It’s been thrilling to see the growth of online educational opportunities for librarians. From OPAL, to SirsiDynix, to HigherEd BlogCon, to WebJunction, to podcasts, screencasts and countless blogs… there’s a lot of great free online educational content out there! Learning to be a tech-savvy, user-centered 21st century librarian doesn’t need to cost money or require travel to far-flung locations. You can learn it by reading articles, having conversations on blogs, IM-ing librarians, and attending online Webcasts and conferences. Information wants to be free isn’t just the name of this blog. It really does reflect my desire to get useful information our to as many people as possible. I think many bloggers feel that way. It’s not often an ego thing and it’s certainly not a money thing for most of us. We blog because we want to share information with others and to make it as accessible as possible. It fits very well with our mission as librarians.
When I was asked to chair the Library and Information Resources track of HigherEd BlogCon, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Not everyone has the institutional funding to attend Computers in Libraries or ACRL or whatever. Lots of people are also really busy, so having presentations available to be read, watched and listened to anytime allows people to make learning fit their schedule. And so the idea of helping to make a free online conference a reality appealed to me. And the result of the planners’ and the presenters’ efforts are an amazing collection of presentations on applications of social technologies in all areas of higher education. A collection that people can access anytime and at no cost.
I really don’t know what costs were incurred in putting on the conference, but I think they were minimal. Web hosting was provided by Thomson-Peterson’s (I think), but I can’t imagine that was expensive considering what I pay for hosting. We used a WordPress blog. I didn’t get paid for my time — maybe other people did, but I doubt it. The presenters did not get paid either. I guess the wiki cost a bit, though we certainly could have used a free one. We had a few conference calls while planning, which we could have done through Skype for free. I can’t think of any other part of the (free portion of the) conference that would have cost money. So clearly an asynchronous online conference consisting of podcasts, screencasts, and presentations as blog posts is do-able for the cost of hosting the stuff (which sure ain’t much).
What are the negatives of doing a conference like HigherEd BlogCon? Well, Steven Bell is right that people who attend a free conference may feel less committed to show up and participate. HigherEd BlogCon’s strengths were also its weaknesses — it was free and it was asynchronous. When people pay money, they will want to get their money’s worth. They will want to get as much out of the presentations as they can. When people only have one chance to watch, read or listen to the presentations, they will make it more of a priority. When people know that they can look at the presentations a day, week or month later for free, there isn’t that same sense of urgency. While we did get a lot of visitors to the site, we didn’t get a lot of conversation about the presentations in the comments section. I take some blame for this, because I really should have tried to stir up conversations. I had the flu the week of the Library track, so I was barely able to post the stuff, much less think analytically. Steve Lawson suggests that perhaps a threaded discussion board or live chats would have increased conversations and I agree. Perhaps we could have asked questions on a discussion board about how attendees use social software in their institutions or what they think about this or that topic. Perhaps we could have had lots of live chats with presenters (something we had actually talked about doing, but we just didn’t have time to organize it with all the other stuff we had to do to prepare for the conference). I think the biggest failing of HigherEd BlogCon was the lack of conversation, but I think we could have sparked conversations without charging money and without making the presentations themselves synchronous. The failing was on us, the organizers, for not doing more, and not on the format of the conference. We could have done better and I’m sure next year HigherEd BlogCon 2007 will be better.
After doing a Webcast for OPAL, I found that I really liked the Webcast format. It allows people to access educational content from their computer for free just like with HigherEd BlogCon. But it’s synchronous and allows participants to interact with the presenter. As questions occur to them during the presentation, the participants can ask them. I really enjoyed the social aspects of the Webcast and the audience gave me as much food for thought as I gave them. I think I answered questions for as long as I talked! And so many people who were interested in wikis but wouldn’t fly across the country or pay $200 bucks to learn about them had the opportunity to learn about them for free and from home/work.
I didn’t attend the ACRL’s Virtual Conference because it cost money, but I think their model was much more what I’d like to see a virtual conference be (other than the price). I love that they had a combination of live Webcasts, roundtable discussions, asynchronous discussion boards and asynchronous poster sessions. Other than the drunken late night conversations with luminaries in the library field, they really tried to duplicate the format of an in-person conference. And, from Steven Bell’s description, it sounds like it was pretty darn successful. I think a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities allow for more conversation and encourage participation much better than a totally asynchronous conference. But no matter what the format and whether they do or do not charge people to register, I think the archives should be made available for free. Things can easily be recorded and archived in an online conference and it usually costs nothing to make it available online (other than server space).
Sometime during Computers in Libraries and in the thick of getting HigherEd BlogCon ready for primetime, I had a bit of a revelation about online conferences. Although online conferences have thus far been organized by organizations, they don’t have to be. Although only a few regular folks organized HigherEd BlogCon, HigherEd BlogCon originated from a corporate entity. But did it have to? Couldn’t I have just hosted the whole darn thing on my server? Couldn’t conferences — especially conferences about social software — be developed from the bottom up? Couldn’t I get together with a bunch of librarian friends and create something like HigherEd BlogCon or even like the ACRL conference? In the age of the Read/Write Web, couldn’t we plan the conference for free online and market it well enough to get great presenters and participants? If corporate entites are involved, couldn’t they only be involved to the extent that they give us needed costly technologies (Web conferencing software, forum software, etc.) in exchange for their name somewhere on the Web site and a big thank you? In theory, I bet we could find a way to do Web conferencing for free or almost nothing and there is certainly open source forum software, so I bet it could all be done for the cost of Web hosting (though it definitely would be easier to use a more sophisticated Web conferencing solution). Couldn’t we regular librarian folks be in the drivers’ seat in developing a free online conference for our colleagues? My answer is a resounding yes. And what is more 2.0 than developing things (be they services, community, educational programs, or conferences) from the bottom up?
And I decided that I wanted to do something like that. But it wasn’t until the ALA 2.0 Bootcamp kerfuffle this week that I realized how much I wanted to do it and how I wanted to do it. A free conference that is open to everyone may not make people feel as invested in the process of learning and participation. However, people usually feel far more invested when they’re taking a class with several dozen other people and where they have a profile and an online presence. This is especially true when they know what the committment will be time-wise and they know what the learning objectives are, and they choose to commit themselves to it. While you can reach more people with a HigherEd BlogCon, you can have much more of an impact on a smaller group of people with a course like the ALA 2.0 Bootcamp.
I think the Bootcamp is a brilliant idea. Using social tools to learn about social tools and how to apply them in libraries is genius! And I love how conversations are going on on so many levels — through IM, through Web conferencing, and through blogging and commenting on blogs. And while the course itself wasn’t free for the ALA, the class was free for the participants, making this educational experience much more accessible. I think Jenny and Michael came up with some great reading lists and have been offering participants an amazing educational experience. However, I do not necessarily like how the whole thing was executed. My first concern was the seeming lack of clear learning objectives. I’m not in the course, so I may be missing something, but it seems like a number of the particiants were confused about what they’d be learning and commented that the course was focused on different objectives than they’d expected. Peter Bromberg, one of the terrific bloggers at Library Garden said it best in this post:
It would be helpful to me if you could clarify: What is the objective of the boot camp? What is the end result we are supposed to achieve?
Much of my work involves providing continuing education to librarians and I always try to list objectives like, “By the end of this workshop, participants will be able to…” This lets everyone know right from the start why they’re there and what they’ll be able to do when they walk out the door. It gives them a sense of how to direct their energies, and gives everyone a shared measure for success. This is what I need now. […]
My initial perception was that the goal was for us, the participants, to learn a lot about web 2.0 and by virtue of our positions in our organizations and in ALA help implement web 2.0 based changes.
I’m starting to feel that my perception was off, and that the goal is for the teams to come up with some usable project ideas that ALA could/would actually implement.
Looking at the assignments for the groups, I can’t help but agree. Rather than having participants do projects based on the applications of social software that interest them most and for the areas they work in every day — be it ALA, a library, or a consotrium — the assignments seem to be designed to give ALA good ideas for how to become more 2.0. That certainly wasn’t what I had thought the course was about when I created my podcast… I thought the course was teaching people how to use social software and a library 2.0 service philosophy to make libraries better. While I’m sure what they learned will rub off on their work in their institution, I just would have liked to see a course with more flexibility in readings and assignments. I see constructivism and flexibility as hallmarks of Teaching 2.0.
People have talked a lot about the problematic technology choices made by the Otter Group in putting this class together. I agree strongly with criticisms from Michelle Boule, Karen Schneider (and here), and Michael Casey and have been rather appalled by the way the criticisms were taken by the company hired to develop the technological infrastructure. Refusing to accept criticism or admit any fault, attacking the critics, misrepresenting what they said, asking them to take down what they wrote, and not really accepting that it could be done better couldn’t be less 2.0. If anything damages the Otter Group’s reputation in all this, I think it was their reaction to the critics. My favorite comment came from Kathleen Gilroy (of the Otter Group) who wrote on both Michelle and Karen’s blogs “The larger lesson here is that if you think you can just throw together a few pieces of technology and get things to work differently you are deluding yourselves.” Jinkies! If that doesn’t sound like a challenge, I don’t know what does! I don’t know what she means by “throw together a few pieces of technology” but yes, I think I can do it better (with a little help from my friends). At least I’d like to try.
So I don’t know what this is leading to, but I feel so strongly that there should be more educational opportunities freely available online. And not just offered by corporate entities or consortia or professional organizations (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I think this is a kind of professional service many of us fiercely independent Gen-Xers can get behind (as evidenced by how many people are involved in Second Life Library and are willing to do OPAL Webcasts for free. I don’t want to serve on committees for ALA (blech, boring!), but I’m willing to work my butt off to create a free online conference or free online courses. I’m not sure exactly how this nugget of an idea will take shape, but I already have spoken to a few interested parties who are also curious to see how a bunch of techie librarians can provide free education about social software online to librarians who could never attend the big conferences and whose libraries would benefit so much from having someone who knows about this stuff. I just want to show that it can be done from the bottom up. Then people would realize how easily we can directly improve the profession without having to be a member of a professional organization (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but there are other ways to serve).
It is a damn exciting time to be a librarian.
Sounds exciting — Count me in !
It IS an exciting time to be a librarian!
Reading this: “I don’t know what she means by “throw together a few pieces of technology” but yes, I think I can do it better (with a little help from my friends). At least I’d like to try.” I thought “sounds like a flashmob conference. A Flashcon!”
OK, that is dopey, but count me in anyway. Exciting times, indeed.
One way that I see asychronous stuff working is if presenters are engaged not to give a long, detailed presentation online, but to briefly state a problem or position and then to engage with the conferees over a set period of time (a week should do it) in a text, asynchronous discussion. It encourages people to get in there and participate whlie the discussion is live (just as I don’t leave a whole lot of comments on months-old blog posts) without using money as a motivation (i.e., “I paid for this conference, so I’d better partcipate.”).
I’m in. Though I think no one who throws in for this would object or even think otherwise, since there can be such a culture of “pay your dues first” in certain library organization … I’d also throw out an explicit “library school students and new grads – join in!” I’d like to re-invent “the conference” rather than just replicate it online… though let’s take what’s best and improve it.
Personally, I’m really pleased with the online sessions I attend through EDUCAUSE ELI … great model …. easy to participate. I don’t have to pay but I am motivated to participate because I care about the content.
One, it really is an exciting time to be a librarian. (I even said so when I interviewed for my current job.)
Two, I think providing free training to librarians who can’t afford to go to big conferences is brilliant and so, so important.
Three, you get bonus points for using “jinkies.”
I’ve always identified strongly with Velma. 😉
You can count OPAL and Second Life library in! We are looking into doing more in this area so we would like to work with you!
Great ideas Meredith! The power of a group of librarians commited to a cause can make mportant changes!
Seconds on the “jinkies.” Loved it.
I’d like to see some room between “free and online” and “breathtakingly expensive and strictly face-to-face.” After all, ALA’s class wasn’t “free”; as you note, ALA paid for it. I think it was a great use of my dues, but it did not come free.
The synchronous webcasting you write about intrigues me because I stopped teaching in an LIS program when I realized it was not much better than a correspondence course–worse in some ways, given our klunky environment. The LIS school in question gave us Blackboard and not much more, and Blackboard, as it sounds like, is just a place to post stuff (and a hugely annoying place at that). I’d rather not teach at all, or teach in another subject, than attempt to “teach” by email. The spontaneous and interactive engagement needs to be there for me to enjoy teaching.
This is an excellent idea and doesn’t have to stop with social software/L2 stuff – there are a lot of librarians (and probably students) who would be interested in participating in online professional development opportunities on many topics relating to our work as librarians. I wonder if one way of dealing with costs would be to rotate hosting, or at least find a couple of libraries who might be willing to host (and archive!) these conferences.
Obviously, there is a good core of people who are interested in, perhaps even committed to, this proposal, Meredith. It would be worthwhile to pursue this further. I certainly would help in any way that I can and I place myself at your service.
Karen, after doing my entire MLS on Blackboard (with chat) and never hearing a human voice (other than some Real Audio (!) recordings), I cannot agree more with you about how terrible that distance education model is. I guess part of the reason I want to do something like this is because I want to create the sort of online learning model I wished I’d had. Webcasting (or Web conferencing) is really the key to coming close to the sort of interaction you would get from a face-to-face course. You should try giving an OPAL class sometime, Karen! It’s really fun and you can reach so many people who would never have access to the education you’re offering!
John, I totally agree with you. I’m hoping that whatever we do can become a model for other people to start offering similar educational programs on various library-related topics. And with groups like OPAL around (hi Lori!), I think it’s very do-able.
I have a whole bunch of ideas and some people to help organize it, but I am definitely going to be asking for folks from all over the blogosphere to help with various parts of the operation of the course. Definitely more specifics will be forthcomming (after the book is done!). 🙂
Oh, and Steve? I think flashmob library conferences are a great idea. I’m all for something like that.
Oooh–flashcon!–though I don’t have a cell phone anymore, and thus I suppose will be forced to carry around my laptop (and only in wifi equipped areas) in order to get the word. . . .
I would also be delighted to help, although I’m not sure exactly how, as my techie skills are not really up to webcasting (though perhaps it’s easier than I think). I’ve been trying to think of how to translate my old grassroots activist skills (and activism–at least the kind I did–was 2.0 before the term existed, in mentality if not in technology) to an online environment. Virtual leafletting? Hmm. . . I’ll have to think on that.
One thought: one of the advantages to meatspace conferences (aside from the drunken debauchery, of course) is that when you’re at the conference, you have no other obligations. It’s not just that you’ve paid money and thus feel that you should be there–it’s that you don’t really have anywhere else to be. I’m still planning to look at a few of the HigherEd BlogCon presentations. I didn’t look at them at the time because I was busy with work. While I can occasionally take an hour here or there to look at an OPAL or SirsiDynix presentation (always with the fear that someone’s going to come in, see me staring at the computer monitor, and say, “Is that work?”), the nature of my day job simply means that, unless I took a sort of working vacation, I’ll never be able to give the time and energy to a virtual conference that I do to a face to face one, and I imagine that other librarians have a similar problem.
I don’t quite know how to solve that: convince library administrators to give employees time off to attend virtual conferences? Plan the virtual conferences over long periods of time, in bite-sized chunks? Trust that people will attend what they can and catch up later? (As others have noted, the whole catching-up later thing does kind of ruin the conversation that one seeks in a conference.)
But enough of this querulousness! In the immortal words of so many Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney flicks, “We could get a barn and put on a show!” Let’s do it!
Laura, that’s so cool that you referenced Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, because I made a similar reference in my own blog a couple of months ago, babbling about DIY library conferences.
I prefer face-to-face conferencing and training, for all of the reasons you give. But I also think we should use any and all available tools at our disposal for conferencing, training and continuing education. If that involves computers and social software, cell phones, zines, or whatever–then let’s do it.
The Blended Librarians Online Learning Community has been offering between 4 and 6 free educational webcasts for librarians for approximately two years – on a variety of teching/learning and design topics. We feature guest speakers who make it possible by donating their valuable time to learn how to use our ELLUMINATE software and we are graciously hosted by the Learning Times Network. It takes time and effort – and volunteers willing to provide a service to colleagues – to make free webcasts possible.
Those who’d like to get more involved in virtual conference – and would like some advice for both presenting and attending these new fangled programs can find it here.
Joshua, I’m so glad I’m not the only person outside my family who makes Babes in Arms et al. references at the drop of a hat.
Continuing education by zine! Whee!
Laura, I totally agree with you about what face-to-face conferences have over online ones. However, since some people will likely never get the funding from work to go to a face-to-face conference, virtual conferences offer them the possibility of learning about the same stuff lucky people like me get to learn about at Computers in Libraries. There will always be face-to-face conferences, but I’m all about offering the same sort of education in as many formats as possible.
Steven, I’m so sorry I didn’t mention the Blended Librarian Community at the beginning of this post along with OPAL and SirsiDynix. Definitely an oversight on my part. Your talks are an amazing service to the community and I do mention it in my book as an excellent (and cost-effective 🙂 ) continuing education opportunity.
Meredith, after August 3, when I turn in my major project for my MFA, I will have so much time I won’t know what to do with myself! OPAL would be a fun place for an MPOW dog ‘n’ pony show, among other things. I’ll follow through.
Ok, freewheeling idea time: imagine that we had a day every month recognized as Continuing Education Day, supported by library employers everywhere. Sorry that idea doesn’t go any farther… brain taken over by major project… sigh
Somehow I feel my point isn’t getting through here. . . I’m not saying one can’t get value out of online conferences–I think there’s tremendous value to be gotten from them–I just think that in some weird way, they’re harder to attend–and I’d like to see people be given time off work to attend them just as they would be given time to attend a meatspace conference.
Ergh–I should really finish reading the comments before I go ranting–anyway, Karen’s continuing ed day is just the kind of thing I’m thinking about. I don’t think we should devalue online learning opportunities by assuming that they’re something everone can do in their spare time.
Agreed, Laura. Coming from someone who did their entire MLS online, I can attest that online learning takes just as much effort as physical classes or conferences and people should get the same sort of time off for it. Unfortunately, most people don’t “get it” yet. The problem is, if you’re at work and there’s a Webcast going on, people will keep calling you and bothering you because they just don’t know. I missed half of a Webcast I was really interested in for that reason, but I plan to put my foot down about it from now on. If I’m doing a Webcast, I’m “out.”
I think the more common online learning becomes in our field, the more it will be seen as just as legit as face-to-face conferences.
That is a valid point about conferences online and having the time to actually do them, free or otherwise. I am only now catching up on seeing some of the presentations from the HigerEd BlogCon, and boy, am I glad they are still available, for they clearly put up some very good stuff. But there was no way I could have done it at the time because work was just too busy between reference and instruction. Since I don’t even have an office I can close the door to, I get every possible interruption and then some. Even if I told my bosses I was taking “time off” to do it, which they may or not support, unless I found someplace to hide, it would be pointless. And yes, I am one of those people who lack funding to do a lot of face to face stuff, so in a way, I get the worse of both worlds: no funding to go anywhere, and I can’t even get the time at work to do something virtual at the time. Heck, I did one of the OPAL presentations at home at 8pm at night (only time I could get “away.”). So, I don’t have an answer, other that to say, there are some of us out there who don’t get “lucky,” and we need professional development opportunities too. Anything you can offer. Best, and keep on blogging.
This is a great idea, Meredith! Thanks for getting the ball rolling.
I had a concern that I don’t think anyone has brought up yet, and I’m curious what you or others here think. It’s been said several times that a free online conference is a good opportunity for people whose employers can’t/don’t pay for them to go to an in-person conference. But as a general rule, when things are offered for free people become less willing to pay for them. So won’t it potentially become harder for us to convince our employers to send us to conferences if we’re attending free online ones? I really like traveling to conferences, partly because I’m not fully acclimated to developing relationships online, and networking in person (plus running into old classmates in person) still feels much more substantial to me, and I still think it’s reasonable for a professional to expect his/her employer to pay something for professional development. I’m definitely grateful for the free online stuff I’ve done (HigherEd BlogCon and listening to various podcasts), but it’s just a concern I have. Any thoughts??
Karne, that is an interesting concern. I’m hoping that we can figure out the unique strengths of online and face-to-face conferences. Perhaps in a few years it will seem silly to travel across the country to hear people read their PowerPoint slides (I mean sillier than it does today, of course). Maybe face-to-face conferences will be mostly about working together in a hands-on, intensive session. I don’t know.
In-person conferences have survived the telephone conference call and email and the like, so I expect they’ll be around for quite a while longer. But I think you may be right; it might be harder to convince the boss that some big general conference is worth the money.
I’m a little behind on this one I see (mmm, vacation), but awesome idea! I’m in to help in any way possible!
I really don’t see free online stuff taking the place of physical conference. Some administrators might use it as a excuse to not provide funding for professional development, but if so you probably have bigger problems on your hands at YPOW. There’s a wide discrepency in travel funding from place to place as it is now. Being able to attend online “conferences” is a great help to allow more people to continute in discussions.
I like the idea of having materials available and discussions carried out over a period of like a week or so too. Could alleviate some of the “get out of my office while I’m wathcing this webcast” problems!
Ding ding! I was thinking just last week about the need for more online, free structured learning materials while I was actually at a conference. ah, timing!
For me the key to online conferences is that they are not ‘live’ as such but as David says above, they occur over a limited amount of time to allow many people to participate. This works for me because of the issues with closing yourself off from other work to attend (I too lack an office) but also because of another obvious issue: timezones. I was invited to a webinar a while back but couldn’t possibly attend because it would be 3am my time. I love professional development, but not that much!
Having also had experiences with online education, the difficulty of juggling that with everything else is very familiar. I tend to have something of a cherrypicking approach to continuing education these days, blogs, surfing, looking up ideas and technology on needs basis rather than looking for an entire course. This even extends to usage of say, MIT OCW materials, if I want a refresher on Macroeconomics (which I provide library support for) I will choose a couple of lectures or readings rather than following the whole course in a linear format. The good thing about the online format is that you can choose to follow a whole course or just parts of it that are relevant to you.
With the conference I am organising now (meatspace) we will be ensuring that all materials are available online afterwards, *and* archived in a repository to ensure their survival. The unconference and online conference idea appeals to me, but I am also still a fan of the traditional models but with enhanced online contents too. As much as I think of myself as shy I still like to meet and talk with others at conferences.
I wonder if the workload of organising an online-only conference would escalate once you add in some of the more usual things like peer review, getting sponsors, etc. Those are the kinds of things that have taken up a lot of time in organising our physical conference (we have a 2 year lead time).
Having the ability to attend classes of all types and varities is great. In a world where we pack so much into one day, the ability to “attend” an online conference is really appealing. I hope we see more of them.
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