pollyanna vs. sakai

Starting a new job is a crash-course in the art of sussing things out. Making quick and functional assessments of workflows, dynamics, short-/long-term needs, and likely collaborators in an organization as redoubtable as this one is a fascinating process. Despite the range of brand new challenges staring me in the face, whenever I find myself in a situation where I am forming new relationships with a number of library-oriented individuals (workshops, conferences, queer contra dancing,) my commitment to the profession is reaffirmed. That may sound a little naive, but if my Momma taught me anything, it’s that at times it pays to be a bit Pollyanna. There’s a touch of the walking wounded in all librarians – we wear our earnestness, nerdiness, and intelligence on our sleeves, and our desire to contribute to the common good fairly shoots from our eyes. Starting a new job also reminds me that librarians excel at perceiving needs, even if we don’t yet have the tools or processes in place to deliver in the ways we’d like to.

Which brings me to one of the more awesome aspects of my new job, the part where about 90% of it will take place in the zone where wishing meets doing. A process of general and wide-ranging assessment has been going on for years at Berkeley, a partial product of the New Directions Initiative I’ve mentioned in previous posts and its focus on streamlining and overall library service. The outcome of this is that many studies, reports, and recommendations have been written prior to my arrival, and I find myself entering this organization at the early stage of a great many projects – the clash of perceived needs against practical implementation, in other words. Finding a logical, progressive, and productive place in this process is my purpose here. At this point, the possibilities are vast (and the alliteration unintentional).

What I hope will become a central project of mine is the library’s integration with bSpace, a, open source Sakai-based learning management system (LMS) that the campus adopted a few years ago. As I’ve mentioned several times before, I see great promise in LMS and other non-traditional web tool development in terms of usability (and workaroundablility, if you will). This approach isn’t new by any means, but the technology behind open-source LMSs like Sakai as well as some for-profit counterparts is rapidly improving, while their adoption is becoming almost compulsory at institutions of all sizes. Berkeley is an extraordinarily decentralized campus – consensus based, physically spread out, and independently oriented. The same can be said for the library: a number of units serving many constituencies. bSpace is a platform capable of reaching the greatest number of these in a consistent way, and I’m finding that its architecture is both limited and flexible in terms of potential service options (more on this in subsequent posts). This presents a pleasant challenge, to be sure. Close collaboration with the campus Educational Technology Services will be critical to the development process, needless to say.

At this point I’m learning what I can about the system and attending a number of orientation sessions geared towards helping faculty, staff, and graduate student instructors understand the various tools that are available to them in bSpace. Every participant has their own comfort level with, complaints about, and goals for the technology, and I’ve found that, not surprisingly, many are deeply skeptical of LMSs in general. That said, just as many are appreciative and genuinely curious about what it can do for them – last week a math professor explained that the day before his class asked him why they couldn’t just use Facebook for their course site… which of course there are many answers to on both sides, and it was extremely interesting to hear the perspectives of faculty, grad students, and instructional designers on this issue. Security, privacy, and acceptable use of copyrighted material were among the LMS pros discussed, while a general desire for more “2.0ish” functions and better usability within bSpace emerged on the con side. And today, another professor raised the question of streaming digital media and fair use – when, why, and how to integrate clips and films into the LMS.

The ability to interact with faculty and instructional designers in this practical realm is priceless, because I’m getting at them where they’re actually developing e-learning rather than in the somewhat artificial, library-blindered space of a focus group or survey. If you are working in a similar context or capacity, I highly recommend getting out once in a while.

4 thoughts on “pollyanna vs. sakai

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  1. Great post! This inspired me to contact the Sakai action group at MPOW to see about getting involved in their pilot project. We used a Sakai-based LMS at the large mid-western univ where I went to library school, and I was disappointed to see that my new institution uses BB. But progress is being made! Looking forward to your future posts about your involvement with bSpace at Berkeley 🙂

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