Librarians at the 2013 Teaching & Learning Symposium

Every autumn, the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation hosts a Teaching & Learning Symposium to explore a variety of topics and issues involved in teaching and learning at the University of Toronto.

Librarians are always welcome to participate and attend, and this year the CTSI-seconded librarians deployed a survey to get feedback from the librarians in attendance about their experiences of the event and how it resonates with their work.

A common thread in the feedback was positive responses to a new type of session added to the program this year, the 15-minute “Nifty Assignment” session, in which presenters discussed the development and implementation of creative assignments. As one librarian noted, this session was useful because “[i]t showed how librarians and faculty worked together to design & deliver scaffolded assignments.”

Another important theme that appeared in the feedback was the challenges and rewards of librarians’ relationship to instructors and the classroom, as demonstrated by these quotations:

“[O]ne challenge is simply for librarians to find out about courses where the library could play a helpful role, to instructors and students – often the instructors aren’t aware that their students are dealing with something the library can help support.”

“Interaction and networking with faculty and staff is so often productive, whether they are your ‘home’ faculty or not – the more librarians we can get to faculty events like this the better, just in terms of networking and exposure for librarian services and roles.”

We look forward to next year’s Teaching & Learning symposium, and encourage librarians to submit and attend.


The future of MOOC platforms? Money money money

I always enjoy reading Alex Usher’s “One Thought to Start Your Day” which uses a dollars-and-cents lense to look at important issues in higher education.  In his post The Future of MOOCs: Coursera and EdX, Usher ponders the likelihood (high, in his view) that venture capital fueling Coursera may dry up soon unless Coursera finds a way to make its investors money, fast.  “…Unless [Coursera’s] Signature Track enrolments jump 20-fold, or [venture capital] burn rates fall significantly, or unicorns arrive with magic revenue streams,  …Coursera has got maybe 15 months before the VCs pull the plug.”

Should that happen, this will open the door for EdX, Coursera’s main remaining competitor in higher-ed (and not funded by venture capital) to pick up the pieces.  Usher see the benefits: “Once we clear the VCs out of the MOOC discussion, we can ask clearer questions about the uses of MOOCs, without getting tied up in ideological debates about whether they are neo-liberal whatsit, and yadda yadda.  And that’s important, because the potential benefits of these tools are worth examining.”


Measure online learning against real learning outcomes, rather than F2F models

Making a compelling case for examining the effectiveness of online or blended learning against empirical benchmarks, Edward Renner rejects the measurement of online learning against a conventional “sage-on-the-stage” classroom setting.  In “The Difference Between Theory and Practice,” Renner cites a number of studies that make comparisons between online and actual expectations of learning, rather than comparing online against equivalent F2F models:

“… the chorus of critics is that online and virtual is a shoddy imitation of the real thing. Such declarations miss the point. They are assertions that the ideal traditional classroom is the real criterion against which online should be compared, rather than simply serving as a reference point for comparison with other alternatives.

The issue of whether the new technologies are consistent with a hypothetical ideal appropriate for the specific circumstance of lecturing to a captive audience at a fixed time and place is a meaningless theoretical exercise. The essential exercise is to compare this particular circumstance with other circumstances using an objective external standard.

The objective standard at one extreme is a situation in which hardly anyone learns anything. At the other extreme is one in which almost everyone learns everything. These two limiting distributions can be plotted on a graph in which the X-Axis is the proportion of the material learned and Y-Axis is the proportion of the class.”


All those new literacies, what’s a librarian to do?

Hats off to U of T’s Eveline Houtman for her article New literacies, learning, and libraries: How can frameworks from other fields help us think about the issues?  For many of us exploring and understanding concepts of metaliteracy, transliteracy, multiliteracies, this article provides a useful review of key literature, and explore the intent behind the jargon. Not simply a review article, Houtman injects her own reflections on the concepts and wonders aloud if the new words help or hinder our efforts to participate in genuine student learning:

“Do we really want to adopt a term not recognized by people in other fields? Librarians want to take part in the larger debates and discussions on new digital literacies together with educators, researchers, and policy makers. Our frameworks also have something to say to other fields, but it sometimes feels as if the library world is invisible … Surely we’ll communicate better with our peer communities if we’re not using a term and a framework that no one understands, that separates us from the conversation and muffles our voice.”

Interestingly, the article was subjected to open peer review and is (of course) open access.  Comments are open.