Wikis in E-learning

Like other collaborative tools for e-learning that I discussed in my previous blogs, wikis are a great tool to incorporate into online learning environments. Incorporating a wiki into e-learning can introduce a variety of unique and powerful information sharing and collaborative features that would offer numerous benefits. First, wikis are a useful tool that will increase learning effectiveness by reducing the time and effort spent looking for information about course content as the information is readily available on the wiki. Hence, students will not need to contact the instructor for help. Moreover, having a wiki will also increase the quality of work that the students are producing by enabling the creation and discovery of online communities for various sub topics within the course or subject. Third, providing a wiki in the online learning environment will considerably reduce the email volume between the instructor and students. For instance, if an email was sent to the instructor by a student regarding a particular problem of the course content, depending on the subject and the importance of the email, the instructor can place that information on the wiki page which would benefit all of the students.

Most of the wikis will also have features that would enable e-learners to quickly identify one another in the online learning environment, thereby increasing the productivity of the unit when collaborating information and working on various projects.  Another important aspect of a wiki is that it will allow for collaboratively capturing knowledge. For instance, a course wiki that is dedicated to a particular course does not have to be limited to one semester or year. Instead, the wiki can exist indefinitely until the course is no longer taught. As a result, the knowledge will grow as more students are contributing to the wiki and the new students are learning from the former students. Wikis also enable users in different locations to access, use, update, and produce documents collaboratively on their own time (i.e. no more time zone issues). Therefore, in terms of e-learners this would be useful for collaborative projects that need regular updates and feedback.

The Wiki will also foster evergreen documents, meaning that the documents that are on the wiki will always be up to date and as such the instructor and the students will remain on the same page. For instance, when emailing information back and forth, there is always the possibility that students may not receive the information or may have deleted the emails accidentally. More importantly, as a result of having a wiki, the information and idea sharing across the course will also be very easy to accomplish. Due to these aforementioned reasons, I believe that having a wiki integrated into the online learning environment would be an asset to both the students and to the instructor.

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Library Instruction through Mobile Applications

Most academic and research libraries around the world provide at least some library instructions through mobile application. This increasingly popular trend demonstrates that the role of traditional librarians  has also evolved to include new and exciting library opportunities in the areas of  emerging technologies, web services and social media, to name a few. Traditional library instruction which has taken place in classrooms or in the confinement of the library in order to educate patrons about various library resources and services now tends to incorporate mobile technologies alongside traditional methods. This trend seems to be more appropriate as learning environments transition from traditional class room settings to online environments. Therefore, this week, I decided to write a blog that discusses some of the mobile applications which are used for library instruction, as well as the advantages and disadvantages associated with each platform.

First, iPods allows library patrons to download a variety of information in the form of music, podcasts, books, photos and videos. As a result of such mobile devices librarians could incorporate into their instructional activities downloadable instructional podcasts, videos and ebooks in order to complement the learning objectives. For instance, instructional podcasts and videos can have step by step learning activities that would enhance the experience of the user. The benefits of having such technology in the library setting is that it enables mobile library users to access instructional material quickly from the comfort of their own home or while on the go. In terms of library instruction, there are also several disadvantages associated with iPod devices. First, not all library users own or have access to iPod devices and to download files, the Apple iTunes program is required. As such, there may very well be a barrier in terms of accessing instructional material via this avenue. Second, these devices have smaller screens which users may not be comfortable using for gathering and using library instructional material and activities. Finally, these devices only allow one way communication which leads to the problem of not being able to gather relevant information in order to improve learning objectives.

Another mobile device that can be used to complement library instruction would be E-readers. E-readers allow library users to download text-based books, journals, magazines and newspapers and it also enables users to markup pages and quickly navigate through text via find features. This is a great tool to incorporate into library instruction since it allows users to download and store instructional material and read resources on demand as well as conduct research. It also allows users to store large text files with graphics which would enhance the learning experience. One of the main disadvantages of incorporating e-book formats into library instruction is that not all e-readers use a uniform format and if content was created with various formats, some users will be unable to use resources that complement library instruction.

Finally, Smartphone devices are functional tools that could be incorporated into library instructions programs. Via Smartphones, library users can download resources such as audio and video formats, mobile apps and engage in many social media and networking activities. As a result, library instruction via Smartphones allows learning about the library resources in a collaborative manner since it provides ample interaction opportunities to library users. One of the main advantages of using this platform in library instruction is that it allows librarians to bring various resources to the user in a collaborative manner since Smartphones allow a multitude of computing and communications features. One of the major disadvantages of using Smartphones as part of library instruction program is that there are not too many mobile applications for library services and the ones that do exist may not be very compatible with ILSs. As such, patrons may not be able to access library resources via mobile apps.

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Depository Services Program (DSP)

This week I decided to blog about the Depository Services Program (DSP) where I had the privilege of working as an intern in the summer of 2012. Prior to commencing the internship, like many others, I was unaware of the important services that the DSP provided and this is a great opportunity for me to blog about DSP and mention some of those aspects.

The Depository Services Program (DSP) which is part of the Public Works and Government Services Canada is located in Ottawa, Ontario. Publishing and Depository Services (PDS) is one of the directorates forming the Government Information Services (GIS) Sector. The DSP program was established as a program to provide Canadian government information for Canadian academic institutions including universities and colleges, legislative and public libraries, as well for federal Parliamentarians and departmental libraries in 1927. Moreover, the DSP supports publication exchanges between parliamentary or legislative libraries outside of Canada and the Library of Parliament and Library and Archives Canada.  Additionally, the DSP program has a mandate to, upon request, provide Canadian Government publications to foreign universities with Canadian studies programs.

There are several reasons as to why the DSP exists. First, it is important to have a centralized program which distributes government publications due to the fact that publication and distribution are de-centralized across government and within its larger organizations. Hence, each government department produces a vast array of published material and to locate such publications would be very difficult for each individual institution which desires to acquire federal government publications. As such, the DSP fulfills this mandate. Second, Government publications are produced in great numbers by several hundred different departments and agencies located across Canada, on a wide range of subjects and in many different formats. As a result, acquisition of Government publications from individual institutions, the Canadian public, and researchers has been very difficult. As a result, the DSP attempts to identify, locate and acquire published information to meet the needs and interests of these groups. Finally, the DSP ensures that free public access to published government information is available in most communities through its library network across Canada and freely accessible online.

There are well over 700 depository libraries in Canada and abroad which acquire publications from the DSP. In turn, these libraries provide free public access to government information through their bibliographic access, long-term preservation, reference services and inter-library loan systems. The success of the DPS program is largely contributed to the corporation of the Canadian Government departments and agencies which provide copies of their publications to the DSP for distribution to the depositories and the author departments assume only the incremental cost associated with the production of their respective publications including the shipping cost of such published materials. Moreover, the DSP publishes a Weekly Checklist of Canadian Government Publications listing bibliographic information for all publications available from the DSP during the week of issue.

The catalogued material by the DSP can be found on the Publications Canada website by everyone and it is a great resource that reference librarians should be aware of. If you are interested in finding out about how to access a document through the Publications Canada online catalogue I have created a video and PDF help aid for your convenience. I have provided the URLs below. Please have a look!  

Learning Tutorials:

How to Access a Document through the Publications Canada Online Catalogue   (PDF document)

How to Access a Document through the Publications Canada Online Catalogue   (Video tutorial)

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Virtual Research Environments

This week I had the opportunity to further explore the concept of CMS. While I was reading about this topic I came across a relatively new, but interesting concept known as Virtual Research Environments (VRE). VRE emerged in scholarly work and communications in order to mitigate complex research challenges which require a great deal of collaboration. VRE is a platform whereby researchers from different locations can work together in real-time without restrictions. It is also a platform which supports the entire research process via virtual research environments by allowing the collection, discussion and further processing of data through to the publication of results. From a technological perspective, virtual environments are based primarily on software services and communication networks and they are essential components of advanced research infrastructures. Hence, VRE allows researchers to not only to collaborate with other researchers, it provides a platform where researchers can document their research processes more thoroughly, keeping and curating the resources consumed and generated so that they are discoverable and re-usable by other researchers. Moreover, VRE allows multidisciplinary subject areas to be collaborated while disregarding geographical constraints to research and knowledge. As a result, the process of scholarly communications tends to be improved via VRE.

Researchers already make use of a range of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) based tools to support their work such as email, instant messaging, wikis, groupware systems and blogs throughout the various stages of the research process such as the literature review, hypothesis, formulation, data discovery or collection, analysis, collaboration, validation, publication and data curation. However, researchers need to utilize several ICT platforms to manage such research processes effectively. VRE aims to provide an integrated environment that supports all stages of the research process while allowing ample collaborative opportunities for scholarly communications in one centralized platform. The concept of VRE is based on the older platforms for virtual learning such as Moodle, Sakai or Blackboard. VRE usually includes features such as collaboration support (Web forums and wikis), document hosting, discipline-specific tools, publication management and teaching tools with various capabilities.

Role for Librarians:

VRE provides many opportunities for librarians to be involved in order to facilitate and improve the research process via VREs. For starters, librarians need to play close attention to how VREs are being used by researchers in various projects to change the way in which they work and communicate. This awareness will allow librarians to become involved in VRE projects much more effectively and cater services to researchers based on their needs and demands. Research oriented libraries such as academic libraries have an opportunity to become involved with VRE projects for a variety of reasons. First, not all researchers are aware of library resources and services. Therefore, VREs are excellent venues to feature library resources, especially domain specific ones that researchers are not always aware of. Second, libraries are always concerned about curating digital research output and the best way to become involved with such activities is to play a prominent role at the initial start of the project in order to make that process and task easier for both researchers and the librarians. Moreover, libraries which see themselves as supporting the whole research lifecycle will seek to better understand the impact of VREs on such process. As libraries have always been places of communication and collaboration, it may be seen as a logical consequence that digital libraries become more like VREs.

Some of the examples of VRE projects and studies are listed below for convenience. 

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Social Tagging and Digital Libraries

 

Last week my blogged focused on how digital libraries could be incorporated into e-learning environments and how they could improve e-learning activities. This week I had the opportunity to explore some public library catalogues and I found that many of them have used social catalogues to improve services to their clients. As such, social catalogues could be incorporated into digital library interfaces as an avenue for increasing interaction among distance learners, especially via the social tagging function which could ultimately improve the learning outcomes of distance learners.

Social tagging is also sometimes known as collaborative tagging. When referred to in a library context, social tagging means the social classification and social indexing of library items in the library’s catalogue. Social tagging allows the library users to assign keywords, or tags, to items. Such social tagging activities are also referred to as OPAC 2.0 which is sometimes noted as being the next generation catalogue. As such, social tagging keywords or phrases are typically freely chosen instead of using a controlled vocabulary that could either be derived from the Library of Classification system or other types of controlled vocabulary schemes.

Some of the potential problems or criticisms with respect to introducing social tagging in a digital library are as follows. First, there is no standardization for the social tags that would be used and which would lead to various information retrieving problems for the library patrons. For instance, social tagging terms could use unique spellings and the ambiguity of various phrases or keywords could also be an issue. Another common problem associated with social tagging is the lack of inter-relationships between terms like those used in the LCC classification. To elaborate, with social tagging, the key words are created without considering the hierarchy of the scheme and as such the tags are created in isolation which will ultimately lead to problems when patrons are attempting to retrieve and co-locate various library resources. A third problem arises because when users are feely tagging the catalogue, sometimes the tags of the same item or a similar item is tagged with both narrow and broader terms which creates searchability problems for the users.

Searchability could be further complicated for the user due to the fact that many of the social tags are varied with plural and singular forms. Thus, not all items related to the subject will be retrieved in a search. Another major problem with social tagging is that synonyms are not controlled for tagged items. Synonyms are two terms that express the same concept and in the case of LCC, the expressions are controlled by using the “authority files” which dictate a preferred way of expressing concepts. This feature is not available with social tagging. Some of the literature also points to the fact that some of the social tags are not appropriate for library usage, but that if the librarians were to monitor such social tags, library costs would be substantially increased because of the human resources required to do so. Therefore, when incorporating social tagging into digital libraries in order to better serve distance leaners, it should be done on a case by case basis while paying close attention to the aforementioned problems.

Despite the aforementioned problems, there are also several benefits to implementing social tagging into a digital library interface. First, social tagging allows the library users to share information about books, provide reviews about an item, or make comments which increase the efficacy of library items. Hence, distance learners will be able to learn from each other as opposed to learning solely from the instructor.  Social tagging also allows the librarians to build user communities that would also enable social features to be linked to the bibliographic records of the digital library which would ultimately lead to improving the knowledge of the library users, in this case the distance learners. Another important aspect of social tagging is that it creates an opportunity for the users to engage with other members of the user community as well as increase the participation in their communities. This will be very beneficial to distance leaners since they will be able to engage more frequently via the social catalogue. Another important benefit is that social tagging uses natural language which enables new subjects to be added quickly to a social digital library which could also improve information retrieval among library users. Thus, overall, I believe that social tagging will lead to many benefits for library users and especially those who are accessing library resources from a distance by enhancing their library experience through collaborative means.

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E-Learners and Digital Libraries

 

In recent years, as a result of the growth of information and communication technology, many modern students are choosing to learn through non-conventional means such as distance learning activities. E -learning is a concept that refers to the teaching and learning resources or experiences that are, in some way, delivered electronically. E-learning extends beyond the process of using educational websites or computer software to meet educational objectives. It also uses all aspects of electronic delivery such as videos, digital cameras, social media, presentation software and web communication technology. In keeping up with such changing trends, librarians too have diversified the delivery of services, widening the scope from within the confinement of the physical library to electronic means. One such way of delivering services to clients who desire digital formats has been through digital libraries. There are many definitions of digital libraries that circulate in the library world. However, one of the earliest definitions comes from Lynch (1995) who defines digital libraries as an “electronic information access system that offers the user a coherent view of an organized, selected, and managed body of information”.

While I was reading some of the literature relating to distance learning, I came across the following benefits of e-learning. For e-learners, distance, time zones, and location are non-issues and as such, e-learners can access the up to date online materials at any time at their own convenience. Moreover, e-learners have the opportunity to communicate with experts, instructors, and peers in their circles any time and receive feedback with minimal efforts, again at their own convenience. E-leaners also have the opportunity to enhance their learning since e-learning provides the opportunity to contextualize the learning experience since many e-learners often work in the field. There are also benefits to the instructors as well. For instance, tutoring can be done at any time and from anywhere and the material for the e-learning activities can be updated via the website or other communication median easily and at any time. As a result, e-learners will be able to see the changes instantaneously.  Another major benefit is that instructors can easily direct the participants in a course or workshop to other online material on the web which would facilitate the learning process and the needs of the e-learner. Moreover, if the online learning system was designed properly, e-learning can be catered to the needs of the user in order to improve the learning outcomes.

Moreover, digital libraries can complement and enhance the e-learning environment in several ways which include improving student performance by increasing the quantity, quality and comprehensiveness of internet-based access to educational resources by creating easier access points via metadata and proper naming conventions which would ultimately lead to easier discovery and retrieval of information. Additionally, a digital library could be designed in a way that would act as a federation of library services and collections that function together to create a digital learning community. For instance, a typical digital library that supports a course in a post-secondary institution would have a range of material that would include “ materials, lectures, lesson plans, computer programs, modelling and simulation, intelligent tutoring systems, access to remote scientific instruments, project-based learning, tools, the results of educational research, scientific research reported both formally in journals and informally in web sites, raw data for student activities, and multimedia image banks” and so forth (Sharifabadi 392).

E-learners tend to be overloaded with information from the web, content management systems and digital libraries when participating in e-learning activities. As such, librarians have a great opportunity to design and build digital libraries that would reduce the burden of information overload for e-leaners. To elaborate, librarians can effectively design digital libraries that can link e-learners to library catalogues, journal databases, e-book collections, selected internet resources, e-course reserves, and tutorials. Additional functions such as social media could also be added to digital libraries to improve the learning outcomes by allowing forums for communication and interaction with others. Such interaction with other e-learners as well as the connectivity to library resources through a digital library will allow the e-learning experience to be phenomenal. One of the digital libraries that I have experience working with is Greenstone Digital Library which is an Open Source digital library software.

Work cited and consulted:

Black, Elizabeth, L. (2008), Toolkit Approach to Integrating Library Resources into the Learning Management System. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34 (6): 496-50

Lynch, C. (1995), CNI white paper on networked information discovery and retrieval, available at: www.cni.org/projects/nidr/

Rezaei Sharifabadi, S. (2006), How digital libraries can support e-learning. The Electronic Library, 24 (3): 389-401

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Course Management Systems (CMS)

 

Course Management Systems (CMS), such as Blackboard, Blackboard Vista, Desire2Learn and Moodle have become the most commonly used learning technologies across many Canadian colleges and Universities. These create many challenges as well as many opportunities for librarians and informational professionals who work within the confinements of colleges and Universities. In terms of challenges for librarians CMS are designed as traditional repositories for instructional materials and resources where instructors can deposit items into the systems without any outer connectivity. For instance, many of the traditional repositories have a difficult time connecting to links directly from a CMS to an online library resource due to the fact that the URLs generated by many library systems include information unique to that specific search session. As a consequence, when a user tries to access the material at a later time the URL will have changed and the link would be broken. Another major challenge has been that many of the proprietary library databases have unique search engines. This challenge however, has been overcome by the use of persistent URLs and a Google-type meta search engine that could be placed within a CMS which would help to alleviate such problems.

In terms of CMS, another major challenge that librarians face in terms of integrating it into educational institutions is the difficulty of not having potentially useful media in digital formats. Moreover, even if they wish to digitize the content, the current copyright limitations may forbid such material from being digitized. Another major challenge has come from many of the library professionals themselves who refuse to accept the notion of the digital library and continue to envision clients as acquiring most of their informational needs through physical formats and refuse to evolve in line with the trends. Dempsey (2003) summarizes the mind-set change that needs to occur: “the important point is that the user – the reader, the learner, the faculty member – has access to the [library] service where it makes the most sense’’ (Dempsey, 2003, p. 108).  However, in recent years many librarians are overcoming this challenge by integrating an e-reserve system into their institution’s CMS. For instance, librarians are using RSS feeds to reach clients within the CMS as well as by working with consortia to create online multimedia repositories and promote the use of persistent URLs and standardized search engines which would better serve the needs of the users. In order to improve library services to users of CMS, there needs to be increased collaborative efforts between course instructors, librarians and I.T. professionals. Furthermore, librarians need to be given instructor access to the CMS in order to become well acquainted with the CMS system. However, this continues to be a challenge.

In addition to proprietary CMS, there are open source CMS as well which refers to software whose source code is available under a licensed agreement and such software allows users to use, modify, and improve the software and to redistribute it in the modified or unmodified form. A good example of such as system would be Sakai. In terms of OS-CMS, there are advantages and disadvantages. One of the main advantages of open source software is that it provides stability. For instance, Open Source CMS tends to crash less due to the fact that it is not made for a particular platform. For instance, Open Source CMS can operate on a variety of hardware and has less compatibility issues as opposed to the proprietary software. A second advantage is that the OS-CMS software is free and boasts very minimal additional costs for improvements and modifications to the software that would better suit the organization’s needs. Third, OS-CMS can be run on old hardware or for the most part on any type of hardware which would reduce the overall hardware cost of the organization. Lastly, OS-CMS could potentially increase security due to the fact that in house developers or contractors can quickly look at the source code and fix holes to meet the needs of the organization.

In terms of using OS – CMS, there are several disadvantages as well. First, OS – CMS enables people to see the source code of the CMS which creates a possibility for hackers to infiltrate and ruin the CMS which would be devastating to the organization. A second disadvantage could be the learning curve that is associated with learning the new CMS since many people are not familiar with OS – CMS and as a consequence, there is the potential that some users will be dissatisfied. Fourth, there is also the potential that even though OS – CMS can be modified to meet users’ needs; it still requires additional human resources or monetary resources for such modifications which can be burdensome for some libraries. Hence, it would be a financial burden at the initial stages of the operation to the libraries.

References:

Anthony A. Piña (2007) Course Management Systems: Overview and Implications for Libraries. Library Hi Tech News 24. 5: 7-9.

Dempsey, L. (2003) The recombinant library: portals and people.  Journal of Library Administration, Vol. 39 No. 4, pp. 103-36.  

Voss, Alexander; Procter, Rob (2009) Virtual research environments in scholarly work and communications, Library Hi Tech 27. 2: 174-190.

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