Thoughts on the ACRL/NELIG program which I attended this morning, courtesy of one of my staff members who gave me her place since she was unable to go. Comments from other attendees can be read in the Twitter stream. Slides from the presentations will eventually be available on the website.
The theme was creativity and the keynote by Randy Hensley involved (well first he sang "I Remember You,") puzzles and group problem solving, working with images, senses and visualization. For example, we were asked, in teams, to describe a problem we might encounter teaching a library skills class to students (some of us went with the situation of not having enough computers for everyone to use.) Then we were asked to report, what does the problem sound, smell, taste and feel like to the touch. With the puzzles and these sensory stretches, Randy was engaging us at looking at what we do in novel ways. One way he framed it was to bring the concept of "brain lateralization" to the discussion, asking us to consider how education starts us off with a more right-brained focus (emphasis on play,) and then moves, almost exclusively, to a left-brained focus (organizational and analytical,) with the result that when people try to do creative work, they haven't been educated or are out of practice. So applying senses, images, memories can generate stories in our minds which are useful to apply to problem solving.
Randy went on to introduce concepts from Daniel Pink's work (haven't read him,) who emphasizes that we are entering a kind of post-information age, "conceptual age," where the emphasis will be on collaborative work, creation and empathy. Abilities will matter more than skills which will be regularly in flux for creative work we can only begin to imagine. While I welcome this new world view, skeptically I think of the work of Matthew Fraser and his Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom which examines, for example, how companies are or are not adopting social media and a more open information sharing culture at their peril. Matthew and I had a discussion about this a couple years ago and I asked him, among other things, about the flattening out of the corporate hierarchy that was talked about in the 90s, the horizontal organization. Didn't happen, he told me, because people who have power do what they will to hold onto it. Will a similar scenario prevail in the business and culture we know now and will see in the future? Further more, if everybody's an entrepreneur or artist or creator, must we all buy from each other to survive? Or barter?
I think I see where Randy was headed as he left us with his models of learning and his emphasis on creating empathy with the students we want to engage and bring to our libraries (or bring the library to them but in whatever instance, have them see the library and its personnel as offering solutions.) "Go to the place of empathy, " he said, and I've heard similar speech, the idea being rather than the library telling its user community what they offer and why they should want it, give them an image or a problem to solve, let them find the intrinsic meaning.
I saw an example of this in the next session I attended led by Andy Burkhardt and Sarah Cohen, who demonstrated an interesting exercise using polling software, asking a multiple choice question, for example ("what source do you use to get infomation?), having the students respond via text message, and then displaying the results on the screen. If the majority of the audience answers Google, it can become a discussion about that or the differences between search engines, the use of various social media sites, authority of sources. This was novel since usually students are not encouraged to use cell phones in learning environments; evidently some colleges are moving to ban them.
The subsequent session featured the use of images to gather students' attention in information literacy sessions. Alison Armstrong, working with Egyptian students, gave them icons from newspapers they would know and then instructed them to find articles on a topic. She stressed the importance of being brief in an explanation of what they were going to do before the class. Her co-presenter, Laurie Kutner, unveiled a graph showing comparative internet access in different regions of the world, also showing potential as a jumping off point for discussion, especially as one audience member pointed out, one can emphasize difficulties researching information about a country that has less technology infrastructure. The discussion concluded with audience members talking about rethinking of standards for information literacy, such as those implemented by ACRL, along the lines of abilities rather than skills. Alison alluded to a newly-adopted framework released by SCONUL, more cyclical, as one attendee commented.
A great day and thank you to the speakers and everyone involved with NELIG who made it possible.