Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Day in the Life

What does a librarian do all day? Well, today I'm participating in the Library Day in the Life Project, and I'll be updating this blog post all day. I'm the Coordinator for Distance Learning for Hilton C. Buley Library, and the Sciences Reference Librarian.

9:00am My day always starts with email and whatever problems have come up over night that I can help with. Today, that's problems with the database logins--might be something lingering from the power outages yesterday, but the servers in question are actually not on campus. Sorry folks, can't help much on that!

9:15 Email. Mostly vendor stuff, newsletter-y stuff (like Inside Higher Ed), and spam.

9:26 Not too much email this morning. Making tea to take to the reference desk for a 1 hour shift. If it's not busy, I'll be working on a new "Accessing the library databases from home" brochure.

10:20 Power out, and back, again! Just got "unproxied" database login instructions up before the power went out. I guess the patch to the campus electrical system didn't hold. (The power went out 4 times yesterday.)

10:30 Answered reference questions about database access problems, printing, and finding articles from a reference list. Pretty slow, but not surprising given the lack of power right there in the middle!

11:20 Proofread and submitted my final grant reviews (Done!) and walked through the remote login work around with a student on the phone. It's a problem because I can't see the same screens on campus. I think I need to go home for lunch.

1:00pm Updated instructions with screenshots from home. I hope this makes more sense. Time to head back to work.

1:30 Email. More email. Now can I work on my brochure?

2:00-3:00 Tea and the eduMOOC Live Panel #5: Public, Private, and Open Learning. The audio stream seems to be a little choppy today. eduMOOC is a Massive Open Online Course about online learning with over 2500 participants worldwide. The weekly panels pull experts from all sorts of online learning fields and institutions together for an hour, while the participants listen and chat via Twitter. Everything is recorded and is/will be available on the site.
  • Creative Commons is working on educational materials metadata scheme: LMRI
  • CC also involved in making available the materials produced in the TAACCCT grants, which is the grant project for which I just finished a reviewing stint. 
  • Cable Green of CC: open will eventually be the default, you'll need a good reason to close resources
  • Jeff Newell of the Ill. Community College Board says that they are working on state-wide developmental courses that will be at least partially online
  • CG: open an make efficiency--if so much financial aid and student money is being spent on textbooks (est. $5m for Eng101 book in Washington state), wouldn't it make more sense to provide cheap, open textbooks instead of extra financial aid or student loans?
  • Larry Regan (Penn State): open makes for better books, improvements from future users
  • JN: 25% of college cost is textbook costs (Ill CC study)
  • Ray Schroeder (U Ill and eduMOOC): the split between course content (ie open) and course credit (me: and support services) is going to be a big point of discussion
  • CG: "Iron Triangle" formula: access, quality, cost are all reciprocal--this is devastating especially in current budget situations; OER ("golden circle") disrupts this completely
  •  LR: may need a new paradigm if content is open (me: brings up the real question, what exactly does an educational institution deliver? It's not just content/information. Isn't our strength based on teaching and support of learning?)
  • OERu
4:00 Informal discussions about databases with other librarians. We are getting GeoBase on a new platform. Yay! Search widgets display differently in different browsers, and IE on Windows 7 messes up a lot of things, including our catalog. Ugh.

Good news: database access seems to be back (fingers crossed) and campus announcement says that we've got a new electrical system work around that should be more sturdy (fingers crossed again/still/more). Time to check email again and get back to work on that brochure.

4:50 Time to wrap up the day. I've got a draft of the brochure done, but it still needs some work.

What do I often do that I didn't today? Meetings (one tomorrow, but the summer is quieter in general); weeding (working on the medical sections right now--it gets outdated so fast!); collection development (buying books, etc.); helping students or professors with library research; teaching library instruction classes and demos; staff and faculty development (Web 2.0 and open access topics, mostly); helping faculty find resources for new classes or updating old ones; catching up on my own reading.

5:00pm Well, it's been nice spending the day with you. Have a good evening!

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thoughts on Google+ and the "Google LMS"

I've been on Google+ for about a week now, and I want to document my thoughts on it.  I also want to consider what Google+ might do to my consideration of using only Google products to run a course. Like the first post, this is mostly a thought experiment about what goes into a 'course' and what sorts of products and services might be cobbled together. It also gives me a concrete model to compare features and helps me think about what else I might do with something like Plus. (And if Google would like to take any of this as a suggestion, I'm happy to be of service.)

Overall, I like it. Having Circles be so prominent (as opposed to Facebook lists) really does help. I also like that following does not have to be mutual (though I've noticed a tendency for most people to follow everyone who follows them--I suspect this will wear off.) The privacy features do seem to be more self-explanatory--which, after all, is Google's biggest point against Facebook. I've seen some excellent cautionary postings about the intellectual property dangers, but those are inherent in any social network, not just Google+.

I see the main failings at the moment (and remember, Plus is still in very early development) as a lack of groups, a lack of easy posting, and a lack of something that no social network so far has really had: history.

Circles, while being marvelous in terms of communication management, are individual. A Circle is not like a Facebook Page or a Google Group, which exists beyond an individual. (This was initially confusing, as I was invited through someone's eduMOOC Circle, who was in someone else's eduMOOC Circle, etc.) Circles are like Facebook Lists or a personal email distribution list. So if I create a Circle for a class, I can broadcast to the Circle, but classmates can't broadcast to the class unless they also create Circles with all classmates in them, and we can't even check to see if everyone in my circle is in someone else's. You just know that someone is going to leave someone out, accidentally or on purpose. Perhaps Google will integrate Groups into Plus at some point--it would be a good pairing. I also like the suggestion I saw somewhere for Circles within Circles--so, for instance, I could have a Reference Department Circle within my Work Circle, so that everyone in Ref is automatically part of Work, without me having to remember to add them to both. It's not crucial (it's not that hard to add someone to two circles) but it would be an even better model of how social groups really work.

I'm now constantly frustrated at the difficulty of getting content into Plus. The only 'Add to Google+" feature that I've found so far is a 3rd party add-on to Google's Chrome browser, called Surplus. It shows me my notifications, and has a Share button that will post the URL of the page I'm on and whatever comments I'd like to make. It works great, except that I'm not in Chrome all the time. A simple bookmarklet would be fine! But until I can get content into Plus as easily as I can into Facebook or Twitter, Plus is going to have a distinct disadvantage. I expect this will be solved quickly, but it's frustrating at the moment.

I thought at first that I might be able to use Google's +1 (their 'like' button), but there doesn't seem to be a way of sharing the things I +1 to my Google+ stream.

The history issue is a problem I have with Facebook and Twitter, too. Sometimes I can't find my own old posted links! In some circumstances you could +1 pages (did I say I really want a Plus bookmarklet!), and see them in your profile, but you can't organize them there (at least not yet). Something like the Notes feature in the Google Reader would work--you can tag and share (or not), so you could save links to articles, blog posts, files, etc. Just a tagging feature on +1 would be great or the ability to save to Reader right in Plus. Right now, I'd do something like: see an interesting link in Plus, go there and save to a Reader Note (actually I save to Delicious or Evernote, mostly, but this is a Google post).

To sum up the previous post about Google as courseware: Sites for a course page, Calendar for due dates and scheduling, Docs and possibly Books and Scholar for readings, Blogger for student blogs and journals, YouTube for video lectures and class projects, Docs for papers and presentations, Docs spreadsheet for grading, GTalk/Chat for office hours and study groups, Groups for discussions, Gmail for individual communications and announcements, iGoogle for students' personal learning organizers/networks. This was based on a traditional course model, with grades and office hours and all, so obviously if you're doing something less formal, you could use less--and there definitely are better, non-Google tools for much of this. But still, it's a pretty impressive inventory.

So what does Google Plus add to the 'courseware' mix? Mostly networking and communication convenience. Students can easily self-organize into study groups. It's easy to share something with one or more Circles, or just one person. Plus currently has photos (Picassa) built in, and I bet videos from YouTube and files from Docs will get added at some point. Office hours can use the video chat in a Hangout or the Google Chat. You could even do small lectures in a Hangout (I think the limit is 10 people at a time).

The Sparks feature seems a bit like Google Alerts, so that could make a nice addition to a learning network. Students could also follow people outside of the class doing work related to their courses, and since you can create as many circles as you need, creating 'Follow' circles for different subjects would be easy, so you don't get your history mixed up with your English lit. If Plus takes off, and once Google allows institutions to create Plus accounts, there should be all sorts of interesting things to follow.

So, it's early yet, but Google+ has a lot of potential. Like any social network, the value to the user is in the network. So, please feel free to 'circle' me!

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