Technology: The Middle Way (part 2) & Other Ephemera

A while back, I posted some thoughts about the schism that seems to exist between tech-inclined and non-tech-inclined folks in libraries.  This schism often seems to develop down disciplinary borders, which I think is a bad deal for those of us who love and value the humanities.  Anyway, my thoughts ran along the lines of: we need a healthy middle class here.  A class of interpreters, with one foot in the technology world and one foot in the world of the humanities or social sciences or wherever.  Gung-ho evangelists are great (and we need them!) and so are old-school print-only bibliographers (we need them too!)  But we really also need a lot of people who live in the  middle ground, to pass information back and forth and hold things together.

That said, some of the findings of the 2007 ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology interesting.  Of the thousands of undergrad students interviewed, polled, and surveyed, 59.3 % said they preferred “moderate information technology” in their courses.  Only 2.8% preferred exclusive IT (and only 2.0% preferred no IT at all.)  Boiled down, students essentially said that they like IT when it’s used sensibly, by teachers who know what they’re doing.  They like the convenience of getting their syllabus and course readings in their CMS, but they don’t necessarily want to spend time in Facebook talking to their teachers.  (Worse luck for those of us interested in leveraging Facebook for library instruction.)  They also said that instructors sometimes overestimate the students’ ability with technology, and/or their access to it.

In other words, students apply common-sense outcomes analysis to IT in education:  does this help me do what I need to do?  Does it save me time?  Is it convenient to use?  This shouldn’t be surprising to learn, but it’s good to remember when we’re working on developing new services.  What did Ranganathan say–Save The Reader’s Time? 

In other news, I had a moment of wonderful…something the other day as I came into work.  I’m not sure what to call it.  I walked past the newspapers posted by the Library’s front door, and saw coverage of the protests in Burma.  Horrible stuff, but one side note was that much of the information we’re getting here in the West is thanks to individuals’ cell phones and occasional Internet access.  I was thinking about that–the potential for technology to bring us together and share information in positive ways–when I walked into the building.  The student ahead of me (a young man) held the door for an older woman coming out.  It was a small gesture, but totally typical of our students.  They’re casually polite, generally tolerant, and very patient with the bureaucracies of a large, flawed public institution.  Basically, they’re good kids.  There was something about that juxtaposition–the nonviolent protestors, the resourceful technologists, the easygoing generosity–that made me hopeful that we’ll do better in the future than we have to date.


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