Comments on John Blackburn's 12 Dec 2002 memo on TLRC

Some bigger thoughts have to be thunk. We stand on the brink (or is it in midstream?) of a great transformation of teaching and learning, and W&L's strengths and resources allow us to choose to be leaders in the evolution of an information community which unites traditional and emergent information technologies, and which extends far beyond the confines of our campus. The TLRC is the most appropriate kernel for this development at W&L.

The TLRC as described in John's memo is fundamentally a resource for the support of teachers ("the primary goal... ought to be the development and support of effective 21st Century teaching and excellent 21st Century teachers"), who certainly need the support described, for the reasons listed. But we can aspire to broader goals, and incorporate several other constituencies into the learning community supported by the TLRC:

The sentiment that "information is the lifeblood of the learning community" needs to be more than hortatory: it is a challenge to academic complacency, applicable to all forms of information that teachers and learners use. As a part of developing new tools and applications, the several constituencies must rethink and extend their understandings and uses of information. This presents all constituencies with substantial information fluency challenges, and defines the basis for both the TLRC's broadened mandate and for a progressive interlinkage with the library.

We need to think about information ecologies of the present and the future, and

  1. analyze how various constituencies at W&L are now using the various information media,
  2. create conditions conducive to innovation,
  3. anticipate emergent technologies and explore applications to teaching and learning, and
  4. build the infrastructure to deliver and support new integrations of information technologies,
  5. participate actively in NITLE, CNI, EDUCAUSE and other organizations whose focus is emergent technologies in education.
Each of these action items implies reallocation of personnel and resources, and requires the collaboration of people in different administrative entities.

If creation of an Information Commons is to be the direction W&L takes, this facility must provide for the needs of all constituencies, and integrate functions which are now quite independent. How could this be done, and how does the eventual reconfiguration of Leyburn's main floor fit with this prospect? What functions would be physically located in an Information Commons, and how would their various personnel be interrelated? These are questions that others have dealt with, and for which there is help on the way (in the form of a Mellon-sponsored workshop on New Learning Spaces, slated for sometime in the next few months, which several of us need to be participants in).

The bold physical reconfiguration underway at Wellesley is an interesting model, as are the examples of the relatively new renovation at Dartmouth and the evolving process of facilities development at Mount Holyoke and at Bates. In all of these cases "computing" personnel (Help Desk, IT/IS, etc.) have been physically moved into "library" space. More significantly, at all of these campuses the collaboration of computing and library personnel is seen as vital and is actively encouraged and facilitated. The CNI-sponsored and Dartmouth-hosted Collaborative Facilities project is a nascent clearinghouse for materials in this area.

Among the (presently non-existant) functionalities that could be within the purview of the TLRG (with appropiate staffing and skills development) are

for 'information community' see:

Library to Build American Studies Information Community Digital Project (Thornton Staples, Director of Digital Library Research and Development, in L I B R A Volume 9 No. 1, September 2001)

for 'information ecologies' see:

a chapter from Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart (Bonnie Nardi and Vicki O'Day, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999) and Nathan Shedroff's outline of a book he's working on

For 'emergence' see:

...certain combinations will display emergent properties, that is, properties of the combination as a whole which are more than the sum of its individual properties. These emergent (or 'synergistic') properties belong the the interactions between the parts, so it follows that a top-down analytical approach that begins with the whole and dissects it into its constituent parts (an ecosystem into species, a society into institutions), is bound to miss precisely those properties. In other words, analyzing a whole into parts and then attempting to model it by adding up the components will fail to capture any property that emerged from complex interactions, since the effect of the latter may be multiplicative (e.g., mutual enhancement) and not just additive. (Manuel De Landa A thousand years of nonlinear history (1997)17-18)

See also Emergence and Self-organisation

Susan Perry's Thinking Strategically about Information Literacy, Steve Sloan's Thee Library as an Instrument for Teaching and Learning, and Susanne Woods' Information Literacy and the Liberal Arts Education from The Transformation of the College Library Workshop, held September 19-21, 2002, at the Sheraton Columbia Hotel and Conference Center in Columbia, Maryland

on learning spaces, see

New Learning Spaces (Otto Peters), New Learning Spaces: Smart Learners, Not Smart Classrooms (Howard Strauss in Syllabus September 2002), Milliken Summer Technology Seminar and Learning Spaces Committee Final Report and Recommendations from University of Iowa, April 2001