March 5, 2007

My Job in 10 Years: Instruction

To recap:

My Job in 10 Years:

(PDF version of whole series for printing here.)


My crystal ball is a little cloudy here, in many ways the future of my IL instruction role is the cloudiest, the hardest to discern the direction of, the one I'm most uncomfortable predicting. What we do in our instruction is so geared towards getting students comfortable doing literature searches in their disciplines that every change, every bump in the road I see in the disciplinary landscapes, the evolution of the STM literature and discovery tools affects what I'll be doing in instruction. In this brave new world, what will I know that students will listen to and their profs will consider valuable enough to give me some of their class time? These millennials, these new students are increasingly comfortable and confident in their search skills, will they imagine that a librarian will know anything about searching that they won't? Notice how I didn't say competent. Sure, they will have a pretty good level of competence, mostly from shear trial and error over a long period of time. But of course, no one is a perfect searcher, particularly a young person who has only begun a long career as an Internet searcher. More experienced searchers will always have something to teach to less experienced searchers. But, will those student searchers actually believe this is so, or, with the arrogance of youth, believe that they know it all? This is the challenge -- breaking down that barrier of confidence and convincing students and their profs that we have something to offer.

Difficult to predict, difficult to judge. But I'll try anyway.

The Present

It seems that there are a bunch of different kinds of things I try to teach (standards here): disciplinary context including relevant document types, scholarly communications patterns including concepts such as peer review and gatekeepers, the social contexts of information in the online world as well as some nitty gritty database search skills to find the stuff their prof wants them to find. I'll also touch on administrivia such as getting library cards, remote access to eresources and using virtual reference. All in 40-75 minutes, sometimes in lecture format to a large class, sometimes during mostly hands-on lab session, sometimes to grad students (who get the full monty) and sometimes to first year students (who get a more skill-focused, assignment-focused presentation).

In the future, perhaps the most important consideration will be access.

It's one thing to have something useful to contribute but it's quite another to convince other people to let me contribute. First of all, more and more the instructional opportunities I do have will grow out of the relationships I have with faculty. The idea that librarians can help them give their students an orientation to the scholarly communications patterns of their disciplines won't just pop to the top of their minds from nowhere. To win faculty members' respect and trust, I will need to build a store of credibility with them, to convince them that I truly understand their disciplinary culture and can impart that knowledge to their students. Perhaps, since I won't be so deeply plugged into one very narrow research area, they'll actually come to believe that I might have a somewhat broader view of the discipline and even some areas where their discipline intersects with others that I might also be knowledgeable about. Liaison and outreach will become an important way to market our services to faculty. Given that, I think that my instruction will be less about how to search but more about what it means to be a scholar in a particular discipline: what functions do different types of documents serve, how and where are those documents created and published, what are the specialized tools that you need to use to find and organize those documents, how do you network and communicate with other scholars and students in the field and how does the student, graduate or undergraduate, contribute to the creation of new knowledge. And that's what I'll need to convince faculty members of to get access to their students.

What do I teach now that will drop off?

Search. I really have a hard time imagining I'll spend much time on the mechanics of search in 10 years. Maybe I'll spend a few minutes on strategies for narrowing searches, but that's probably it. Concepts of relevance, keywords and all that, the students will probably be quite familiar with already. I expect to spend next to no time on how to search. This is shift I'm already experiencing in my instruction. Although I still find that many (if not quite most) present day students don't know how to search anywhere near as well as they think, they won't really see this as something I can teach them in an instructional setting. The difference-maker for that kind of instruction is really good old fashioned just-in-time reference.

Another thing that I expect to disappear from my teaching is showing how to go from the search engine item to the actual document. By 10 years from now, I certainly hope that going to the full text from the search engine (be it a for-free or for-fee engine) will be automatic and that students will almost never encounter a case where the document they want is not available online, even if we don't subscribe. Like I mentioned way-back-when, I don't think scitech students will be using that many print books anymore. When they do encounter a print-only book or a reference to an article old and obscure enough not to exist online, I hope our discovery tools will make it quite apparent that that's what's happened. And it that case, I imagine that 99.999% of the time, the student won't bother trying to find that obscure old documents. An interesting concept related to this is the integration of search tools. If the OPAC and all those A&I are subsumed in the MicroGoogleSoft omniplex, I won't have to talk about how you have to use different tools to find different document types.

And since I don't expect to be buying all that many print books in 10 years, I don't expect to be teaching a lot about finding a retrieving print books.

What will I teach that will fundamentally stay the same, perhaps only slightly different in details?

This is a tough one. Can I completely leave out administrivia? Most of it's really marketing: opening hours is really "come to the library," accessing licensed resources from off campus is really "hey, use our cool stuff even from home" and so on. So, I think this will stay to some degree, just talking a bit about what the library is, where it is and why students might want to try out the physical and virtual spaces, trying to convince them that we're there to help them and that they shouldn't be shy about asking for help. Although the actual stuff I talk about may change, for example I may talk about the virtual location of IM-y things, blogs & wikis as much as the physical location of reference desks or book stacks. The attitude might be something like, "You know we're going to have these these tools, well we do and they're here."

Are there things that I don't teach now but will do so in the future? Or that will be fundamentally different?

Ah, the big one.

  • I think the key here will be integration and collaboration. I will teach them how to be social in an academic, scholarly context. Using various software research aids like the descendants of the current citation managers, various interactive social research environments, resembling blogs, wikis, open and collaborative peer review systems they can contribute to. My goal will be to teach students how to quickly and efficiently collaborate with other to create the wide variety of documents that they need for their course and project work. As well, I will teach them where and how to create new knowledge, to contribute to a wider world of knowledge.

  • And, of course, the students' disciplinary context and how what they are trying to do in their projects and assignments fits into that context. So I'll talk about concepts such as gatekeepers; the invisible college; whatever peer review becomes; whatever journals become; whatever various formats conferences take on; patents and standards for engineers; physical property data for chemists; language, operating system and other technical manuals for computer scientists (and really, I have no idea what forms those types of information will take on in 10 years). I teach these disciplinary concepts now, but mostly fairly quickly as a way to give context to the rest of the presentation rather than making up the meat of the session. As I discuss above and below, this will become the core, the foundation of my instructional efforts, what everything else hinges on.

  • If I don't really teach search anymore, I'll probably concentrate more on discovery. I'll be teaching the tools that students need to let them know what they should be reading, that surface for them those materials that they need to do their work and move their research forward. These tools will be the descendants of the Faculty of 1000, recommendation sites like Digg, bookmarking like and other collaborative peer review systems they can tap into to discover important new documents, be they articles, patents, standards, whatever .

And how about delivery?

Will I deliver my instruction in new and different ways? Lots here depends on whether higher education in general will be delivered in new and different ways, probably using some combination of streaming video, interactive virtual environments, traditional classrooms, content management systems, off-site at co-op and practicum placements. It's fun to imagine that I won't just be standing in front of a classroom or roaming around in a lab -- although those are formats that will likely still be popular. I could be an avatar in a virtual, game-like environment, a descendant of modern course management systems, or a designer of interactive tutorials or a part of a team-taught core course. The options are quite varied and I think the key to our future as instructors is to be able to go with the flow, to adapt to a changing environment, to go where the students are not where they used to be. The boundaries between instruction and reference will probably become somewhat blurred as we try and be in a lot of different places and as our instruction becomes more just-in-time rather than just-in-case.


So, in the end, will I instruct? Of course, I really don't know the answer to that question but I can hazard a guess, based on some of the conjectures I've explored above. I think the answer is "yes." My goals are hopeful, ambitious and achievable, but I do know that some of these things I'll have to start working on now if I want to be still doing them in 10 years. It seems to me that the most important part of my job is to continue to learn about the culture of science, the patterns of scholarly communication in the various disciplines, the new tools, the new networks and open databases, to have the knowledge that will help me build that all-important credibility with my faculty, the credibility that will convince them to give me access to their students. So this means that I have to listen to faculty, to make sure I meet new faculty as they start at my institution, to attend any meetings that I can manage where they discuss the issues that they face. I have to pay attention to what they write about themselves, in their blogs, in the journals and conferences that talk about management and educational issues from a disciplinary perspective. I have to keep up with the science stuff too, from blogs and popular science journals and books. This way, when I talk at one of their meetings, when I run into them at a campus reception, when I prepare a accreditation document, when I make a pitch for some sort of curriculum integration of "library skills," they'll think to themselves, "Hey, this guy knows what he's talking about! Let's give him a chance, maybe he can help."

As usual, I realize prognostication is a risky business at best so all disagreement, debate, comments and feedback is appreciated, as a comment here or email to jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

Next up: Outreach to Faculty and Students in Physical and Virtual Spaces (I hope a shorter one that won't take me three months to write!)

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