I did a research session for an education class just after the second presidential debate. No better object lesson than to imbue in students how the skills we learn in doing research for academic papers be be applied outside of the library’s walled garden into the wild, wild web, a piece of inspiration I received during a char booth lecture last year. The session was energetic, the students invested. And then it came up, “did you always want to be a librarian?”

No. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a librarian; I didn’t even think about becoming one until I was in grad school studying history. I had this other life before becoming a librarian, historian. Then it also hit me; I wasn’t always ‘technically’ a librarian, I was an archivist. In a sense, since graduating from Smith College in 2004, I’ve had three careers; grad student, archivist, librarian. How did I manage those transitions? I leaned on my liberal arts training to retrain myself to learn the skills I needed to attack the tasks at hand. Or, as I said to the professor, “no one can repossess my education; I’ve always been able to make sense out of my world and learn what I need to learn to keep going.”

Which brings me to this article by Cathy Davidson forwarded to me by a colleague at Mount Holyoke while I was walking back to the library and this quote:

“The new liberal arts curriculum I am advocating is about the ability to learn, the ability to learn any time, any where, to have the skills and the networks and the communities and the practices and the introspective capacities to see what you need to get you beyond your old habits and cultivate new ones that serve you better.”

The research education that I’m providing for my students isn’t just how to do research for a paper or how to use this tool to complete this project, but a framework about how to effectively seek new information to learn new skills. In a changing economy, college educations shouldn’t be the training for just the next five years, but the methods, networks, and support to sustain people for the next fifty.

But this quote was the most pressing for me:

“That should be the starting point of educational reform. The quest to give every graduate the tools to fight off ignorance. In a changing world, ignorance is only one technology away. “

As everything changes, we can’t just teach people ‘just in time’ skills, but we need to teach students to be able to teach themselves new skills ‘just in time’ to use them. Without a robust framework to seek and evaluate information, our students will not be able to reinvent themselves ten or twenty years out of college. And then what?

I get fired up about higher education and librarianship because I truly believe that going to college can change one’s life. It’s not just about future earnings or rooting for a football team, but sense making, equipping students with the tools to reinvent themselves and lead meaningful lives. The same skills we impart on students to apply in their research papers are the same ones we need them to apply later in life when they need to decide how to vote. College is all about expanding one’s world, learning in global context, learning to live with ambiguity, and asking new questions. Cathy Davidson is absolutely right, “If we can recast the liberal arts curriculum to train resilient global citizens, we will be offering the most valuable education imaginable.”

Step 1, take the iPad out of the box (Primer)

Technology is ubiquitous!

Tablets are so easy to use!

No one needs any advice about how to use digital tools and devices – ever!

Working in higher education debunked such myths. Recently, iPads have joined laptops as  standard college-issued productivity gear all throughout higher education. Through my own experiences and hearing from other colleagues and friends, handing iPads to employees can lead to a few scenarios (good and bad) that I put into three rough categories:

1. Early/eager adopters: Employees tear iPads out of boxes, download a suite of productivity apps, and begin using device as if it is a part of them. These folks experiment with new ways of using the devices at work. Other employees are envious of their newfound productivity. Others roll their eyes. These users can be spirited instructors for less advanced users, but sometimes they might be reluctant to share their knowledge.

2. Competent adopters: Employees take iPads out of the box, use some pre-installed apps, download others, fumble, and use the device in moderation.

3. Reluctant/Anxious adopters: iPads remain in box until further instruction or encouragement.  If these employees don’t receive instruction or encouragement, they may not use the device at all.

Bearing in mind that these are rough descriptions of groups of users, it’s worth noting there are many more users who fall into the latter two categories than you might expect. So, how do we help them?

  1. Peer learning. Sometimes, groups of peers get together to talk about new and neat apps.
  2. Organizations and departments can identify power users who can rove among coworkers,  dispensing advice about how to use the new devices. Having acted as a power user in a limited role in a previous position, it can be a neat way of getting to know other coworkers in a more relaxed setting.
  3. Giving informal, orientation slides or infographics to all users who get an iPad or other tablet so everyone can be on the same page, setting expectations for how employees should use devices. Better yet, add on some good tech resources for employees can learn about new apps and features on their own. How else would people know about new iOS upgrades or new features to apps like Mail?

Finally, 3 things every new iPad user should know:

  1. There’s a mute button! Minds have been blown before my eyes when learning that one can make the clicking and clacking noises stop.  Colleagues in meetings and who otherwise work in close corners will be happy for the silence.
  2. Calendars can sync to multiple calendars like Google and Exchange.
  3. You can read *and* watch videos on iPad

Summing up, it’s easy to make generalizations about different people’s proficiencies with technology. It’s convenient to apply a ‘one size fits all’ strategy for introducing workers to a new device or suite of technology, but we must try to find new ways of reaching all of our users and encourage our teams to collaborate on how to find enriching, productive, and meaningful ways to use technology in our work.