22 December 2012

Why Amazon is bad for all of us

Amazon is bad for all of us. Let me explain what I mean. As a hobby, I have started a tiny niche publishing house specialised in Belarusian studies. My first book cost £4 to produce; before Amazon, major book distributors commanded 50% slice of the full price. My book would probably cost £9 then. Now Amazon, virtually controlling the book market in major English-speaking countries, demands at least 70% off. This allows Amazon to offer deep discounts, however, you may have noticed that such discounts are given only to mainstream titles sold also by supermarkets and Waterstones - the only real competitors to Amazon. Via Amazon, my book has to cost at least £12 just to break even if I'm lucky. The problem is not with Amazon as such, of course; a problem is with the economical system favouring market consolidation and concentration of capital. Should we boycott Amazon? I don't think it'll change anything, it's just too late to recover the traditional book market. Just read this and buy another book or, even better, borrow it from a local or college library.

22 November 2012

Blogging - notes and handout

Blogging is getting old-fashioned a bit - everyone is talking about Twitter and that kind of real-time media now (it's not social media anymore!). In a sense, it's true: no doubts young people I see are switching from Facebook to Twitter very actively.

Still, blogging has it's value, certainly in FE, which has not been explored fully yet, I believe. Narrative-based blogging is a potent literacy development tool, for example. This year, however, I can see an increasing interest for blogging from Art tutors: they are looking for a simple for them and learners solution to gather, create and share.

Today I delivered a session precisely on that: blogging for learning. The group was great and we almost covered the planned material. The RSS bit (i.e. reading blogs effectively) and copyright were left out until next week.

Here are my notes and the handout for learners. All - free to use/re-use.

14 November 2012

iPads in the Library: Interim Observations

This is my article written for the college Staff Bulletin.

Last spring, the college library, supported by the College’s innovation fund, started a project of introducing tablet devices for supporting classroom-based and independent learning in the college. Tablets are a new kind of technology and it is not yet clear what are the best ways of using them in education. The purpose of the project is to learn what tutors and learners will do with the tablets; then evaluate their appropriateness for teaching and learning, as well as to identify the barriers and problems related to their use.

The six iPads purchased for the project have become the most used resource offered by the library. Within the first two months alone they had been borrowed 170 times, with 85% of overall loans by students and 15% by tutors.

The iPads are mostly used in classrooms for research where learning involves a lot of interaction and change of activities. For example, Performing Arts students very quickly switched from laptops to iPads for use in their studio. Students have been using tablets for taking photos, making videos, editing photo and video content, and taking interviews for their research projects.

Staff have discovered how convenient iPads are for video recording the evidence of students’ work in a classroom; how easy is transferring those videos to Dropbox, sharing them with the whole group, linking to Moodle and embedding them into PowerPoint documents.

Also, staff from support areas use tablets in their work. Kelly C. promotes the Job Shop to learners who enquire about the career development opportunities (on the photo).

John T., Engineering, has been using tablets with his level 1 learners for four days every week. In his opinion, tablets allow more flexibility and enhanced interaction in the classroom: they can be easily shared, passed around or placed in the centre of a group of students working on the same project.

His students reported that they preferred working with tablets to textbooks: they liked an easy access to a lot of information and the whole experience of using a physical touch. For the majority of learners this was the only occasion when they used iPads; in spite of that, they quickly learned the basics and showed each other their discoveries.

Among the difficulties, learners mentioned occasionally unstable wi-fi in their classroom and inability to easily transfer their writings over to their personal computers. This should be rectified when Microsoft apps for iPad are released next year. Surprisingly few tutors requested apps to be downloaded to the devices; it seems the concept of apps is more complex than the devices themselves.

The library has already had to deal with the first e-safety incident taken place when a learner was using one of the iPads.

These are only interim observations; they are encouraging – there is incredible buzz about iPads in the library: learners love using tablets in the classroom and outside. As this technology and our experience of using it develops, tablets will successfully compete with PCs for the place in education; and it will happen very soon.

05 November 2012

Blogging Journey (A Possible Representation)

This year my colleague, Lin Armstrong, and her new students on 2+2 Childhood Studies programme are to start blogging – as their predecessors did in previous years. When I spoke to them at our first blogging session, it occurred to me that the journey these students would have to make could be expressed in terms of transition from collector to curator to creator.

My usual advice to blogging newbies is to start with cutting and pasting the weblinks and YouTube videos, perhaps adding the titles of those pieces of content as well. This should be easy enough.

The next step is to provide a short description of what’s there, behind the weblink. Then another step – to provide also a short response to the viewed/read: I like it because…, I disagree because… Eventually we should reach the stage where the original reflection prevails; it well may be inspired by another piece of content, of course – an article read, TV programme watched, conversation heard etc. On the whole, the blog becomes a reflection of the author’s interests and abilities.

Blogs are not only a tool for reflective practice; they are also portfolios and depositories of useful materials. Therefore, it is quite appropriate to approach blogging as a collector would: to regard it as a huge box for storing all kinds of useful stuff for the future. In that aspect, a blog will provide evidence of the breadth of reading and other forms of content discovery. It seems to me that majority of people on Facebook stay forever in the collector’s slippers: they bubble away about what they see.

Curation starts with first strategic decisions: my blog will be about this and that, only materials on specific topics will be of interest to me and my audience, I would like to be perceived as someone knowledgeable on certain topics and adhering to certain values. Of course, every student has a manifold of interests and the blog should reflect that. At this stage paying attention to the blog’s audience is important: What would I like my readers to discover, get inspired by? The author is likely to move away from the collector’s excitement of “Wow, that’s interesting! I should keep it” to conscious researching decisions: “I need to pay attention to certain fields of academic (or any other suitable) discourse to build my knowledge and my own story and arguments”. Curation involves not only arranging and pointing out, but “collection development” too, using the librarians’ language.

Becoming a creator is exciting. It involves developing one’s own voice and – developing further – interests and passions. Does everyone has to be(come) a creator? – I think it’s a wrong question as everyone is a creator in one or another aspect. Life and learning are processes: we move from one experience to another, being changed for better or worse, feeling more inspired or less so. When we feel frustrated or discouraged, or just lazy sometimes to write anything longish, we should move back to cutting and pasting, and just commenting in few words, and so to starting all again – from collector to curator to creator. The ideal is being all three at the same time.

28 March 2012

Skills v. resources

For last few years I have been including elements of searching techniques (applicable to any search tools, and those techniques which are specific to Google) into my information skills sessions. I also sometimes run Google Inside-Out sessions for students and staff and the response was positive. Recently I started having doubts whether I wasn't wasting time and should have concentrated instead completely on quality resources offered by the library, especially as often I have only one chance to see learners. An article on university students' online research behaviour didn't resolve my doubts, but made me to think that the dilemma is not going to go away and that perhaps there is no easy answer to it. If we, FE librarians, positioned ourselves as those whose main role is developing traditional and digital literacies - and were perceived as such by our employers - then the answer would be easy: sure, Google should also be one of our main concerns. My colleague teaching on HE programme is adamant: HE curriculum implicitly requires librarian's input into teaching, as the expected outcomes of any course include being able to find and use relevant and appropriate information. This is not so clear with vocational programmes. I think, a distinction between an induction and information skills session is helpful: the first assumes showing available resources and services, the second - developing competencies. However, when a librarian has only one chance of seeing students, particularly FE students, what should be the priority? I am tempted to say skills, but I think the reality is not so straightforward in our sector.

In the article mentioned above I loved the point on students disguising their readings from tutors. Bring Turitin! - perhaps, would be my answer. And seminars as book clubs - it works.

And another point - students and researchers being not aware of using libraries while accessing databases, e-journals etc. The article's recipe for that: seamless access requires branding.

12 March 2012

Traditional and emerging media for marketing library

Added on 13.03.2012: I have slightly amended/shortened the notes to the slides on SlideShare and here is my first ever slidecast (Screenr is very easy to use, but I wish it had as much functionality as the MS Power Point's voice-over presentation tool) - http://www.screenr.com/user/iharivanouAnd more fun, this time with Hello Slide, an automatic voice-over online generator - http://www.helloslide.com/presentations/1891/marketing-library-ihar-ivanou-12-march-2012 Surreal!

My presentation (which did not take place due to technical problems) for a JISC's webinar on use of technology for promoting library services, 5 March 2012.  Notes to the the slides are available at http://www.slideshare.net/nieszczarda/marketing-fe-library.

24 January 2012

Blogging and WordPress for Librarians

Yesterday I offered a session on blogging and specifically WordPress to my collegues from a neighbour college. It was a great experience, a pretty intensive, 2-hour-long hands-on session.
My notes/worksheet/helpsheet (pdf, five pages)