27 February 2009

Exploring New Technology: Twitter 2.0

So, I am starting play a bit with Twitter again.

Admittedly, I have been under the gun in a lot of ways lately. Work is intense. Teaching is demanding a lot of thought, prep, response, and attention. And for once, I am trying to do things like go to yoga, read, write, and take care of the non-work me. So, the idea of yet another technology to play with was off putting.

But, my friend and mentor, Rob Williams, mentioned that he was going to give it a try. And the ever impressive Andy Burkhardt mentioned it too. Plus, social media guru Elaine Young was pulverizing her Facebook updates with Tweets. So I thought I would give it another go.

Need I point out that my Twitter name is thesheck?

So, I am tweeting. A little. Which got me thinking, why is it just a little?

Elaine asked me in Twitter the other day what the differences I saw between blogging and twitter. She asked the question in the context of protecting my updates. But I took the question to heart in a different way. Why is it that I am have a hard time embracing Twitter? What is it about it that does not spark my interest as much as other technologies and SNS?

Admittedly, I consider myself a selective adapter. I do not jump in to play right off the bat. I lurk. I try to think about what I might use a technology for. That is how the whole "Exploring New Technology" thread began for me.

Part of what put me off from Twitter initially was how it felt like a clique. My first experience with it was at Computers in Libraries conference in 2008. There was something about having the conference twittered that made me a bit uncomfortable, especially as a presenter. But, then I realized that a big part of that was old high school anxiety--"what are they saying about me?". CiL was one of my first conference presentations so I hadn't yet experienced how supportive, encouraging, interested, and collaborative the library community can be. I found out soon enough, that there was nothing to fear.

However, the clique bit still irks me. As I think about what differences I see between blogging and Twitter, it really comes down to writing for myself and writing for others. Here in my blog, I think thoughts through. I ruminate. I question. I work through an idea and share it with....whomever. No one, perhaps. I don't blog for others. I blog for myself. I blog as a way to get ideas out of my head.

Twitter, on the other hand....well, do you tweet alone? I don't think so. It doesn't seem so. It seems that Twitter is more in line with sharing information. The question, "What are you doing?" asks for instant, short answers. David Silver, in one of his typically terrific posts, points out that there are different types of tweets: think and thin. He says, "thin tweets are posts that convey one layer of information. thick tweets convey two or more, often with help from a hyperlink." So, while there might be short answers, they aren't necessarily superficial. Quite the contrary actually. That, is something, I did not really appreciate about Twitter until I read this.

David ends his post by saying that "i'm trying to teach my students how to craft creative, meaty, and to-the-point messages that attract other people's attention." As David points out, that is not the only way to use Twitter. Aaron Schmidt makes a great example of how Twitter can teach us about our own institution in this blog post. Twitter, it seems to me, is about joining in on a conversation and/or attracting attention to what you are doing and/or sharing information. It is quite remarkable that 140 characters can achieve so much. But there are certain rules that seem to apply. Michael Sauers points out with his Dr. Phil example that there are certain things about using Twitter that are essential: participating on both sides. MIchael makes a great point in this post but that interactivity requires something else: time.

This gets me thinking about Greg Schwartz and his decision to put Uncontrolled Vocabulary on hiatus. He explains that part of his decision comes from how much is involved in preparing for the show: “It’s the never-ending involvement: the slave-like attention to my feed reader, the setting up of blog posts, the reading and re-reading of proposed conversation starters. All worthwhile activites that I enjoy, but that require a certain constant level of engagement which forces me to make compromises with the rest of my priorities.” When I put everything together here, it means that being involved “thickly” in Twitter means not just following someone but following them and what they are doing beyond Twitter. And that is a huge investment of one’s time. And that is worth recognizing.

Clearly, I am still playing with and developing my thoughts on Twitter. And I find myself asking a lot of questions about how I want to communicate with my network of friends and colleagues, which is always a good thing. As David Silver points out, there are a myriad of ways to use tools on the web. I am trying to be intentional and experimental as I play with this tool. In the meantime, I will keep playing and reading all the posts out there that talk about your experiences with Twitter.

17 February 2009

What's working?

Probably like thousands of other librarians, my inbox was full of friends and colleagues sending me this article in the New York Times about school librarians. The article is pretty interesting but I was particularly drawn to the video (which I can't link to...NYT needs to fix that!). It coincides with a major issue we are dealing with at Champlain: what information literacy skills do our students already have?

At the moment, the five teaching librarians are teaching info lit sessions to all first year students. Our information literacy program is embedded into Champlain's Core Curriculum. The Core curriculum is an integrated, interdisciplinary, incremental program that is a required component of the Champlain education. The chance to reach all students, every semester is incredible. And we have a lot of ideas about what our sessions should encompass. But the spring semester of their first year is when students encounter their first research assignment. And trying to make sure students are equipped to handle that assignment is difficult because we don’t know with which skills students have come to Champlain.

To cover all the bases, in the IL session for first years students will:
-be introduced to the library catalog,
-practice using print material effectively,
-develop keywords,
-apply their keywords in an academic database, and,
-use database results to deepen their searches and refine their keywords.

We are combining a lot of hands on, interactive tasks during the sessions with some more traditional instruction. One of the activities students try is using the index and table of contents of books to seek out specific information. Pretty basic, right? We thought so too. But during reference interviews, we have been incredulous at how few students know how to find a book or use PARTS of a book rather than the whole thing. Yet, when we go to classes, many of the students say that they know this already. Mostly, that's a relief. But the same is true when using the databases. They say they know this already.

Essentially, as the NYT video shows, librarians in K-12 are doing valuable and important work in teaching IL skills early. The problem I face in a higher ed library is that we don't know if every student has had it. As the article points out, "as school librarians increasingly teach students crucial skills needed not only in school, but also on the job and in daily life, they are often the first casualties of school budget crunches." So, some schools have librarians performing this function and some don't. Where does that leave students when they get to me at the college level?

Many other librarians advocate for pre-tests to determine where students are. I have never been a fan of pre-testing and I haven't seen much literature that points to its effectiveness. Moreover, just because students say they know how to use an index, does that mean that they know how to use an index effectively or know when it is an effective tool? Regardless, we are faced with the challenge of students coming to us with different levels of knowledge and practice when it comes to research. How do we deal with students that are more experienced and sophisticated users with those students that haven’t had much experience or instruction?

I am seeing it as a balancing act. We are trying to pitch these sessions as refreshers and “tips and tricks”. We talk to students about what we, information professionals, would do to deal with their questions or assignments. At first, I was pretty skeptical about that approach. But students seem to really take to it. I think a big part of that has to do with authenticity. I remember reading Parker Palmer’s piece for Immersion and the idea of teachers being authentic and open to vulnerability really struck a chord with me. And it seems to strike a chord with students. I don’t know the answer to their questions but I talk them through how I try to figure it out. And they seem to appreciate it that. Is it perfect? Certainly not. Is it working? Our assessment data will show us. More importantly, as they delve into their research papers, we’ll see whether the reference questions demonstrate that they are hearing what we’re saying and practicing what we’re showing them. But as we wrap up our sessions….it feels right.