Saturday, July 2, 2011

Building Communities With Web 2.0

The last assignment for the Web 2.0 Challenge involves a person taking a piece of technology and coming up with a plan to implement it into their library. As I don't have a library for which to build such a plan, and as the class I am doing this assignment for focuses on teaching information literacy, I have instead chosen to talk about how we should incorporate digital literacy skills, and Web 2.0 technology, into the teaching of information literacy.

Information literacy needs to expand to include the new ways people can search for, find, use, and create information. Information isn't the sole purview of books, but can be found in conversations, on the web, in blog and wikis, as well as within books.

Jeff Jarvis [author, blogger, and professor who can be found here] while speaking at ALA said that we were moving towards a new idea of information and content that is beyond text [the below slide can be found here thanks to griffey]. Instead of information being bound in books, it can be shared, remixed, and such over the web. Jarvis sees parallels to the pre-Gutenberg era, when books were costly and a great deal of information was shared orally. To Jarvis, information now requires us to participate in its creation and dissemination to a degree that was once found in the era before the printing press.

This is the world we now find ourselves in, a world where we create information and knowledge even by simply searching for it. By providing a list of blogs and websites with this blog, for instance, I am creating information. By tweeting links to websites, news articles, and such on Twitter, I am creating information. We are all constantly creating information on the web by merely being a part of it.

This world in which information is so easy to share needs information literacy educators who not only acknowledge this, but teach to this. We need to teach students and library customers how to not only find and use information for papers or personal reasons, but we need to teach them how to take part in this new information world we find ourselves in. We need to teach people how to find blogs, add to Wikis, keep themselves safe on Facebook, create a Twitter account, and to be able to be ready for whatever new piece of technology pops up a few months or years from now.

Working the Wikis

Most people know about Wikis, especially with the ubiquitousness of Wikipedia. Although Wikipedia may be the most well-known Wiki, it is by no means the only Wiki as they seem to have proliferated over the years. There are Wikis for almost every subject from television shows like Psych, successful library practices, and a host of other topics.

Although Wikis are all over the web these days, not everyone knows what a Wiki is exactly. Wikis are web-platforms that allow people with some level of expertise in a field to contribute to a shared pool of knowledge that, typically, anyone can access and read. There is usually some mechanism, like an editor checking entries or sites that only allow verified accounts to contribute, to prevent just anyone from adding to entries. Granted, as anyone who watches Stephen Colbert knows, these measures aren't always effective as they can be by-passed if thousands of people try to make the same change.

Despite the minor risks of Wikis [and personally, anyone who relies of Wikipedia for their information without double-checking the information or at least consulting the sources cited in the article is asking for trouble] I think that Wikis have a lot to offer as they allow us to pool our knowledge together and benefit from what one another know. Wikis will never be able to replace doing one's own research into a field, but they can be a great starting place.

However, with the usefulness of Wikis also comes responsibility. People need to contribute to Wikis and not just "other people" as we all have something we can contribute to Wikis. We all have a tv show, books series, or obscure area of knowledge that we may not too much about; we all should take this knowledge and use it to add Wikis and create new ones. I myself have added to a number of articles on various Wikis about mystery novels, education, and various sci-fi tv shows.

When it comes to the teaching of information literacy, in particular, Wikis can help in two main ways:

  • Wikis can help us learn about and share information about best practices, the underlying principles, and such by being a place where people in the field can come together. LibSuccess, for instance, provides such a place for information literacy.
  • Wikis can also be used to teach information literacy more directly by being incorporated into the learning material and serving as a place where students can help create content. Students need to be taught to double-check web sources, which Wikipedia is a great source for, but they also need to be aware of spaces in which they can contribute information. 
Wikis can be a great way to learn, connect with others, and to share information if used correctly. They are often not used correctly as they are used in place of actual research, used for tv pranks, and added to be a small group of users. Part of this is because traditional information literacy often fails to equip people to deal with things like Wikis as traditional encyclopedias are far more static then Wikis which are constantly updated by users around the globe. We need to equip people to deal with content, like Wikis, to which they can contribute along with anyone else. 

As a side note, Wikipedia has a program, called the Wikipedia Ambassador Program that is trying to form relationships with professors, teachers, and educators so that they can have the resources and support they need to teach students and others how to use Wikis smartly and how to contribute to them as well. If anyone was at ALA, they had a booth in the Exhibitors Hall. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Twitter Keeps it Short and Sweet

I admit, I was skeptical of Twitter when I first had to use it for a class on the use of social media in education about two years ago. A microblogging site, with a 140 character limit, didn't seem to be a great way to connect with other people or to express any ideas. Yet, after using the site for a class, I found that Twitter could be a great way to connect with people, learn about things, and even have conversations with other people.

I still use the same Twitter account I started back then, which can be found here. I follow a number of different types of accounts, from celebrities to fellow librarians and students. With this account, the feed of which can be found on the right side of this blog, I post about education, library stuff, conferences I am attending, and any number of other topics.

Indeed, I posted fairly frequently earlier this summer when I attended the FLA conference in Orlando and the ALA conference in New Orleans as the 140 character limit proved to be a great way to ensure short messages. By posting to Twitter, I could figure out who was attending the same panels and sessions along with me, what sessions might be worth checking out, and could also connect with other attendees by having conversations about what we were seeing.

Beyond these uses, Twitter can also be used to teach information literacy better by helping those in the field connect to one another and by helping us connect to library customers. On Twitter, I can follow, talk to and connect with people like Jeff Jarvis, R David Lankes, and organizations like ALA International. By connecting with these people, I can keep up to date on scholarship in the field.

Twitter can also be used to teach information literacy more directly by being used to teach students and library customers about vetting information, connecting with others, and creating content:

  • Vetting: Much like other blogs might present information that is false, by using Twitter, students can learn how to check information for accuracy. 
  • Connecting: Twitter is a great way to show students how to connect with one of the greatest information resource out there, other people. 
  • Creating: Twitter encourages users to create and share content by forcing users to create short messages. 
Twitter messages are short by design but they allow people to connect and keep up with others in a way that traditional blogging does not. The short messages allow people to read content published by numerous people quickly, as opposed to the time that needs to be spent reading long-form blogs. For time-strapped professionals, this can be a great way to keep up with others in the field. 

Being Social on the Web

A long, long time ago [and by that, I mean the early 90's and before] if you wanted to connect with someone states or countries away from you, you had to invest a great deal of time and energy in writing letters, calling on the phone, and connecting with people at conferences. Connecting with others in your field wasn't impossible, it just required active effort.

Now, you can connect with others far more easily then ever before by connecting with people using social networking sites and social networking tools.

Social networking site can be used to help build and maintain communities that I, as a user, can use to connect with others working in the field of information literacy. Using Facebook, LinkedIn, and similar social networking sites like the fairly new site Google+, I can connect with people I went to school with, my colleagues, and others in the field. This allows me to talk with them about projects we are working on, interesting news and research items that pop up, and any number of other things that can help me be better at teaching information literacy.

Beyond social networking sites, there are also social networking tools and aspects that now litter the web that also allow people to connect with one another. Using sites like Twitter, by commenting on blogs, participating in wikis, and such, people can also connect with one another to discuss ways of teaching, new technologies, and such.

These social networking sites and tools also allow people teaching information literacy to connect with students and library customers who have questions or need some help. By participating on Facebook, for instance, a library can more easily connect with customers who might have questions about using a database or citing sources.

However, it is important to keep in mind that social networks all rely on people making connections with one another that they then maintain. These services only allow me to maintain connections with people using the web; I still have to make the effort to reach out and talk to these people.

The Amazingness that is Flikr

Flikr started out as one of numerous websites that allowed people to post their photos to the web and share them with other people so that you didn't have to mail [email or snail] them to grandma or your mom.

Today, Flikr is a social media site that allows people and organizations to share their digital photos with others around the world by incorporating tagging, geotagging, and Creative Commons licenses so that they can legally be viewed, shared, and often-times used by people miles and countries away. Flikr also allows people to join together in groups, like the Libraries and Librarians group to share content, information, and expertise.

Flikr is widely used not only by people but by organizations, which is part of what makes the site so spiffy. I now know what a CIA library or Grand Duke Carl Francis, the Emperor of Austria look like thanks to the CIA and the Library of Congress, respectively [both images are in the public domain]. I can also look at content posted by the American Library Association who have posted some fun little bits about the ALA Annual Conference that recently happened in New Orleans.  

Many of the wonderful organizations that are on Flikr participate in The Commons which is one of the largest public photography archive. The Commons includes photographs of famous and not-so-famous people and places from around the world. These images are all part of the public domain and can be used, linked to, and such by anyone.

Beyond The Commons, Flikr also encourages the use of Creative Commons licenses so that photographs published to the site can be used in various ways legally. Many photographs are published under a simple Attribution license so that as long as the original creator is given credit for the photo, you can do with the photo what you like.

The Commons, and the photographs released under Creative Commons licenses on Flikr, are what makes the site so useful to those teaching information literacy. We know that people search the web for content to use and share with others. We have an obligation to teach people how to do so legally and freely. Flikr, and sites like it, allow us to do this easily as we can show people how to search for images they can use, as well as show them how to cite creators of content.

As a side note, two other great resources for content that can legally and freely be used by others are the Creative Commons search engine and the Wikimedia Commons.

Blogging About Blogs

As the CS-SIS Web 2.0 Challenge requires participants to blog about what they learn, and as the class assignment I have for Professor Maatta Smith's Teaching Information Literacy class also requires a blog, my first post for this assignment will be on blogging. [This particular blog and blog post is not my first blog, blog post, or assignment on blogs but it is the first time I will be talking about blogging in a blog. Kinda meta really]

Blogs are basically a tool. They can allow you to share your thoughts with others and post original creative content, like Live Journal. They can allow you to promote your organization, events being held, and things like that, much like the SOLIS blog does. They can also allow you to share information and knowledge you have with others, becoming a learning space for communities, much like the wonderful Librarian in Black blog. They can also allow you to post little blurbs and bits, along with photos, videos, and such, like the popular microblogging site Twitter or the popular multimedia blog service Tumblr.

Just like any other tool, some blogs are done quite well whereas others fail to garner any interest, even by the person blogging. Personally, the difference between good blogs and the not so great ones lies with content an design. A good blog needs interesting content and an easy to use design. Post about things that matter to you so that your enthusiasm shows [really hard to do by the way, especially when you start a blog or you have to maintain one for your job]. Make sure that you haven't added so many widgets that your blog takes forever to load and your actual content isn't buried under fishes and twitter feeds.

Good or not so great, when it comes to teaching information literacy, blogs can be quite useful in a number of ways:
  • On the most obvious level, there are a number of blogs out there run by librarians and people who deal with information literacy on a daily level. By following these blogs, you can get ideas for how to teach, what to teach, and things to that affect. A great list of such blogs can be found here. The list includes blogs like Librarian in Black and the LITA blog. Follow some of these blogs as they are a great way of keeping up to date and in touch with the field, especially after you leave school. 
  • On a slightly less obvious level, keep your own blog, especially if you teach information literacy frequently. A blog can allow you to organize lessons or bits of advice you frequently share and can allow your library customers to ask you questions or offer comments. Blogs are free, easy to use, and can also be added to your portfolio to show others what you are doing. 
  • Blogs can also be used directly to teach people how to find, vet, and create information on the web.
    • Finding: Show them how to search for blogs, search on blogs, and things like that so that they know how as blogs can be a great resource for many things, especially technology related. 
    • Vetting: As great as blogs can be, they are written by people who can be mis-informed or just plain wrong. This also makes them a great tool for teaching people how to figure out if the information they have found is accurate or not.  
    • Creating: Information literacy today, in my opinion, also includes teaching others how to create content and information so that they can fully participate in society today. What better way to do so then by showing them how to blog so that they can easily have a platform for their thoughts and ideas. 
In the end, blogs are just tools. They are a format for posting information that can be quite useful. The format will eventually change so that the blogs of today will eventually be replaced. We as librarians and information literacy professionals have to be willing to keep up to date with whatever the future brings so that we can continue teaching others the skills and knowledge the need to navigate the information rich world we occupy.