MOOCs, models, and maps

I recently came across the NMC Technology Outlook for Australian Tertiary Education 2013-2018, which lists twelve emerging technologies which are likely to have an impact on higher education in Australia over the next five years. The technologies discussed in the report are:

  • Learning Analytics
  • Massive Open Online Courses
  • Mobile Learning
  • Social Media
  • 3D Printing
  • Badges
  • Information Visualisation
  • Location-Based Services
  • Flexible Displays
  • The Internet of Things
  • Virtual and Remote Laboratories
  • Wearable Technology

I won’t go into all of them in relation to their impact on libraries, but there are a couple that I’d like to discuss.

The first of these are Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. These free courses with thousands of students have taken off in recent years, and cover a very wide range of subject areas, including librarianship. Although academic librarians are unlikely to be asked to provide a training session on how to use the library as part of a MOOC, there are other roles which we can play. These have been discussed at an OCLC seminar, and in an ARL Issue Brief. Mostly they involve copyright and licensing issues around course materials.

The next technology I’d like to look at is 3D printing. It seems there’s a been a proliferation of “makerspaces” being set up in libraries around the world. Most of the examples I’ve heard about have been in public libraries, rather than academic libraries. Some Australian libraries which have installed a 3D printer include the University of Melbourne, Town of Victoria Park, Helensvale, and Grote Street. I’ll admit I’m a bit ambivalent about libraries providing 3D printers for their patrons. There has been a bit of discussion and debate about this issue, with Hugh Rundle and R. David Lankes providing differing points of view. I certainly empathise with Hugh’s perspective that librarians shouldn’t blindly introduce new technology simple because it’s new and shiny – there should be a sound evidence base for why the technology is needed. I also see where David is coming from – these tools can allow for new ideas and knowledge to be developed and created, which is one of the core functions of a library. From an academic library perspective, I think the library is the right place on campus for 3D printing to be made widely available (I’m not suggesting it’s the only place – researchers will probably want their own printers in their labs). This is because the library is one of the few “neutral” spaces on campus – it’s not owned by a particular department or faculty. It’s a space where students and staff from all disciplines can meet and collaborate. In the context of 3D printing, an engineering student may have the technical knowledge to operate a printer, so they may be able to assist a design student to create a prototype.

Finally, I’d like to touch on location-based services. Several museums and libraries, such as MONA in Hobart and the State Library of NSW, offer apps which provide visitors with information about exhibits relative to the visitors’ location. Louise Prichard delivered a presentation at Information Online earlier this year about the development of the SLNSW app (slides available here, summary available here). I think apps like these could be adapted for use by academic libraries. For example, when a patron first enters the library, the app could display a map of the building, with directions to where the patron wants to go. If a student is at the print station and needs help to use it, the app could bring up the instructions for how to print. The app could also be used to provide a self-guided tour of the library for new students and staff.

These are my brief random thoughts about these technologies. I’ll try to revisit this post in the future to see if these technologies have become as widespread as predicted.


A day of geocaching

A couple of weeks ago I went on a geocaching expedition to the Central Coast with three other geocachers – lasramblas, Damo, and Darren from The Spindoctors (host of the Geotalk podcast). We had a few caches on our hitlist for the day, with two must-do caches – Head like a box, and #4 “Wonderful”. These are two of the oldest caches in NSW, having been placed in 2001. This makes them two of the qualifying geocaches for the Old School Challenge – New South Wales cache. In order to find this challenge cache, you need to find ten of the forty or so caches in NSW which were placed in 2000 or 2001. I’d already found a couple of these, so the plan was to add two more to the tally.

It was an early start for a Sunday morning, with a 7:30am departure from our meeting spot. Within an hour, we were at our first cache for the day (Go ask Charles). This one set the scene for the day, with an uphill walk to the cache location. We consulted Charles and calculated the final location, then went and found the cache.


The next cache (Rumbalara Rocks) also involved an uphill walk, but we were able to take a break along the way to find The Angel, Islington. The Angel took us longer to find than it should have (I’m blaming the early morning start).

Our next couple of stops were at puzzles caches that I’d solved a while ago but hadn’t had the chance to go and find. They were SuDoKu – Easy and Sudoku – Medium, and the terrain reflected the puzzle difficulty, too. The starting point for the walk to the medium difficulty was at a lookout that I’d been to a couple of times, and it has great views down the coast.

Sudoku Medium lookout 1

Sudoku Medium lookout 2
Sudoku Medium lookout 3

Next up was our first must-do cache for the day, Head like a box. It was a slow and careful drive to the parking area in our two wheel drive car, with Darren going a good job of avoiding all the ruts/potholes/washouts along the way. We had a half-hour walk to get to the cache location, and it was a nice walk through the coastal vegetation. It was a pretty straightforward trip, with the terrain only getting a bit tricky towards the end. In the end lasramblas made the scramble near the cliff edge to grab the container. It was a shame that the weather wasn’t a bit nicer, but we still had a good view south towards Barrenjoey and Pittwater.

Box Head 1 Box Head 2 Box Head 3 Flannel Flowers at Box Head

We found the last of the three puzzle caches (Sudoku – Hard) before lunch, after another uphill walk. Lunch was a quick stop, then off for some more caching.

Our first post-lunch find (Crommelin’s Pearl) was another opportunistic one, as it was near our first (and incorrect) parking spot for Barrel-O-GeoMonkeys II (Reload). It was in an arboretum that I’d never heard of before. It was a nice quiet spot which I think I’ll come back to for a proper look around.

We found a better spot to park for our walk to Barrel-O-GeoMonkeys II (Reload), and it was nice to walk along the beach for a change. We had to go into the bush to find the cache, and there was a bit of a bush-bash involved. In the end we found the cache (a nice large container).

Finally, we arrived at the parking area for the other old cache on our list, #4 “Wonderful”. This one was located at the top of Mount Wondabyne, and we wondered if we’d be able to find it and get back to the car before it got too dark. In the end we decided to go for it, so we set off at a pretty quick pace. It was a fairly easy walk along a fire trail for most of the way, but things got a bit harder once we were at the top of the mountain. My legs were feeling it by this stage, but I knew this would probably be the only time I’d get a chance to go for this cache. After a scramble up the rocks we got to the top, and the search commenced. Darren found the cache, which was quite fitting as he’d previously been unable to find the cache earlier this year. After taking some photos and admiring the view, it was time to head back to the car.

Mt Wondabyne 1 Mt Wondabyne 3

We took a different route back, and arrived at the car at about 5:45pm. It was a long day with a lot of walking (which my right knee reminded me of for the next day or so) but it was a great day out. It was nice to go and do some “real” geocaching out in the bush, rather than trying to sneak around in an urban area. I’d definitely be up for another day like this. All I need to do is come up with a list of caches to find, and round up a posse of geocachers for the trip.

New focus for library training sessions

We’re now in the mid-semester break at the university where I work, so I thought I’d look back on the training sessions that I delivered during the first half of the semester. There were only four subjects which I ran training for, and the last one was the only “traditional” session which I organised. By traditional, I mean showing the students how to use the databases and our discovery tool to find resources to help them with their assignment. The other three classes had a different focus.

The first training session I conducted was in a lecture for approximately 350 first year biology students. This was the largest session that I ran. At the request of the lecturer, the focus was on showing the students how to use Google Scholar and Wikipedia as starting points for their research, and then how to link from these to library resources. The second session looked at Trove, and how it could be used by third year students in human geography to find historical documents to help them with their assignment. I ran another session for human geography students (second year this time) showing them how to use freely-available government sources, such as the UN and World Bank, for their assignment. The final session was for some first year human geography students, and this session was a basic introduction to the library and the resources that are available.

The focus for the training sessions has shifted towards adding access points to the library in spaces that the students are using, rather than forcing them to start at the library. For example, the library resources template on Wikipedia allows libraries to link to their catalogue or discovery tool from a Wikipedia page. It’s about going to where the students are and showing them how to get back to the library. If students are comfortable using resources such as Google Scholar and Wikipedia, why not allow the students to use these as discovery tools, then link back to the library for scholarly content?

There may be concerns around the “dumbing down” of search strategies by using this approach, but students are already doing their research by starting with these sources. Several studies have investigated the use of Wikipedia by college and university students (Head and Eisenberg 2010, Lim 2009, Colón-Aguirre and Fleming-May 2012), and also ways of making it easy for students to access library resources if they start with Wikipedia (Arnett and Forrestal 2012). By providing a way for them to find their way to the library, we can show them how to go beyond these freely-available sources and locate reliable, scholarly material. I think I’ll be delivering less of the “traditional” training sessions in the future.

My first completed MOOC!

I recently completed the Maps and the Geospatial Revolution MOOC offered by Coursera. This was the second MOOC I started, but it’s the first one that I finished. I even managed to earn a Distinction on my Statement of Accomplishment. I found that the course gave me a great exposure to the free online GIS (Geographic Information Systems) tools that are available. It wasn’t only about the tools, but it also examined the techniques and philosophy behind how to make a good map. Now that I know about these tools, particularly ArcGIS, I’ll certainly be using them more often.

One of the reasons I took the course was to gain a better understanding of GIS so that I could better support the students and staff at my institution who work in this field. I certainly managed to achieve this, and I’m seriously considering enrolling in a postgraduate GIS course next year.