Challenging” Extinction” through Modern Miami Language Practices.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 35, no. 2 (2011): 135-160.http://uclajournals.org/doi/abs/10.17953/aicr.35.2.f3r173r46m261844?code=ucla-site

Lofland, J., & Lofland, L. (2001). Handbook of ethnography (pp. 1-7). P. Atkinson, A. Coffey, & S. Delamont (Eds.). London: Sage.pp.66-67

Prescod-Weinstein, Chanda “Making Meaning of ‘Decolonizing’” Medium, Feb 20, 2017 https://medium.com/@chanda/making-meaning-of-decolonising-35f1b5162509

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. Zed Books Ltd., 2013.

Te Ahi Kaa, Whakatuki for 26 May 2013, Radio New Zealand http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/teahikaa/audio/2556269/whakatuki-for-26-may-201

Unsettling America (blog) https://unsettlingamerica.wordpress.com/

 

Teaching, Learning, and Vulnerability in Digital Places: Library Instruction West 2016 keynote

I just got back from Salt Lake City yesterday.  I was and still am so pleased and flattered to have this invitation to speak to another group of librarians, another room of my colleagues inspired and challenged by the nature of instruction in and around libraries.  This was my third (out of four) big talk of the Spring, and it was also the one I wrote the last, the one I struggled with the most.  I knew I wanted to say something about vulnerability, but kept coming up against how to frame it, what was the point I wanted to make?  I think in the end I came up with a point, but I confess that it was mostly in the improv around my notes,  in that room this past Thursday morning, that it all came together (you can also see from the Storify ).  Those who were in the room with me may reasonably disagree, of course.

I should also thank before I continue the people who helped me think this through, whether they realized it or not:

@edrabinski  @davecormier

@tressiemcphd  

@slamteacher  @bonstewart

@jessifer  @AprilHathcock

***************************

As an anthropologist who works in libraries, my fieldwork takes me beyond libraries into a wide variety of learning places.  And those learning places are classrooms, cafes, parks, Moodle, Facebook, and Twitter.  I spend a lot of time online and talking about being online, not just in my fieldwork, but in my academic practice.  

Online is a place.  It is not just a kind of tool, or a bucket of content, but a location where people go to encounter and experience other people.  Places, online and otherwise, are made things, they are cultural constructs.  Technology, and the places technology helps create, are likewise cultural constructs, and therefore:  Not Neutral.  They are human, they are made, they contain values.

I am not telling people anything that hasn’t been said before, but it’s worth repeating.

Libraries and Librarians aren’t neutral either.  

I see some Librarians try to position themselves as neutral, supportive nurturing helpers, and those who try this are not always good at conveying it.  I think the reason for that is that such neutrality cannot possibly be real–we are all human, we all have biases, we are not “objective” and pretending to be just allows us to deny our subjectivity rather than working through it.  

[at this point I asked the room:]

How many of you have ever been told,

“I have a really stupid question?”

[lots of hands went up.  Seemed like the entire room]

When people walk up and say, “I have a really stupid question,” It’s because they are preemptively signaling they are not comfortable yet.  They don’t feel safe.  So I’m wondering, how do we build, within libraries, and within education generally, places for people to feel safe?

And in thinking about places, I want to ask, where are librarians?  Where do you want to be?  Why do you want to be there? I am making an assumption here that If you are in online spaces, it is to connect, with each other, with students, (not because “it would be cool” please no not that). 

I think presence in those places signals that you care, and value connection, and want to create safe spaces.  How, then, does that affect practice?  How do we think critically about practices such that we can make places feel safe?

How do you become trustworthy?  Not as individuals, but structurally?  What makes it make sense for students or faculty to come to you?  To the Library?  Where else is the library?  Does the persistent question, “why don’t they come to us?” make sense if we are all supposed to be part of the same community?

What do you do to become part of your community?  What do you do that is trustworthy?

And, also, how do you come to trust the people whom you are trying to reach?

How do you find them?  How do you find out about what they are doing and why?  Because it can be difficult to trust people you do not understand.

And this, actually, is part of the problem I have with these notions of empathy as some sort of prerequisite to action, to connection.  I am troubled by the suggestion that you need to muster up empathy first before reaching out to students or faculty.  (Not that I am opposed to empathy, I’m a fan of it in my life and work)  Our students and colleagues are worthy of our respect, they have an inherent human dignity that means it is our responsibility to reach out, to try to connect, whether we have achieved empathetic understanding beforehand or not.

Perhaps, perhaps that empathy actually comes most effectively post-connection.  Empathy is not a prerequisite, but an outcome.

Some of the work I do in my research and practice might point a way towards understanding the motivations behind practices online.

Picture1

Visitors and Residents map, collected from one of the workshops we’ve conducted over the years. Visualizing practices, and online places, is a first important step towards understanding motivations to engage.

I have spoken and blogged before about mapping practices.  In research and in workshops we can get people to talk about where they are online and also how it makes them feel.  People feel about digital places in similar ways to feeling about physical ones–I’ve interviewed students who sigh deeply in dismay at the thought of their Facebook account, full of troublesome family members, or who smile in thinking about their Twitter community, configured carefully so that they can be who they want to be, feel how they want to feel, while in that place. 

Online behaviors are not determined by the venue.  Facebook is not always about what you had for breakfast, and Twitter is not always about politics.  Each of these places, all of the new and old online places, are about people, and choices.  So, mapping, as with the V&R maps, can show us where people are, but the important part is the conversations that are generated, about why they are there (or not).

I think about the emotional associations of institutional spaces, for example in usability studies of library websites revealing the embarrassment and frustration students can feel at not being able to wrangle the website.  In fact, they frequently blame themselves for the tech failure, apologize to us for our crappy websites.  They say they will try again, but when they are away from us, why would they go back?  Who voluntarily goes back to some place that makes them feel stupid?

Picture2

During the Twitter-based #digped discussion in mid-May, there was a discussion about how to make ed tech more human.  This tweet I’ve captured points to some of what I have been turning over in my head about digital and presence.

When thinking about instructional online spaces, I’d like to ask (and I’m far from the only one) how to make them human as well as positive?  How do we build in access to other people, and not just provide buckets of content?  Where are the people in your online learning environment?  Are they connected to each other?  In my experience, students find their human connections outside of the institutional learning environment–they are on Snapchat, on Instagram, in Facebook and Twitter.  So we should continue to think about the role of digital places, outside of institutions as  where connections happen.  

We need to continue to think about identity, and how it plays out online.  Where and how do we develop voices online?

I have been thinking the role of vulnerability–it troubles me lately, because I often see it approached in terms of personal vulnerability, of some sense that sharing your personal life at work is necessary, so as to give people a “way in.”

In my own practice, I’ve made deliberate decisions to share parts of my personal life, on Twitter, in my blog. I approach it as a political decision as much as anything, a result of what I think needs to happen around the representation of women as professionals and academics.  And things I’ve written can indeed be interpreted as a wider call for more people to be “personal” online, so as to be human, and therefore accrue  a different kind of credibility in the new academic spaces of the Resident web.

“Acquiring currency can be about whether a person is perceived to be vulnerable, not just authoritative, alive and sensitive to intersections and landscapes of power and privilege: As Jennifer Ansley explains, “In this context, “credibility” is not defined by an assertion of authority, but a willingness to recognize difference and the potential for harm that exists in relations across difference.” In other words, scholars will gain a form of currency by becoming perceived as “human”…rather than cloaked by the deliberately de-humanised unemotive academic voice. This is perhaps because the absence of physical embodiment online encourages us to give more weight to indications that we are assigning credibility to a fellow human rather than a hollow cluster of code. We value those moments where we find the antidote to the uncanniness of the disembodied Web in what we perceive to be indisputably human interactions.”

Lanclos and White, “The Resident Web and Its Impact on the Academy,” Hybrid Pedagogy, 08 October, 2015

Who is a scholar?  Who is a professor?  Who is a teacher?  The many paths we take now didn’t always exist, and there are indeed political as well as pedagogical reasons for revealing those narratives (as I have, in talking about mine).

But I wonder, how do you reconcile that with the narrative of “risky” online environments, and how faculty and students need to be “cautious?”  How do you balance the need for a kind of vulnerability with desire for “safety”–how is that possible?  What does “safe” mean?

What constitutes vulnerability online, and for whom?

Who gets to be vulnerable?  What does that mean?

Who is already vulnerable?  

“Risk-taking” is so often framed as a positive thing, especially when people in a position of privilege engage in it.  But when the intersections of our identity place us in more vulnerable categories, ones other than white, straight, male, cisgendered, middle (or upper)-class when does “risk-taking” segue into “risky?”  When do our human vulnerabilities get held against us?  This is about context–who is classed as positive risk-takers when they make themselves vulnerable, who is classed as “risky” and perhaps necessary to avoid, someone who makes people uncomfortable.

So, what price “approachable?”  How much do we strip ourselves of ourselves so that people are comfortable, so that we are not “risky?”

This, I think is the tyranny of NICE–I see this especially in libraries, wherein “approachability”  can be shorthand for “seems enough like me to be safe”  How do we create environments where unfamiliarity doesn’t have to feel risky?  Where “discomfort” isn’t a barrier to engagement or thinking?

How do we get a diversity of “safe” people into our networks, who do not discount us as “risky” in our vulnerabilities?

In particular i want to ask this question:

What does it mean when we ask Students to be vulnerable online?  How is it different if they are women?   Black?  White?  Brown?  LGBT+?   Fill in the category of your choice here.  

Because some of us show up more vulnerable than others.  Our identity is not just the categories and characteristics we self-identify with, it’s the boxes people try to place us in.  it’s involuntary vulnerability, the people we are perceived to be become a way to dismiss us, our expertise, our content.  Structural and personal vulnerability can’t be shaken off, and maybe we don’t owe anyone our personal vulnerability.  Maybe our students don’t owe us personal vulnerability.

Vulnerability doesn’t have to be personal.

I think about professors giving phone numbers out to students, back before social media ubiquity.  Choosing to give out home phone numbers, or even cell phone numbers wasn’t something everyone did, it signaled a particular approach to boundaries and the role of professors in student lives.  What is the online equivalent?  Is it friending or following on social media?  

I wonder what are other ways of being present and human to students without violating important boundaries yourself?  

I don’t think that kind of putting yourself personally out there is mandatory.  Personal narratives don’t have to be the default.  You don’t owe anyone your personal story.  And sometimes just your existence is story enough.

We do owe them professional vulnerability.  That way lies inclusion–for our colleagues and our students.  Professional vulnerability can model the kind of society that we want them to have.  We need them to be flexible, transparent, and to expect that from their professional and civic networks going forward.  

So what would that kind of professional vulnerability look like?

Libraries have traditionally expressed “service” in terms of seamlessness–systems that don’t need explaining, for example.  And from a UX perspective, that’s one thing. But in an instruction context, that’s problematic.  Seamlessness doesn’t signal a way in.   iPhones don’t tell you how they are made, they just expect you to use them.  How do we build educational environments, both digital and physical, that give people a way in?  In to the course,  to the library, to the discipline, to the University?

One answer might be in engaging with seam-y (“see me”)  practices and pedagogies.  Showing the seams, being open about how educational experiences and scholarly content are produced.  Academia is a made thing, we can show students the seams, and allow them to find their way in.  

Picture4

Seams showing how the locomotive cylinder is put together. Image from page 180 of “The Locomotive” (1867) Internet Archive Book Image Flickr Stream: https://flic.kr/p/ovuPbj

I see examples in many places.  Including the rhizomatic learning work coming from Dave Cormier. In his connectivist approach to education, he argues that:

“What is needed is a model of knowledge acquisition that accounts for socially constructed, negotiated knowledge. In such a model, the community is not the path to understanding or accessing the curriculum; rather, the community is the curriculum.”

“In the rhizomatic model of learning, curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process. This community acts as the curriculum, spontaneously shaping, constructing, and reconstructing itself and the subject of its learning in the same way that the rhizome responds to changing environmental conditions.”

Teaching a class where you admit that you aren’t quite sure where things are going, where you are clear in not knowing everything, that is professional vulnerability.  Instructors who construct their authority in the classroom around knowing everything, or at least knowing Way More Than Their Students about Everything, are at risk of #authoritysofragile, of that moment when it is revealed that of course we don’t know everything, and the authority is shattered.  We can avoid those shattering moments by never pretending in the first place to know it all.  Positioning ourselves confidently alongside our students as we explore things without being sure of outcomes, that’s powerful, that is seam-y, that is professional vulnerability.

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If you read this blog you’ve seen this map before. This workshop participant annotated her V&R map with arrows indicating where she wanted to move her practice, mapping the trajectory of the changes she wanted.

In the V&R workshops we conduct we ask people to annotate their maps, to show where they are willing to move and change, and even discontinue what they are doing.  The epiphanies that happen when people realize this thing they have been doing doesn’t serve them especially well can feel like admitting a mistake. These conversations reveal emotions that these places and practices engender, and those revelations are a form of professional vulnerability.  

Open practice is a kind of vulnerability that reveals the seams of academic work.  I am open in my own practice, in sharing rough drafts via Google Docs, in blogging half-formed ideas, in Tweeting even less formed ideas.  If you look at my blog from when it first started my voice was very different than what it is now.  I am never finished, my work is never seamless and complete.

What can we do in our own practices to create spaces where the seams of academia are visible?  Create places where our students can see how and where they fit?  The possibilities for our students finding where they can get in are contained in the spaces we do not fill with content, or cover over with seamless interfaces

The work of teaching and learning is challenging, and when we talk about seamlessness we are lying about what education is supposed to be.  The challenge is in doing the things we don’t know yet, and how will our students learn that if we do not?  If we do not model our own unformed and unfinished practices, how can they even know that is what happens?  How can they imagine themselves doing it?

Digital affords us different ways of revealing the seams, the mess of our academic projects.  We can, without revealing ourselves totally, still reveal process in a way that makes it clear that academia is a cultural construct, made by people not entirely unlike our students.  Tools and places are out there such as Hypothes.is ,GoogleDocs, Twitter, blogging platforms. Facebook groups, Instagram, Pinterest, ephemeral contexts such as Snapchat. The point is not the specific environment or tools, but in the possibilities to connect, and capability of revealing process along the way.  

We can highlight the importance of engaging in unfinished thoughts, in exploration.  Where a .pdf is seamless and a finished product, an invited GoogleDoc is seam-y and in process, perhaps never entirely done.

Libraries have a history of engaging with process, not just content.  Libraries are good at this, their particular area of expertise is in navigating, framing, and evaluating content (in its myriad forms). Open practice, professional vulnerability around the processes of academia, this is an opportunity for Libraries and Information Literacy and Library Instruction to shine. 

My friend and colleague Emily Drabinski writes marvelous things, and one of her latest, a co-authored piece with Scott Walter, “Asking Questions that Matterchallenges us to articulate not the value of libraries, but the values within libraries, coming out of libraries, of library instruction.  

So I want to end, as I usually do, with questions.  

What values are you expressing with your instructional approaches? How can you express them digital places?

What is the role of vulnerability for you?  How can you protect yourself, model protection for your students, and still achieve seam-y pedagogy?

What would that look like?

 

 

When the Active Learning Agenda Comes to Town: #TILC2016

River in Radford

It was a lovely day to visit VIrginia, thank you TILC organizing committee for inviting me.

 

I had the great pleasure of getting to speak to a roomful of library colleagues at the Innovative Library Classroom conference in Radford, VA this past week.  It’s one of those nice small-room conferences that facilitates deep dives, long conversations, and chatty interactions that can inspire and lead to future work that you would never have otherwise been able to consider.

I have been presenting on the work my UNC Charlotte colleagues and I are doing in our Active Learning Classrooms  in a few different contexts.  This is the first time I’ve gotten to speak about what I think the implications are for libraries and librarians.  Several people helped me with the content and the framing of this talk, and I will thank them at the beginning of this blogpost (rather than at the end of the talk).  If I am coherent at all when I give talks it is thanks to the processing that my friends and colleagues allow me to do in their presence, in conversation, on Twitter and email and elsewhere.  They are not of course culpable, any mistakes or disagreements should settle safely on my shoulders alone.

For this talk, I get to thank Dave Cormier, Rich Preville, Kurt Richter, Stephanie Otis, and Susan Harden for talking with, working with, and otherwise indulging me processing aloud in some way.

(Usual caveats about how I am far more Improv Theater than Scripted–here is my best attempt at capturing this particular talk. )

I have been asked to talk to you today about the agenda of active learning classrooms, active learning practices, and active learning places.
I am an anthropologist employed by my library to do research around academic practices, defined very broadly.  I am responsible to the Dean of the Library to bring relevant information around digital and physical spaces and practices, so that our library can make better, more effective decisions about policy, spaces, collections, and agendas.  

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Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte.  Photo Wade Bruton, UNC Charlotte: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stakeyourclaim/6254440195

It has become clear over the last several years that my work is about more than the library, it’s about academia generally, and therefore I have to be present, in my research and in my policy discussions, outside of the library.  So I am collaborating with people in the US, UK, and of course at UNCC who are in centers of teaching and learning, who are in leadership positions around digital pedagogy, as well as in libraries.  

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You’ve seen this cognitive map before. I love these visualizations of how wide-ranging and messy academic practice is, the nice representation of the connected network of learning spaces including but also beyond the library.

So when we talk about Active Learning, I like, as with my library work, to take a broad view.  I am defining active learning for the purposes of this talk as the cluster of pedagogical approaches that center student participation in teaching and learning, and de-center the role of the instructor as Imparter of Knowledge.  It tends to take place in a wide variety of environments, including purpose-built ones like we have at UNC Charlotte.

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UNC Charlotte’s active learning classroom in Kennedy Hall, photo from the Center for Teaching and Learning. Dr. Coral Wayland teaches and learns from her students.

I think it’s useful to ask, when talking about Active Learning Agendas, questions like:  whose agenda?  Is there more than one?  Where are those agendas located?

I see multiple sites for discussions around active learning, and many possible participants.

Another question I have is:  are the agendas embedded in the practices of a university or school?  Or are they accessories that mask the dominant presence of less innovative practice?

I think about the difference between integrated Information Literacy education vs. One-shot library instruction, and what those very different approaches can signal about how the library is situated on campus as a whole.   When one-shot instruction is the only option, what does that mean with regard to the culture of teaching, and the possible library role in it, as a whole?  Conversations I have with instruction librarian colleagues (and indeed, the content of much of the TILC program) indicate that no one thinks it’s a particularly marvelous way to teach people.  But it persists, sometimes as the only game in town.

Likewise we know that lectures are a less effective way of teaching and learning than active pedagogies, but they are still around because…?

There are a number of reasons, but I wonder in particular , where is the time to plan and do otherwise?

How do we create organizational space?  Time?  Priorities? Communities for people to come together and teach as a process?

And I struggle with this a great deal in part because while I’m increasingly witnessing relatively high-level policy discussions around the intentions of our administration, faculty, and community with regard to teaching and learning, and am also getting access to grass-roots practice via fieldwork (observations and interviews mostly, and also some MA-student led work on the anthropology of collaboration among undergraduates), I don’t have a good sense of what the in-between bureaucratic procedures we need at UNCC (or elsewhere) for a sustainable, pervasive active learning agenda.

I am confident that all of the people in the room at TILC are doing as much active teaching and learning as they can, it’s part of why they were at the conference.  I want to explore a bit what my experience around active learning has been at UNC Charlotte, and ask some questions about the role of libraries in the larger educational agenda of universities.

I see active learning as an opportunity for libraries and librarians to partner with teaching faculty–and so as always the question is how do you get buy-in?  How can you get faculty informed, and also informing each other about those opportunities?  How, in the course of engaging in active practices, can we get people to go along with de-centering content, transmission of knowledge, and focus instead on process, on connection, on learning?  Here is where I turn to the work of Dave Cormier and his #rhizo experiments in online learning.

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Image source David L. Van Tassel https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Helianthus_maximilianii_rhizomes.jpg

I quote shamelessly from Dave’s blog here:

“What is needed is a model of knowledge acquisition that accounts for socially constructed, negotiated knowledge. In such a model, the community is not the path to understanding or accessing the curriculum; rather, the community is the curriculum.”

“In the rhizomatic model of learning, curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process. This community acts as the curriculum, spontaneously shaping, constructing, and reconstructing itself and the subject of its learning in the same way that the rhizome responds to changing environmental conditions.”

To borrow a phrase from libraries and archives, how do we get to a point where we curate connections rather than curating content?  This has always been the work of the library, but is now more than ever at the center of what we do.  And we are not alone, clearly that shift is happening in the classroom as well as other teaching and learning spaces in universities.

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UNC Charlotte’s active learning classroom in Kennedy Hall, before they started being used. Photo from Center for Teaching and Learning.

UNC Charlotte’s active learning classrooms are the newest teaching spaces on campus, constructed in our oldest building.  We have this agenda and these spaces in part because of our Senior Associate Provost, Dr. Jay Raja, and his commitment to fund and facilitate these classrooms.  The roll out of these spaces was accompanied by a programmatic attention to them in the form of the Active Learning Academy, the leadership team of which is comprised of people from the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Office of Classroom Support, and the Library.  My role is assessment but also in participating in conversations about the role of teaching and pedagogy at UNC Charlotte generally.

In the fieldwork I conducted and facilitated I did observations not just of the classrooms but also of the sessions where faculty teaching in these rooms came together to talk about what they were doing around active learning, and why.  We approached the Active Learning Academy as a community of practice, an opportunity for faculty to share with and learn from each other, far more than another place for faculty to be told what to do by outside experts.

I was most struck by what was anxiety-provoking.  One faculty member, on walking into the space, wanted to know how to turn off the internet.  We heard from another faculty member they had been warned not to teach in classrooms like these, because they would not be able to deliver the content they needed to.  We had another faculty member stop teaching in the classroom after an academic year (we are now at the end of our second full year of these classrooms being open), because he could not lecture effectively in that space.  There was too big a gap between what the room was encouraging him to do, and what he was still comfortable doing.  He was unable to put much distance between himself and the model of authority which required that he know everything, and try to communicate it all in person to his students.

There was some anxiety around what if the tech fails?   Persistent narratives, either around tech or students or content delivery, centered on lack of control.  Lack of control of classroom tech, of students, of their own time as instructors to be able to pay attention to their syllabus and their pedagogy to really effectively use the potential in a room like this.

Students pushed back as well, against a notion of teaching that was unfamiliar to those used to lecture-based content delivery, of standardized testing.  “I thought you were supposed to be teaching me!”  is what some faculty heard.

Student are not immune from the same cliches of teaching and learning that can trap instructors.  

The role of the Center for Teaching and Learning was to attempt to provide a space where faculty could start to feel comfortable engaging in teaching practices that didn’t require them to know everything.  Active learning is approached as a continuum of practice, where there are lots of ways to get stuck in, and many opportunities for faculty to realize where their existing practice is already quite active, as well as discover places for them to take apart and put back together their classes.  

There can also can be a huge role for the Center for Teaching and Learning (and other locations on campus) to provide ways for faculty to share strategies on framing active teaching and learning for students as “What Education Looks Like.”  We are in some ways responsible for deconstructing the model of education handed to our students by the public K-12 system.  Standardized-testing-centric teaching (mandated by the state) provides fewer and fewer opportunities for students to engage in the collaborative active generative (and messy) learning that the Active Learning Agenda encourages and facilitates.

The Active Learning payoffs discussed by faculty included:

“Inquiry assignments work great!”

“Spontaneous “write-think” exercises”

“Discussions are more productive.”

“I get their full attention.  They are very engaged.”

“They interact with each other & build a stronger relationship/friendship.”

“I feel more connected to the students.  A reward for me as the instructor.”

Who doesn’t want those things? And who notices that these are not easily measured, but are definitely observable and describable phenomena, another argument for including qualitative assessment work in institutional projects such as these.

It seems to me that libraries are super-well-positioned to take advantage of the active learning moment because IL has always had to be more about process, evaluation, sifting, and then critically using than the essential container of content.  This is why we are ideally positioned, in theory, to articulate our instructional agenda coming from libraries with the larger educational mission of the university.

What is library instruction in an active-learning environment (i.e., one that de-emphasizes content) ?

It is, really, same as it ever was, but now we can explicitly link it to the kind of teaching and learning happening at our universities.

This feels like an opportunity for librarians serve as consultants, partners, and leaders on campus with faculty.  So, we continue to have conversation with faculty, and about what they do.

A nice example of this is the work of my colleagues Stephanie Otis (in the library) and Joyce Dalsheim (in Global, Area, and International Studies).  They are partners in a now four-year long project called Reading is Research, and co-teach.  Their model is library and librarians as colleagues, not helpers–this is not “how can I help you?” but is expertise, and embedded practice.  I quote from a description of a workshop they co-delivered this Spring at UNC Charlotte:

This collaboration between anthropologist Dr. Joyce Dalsheim and Atkins’ teaching librarian Stephanie Otis has been tested and improved and is now inspiring new First Year Writing assignments and course design. It has also informed changes to the Senior Seminar approach in Global, Area, and International Studies (GAIS)…By initiating this collaboration, Joyce has advocated for research instruction that goes beyond scheduling a session in the library to involve faculty and librarians planning the syllabus, class meetings, and assignments/activities together. This approach helps establish the library as an academic and curricular partner rather than an optional service. In addition, the idea of deep collaboration and rethinking the emphasis of research can inform many other partnerships with the library.”

They delivered this workshop to attendees from across the university–for example, Anthropology, the Honors College, Biology, and Engineering.

As with the Active Learning Academy, the interest in these practices has not been limited, at UNC Charlotte, to just one corner of the university.  It is a pervasive agenda from many locations.  We are therefore forging an Active Learning, Community of Practice.

What does this mean for each of you, in your institutional spaces?

Of course there are questions of bandwidth–if you are a small library, how do you get time to do that?  If you are doing instruction and outreach, maybe you can’t do that.

New Spaces aren’t always going to happen.

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And there is an inevitable contrast between old spaces and new spaces when we do have them.

Think about faculty who get into the new spaces, how do they go back to the old classrooms?  What happens when the possibilities  are limited to certain spaces on campus?   We need to ask questions about how people have access to these kinds of spaces.  If they don’t exist on your campus, to what extent can you engage in the pedagogies anyway?  My colleague Susan Harden (pictured above teaching in our smaller active classroom) has come up with a kit.

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Susan carries the kit around in a bag like this. Active Learning To-Go.

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The Active Learning Agenda can mean using whatever space you have, it’s not always going to be about building shiny new spaces.    And space is just a starting point, not the be-all-end-all.  “Building classrooms is the least expensive part of this”–I have said this in a variety of contexts.  We are lucky, at UNC Charlotte, we got to build the classrooms,  but the strength of the agenda is in the human labor, the staff development, the money required to give time and opportunity for faculty and students to try, and regroup, and try again.

At UNC Charlotte this is not an agenda that is possible if it only emerges from one location. This is a cross-university partnership among our CTL, Classroom Support, the Library, Academic Affairs, and key champions in each of our Colleges.

This cannot happen on an institutional basis by practitioners engaging in isolation from each other.  We are banding together with like-minded faculty but then also finding ways to disseminate these practices.  I find it frustrating (I am not the only one) that we’ve got 25 years of research backing up these techniques as more effective on nearly every measure than traditional lecture, but there is still push-back and demands for proof before space is allowed.  Who is interrogating the efficacy of lecture-based classes?   Too often the familiar and the tidy (and the numerically significant–“butts in seats”) win out over the messy and the unfamiliar (but, more effective!)  We are still coming from a defensive position, and current political climate that is fundamentally suspicious of the expertise of educators is not helping.

The UNC Charlotte Active Learning model is trying to approach the sweet spot of harnessing grass roots practices and having administration on-board with the overarching agenda.  Space was created for us by high-level policy decisions, the practices existed on our campus, and we need to do the (occasionally boring) work of putting in place procedures so that this agenda can spread and thrive in a sustained way.

So I end, as I usually do, with questions rather than conclusions.

What is the role of the library?  What is your position in your university now?  How does that status reflect what voice is possible?

What does your agenda look like?  

What are the implications?  What is at stake?

One of our faculty members said to me in an interview:  “now that we know how much more effective teaching and learning are in these active environments, it’s a social justice issue that we continue to do so.”

Who do you talk to?  Who do you influence?  How do you find the rooms where practice can start to be moved?

What are the leadership contexts in which a tolerance for risk and mess can be created and maintained?

The Active Learning Agenda can provide a space for the library to become a place that facilitates access, not just to information (never just to information), but to possibility.

How can the library, and those of us who work from within the library, be part of the team removing the obstacles to active learning?    Can we curate a path to change?

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Ganesha, “Lord of Success, Destroyer of Evils, and Remover of Obstacles.”

 

And you may find yourself…

RhodiePath2015cropEdit

 

The beginning of the calendar year can be a traditional time for people to write about What Will Come Next.  I find myself, after a nice chunk of time disconnected from work and some social media places, thinking about What Has Come Before, for me. And reflecting on how I got here.

Recently, I’ve had conversations with colleagues during which I realize that they don’t know how it is that I came to the work that I have.  And while it’s not mandatory that anyone in particular know my story, I personally find it valuable to know how people got to where they are (See:  An anthropologist for as long as I can remember, I just can’t help myself.” ).  Making transparent all of the mess and backtracking and accidental connections that can go into people’s current work and lives feels important.  Very few things are as simple as deciding to do something and then it coming to pass.

So, prompted by those conversations, and also by the memory of Andrew Asher’s blogpost about his alt-ac career, I’d like to tell my story so far.  I have told it in bits and pieces in talks, in conversations, but not on this blog.

In 1999 I was finishing my dissertation and looking to file.  My anthropology and folklore fieldwork was in Northern Ireland, with primary school children, so I was looking at a job market of folklore, anthropology of Europe, anthropology of Childhood, and 4-fields anthropology jobs.  The latter was going to be a difficult sell because it’s still the case that socio-cultural anthropologists tend to get stereotyped as not-proficient in teaching intro courses on anything but their own subfield.  My background in archaeology and enthusiasm for intro physical anthropology might have saved me.  Who knows.

As I was finishing my dissertation, my husband got a full time job as a lab manager in an academic research unit at UC Berkeley.  We finally had grown-up style health insurance!  So we thought we’d try to have a kid.  We had no house, or what we thought of as permanent jobs, but health insurance felt more stable than anything we’d had in our seven or so years thus far in grad school, so this felt like a good decision.  And, we wanted children.

I assumed, because I’d seen it happen all around me, that I’d have the baby, go on the market, something would happen, and I’d figure out how to be a junior faculty member with a partner and a newborn.  

Lily was born on October 9, 1999.  

Lily died on October 29, 1999.

The world I thought I was building shattered and disappeared.  

I filed my dissertation in December and was handed a See’s lollipop, with a “Congratulations” label on it (I think, I don’t actually remember what the little tag said) by the smiling woman with her ruler (to check the margins) at the Graduate Division office, and then I went home and cried.

The thing is, in my grief, I actually applied for more jobs.  I remember the tears in my advisor’s eyes as he read my cover letters that started to suggest that my next project might be around themes of child loss in folklore.  I was never short-listed.  It was probably just as well.  My assumptions that I would have full time academic work faded.  I figured I’d just have to do something else, but at that point, I didn’t have the energy to figure out what.

My husband continued to work as an archaeologist and build his CV.  We had two subsequent children, and they are still with us, now 15 and 12 years old.  I published my dissertation as a book just before the birth of our son.  My son was 2 1/2 years old when my daughter entered public school (as we had no money for preschool before then), when a friend needed someone to substitute teach her college archaeology class, and contacted me.  So I found part time daycare for my son that would not cost all of what I was being paid, and did that.  And that led to being invited to teach a January term class on the anthropology of childhood.

And then we picked up and moved to my husband’s tenure track job at UNC Charlotte.  Please note:  he had been on the job market for six years.  He had his own path through grief.  Neither of us were living the post-dissertation life we thought we would have, before Lily died.

Our new university home found adjunct work for me, the trailing spouse, and we were lucky that we had landed in a city that was livable on one salary.  I assumed that this was going to be my life–part time anthro teaching to supplement my husband’s full time work.  My CV was out of date.  Had I not had recent teaching experiences courtesy of my friend who was both aware of and valued my anthropology experience, despite the big hole in my CV, I wonder if I would have been hired even as an adjunct.

In 2009, UNC Charlotte hired a new university librarian, and he created a job for an anthropologist.  Several of us with anthropology degrees were employed part-time by the anthropology department, and I was not the only one who interviewed for the library job.  When I was hired, it was clear that it was not because I had ever had great ambitions to work in libraries, or to study higher education, but because I was an anthropologist, and was trained to study people.

I was 39 years old, and I had landed my first and (to date) only full time academic job.  10 years after filing my dissertation I had found my second field site:  Academia.

That was the start of the Anthropologist in the Stacks.  That space, a space created for me to do anthropology in a library context, started everything that came next.  When I was hired, I was asked to do work at the university, in the library building.  I found, in the course of my work, opportunities to collaborate across campus, because staff and students who use the library live and work other areas of the campus too. Serendipity and a good friend from a previous part of my life invited me to do work at University College, London.  A conversation with a guest speaker at UNC Charlotte led to my being invited to be a part of the Visitors and Residents research team.  The agenda I have now, the one I cite in my bio, the broad-ranging, international work around information, digital and physical places in higher and further education, leadership and policy, and the nature of academic work, none of that existed until about 3 years ago.  It’s only in the past year or so that I feel I’m truly building something, something of value, something that will have an impact.

I can still vividly remember the time when I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have the chance to contribute anything to anthropology or academia ever again.

My point is not that that non-academic path not taken would have been meaningless (of course there is meaning outside of academia!), but that this path I find myself on is in many ways happenstance.  I’m being as mindful and purposeful (and frankly, ambitious) as I can be while realizing that this was not really ever part of some Grand Plan.

The life and work I have is a direct result of the derailment of the life I thought I would have.  My satisfaction in the work I have and the colleagues I get to enjoy now is impossible to disentangle from the persistent absence of my child who died just as I finished graduate school.  

Through it all I am lucky.  I am lucky. This is how I am here.

I didn’t start this off intending to give advice, or to offer myself as any kind of lesson.  I am not a lesson.  My life and such career as I have are examples of just how little plans can have to do with how things unfold.

I do want to point out that part of my luck was to have trust, friends, and opportunities.  At key moments I was offered opportunities and people trusted that I would not only take the chance, but do well enough to make the risk of me worthwhile.  I have taken opportunities, and run with them.  And then been further fortunate that people around me agreed that it is worthwhile, what I had done, and continue to do.

So if you want to take anything away from this, here’s what I suggest:

Collect colleagues and friends, not followers and minions.

Pay attention to what is being offered you.

Say yes.

Offer people opportunities.  Be part of someone else’s happenstance narrative.

 

You cannot know what will happen.  It is worth finding out.

 

Happy New Year.

 

 

Resident Anonymity?

photography-731891_960_720

https://pixabay.com/en/photography-lifestyle-experimental-731891/

I recently gave a talk about Messy Practices, and in it, I was focused on the physical and digital practices of academics, and how and why they are unbounded by Institutions (however much Institutions might like that not to be the case).  It occurs to me (not for the first time, and yeah, I am Not The Only One) that identity is also messy.  And I’ve been thinking about that this week for a very particular reason.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with my, my work or my ubiquitous presence on Twitter that I think a lot in the presence of other people.  I believe I think more effectively in the company of others.  Alone I can only get so far.  Workshops provide me with additional opportunities to do this kind of thinking–I always show up with a very similiar powerpoint, and with a set of points I would like to arrive at, but the people in the room and the interactions we have around the ideas I am presenting, make each workshop different.

I really enjoy it.

So this past Monday I had the pleasure of working at USC Upstate, at the invitation of Cindy Jennings.  Their Quality Enhancement Program (QEP)  group wanted to spend some time thinking about digital practices, both as individuals and as members of an institution.  We did individual V and R mapping and then also using institutional maps (debuted in October in Bristol, with the Jisc Digital Leadership course).

In the process of discussing the nature of presence, and working our way towards the possibilities of Residency in academic life, one participant started wondering aloud about the role of anonymous web presence.  She began from her experience with online newspaper commentariat–so many of the anonymous comments she encountered were negative and not-productive, they ended up driving her away from participating visibly in the comments section (an experience not at all unique to this person of course).  She wondered first about whether anonymous web presence could be “Resident” because we have been defining such presences as findable in some way–either highly visible by Googling, or visible in bounded communities to those who are also members.

But if who you are is not linked to the content of what you are putting online, what then?

If Identities are performances, requiring an audience of at least one, where do we put Anonymous web presences on the Visitor-Resident continuum?

I think it’s possible that it doesn’t matter.

Because the mapping process has never really been about typologies or absolute taxonomies of practice.  It is a tool to facilitate discussions about motivation.

So rather than ask “What is Anonymous Web Presence?”  it is more useful to ask about Why.  Why anonymous?  What are the motivations to anonymity?

And if we think in terms of pseudonyms, we can begin to see some of the reasons why.  Let’s set aside for the moment the “So they can Troll and Bully and generally be Unaccountable for their Bad Behavior on the Web.”  Because:  the internet is made of people, and we can stipulate that some of them are indeed assholes.

Pseudonymous presence on the web still allows for identity to accrue.  This has been true for noms de plumes, stage names, alter egos, supervillain aliases.  Groups of people who are collectively anonymous to the outside,  but known to each other within their group, likewise accrue the “stuff” of identity, being attributed character, values, and responsibility for actions.  

These anonymous individuals, however, may not accrue that identity stuff.  Their actions may not be recognizably linked to who they are.  This lack of accrual can be the point.    What if you are black and want to see what happens to your voice when not filtered through structural and individual racism?  What if you are an artist who wants to find another part of your voice without being hampered by what people think you are already capable of?  What if you are anyone who would like to see what it’s like to be unbounded by the categories people have already put you into?

So, this is why people have multiple Twitter accounts, why they join online communities under different names, why Facebook’s insistence that you use your “real name” is such a problem.  We see the tension between Being Yourself Online and Finding Your Voice.  Holistic, “authentic” web presence isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

Students, novices, anyone trying things out and wanting to see what happens might well value the freedom that comes from anonymity, the ability to try something on and discard it without it scuffing the identity that everyone already knows them by.  Anonymity can facilitate creativity, risk-taking, a feeling of safety.

Safety is not just relevant in situations where people are trying out ideas, creating art, taking academic risks, but of course in political and social activism, where there are risks to people’s physical and legal well-being if they are easily identifiable.  

This is not news.  But in the context of talking about behavior online, the notion of “anonymous trolls” comes up often enough, I think it’s worth interrogating, and also making visible the variety of non-toxic anonymous and pseudonymous presences that people cultivate on the web.  I am not interested in unmasking people, but I am interested in having more public conversations about the motivations to be hidden while making work and words visible.

networkED: The London University

I had the great pleasure of kicking off this year’s networkED talks at the London School of Economics thanks to the generous invitations of Jane Secker and Peter Bryant.  I was asked to address the theme this year:  what will learning and teaching look like at the LSE in 2020?

A recording of the event has now been posted here.

I am somewhat allergic to future-speak, but do think that there are some useful ways of approaching the “what are we going to do next” question, and I tried to model myself after those approaches.  In particular, I wished my remarks to be grounded in current practice.  Too often, I think, futurism is a feint so that one does not have to deal with the complicated present.  The future can be shiny and seamless and therefore much more easy to discuss.  Also, it hasn’t happened yet.  Anyone can be a futurist.

 

storytime

I started with two stories.

The first was the story of 4 students.  I saw them walking up to the library gates at a UK University, where I was waiting to be admitted as I did not have a card to get me in.  3 of the students walked through the gates with cards, and the remaining student, as their friends waited just beyond the gates, walked up to the desk and said, “I’m sorry, I left my card inside the library, and can’t get in.  I am a student here, please can you check against my name, and let me in?”

The student was let in.

I asked the room:  what happened here?  The room answered:  One of the students was not enrolled at that university, and they did the ID card “dance” to get them into the building, so they could study together.

The moral of that story:  Institutional boundaries are more porous to students than they are to Institutions.

 

The second story I told was about a student at UCL, in the Institute of Archaeology, who when asked about where he did his academic work, started waxing rhapsodical about the Wellcome Library.    He loved that there were huge tables with comfortable chairs, powerpoints all around, “a quiet space that was actually quiet rather than trying to be quiet” and also minus people “waiting for your seat [especially during exam times]”   He loved all of the light in the Wellcome.  It was his “home” library, not his institutionally-affiliate space.

He had a lot in common with a faculty member, also in the Institute of Archaeology, who used the Wellcome Library cafe as his space in which to work, and also to meet with his post-graduate students.  That archaeologist’s map of academic work spaces revealed the affection he has for the Wellcome, with lines of significance radiating from his sketch of it in his network of spaces.

 

UCL15cogmap

Showing the love for the Wellcome Library and Bookshop cafe.

 

The moral of that story:  people’s favorite spaces to work in do not have to be the ones associated with their “home” institutions.  Particularly not in a city like London, where such alternate locations are just down the road, across the street, or next door.

 

What I want to do is ground our sense of what might happen in the Future of Higher Education in the practices of students and staff there right now.  This brings me to a conversation about
“experience” and “lived experience, started by my colleague Nick Seaver on Twitter.

 

Nick got a marvelous response from his colleague Keith Murphy (kmtam), which reads in part:

” for us today to say “lived experience,” aside from its trendiness, is actually signalling something very important regarding a truly ethnographic orientation to the world, one that cares not just about the fact that “something happened to someone,” but that the particular ways in which it happened — how it was understood, felt, and made meaningful”

I’d like us to think about, with all of this talk about “student experience” (which I already have a problem with), what happens if we shift not-so-slightly to a conversation about the lived student experience.  What would a consideration of that mean, if we think about the day-to-day experience of being at University in London, and studying for a degree.

In part, my research into learning spaces reveals that the lived experience of students and staff in Higher Education (and elsewhere)  isn’t tightly bound by institutional location at all.

These cognitive maps show how widespread, scattered, fragmented across the landscapes of London and Charlotte these student and faculty learning networks are.

This UNC Charlotte student goes all over town, to her home, the home of friends, to a 24 hour cafe with amazing pastries, and also to the University.

 

UCL22cogmap

This UCL Student counts as learning spaces her home in outer London, the bus, the Archaeology Library, her “home” Library of SSEES, and Bloomsbury cafe.

 

Student and other scholars’ lived experience is a networked one–they have personal networks, they are starting to build their academic networks, and they are not neatly bounded.  They experience these networks in physical and digital places–these places are also not very neatly bounded, although institutions try to make them so.  In practice, institutions are full of people who are Not Of that Institution.

 

This got me thinking of the work that I do in the Visitors and Residents project, and in particular how we’ve come to refine the mapping process that allows people to visualize their practices.  And in visualizing them, they can recognize their practices in important ways, come to grips with how they might like to change things, think about how to continue doing what serves them well.  It’s the visualizing that can be the hard part.

Because it’s all well and good to want to talk about how people can do more, engage differently, but you can’t change things if you don’t know the shape of the situation to begin with.  

So.  If we start from what we know about student (and faculty) practices around learning spaces:  they treat them as a network.  They do not pay as much attention as institutions do to boundedness (although they do get possessive of spaces).  

What happens, then, when we make these networks, created by lived experience, visible?

Contrast the isolated sense of the any institution represented on a map by itself, with the sea of dots that comes up when you Google “Universities in London”:

What can institutions do to make these networks visible, and therefore accessible to more? What could they do to build those networks further, support them with their own resources, go beyond recognizing current practices to facilitating even more?  What would that mean for how we think about education, place, and belonging in London Universities?

The whole city of London is treated in many ways like a university.  What would it mean to be mindful of that, to move towards that purposefully?  

What would happen if we thought of space as a service, the provision and configuration of learning spaces as a thing that institutions can actually do way more effectively than can any individual or private corporation.  Starbucks/McDonalds/Caffe Nero/Pret don’t care if their establishments are good for studying–even if they frequently are because of free wifi, comfy chairs, and access to snacks.  

Fundamentally, this is a Common Good argument.

Because our students encounter barriers all the time.  In a context where they need more space, not less.  And in a context where universities themselves are acutely aware that they cannot provide all that their students need.   What about leveraging the network of London spaces to be a connected set of spaces, powerful in their mutual awareness, profound in their potential to connect students to other resources, other places, other people.  This is the work of education:  preparing our students for the diversity of experiences that will come their way.  It is more than our work, it is our responsibility.

 

 

What problem are we trying to address when we throttle access?  Is it people we don’t want in our spaces?  Is it discomfort of people who “belong?”  Is it limited resources that we want to conserve for “our community?”

People who work in libraries are used to thinking about who gets to be in and out of the space.  Public libraries in particular struggle with access: who is in the building? who uses services? how can the library serve them?  I think here about about homeless people in public libraries in the US, and policies such as limiting the size of bags people can bring into libraries, which target these populations of people who often have nowhere else to go. Why are the homeless a problem in the library?  The problem of homeless people in the library is about so many other things.  They are matter out of place.  It’s about discomfort, housekeeping, mental health, access.  These problems are not solved by banning people.  Savvy libraries such as the San Francisco public library, and also the public libraries in DC, have moved to hire social workers, have job seeking centers as part of their library services.  They are taking the broader view of what their responsibility is to the people in their spaces.

Likewise London universities concerned about resources for their own community won’t garner the resources they need by banning certain categories of people from their locations.  I would argue rather that they decrease the access of their community members to the value of London.  Let’s remind ourselves again that chopping London into silos goes against the very thing that can make big cities so marvelous.

If Institutions have a reason for being in London, then why would they protect their students from the London experience?

The point was made in the room, quite rightly, that of course many London students are in London because they are from that city, not because they have “Come for the London experience.”  And it’s also very true that not all students experience diversity and difference as something positive to explore, but as members of communities who are victimized and marginalized by perceptions of difference.   In those cases, many students choose to go to university to be with people among whom they do not have to explain themselves, to experience being with others who are “just like them.”  And who might not thank totalizing agendas that valorize “diversity” as something that people should go out and find for personal growth.

I think there is still an argument to be made for networked universities to connect because it provides spaces for students to encounter each other (and all of their similarities as well as differences).  And in being networked with each other, universities can continue to provide places for students to come back to, institutional homes where they gain comfort, and can eventually contemplate ways of feeling safe even as they confront discomforting situations.

Learning places are not monolithic, not in physical space, nor should they be in digital places.  But digital tools can be used to connect physical spaces, to link them and thereby create something even better.

Academic libraries, for example, are starting to think about themselves not as The Learning Place on campus but as a part of a network of learning places, and this is informed by work like mine that shows the lived experience of university students.  Cambridge University is working to build digital tools to make the network of spaces visible, in particular with their SpaceFinder app, which makes it possible to visualize (and so, consider accessing) a wide range of spaces in and around Cambridge University, not just institutional ones.

I ended my talk with a question, What would this look like for all of London?

There are already digital things that network universities in the UK–Eduroam was brought up by the room, and I think it’s a great example.

I did surprise myself rather far along in the discussion with the realization that I am in fact making an open-access argument about the physical resources of universities in London.  I stand by that.  I think it’s worth exploring.

I was also surprised by the lack of discussion in the room around security issues (perhaps that is my bias coming from the US, home of Security Theater).  I was pleased at that lack, it left time for talk about curriculum and education, and class differences that affect how various HE and FE institutions have (or don’t have) resources.

 

The discussion in the room was wide-ranging,And people paused really thoughtfully before digging into a conversation that was shot through with practical and ideological concerns.  I was so pleased to witness and participate.

https://twitter.com/lselti/status/644159059181064194

 

 

 

 

Institutional Ephemera

8

This librarian hangs out on YikYak to “hear” what students are saying about the library and the university. She mapped it as Visitor because she does not leave a social trace or participate actively, rather she “lurks” (elegantly or otherwise).

 

I’ve thought and written about this before, but the popping up of YikYak in a V&R map at Carnegie Mellon last week, and a flutter of interest in it in HE contexts in the UK this week have made me think again about why it’s important for people to have spaces where their words and thoughts can be encountered and interacted with but not captured or curated.

Sam Ladner laid out the landscape of concerns about privacy and freedom of expression really nicely in 2013,  the platform in question then was Snapchat, and I think her points are relevant for any discussion around platforms that facilitate the disappearance of content.  There are reasons, excellent reasons, why people might want their words or images to not be remembered.   Simon Thomson summarizes them briefly here.

The hazard in instructional contexts is when ephemerality is combined with anonymity.  Trolling and bad behavior is as much a part of the internet as it is in real life.  it’s particularly visible to me on Twitter, but the fact is that the Internet is Made of People and we are not beyond the worst of our potential in digital or physical places.  Racism, sexism, bullying behavior and worse are among the hazards of our society, and anonymity makes it much much easier to attack people and then slink away.   In a digital instruction situation, anonymity is inappropriate.  If we want for our students to take chances and speak to each other about concepts that they are unsure about or uncomfortable with, we also need to make sure those spaces are safe and that people are held accountable for their words.  Anonymity makes that nearly impossible.  Students in physical classrooms can be encouraged to speak, and we know who they are.  Students in ephemeral digital classrooms should be identifiable to each other as the people who they are, to foster community as well as responsibility.

So, I can see (much to my chagrin, as I am historically opposed to making arguments for things to be built in institutional systems) an argument for institutions creating (non-anonymous) YikYak type spaces in their LMS/VLEs, because currently those spaces track and keep content.  Designing a digital institutional spaces that deliberately forget content would be injecting into digital learning spaces an affordance easily achieved in physical spaces.

The trick (there’s always a trick) would be in convincing the students that conversations and interactions in such spaces are in fact safely ephemeral.

Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come.

People, Places and Things: Why do Visitors and Residents Workshops?

IMAG2990

View from the High Line, NYC

I have just completed a week away that contained two different Visitors and Residents workshops.  The first I conducted with Dave White at Parsons, the New School for Design, at the invitation of Cynthia Lawson Jaramillo, with a group of Parsons faculty.  The second was a two-day event at the invitation of Keith Webster at Carnegie Mellon, with a group that included librarians and library staff from CMU as well as the University of Pittsburgh, and Dave and I were joined by Lynn Connaway to run the workshop.  Dave blogged his views on the different workshops here.

I am struck by how little the basic mapping format has changed since we started doing these workshops in conference settings, as a way of getting people to think about the V&R concept without lecturing.

When we have people map themselves, the range of practice remains striking.  We get “sparse” maps

2015-05-13 12.09.20

 

and we get “filled in” maps.

2015-05-13 12.11.06

 

We get people whose Resident practice is largely in their personal lives,

2015-05-13 12.10.55

 

and others who primarily engage in the Resident spaces of the web (such as Twitter, Facebook, or Google+) because of what they need to do in their professional lives, or for their volunteering obligations, or as a part of their artistic practice.

2015-05-11 11.04.53

 

The point we have to make over and over again at these events  is that no mode of practice is inherently better than the other.  I can see the tension run out of people when we tell them that no one is going to be judged for their maps.  The intent of our work, and the workshop, is not to identify those who are “More Resident” so as to claim that their practices are Best and then send their largely Visitor-centric colleagues over to Learn How To Do the Web Better.

Because the V&R workshop is not about Doing the Web Better.  The workshop is a way of visualizing practice, and in particular about making clear all the different ways in which the Web is a Place, a location for people to meet and interact and learn and leave and come back to.  A place where, as with any place that has people in it, individuals can do the social work that results in relationships, where intimacy can flourish even in the absence of face to face interaction.

Engaging with digital places is not a substitute for engagement face to face, rather it proliferates the possible locations where connections can be made.

In libraries, in higher education generally, the work of institutions is embedded in relationships.  Students, faculty, and staff rely on each other (or don’t) because of webs of trust and credibility that are not just about institutional authority ( they are seldom just about that) but because of the meaningful connection that grow when people interact with each other in common places like:  Student Unions, Library Buildings, Cafes, Classrooms.  But also:   Twitter,  Facebook, YikYak (!) and Instagram.  The Digital can be (among other things) a tool, or a resource full of content, but its existence as a Place is what can be hard to see, at the same time it is so terrifically important to grasp.

We seldom have time to be reflective about our own practices, what they are as well as what they mean.  In offering the workshop format as an open resource, and also in coming in to run the workshops ourselves, as we did this last week at Parsons and at CMU/Pitt, the Visitors and Residents team is helping provide space for such reflection to take place.  Further thoughts from Lawrie Phipps about where we can take the V&R framework from here can be found here.

 

IMAG2995

Cathedral of Learning and Heinz Memorial Chapel, Pittsburgh.

 

Debate at Jisc Digifest 2015

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Beautiful Birmingham Library.

 

So the second kind of thing I did this past month was not exactly new to me–I argue with people all the time, and I argue with Dave White rather more than I argue with most other people.  But Lawrie Phipps invited myself and Dave to argue with each other about something in particular–whether or not education technology is “fit for purpose.”  We were on a central stage in Birmingham, at Jisc’s second ever Digifest, and I had a marvelous time.  It was theatrical, occasionally shouty, and I think an engaging provocation.

Lawrie has already blogged about the debate here.

Photo by Steve Rowett @srowett

No bias in the room at all, BTW. Photo by Steve Rowett @srowett

I should say that Dave and I deliberately chose polarized positions that were not necessarily reflective of our own beliefs about edtech.  I should also say that what I was arguing (NO THEY ARE NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE) was a lot closer to what I actually believe, with Dave taking on the techno-brutalist end of the stick for the sake of inspiring people to think about what they actually believed to be true.  The audience reaction to Dave’s argument fascinated me–we were, it should be said, in a room full of edtech professionals (It was a Jisc event, after all), and it should not have surprised me that there were many voices in favor of VLEs and ePortfolios in the (substantial, and nicely engaged) audience.  I was surprised at the arguments made for VLEs that were less about education and more about administration, scale, and the tracking of student information.

So I don’t object to those reasons, but dispute that they are educational ones.  I’d rather institutions be transparent about what they actually use these systems for–education as I defined it in the debate isn’t necessarily central to the institutional argument for edtech.

The central tenet of my argument is that centralized institutional tech isn’t as educational as you think it is.  What do we mean by fit for Purpose?  I argued that our purpose is education, not in the indoctrination sense, but in the broad cultural sense of equipping the people within the educational system for an effective productive life outside of the system

Technology in the service of a broadly-defined education should be more open, more flexible, less locked in to institutional priorities, because that is what we are intending to send our students out into, an open world with open systems.  Digital citizenship, practiced responsibly, can start in university settings, and does not have to be within “walled gardens.”  I made the argument (and I do believe this) that such protected systems can actually be failures on institutions’ parts, failures to scaffold students within the systems on the open web they will need to evaluate and navigate in their post-university future (and in their present, for that matter).

What if they money we spend on contracts to companies that manufacture these systems was spent on staff and training and time to become true bricoleurs of the web, and facilitate the skills of our students, too?

They need to be fluent and savvy in the ways of the open web, see the ways that current and future digital places can be relevant to their scholarly and professional futures, as well as their personal futures.  Institutions who do not facilitate and mentor students through the open exploration possible on the web not only look like idiots, but are actually getting in the way of processes their students need to engage with to become effective, informed citizens.

We can talk about what that might look like, but my point is it can and should look a wide variety of ways, ways that are only discoverable once we break free from the institutional edtech model, and move out onto the open web.  A Domain of One’s Own is one of the best models I am aware of, but we’ll never know what else we can do if we don’t stop relying on one-stop solutions.

In the end, I was quite pleased that, given the venue, I managed to have the support of half the room in person, and 45% of the vote overall.

You can find the recording of the debate here, on Day 1, at about 5 hrs 29 minutes (you will have to register with the site to view, sorry).

Lego Rehearsal

The best arguments are among friends.

 

Guest Blog: Beth Martin and Heather McCullough, Assessment Beyond Counting

Recently my colleagues Beth Martin and Heather McCullough presented at Educause on our assessment agenda in Atkins Library.  I love this work, I am delighted to work with them here at UNC Charlotte.  I’m sharing the poster here because I think it’s terrifically important to get as many voices as possible into the conversation about what assessment is, could be, and should be for, in Academic Libraries, and in Higher Education generally.  I have blogged about the Mixed-Method, Interdisciplinary library before, and I think that this poster is a nice example of how we are going to operationalize that at Atkins, with partnerships within and outside of the library.

I’m including a summary in this post of their main points, and a link to their poster.

Making Big Data Small

Click to get to .pdf

Educational Analytics and Libraries

Educational Analytics in this context encompasses both Learning Analytics and Academic Analytics.

Learning Analytics focuses on data about the learning process while academic analytics focuses on data about the institution.1

 UNC Charlotte Atkins Library is putting together an analytics initiative that will explore both learning and academic analytics through a library lens.

 

The Initiative

 

What we do now What we want to do How we will move forward
Count items and people How are patrons using the library? Discover what data we have using the Data Asset Framework Methodology2
Qualitative space assessment Explore impact of services across gender, race, ethnicity, major, grade level, etc. Statistical training

  • Move beyond counting
Impact of library on retention Qualitative research training

  • Make the big data relevant to our institution
  • Context
Impact of library on GPA Work across the institution using data to inform policies and practices
Compare to peer and aspirational institutions

 

 

The Tools

  •  Measurement Information Services Outcomes (MISO)
    • National Survey of libraries used to compare across institutions as well as inform internal practices
  • Integrated Library System
    • Main library system that stores usage data
  • Association of Research Libraries data
    • National library data
  • UNC Charlotte Institutional Research
    • Data analysis of all institutional research
  • Google Analytics
  • Learning Management System
    • Data on student usage
  • Library Database statistics
    • How are scholarly articles/books being used
  •  Altmetrics
    • Social and collaborative nature of institutional research
  • Integrated Postsecondary Education System (IPEDS)

 

  • Qualitative studies
    • Space use
    • Classroom use
    • Student Learning Outcomes analysis for library instruction

 

The project is in the first stage of the Data Asset Foundation methodology, which is scheduled to finish this December.  Once we have a clear picture of the available data we will look at our initial research questions to determine what we can explore with the available data and what data we may need in the future.

 

Contact Information

Beth Martin, Head of Access Services and Assessment

Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte

sarmarti@uncc.edu

 

Heather McCullough, Associate Director

Center for Teaching and Learning, UNC Charlotte

hamccull@uncc.edu

 

Citations

  1. Penetrating the Fog: Analytics in Learning and Education. (n.d.). Retrieved September 29, 2014, from http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/penetrating-fog-analytics-learning-and-education
  2.  Data Asset Framework | Digital Curation Centre. (n.d.). Retrieved September 29, 2014, from http://www.dcc.ac.uk/resources/repository-audit-and-assessment/data-asset-framework