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Libraries are Stories

May 17, 2021

I apologize in advance for any rambling, mixed metaphors, or lost trains of thought. It’s the end of the semester and the end of another long academic year. But this isn’t going to be another post about the pandemic – at least not directly.

I recently finished reading Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – with a day to spare on my library loan btw. I’m not going to write a review about the book but, it has a great premise. The Starless Sea and its Harbor is a place of stories – it is basically a cross between a library and the Hotel California Side note: I’ve recently discovered that I’ve come to an age where my cultural references often aren’t relatable anymore, so if you aren’t familiar with the song, check out the YouTube video I’ve linked to. Visitors can wander through the rooms and hallways lined with books and manuscripts, and can stay as long as they like (unlike the Hotel California you can actually leave, but why would you want to?). They can use the space to write and read and share with others. It is a magical utopia kind of place. But libraries, and bookstores, are often portrayed this way in stories. They are safe place of escape, a place to find answers and to even find yourself.

In real life what libraries do can often be seen as magic by our communities. We can get them any book from anywhere (almost) and provide access to everyone – without paying for a subscription or giving us their first born. We have the latest toys and gadgets (like virtual reality systems and makerspaces), but we also have ties to the past (genealogy resources, archives, and special collections). We exist for no other reason than to serve our communities in nearly whatever capacity they need.

In the past year or so though, COVID has changed things. We’ve lost a lot of what made us magical. Reduced hours, loss of programming and browsing. Reduced funding and loss of staff and volunteers. Because of the virus we could no longer be a safe physical safe, and while we tried to offer virtual alternatives to our services it was rarely the same. SPOILER ALERT: At the end of Starless Sea, a disaster strikes the Harbor as well. It is flooded by the Starless Sea and reached the end of its own story. But the novel ended on a note of hope, not one of despair. The Harbor was given an opportunity to rebuild itself again.

That a new Harbor was created out of its “disaster” is really where my meandering began. I started to ponder how we, as libraries, could rebuild ourselves. We will not be the same after the pandemic. Some of the lost staff and resources will not come back, and we will suffer from those losses. But we also have the opportunity to start fresh, to try new things and to cast aside bad habits. Most academic libraries, by the start of Fall 2021, will have at least half of a student body that has never known a “normal” library on their campus. We don’t have to fall back into the same routines as before the pandemic and perhaps can use this opportunity to become more than what we were.

This process can be daunting though. If we have a clean slate, then where do we start? How do we decide what we want to be? Maybe we should start with the story we want tell of ourselves and listen to the stories that our communities tell about us. Why not think big and abstract? We’ve focused on the real-world details for far too long during the pandemic. How can we get back to being that welcoming and safe space for our patrons? What can we do to become that haven for creativity and learning? Right now we may not think that we’re magic, but maybe we are… or at least can be. There has been enough pain and worry so why not take an opportunity to begin a new story where anything is possible?

Microcredentials: Are They a Gamechanger?

May 11, 2021
“Figure 5. The learner-and-earner micro-credential journey.” Designing and Implementing Micro-Credentials: A Guide for Practitioners, p. 8.

Micro-credentials are nothing new. Study of them typically paralleled our watching the rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as documented in Benefits and Costs of MOOC-Based Alternative Credentials: 2017 – 2018 Baseline Survey Results. Richard A. DeMillo cited 2012 as the seminal year for MOOCs in “Gatekeepers No More: Colleges Must Learn a New Role,” The Chronicle of Higher Education 62, no. 3 (Sept 18, 2015): B28.

A 2018 study by Northeastern University, Educational Credentials Come of Age: A Survey on the Use and Value of Educational Credentials in Hiring stated in its list of key findings:

“Skills-based or competency-based hiring appears to be gaining significant interest and momentum, with a majority of HR leaders reporting either having a formal effort to deemphasize degrees and prioritize skills underway (23%) or actively exploring and considering this direction (39%).

“Online credentials are now mainstream, with a solid majority (61%) of HR leaders believing that credentials earned online are of generally equal quality to those completed in-person, up from lower percentages in years past.”

However, it goes on to say, “Microcredentials are typically serving as supplements rather than substitutes for traditional degrees” (3).

The real question, will the last statement remain true post-COVID?

Already on June 19, 2019 David Bowser wrote in the Higher Education section of The Australian “Multi-year degree alternatives such as micro-credentials have gained traction because of their connection to in-demand skills and employment outcomes.” Bowser identifies the biggest threat is the lack of standardization, and says, “Institutions, industry and regulators each have a role in making the imprecise market of online education more precise” (“Take measure of micro-credentials” 31).

Is this happening?

Starting with the 2020-2021 cohort, The Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy, a leadership development program for undergraduate and graduate students at Grand Valley State University, added micro-badging for competencies into its curriculum that focuses on skills employers look for in their new hires. The blog post “Cook Leadership Academy adds micro-credentials to its curriculum” go on to say, “The badges can be used to summarize and articulate the skills students in the cohort have acquired in the academy. These can be used in interviews or to display on resumes” (https://lanthorn.com/80889/news/cook-leadership-academy-adds-micro-credentials-to-its-curriculum/).

In January 2021, The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) announced it “has updated its micro-credential approval process to make explicit how micro-credentials may contribute directly toward qualifications. This is sometimes referred to as ‘stacking’” (https://www.nzqa.govt.nz/about-us/news/stacking-micro-credentials/).

February 2021, “Purdue University Global reaches micro-credential milestone.” Exclaiming, “Purdue University Global launched a new landscape of micro-credentials in 2020 in order to meet students’ needs with creative and innovative academic solutions. Purdue Global students earned over 6,000 micro-credentials in the past year” (https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2021/Q1/purdue-university-global-reaches-micro-credential-milestone.html).

In Canada, the provincial governments of British Columbia and Ontario are giving legitimacy to micro-credentials, including financial assistance. Ontario’s Minister of Colleges and Universities, Ross Romano proclaimed, ‘The pandemic has had a devastating impact on our economy… By supporting these micro-credential programs our government is transforming Ontario’s postsecondary education sector and opening the window of opportunity to those who are looking to develop a new set of skills quickly’ (https://news.ontario.ca/en/release/60792/ontario-expands-financial-assistance-to-include-micro-credentials).

“School of Education Offers Free Distance Learning Micro Credential” (April 20, 2021) quotes Marthann Schulte of The New Mexico Highlands University School of Education as saying, “COVID-19 changed education, households and how families operate …The Governor’s Relief Fund makes it possible for Highlands to take an emergency education need during COVID-19 as a way to change New Mexican’s education opportunities now and in the future, post COVID-19” (https://www.nmhu.edu/school-of-education-offers-free-distance-learning-micro-credential/).

This month American College of Education, a private, online for-profit college, is rolling out a new three-course Micro-Credential in Simulation in Healthcare which can be applied to the full Certificate in Nursing Education & Simulation they offer (https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/american-college-of-education-expanding-program-offerings-with-may-24-term-301235448.html).

There are still doubters:

Merlin Crossley, “Micro credentials not the education revolution they were first touted to be.” The Sydney Morning Herald (February 26, 2021).

Graeme Owens, “Micro-credentials are trendy, but do they get people well paying jobs?” Toronto Star (March 25, 2021).

But nearly a decade out and after the general disruption of the ongoing global pandemic many see micro-credentials as an inevitable part in the future landscape of Higher Ed. If it is, librarians need to start asking, “How does the library feature in this new landscape?”

Further reading:

Growing in Pedagogy: Radical (Self-)Empathy

May 4, 2021

With finals week approaching, I am reflecting on the toll this year has taken on students. The conversation around student mental health and wellbeing has been long, and increased during the pandemic. At West Virginia University, a student’s recent suicide inspired administrators to address mental health challenges facing campus communities. Many of us are still struggling with our role as librarians to better support students, and to support our coworkers, faculty, staff, and ourselves. More this year than other years, students who never intended or desired to learn online were forced into synchronous or asynchronous online classes. Without the requisite skills and self-motivation required for online learning, coupled with the continued pandemic stressors, my students missed deadlines, asked for extensions, and sought reassurance more than ever. I suspect my situation is not unique. 

 I recently read Jordan and Schwartz’s book chapter “Radical Empathy in Teaching” (2018), and started using their words to inform my instruction and interactions with students. In their chapter, they state “radical empathy calls on us to be open to being effected by our students” (Jordan & Schwartz, 2018, p. 34). This semester I intentionally worked this principle into my feedback on student work. Wherever possible, I include one thing I learned from their work in my feedback. The effect on student learning is not clear and my course evaluations are not yet finalized. My gut tells me adopting this small change in my feedback increased my rapport with students at a minimum.

The authors also discuss the importance of self-empathy, both the necessity of practicing it with ourselves when teaching and of modeling self-empathy to our learners. We are experiencing the same pandemic stressors as our students, and self-empathy can “help us increase self-awareness and rejuvenate for the journey of teaching” (Jordan & Schwartz, 2018, p. 34). Self-empathy is admittedly more difficult for me, let alone modeling this for students. I tried to do this in small ways over this semester, such as admitting when I make mistakes and thanking students for their patience with me. There is plenty of room for growth in this area. To further model this in future courses I can inform students when I plan to take a digital rest and encourage them to do the same, check in with them when they are unengaged, and include a short anecdote about my life outside of work in my weekly course videos. 

The semester has a rhythm of high stress and low stress points, and the practice of radical empathy will be easier at some moments and more challenging at others. Jordan and Schwartz remind us that “When we are at our most effective, we are able to communicate to students when their work falls short and at the same time, convey that we understand that the work can be challenging and that we care about their success” (2018, p. 32). Their chapter is full of insight and thought provoking examples. I highly recommend reading it as soon as you have the chance. 

As we head into finals week, then the semi-lull of summer, I invite you to join me in self-reflection. Set aside a dedicated time to reflect on your teaching, services, consultations, etc., to deliberately discover where we can employ radical empathy to build up ourselves, our colleagues, our patrons, and our work. In discovering and sharing our vulnerability and need for grace, and extending it to ourselves and others, we grow stronger as leaders and teachers. 

Jordan, J. V., & Schwartz, H. L. (2018). Radical Empathy in Teaching. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2018(153), 25–35. https://doi.org/10.1002/tl.20278

OER PA Grant Opportunity

April 28, 2021
by

The Pennsylvania Department of Education announced a $500,000 OER grant program this past December. The program is open to postsecondary and higher education institutions across PA. The grant is designed to fund projects that will provide open educational resources for students learning online due to the pandemic. The grant, called PA GOAL, is being administered by PALCI, and will be open for submissions during 2 cycles. The first cycle is open right now and the second will be available in the coming months. Grant projects need to align with one of three different tracks: Course Development, OER Development, and Library Licensed Materials. You can find out more about each track on the PA Goal website.

If you have questions about this grant contact pagoal@palci.org

Recording of C&CS: Library Staff Morale & the Academic Hierarchy now available

April 21, 2021

Thank you to everyone who was able to join us for the live session, and special thanks to our presenters from UC Berkeley.

Our presenters have also provided links to their slides as well as additional content related to their presentation that may be of interest to you. Feel free to check everything out! Thank you again to Ann, Bonita, Celia, and Natalia.

Slides: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/30790731

ACRL Poster: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/99k4q221