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Reflections on Online Learning vs. Classroom Learning

Posted: August 22nd, 2011, by martyrose

This is the final blog post for LIBR559m so I thought I would use the opportunity to post some thoughts about online courses vs. courses based in the classroom. This can be considered feedback for @giustini but, the thoughts are really just reflective of my own experience.

Overall I thought the pedagogical concept behind the structure of the course was a good one, but completing it over a 6 week summer term instead of the usual 12 weeks was much more difficult that I anticipated. The amount of work prescribed was probably just about right for a Masters level course, but I felt to that I needed to completely immerse myself in this course to really appreciate all it had to offer. This was impossible for me as I had another demanding online course and two part-time jobs that also took up chunks of my time. So I feel as if I’ve limped along, barely getting by and barely scratching the surface in terms of the course content. Let me emphasize that this is a feeling and, as such, may not reflect the reality, or how others have perceived my work. I have felt the same, in varying degrees, about other online courses I have taken. So why do I feel this way in the online learning environment? I think it is the lack of face to face interaction with the instructor and fellow students that is at the root of the problem.

In a report prepared for the U.S. Department of Education it was found that research into online learning from 1996 to 2009 shows that “Students that took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, that those… that those through traditional face to face instruction.” So clearly there is a good case to be made for online courses being superior to those taught in a classroom. A wiki from the University of Calgary lists four main advantages to online instruction over the face to face classroom experience: The sharing of ideas; Instructor accessibility; A student centred teaching approach; and 24/7 access to course materials. I believe all four of these positive elements were definitely present in our LIBR559m course and other online courses I’ve taken at UBC.

The Sharing of Ideas. I completely agree on this point. I have found that I absorb much more from reading my classmates posts in the discussion about the required readings than from the readings themselves. You don’t really get much of this in a classroom setting. People are more reluctant to speak their minds about a topic when physically among their peers, but mostly it’s because many students do not do the readings in time to discuss them at the specific moment that is required of them. Online courses allow much more leeway for students to get their readings done on their own schedule and then still contribute to discussions even when others have moved to a different topic.

Instructor Accessibility: Truly, I have more correspondence with my instructors from my online courses than from courses that that are classroom based. This is mostly through email, but also from general messages and feedback in the discussion posts. However, meeting an instructor and speaking with that person face to face, even once, can set the tone for online communications. It is so much easier for me to relate to the course as a whole with at least a little knowledge of an instructor’s personality through their facial expressions, tone of voice, even the way they dress. Now that I know this is important for me I will definitely make sure to take the time to meet my instructor’s in person early on in an online course.

A Student Centred Teaching Approach: Again, I think this is spot on… to a point. Online courses allow for teachers to indulge the preferred learning styles of different students, but there are still restrictions for certain students when a course that would normally be offered over twelve weeks is condensed into a six week program as I believe that you cannot replace that lost six weeks of time for your subconscious to reflect on course material. However, a traditional classroom based program is still much more restrictive in terms of how students are able to demonstrate their learning.

24/7 Access to Learning Materials: This one is like a double edged sword. Yes, having these materials available at all times day or night frees you to work when your brain is at it’s most engaged, whether that is at 2pm or 2am. However, for some people, this kind of access has the potential to consume them 24/7. I personally feel haunted by guilt every time I’m on my computer, knowing I could be working on something from school. It is a very different situation when you have to schedule your own learning times and therefore your own break times. If you haven’t developed experience, or had a proper induction, into time management in an online environment, having these materials available 24/7 can potentially lead to some people burning out on the material after a couple of weeks.

One of the disadvantages about online learning listed on the U. Calgary wiki was also very interesting – Minimal Social Interaction. I had to think about this one but I think this is mostly right. I realize the irony of saying a course like LIBR559m: Social Media for Information Professionals actually suffered from “Minimal Social Interaction” but it is undoubtedly true. Reading blogs, tweets and emails from classmates just doesn’t compare to actually meeting them face to face. There was no real opportunity to meet with fellow students over coffee before or after class, as is usually the case. I find this kind of discussion to be invaluable as it makes you realize that you are not alone in whatever apprehensions you have as a student at this level. I realize that @giustini specifically assigned everyone a “Study Buddy” as a way to counteract this, but it is very difficult to replicate the spontaneous connections you make with fellow students face to face. This was confirmed for me when the only time I felt I was truly engaged in the course was while working on our group project for LIBR559M and being able to work face to face with my (excellent) fellow students.

Perhaps my thoughts here are merely a reflection of my age and the fact that I earned my undergrad in a purely classroom setting. It may be much different for kids entering university having experienced being online as a normal part of their learning environment. However, having made these reflections I believe that a “blended learning” environment is probably the best approach for most courses. This puts people in a classroom, usually in front of a computer, with the instructor there interacting with students in person. While the virtual learning environment is still there to do work, there is a specific moment at least once a week when everyone in the class will be on the same page and able to relate to each other accordingly. I think this would also enhance the online discussions and communications with the instructor and students alike.

The Public Library in Virtual Worlds

Posted: August 22nd, 2011, by martyrose

Our final module for LIBR559m is about “Immersion” and social media. There are many examples of online applications that require you to immerse yourself in, what is an attempt at, an alternative reality, but the most well know example is Second Life. Like most of these worlds Second Life is a graphically rendered alternative society. You experience it a lot like a character in a video game. You can choose different attributes for your character or “avatar” and those attributes and pretty much reflect anything. Second Life differs from immersive video games in that it contains computer graphic representations, or imitations, of things you might find in our physical reality. You might be able to visit a pool hall and have your avatar pick up a pool cue and play “9 ball” against someone. Of course, you might also be able to go to a library and check out a book.

The idea of providing library services in these virtual worlds is something that we’ve been asked to reflect on for this course. While these services exist in some of these worlds, and definitely do exist in Second Life, I wonder about their overall usefulness. When I play a “first person” video game I do become immersed in the story and become the character. The last game I played with any sort of conviction was called Okami which is based on a Japanese myth involving a battle between good and evil. It was unique because your character is a wolf that can affect the world by using a paintbrush and different sacred brush strokes. With these special brush strokes, you could paint stars in the sky, make flowering trees bloom, draw a bridge to get over a river and even vanquish enemies with a quick slash of the brush. The concept was pretty cool and the game was steeped in Japanese folklore, which was also an interesting part of the diversion. It was quite an immersive experience and far from my own reality. I would play this game for hours. However, I never thought about bringing my “real life” into that immersive experience and I didn’t bring Okami into my real life. They remained almost wholly separate experiences.

I’m relating this here because there is an obvious similarity between virtual worlds like second life and first person video games. I think most people interacting with these virtual worlds are there to experience a different reality for a while. For me real public institutions, like libraries, are firmly rooted in my usual routine. As this article from The Psychology of Games points out, in order to achieve an immersive experience a player needs to “begin to favor the media-based space… as their point of reference”. I can’t really favour the media based space over my own reality if I’m finding the same services in both places. To me that just makes the virtual world redundant. I don’t want to be reminded about my real life when I’m immersed in a completely different reality. It kind of ruins the experience. It no longer feels immersive.

However, I still see virtual worlds as having a lot of potential, particularly in helping people who have difficulty functioning in our physical reality. People with disabilities or psychological issues can benefit greatly from services or even therapies that utilize virtual reality. Perhaps I would also be more interested in virtual worlds as a more environmentally friendly way to travel the world. For instance, I would love to be immersed virtually in an authentic version of the library at the British Museum in London for a couple of hours (or more), but I’m not intrigued at all by the idea of visiting the Vancouver Public Library in an alternate reality. The local branch in my real life is just fine, thank you.

The Quest for Algorithmic Curation: blekko and Thoora

Posted: August 16th, 2011, by martyrose

I recently made a comment on the libr559m discussion board about how I preferred “human aggregation” over algorithmically generated content that you find on most aggregator websites. I listed Arts & Letters Daily and as two good examples of websites providing content that has been aggregated by a human (or humans) as opposed to just a computer. After reading this article on Zdnet by Tom Foremski I realized that my understanding of aggregation is somewhat off base. Foremski, correctly of course, points out that aggregation is, by definition, “the collection of as many things that can be found related to a topic.” as opposed to curation, which is “a person or persons, engaged in the act of choosing and presenting things related to a specific topic and context.” Which means that when I spoke of “aggregators with a human touch” I was really talking about curation not aggregation.

As a result I’ve now spent some time considering the quest for the curated web and whether anyone is really anywhere close to producing curated content using algorithms in the same way aggregated content is being produced. Foremski mentions blekko, which descibes itself as “slash tag search”. The video below is pretty interesting:



This is all very promising, but the search is limited to the “slash tags” for which people at blekko have already curated content. As I’m a big of a soccer nut, I tried searching for soccer /coaching and was given the following message: “You do not have a slashtag called /coaching. Do you want to try: soccer /soccer”. I did not find that particularly useful. However, if you sign up and become a member you can create your own hashtag searches, which I assume others could search for and use as well. In this way it becomes sort of like a cross between Google and the social bookmarking site delicious. This adds to the human involvement in blekko’s curation of the web.

Another site that claims to “curate” rather than aggregate content online is Thoora. Well actually Thoora actually allows the user to curate their own content and it is a pretty powerful app. This is different because it searches twitter for stories on your chosen topic that have been linked in tweets. I usually use a Boolean search in the Twitter search bar to find comments and opinions on specific topics in the twitterverse, but Thoora actually culls out all the chatter and presents articles that have been shared by other Twitter users.


So as the video points out Thoora depends on their users to create the curated content, and the results are pretty good… unless you try searching the keywords “soccer” “coaching”. When I tried this Thoora returned a message saying “Sorry, there was an error with your request. Please try again later.” Now I know that there are plenty of blogs that post on twitter about soccer coaching, since I use it all the time just for that purpose, so that result seemed a bit strange. But stranger yet were the list of suggested keywords that Thoora thought would aid my search about ‘soccer’ and ‘coaching’ – michael lahoud lahoud, equality night, noh8, los angeles gay, michael lahoud, straight allies, mike chabala, justin braun. Yes, the names on this list key words are soccer players – not very well known players – but they do have an association with the game of soccer, however nothing on that list of suggested keywords has anything whatsoever to do with coaching. I’ll accept that maybe my choice of keywords is not exactly “mainstream”. For instance, when I searched for “republican” I got a reasonable list of keywords as well as a good mix of articles about right wing U.S. politics. So the service works if you choose the right topic to search for.

I was reasonably intrigued by both blekko and Thoora. Enough to keep them in my arsenal of search engine tools. However, until they achieve a critical mass of subscribers (who are also the curators) there will continue to be frustrating gaps in their content. So both are promising but fall a little short of the mark.


Creative Social Media: Soundclouding

Posted: August 6th, 2011, by martyrose

The theme for LIBR559M this week is “Creation and the Social Web” so I thought I would use my blog post to highlight a particularly interesting bit of social media called SoundCloud. Soundcloud is a music sharing service with a difference. It is not so much designed to store your music collection as it is a place for people who want to gauge reactions about original audio that they have created or even share that audio for remixing.

SoundCloud encourage anyone posting original material to do so under a Creative Commons license, so there is a lot of music on SoundCloud that is free to be downloaded, edited, remixed and posted on the site again. I think the most ingenious aspect of the site is the presentation of the audio track as a soundwave across your screen. This gives the audio a visual representation without obscuring the aural representation with video (like on YouTube). This visual also allows people to make comments at the exact moment of the recording that is relevant. Sometimes the comment stream that develops, in a way, also becomes part of the manifestation of the work (as it appears on SoundCloud). A good example of this is here.

In this respect SoundCloud is similar to the service highlighted by @giustini in our learning module called VoiceThread. Voicethread allows people to record audio while contributing to discussions about slide show presentations. When you view a slide, the discussion plays in the order of whoever posted first. I really liked VoiceThread but I found this format to be a very time consuming way to view a powerpoint presentation. Attention spans being what they are these days I not sure how effective it might prove for general public use.

I first heard of SoundCloud when listening to one of my favourite NPR podcasts All Songs Considered. Along with email, blog comments and twitter they also encourage listeners to go their SoundCloud page where you can make text comments along the visual soundwave of the program. Alternatively, you can record your comments and submit them to their SoundCloud Dropbox.

Surprisingly, I was only able to find one library that is making use of SoundCloud, the Mooresville Public Library in Indiana. They have posted a series of piano recordings all by the same artist under a declared mandate of extending “the library’s mission to providing sound recordings to the public.”

While simply sharing music is one way a library can use Soundcloud, I can certainly see other affordances for this kind of service. For instance, the fact that there is a lot of Creative Commons licensed music means you could use it as a tool of engagement for teens and young adults. They could listen to, comment on, remix and repost tracks without worry that the library is enabling copyright infringement.

TheNextWeb also suggests using Soundcloud to post your podcasts since they can be easily shared from Soundcloud or even embedded on other websites, just like YouTube videos. Since so much of the content is free, they also recommend to use it to find audio tracks to accompany video or slide presentations. TheNextWeb also points out that SoundCloud can search for audio according to location. So, if you want, you can compare what people are posting from different geographic areas.

Successful Collaboration: Trust is the main ingredient

Posted: July 30th, 2011, by martyrose

I was recently involved in a group project with @_iGeekGirl_ , @Lynn_Pyke and @ladylibrifrom for LIBR559M. In the end, I thought our group was a great example of successful collaboration. Everyone took on a task and completed it by the deadline. There was also a lot of positive communication. My Gmail ‘conversations’ show that 7o emails were sent between the four of us just regarding that project. If someone needed some help, whoever else was online at the time seemed able to cheerfully ‘pick up the slack’. This positive experience has led me to wonder, what was it about our group that made me feel like it worked so well? After some deliberation I have concluded that the main ingredient was trust.

There are instances when collaboration is not really the most efficient way to get something done. In a column from 2010 David Freedman of Inc. Magazine stated that “The effectiveness of groups, teamwork, collaboration, and consensus is largely a myth.” Freedman goes on to cite research that claimed:

  • Groups often breed a false confidence that leads to unsound decisions none of the individuals in the group would have made on their own.
  • There is a tendency of people in groups simply to not try as hard as individuals.
  • People in groups spend most of their time listening to others rather than thinking on their own.

In my mind, all of three of these points seem valid. I can think of several occasions when groups have served to undermine a project rather than enhance it. However, I still believe our LIBR559M group project went very well and that’s perhaps because, when you look at what we actually did, you’ll see that we largely avoided the pitfalls cited by Freedman.

The main reason we were able to do this was because each one of us trusted the other members of the group implicitly with the task they had been given. We were good at communicating but we didn’t daudle on decisions. As everyone had their own section, each member of the group had to think for themselves and there was no tendency to rely on others to get the work done. So in a fashion, we successfully collaborated by making appropriate decisions individually on when to not to collaborate.

So I have come to the conclusion that trust is the essential part of a well functioning team. Trust that everyone else in the group knows their role and has the ability to execute that role. Trust also that people working alone on part of a project will meet deadlines. And trust, ultimately, that everyone in the group are working toward the same goals.

Learning to Live with Social Media

Posted: July 26th, 2011, by martyrose

Over the past three weeks I’ve been experiencing a lot of ups and downs in regards to my ability to keep up with my university course work (and it is not just because of #LIBR559M of course). However, I realize this is probably a good opportunity to experiment with different methods for coping with the work load a Librarian specializing in Social Media might have to experience. I’m fully aware that the academic work that I’m having to do day in and day out is very different from the everyday social media work being done by librarians, so it’s difficult to put myself specifically into their shoes, but the time management methods that I’m trying to use to get on track are probably useful solutions for anyone with these issues, so here goes.

Right now my day is pretty disorganized. Things tend to eventually get done, however there are times when I can become fixated on a project and devote WAY too much time on that instead of moving on to another more pressing task. One way to counter this is to use a timer. I use the timer on my phone but any clock with an alarm will do. I have a look at the tasks involved in any given project and set the timer to appropriate intervals. So for course work, I might set the timer for one hour. If you have three or four projects you can devote an hour to each with perhaps a 20 minute break between if those tasks require substantial brain cells. Knowing that I’ve set this deadline does help somewhat to keeping my focus on a task.

Another problem I have is the feeling that I’m in danger of falling behind on reading discussion posts, let alone all of the 30 to 40 or so blog postings done by classmates each week. I really don’t know how @giustini is able to digest everything either, given that teaching LIBR559M is only one of the roles he has at the university. So, to counter this I set myself a specific number of discussion postings, tweets and blog post replies for the week and work those into my daily schedule. In a library situation, I think it would be highly unlikely for all of the social media duties to fall to just one person. As I understand it, people take turns throughout the day on monitoring the library’s twitter feed the same way librarians take turns at the reference desk. So I shouldn’t try to turn my twitter experience into an all daylight hours vigil.

The final aspect of my overload experience is “blogger’s block”. As I mentioned in my previous post I have an issue with writing posts that I end up just deleting. I’ve probably done this at least three times over the past week or so. When you are writing essays it’s fine to do two or three drafts before coming up with the real deal. With blogging it’s just a huge waste of time. What I believe will help is getting better organized “at the back end“. I am using Evernote to help me with this. I leave Evernote open on my laptop and record any thoughts I have on the module readings or particular blog posts. These notes serve as starting points for my own posts and it is a good way to record references.

Anyway, those some solutions to trying to keep up in a world full of tweets, blogs and discussion forums. I’d be very happy to see any other good time management suggestions in the comments!

Well, this is new…

Posted: July 13th, 2011, by martyrose

I am one of those people that hasn’t been very far from a computer since the world wide web became mainstream in the 1990’s. I absorbed everything I could for a time and then, of course, launched my own web site. Looking back on this site I think today it would be called a news aggregator blog. I updated it at least once a day, but quite often I would just update it whenever I found a link that I believed would be of interest to my readers (the British Columbia soccer community). Sometimes I would post my own commentary or commentary from people who emailed there thoughts are particularly topics. By 2005 I had passed on the responsibility for this website to a co-collaborator who continues to run it today.

However, I have never actually sat down and poured out content in a daily blog the way Andrew Sullivan described it in 2008. So this is very new. In some ways I’m intimidated by posting my personal take on things for everyone to see. I encounter this regularly when participating in chat forums. I’ll find something that I want to comment on, write a quite substantial post, and then just delete it. It’s a habit that became a huge waste of time for me. I would become consumed with the feeling that “no one could possibly want to read what I’ve got say” or “these people are never going to understand my point of view.” I have also become discouraged from continuing to post after posting something I believed to be interesting and NO ONE comments, either positively or negatively.

But I think things should be different in this environment. For instance, on a forum you are really imposing your views on a topic. People that are part of that forum should expect all kinds of opinions but at the same time they are not necessarily looking for YOUR opinion. On the other hand, anyone that reads this blog will be expecting to see my take on things… in this case on the topic of “social media”… and if they aren’t interested in the topic or in my opinion then they wouldn’t be reading it.

Perhaps McLuhan’s idea about the medium being the message for the reader also works for the writer? That is the medium for which you are writing is more important than the content of that writing?

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