The shift of library services to online interfaces has led to an explosion in the potential for data gathering, and also to a growing conversation about how the data should and could be used. This past year has witnessed a strong dialogue about libraries’ responsibility for maintaining the privacy and security of the data. Leading experts have pointed out the astonishing number of ways that privacy and security are unintentionally compromised in libraries’ everyday service environment. Protecting the privacy of library users has long been seen as a core value of the profession, and the relevance of this value is regularly defended as paramount. But I worry that we have been framing our discussion about privacy as library-centric and insufficiently user-centric.
The library-centric approach to privacy frames it as largely a black-or-white proposition: libraries can offer services that may add value but equally may pose concerns. In this conception, the library has a choice, whether to offer or support such services, or to avoid doing so.
But a user-centric approach to privacy would recognize that users have certain needs, or desire certain types of services or experiences. Many providers, including the library, are competing with one another to serve these needs. If only advertising-driven commercial providers are in the marketplace to provide these services, then users will turn to them, in spite of their poor protection of the privacy imperative.
This latter approach is more humble, recognizing the limitations of the library’s agency. If the library chooses not to provide a given service out of fear of violating user privacy, this does not necessarily protect the users’ privacy. Rather, in the case of highly valued services, it leads the user to providers that are potentially far more problematic, and over which the library, and the academy more broadly, exercises little if any control or influence. For example, libraries have studiously avoided gathering data that could personalize discovery, ceding this terrain to a variety of other parties such as Elsevier and Google. With the best of motives, librarians have ignored emerging community needs.
It is too simple for the library to avoid providing a given service simply because there is a risk of some privacy concern. A user-centric model frames the library’s choices with more nuance and looks to find the right balance. In my view, where the community places value in a service that requires personal data, the library should build a service model that safeguards user privacy more so than would the alternative.
Like all businesses and service providers, libraries compete, explicitly or implicitly, with other entities for market share. At the heart of this idea is that library leaders should care about the share of user needs they are fulfilling, even if the language of business is not always the most comfortable for them. Take content delivery--to what extent do users turn to Amazon over the library for books, and how is this changing with the development of ebooks? If we see a shift away from libraries, what are the implications and how should librarians respond?
Ithaka S+R has been trying to estimate academic libraries’ changing market share for some functions, such as discovery, for many years, principally through our US Faculty Survey but also by gathering usage data from a variety of sources. As the share of academic searches starting from library-maintained sources appears to decline, we have raised the question, how should the library allocate its resources in response to its changing position with the overall discovery environment?
In my view, market research approaches, including measures of market share, are very powerful diagnostics even in non-traditional settings like the academic library, with value not only to track trends nationally but also as a management tool. We have grown accustomed to using service quality as a tracking metric, but one can be satisfied with a service while using it less in favor of its competitor. While we may not find it realistic for the library to have a market share of 100% in very many areas given today’s complex information environment, it is still quite valuable to gain a handle on how market share is changing. Understanding market share offers an important complement to the arsenal that managers and leaders can use to assess the academic library.
For this reason, over the past year, my colleague Alisa Rod and I developed a market research module as part of Ithaka S+R’s Local Faculty Survey. Any college or university can run our local surveys on faculty members, graduate/professional students, and undergraduates, and the market research module is one of 18 from which libraries select in order to develop their questionnaire. As we have designed it, the market research module allows libraries to track where their market share is increasing or decreasing across a variety of key service areas, and also to develop some hypotheses about the causes.
Have you tried to measure or track market share for any services that your library offers?
On Wednesday March 25, Ithaka S+R will hold two information sessions on our local surveys program at ACRL in Portland, Oregon. Both events will be held at the Courtyard Marriott Downtown/Convention Center. In addition, we will be holding "office hours" at Booth #649 on Thursday, March 26 (9:30-10:30 am & 2:30-3:30 pm) and Friday, March 27 (10:00-11:00 am & 3:00-4:00 pm). Stop by to learn more about our local surveys program, current research, and other new initiatives.
Wednesday, March 25, 2:00 - 3:00 pm
For the past two years, Ithaka S+R has been working with librarians and library staff at Montgomery College, the community college of Montgomery County, Maryland, to gain a better understanding of student work practices and preferences. Launched by Tanner Wray, director of the Montgomery College Libraries, the study draws inspiration from a previous project at the University of Maryland.
Last year, a library team worked with Ithaka S+R to study library use on the Rockville campus; this year, another team is doing a similar study on the Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus. We have used ethnographic methods—interviews, cultural probes and workshops—to gather information about how and where students study for exams, do assignments, write papers, and so on. We have also used the workshop method to gain insight on what faculty and library staff members expect and need of the library.
While the goal of the project is to make improvements to the library, including updating the facilities and making decisions about collection development and reference outreach, many other benefits are emerging along the way. These include an opportunity for a large group of leaders from many parts of the college to learn more about the libraries through participation on the project stakeholders group. There is also a role for students in anthropology classes in conducting complementary research, and architecture students have engaged in a design competition using the findings of Phase 1 at the Rockville campus.
Another major benefit of the project is that library staff, anthropology professors, administrators and students have been selected to present information about the project at a large and varied group of conferences. Community colleges are increasingly important in the education landscape, so these presentations are especially timely. We hope that readers of the blog will consider attending these sessions to learn about this exciting project.
Presentations scheduled for 2015
Del Hornbuckle, Alex Moyer, Josephine Trawick, Tanner Wray. "Inspired Spaces, or Home Away from Home? Academic Affordances of Peace, Quiet, Comfort and Technology in the Library." Panel presentation at the 2015 National Conference of Association of College and Research Libraries, Portland, OR, March 27, 2015.
Cynthia Pfanstiehl. "Student Researchers Assess Their Campus Library: Identifying Needs and Recommending Change." Poster session at the 2015 National Conference of Association of College and Research Libraries, Portland, OR, March 26, 2015.
Josephine Trawick. "Student-Centered Libraries: Using Ethnographic Techniques in a Community College Setting." Poster session at 2015 National Conference of Association of College and Research Libraries, Portland, OR, March 26, 2015.
Emily Christian, Jonelle Bowen, Michael Kissiedu, Bushra Miller. "Honors Student Researchers – Allies in the Campaign to Modernize the College Library." Panel presentation at Conference of Northeast Regional Honors Council, Gettysburg, PA, April 9-12, 2015.
Tanner Wray. Lightning round presentation at annual meeting and program of Congress of Academic Library Directors of Maryland, Columbia, MD, April 10, 2015.
DeRionne Pollard, Tanner Wray, Nancy Fried Foster, Cynthia Pfanstiehl. "New Approaches to Designing Student-Centered Spaces with Participatory Assessment." Forum session at Annual Convention of American Association of Community Colleges, San Antonio, TX, April 19, 2015.
Tanner Wray, Sarah Fisher, Beth Thoms. "Inspired Spaces, or Home Away from Home? Academic Affordances of Peace, Quiet, Comfort and Technology in the Library." Joint conference of Maryland Library Association and Delaware Library Association, Ocean City, MD, May 7, 2015.
Last week, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported on a recent Babson survey that found that “The most-drastic recent shift in the perceived importance of online education was at small colleges (i.e., those with fewer than 1,500 students). In 2012, 60 percent of academic leaders at small colleges said online education was strategically crucial. Now that number is 70 percent—nearly the same as at universities with more than 15,000 students.”
What accounts for this shift? Practical considerations are surely a factor; we know of many small colleges that have launched online courses for summer or winter sessions in order to avoid losing student credits to other providers. There is likely a concern about staying technologically relevant. But it could also be a sign of growing confidence that online learning can be implemented in ways that are consistent with the student-centric values and missions of these institutions.
Ithaka S+R is serving as advisor to the Council for Independent College’s Consortium for Online Humanities Instruction, with funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. A year ago, CIC invited proposals to participate in a consortium, the aim of which is to create and share online courses in upper level humanities courses. CIC members responded with enthusiasm, submitting nearly 100 proposals for 20 spots in the consortium. Many submissions stated that this initiative dovetailed perfectly with the strategic directions at their institutions. In working with the consortium, we have been struck by the range of creative, innovative concepts for using technology to serve pedagogical objectives, such as incorporating digital humanities collections into student research and using advanced tools to stimulate student engagement and build a sense of engagement. These courses bear no relation to the old notion of online learning as a course website with powerpoint slides and reading assignments! It will be interesting to see how students rate these experiences in the survey we will conduct at the end of the semester.
To learn more about the project, please see my recent interview with CIC President Rich Ekman exploring his perspective on the motivation and goals for this project – and what he has found most surprising thus far.
Nancy Fried Foster Speaks on Designing Student-Centered Space at AACC Annual Meeting
On April 19, Nancy Fried Foster, along with DeRionne Pollard, Tanner Wray, and Cynthia Pfanstiehl, will discuss “New Approaches to Designing Student-Centered Spaces with Participatory Assessment” during a forum session at the Annual Convention of American Association of Community Colleges in San Antonio, Texas.
On Monday, February 23, Rebecca Griffiths is leading an EDUCAUSE ELI webinar on "Teaching with Technology: An In-Depth View of 5 Hybrid Courses Using Existing Online Course Materials."
Students at Bowie State discuss their experience with a MOOC in this video.
Much of the hype surrounding MOOCS has faded and as Steve Kolowich shows in a recent Chronicle piece, “Few people would now be willing to argue that massive open online courses are the future of higher education.” As the Babson Survey Research Group (that Kolowich cites) shows, higher ed leaders are less certain that MOOCs “are a sustainable way to offer courses,” that “self-directed learning” will have an important impact on higher ed, or that “MOOCs are important for institutions to learn about online pedagogy.”
At Ithaka S+R we have been researching MOOCs from a different angle. Last year we published results from a large scale study embedding MOOCs in 14 campus-based courses across the University System of Maryland. Our findings were rather mixed: students had the same outcomes in hybrid courses using MOOCs as those in traditionally-taught sections of the same courses, even though these were newly redesigned courses using new technology and had about a third less class time. As in our previous study with the Online Learning Initiative, we saw no evidence of harm to any subgroups of students, such as those from first generation or low income families. Instructors were very positive about their experiences working with MOOCs and identified numerous benefits both for themselves and for their students.
On the other hand, students in the hybrid sections of the side-by-side tests reported significantly lower levels of satisfaction and felt that they learned less than their peers in the traditional sections. Moreover, instructors encountered many implementation challenges and reported that redesigning their courses around MOOCs was very time consuming.
One limitation of the study was that, in all but one case, these findings were based on just one iteration of the newly redesigned courses. In addition, they relied on early versions of MOOCs and on the Coursera platform, neither of which were designed for institutional licensing purposes. So our overall conclusion was that there could be significant value in the models we tested, but that the conditions were not yet in place to make these models viable on a large scale. We hypothesized that, given the opportunity to conduct additional iterations of blended MOOC courses, faculty members might be able to iron out some of the wrinkles we saw the first time around and improve the student experience.
We now have a wisp of evidence to support this hypothesis. In the fall of 2014, a professor at Bowie State University worked with a colleague to repeat the test using a MOOC on Coursera and made one major tweak to the course design. In the first test students had been assigned to work with the MOOC during the first half of the semester, and they reported some of the highest levels of dissatisfaction of all the courses. Instructors found that the MOOC assumed a greater comfort level with terminology and basic computer science principles than was the case for incoming first-year students at this institution. In the second iteration, the faculty members reversed the sequence of the course, moving the MOOC-based modules to the second half of the semester. The instructor introduced the subject, principles and terminology to students in the first few weeks so that they were able to better understand and engage with the MOOC. Students in this iteration reported higher satisfaction levels than either the treatment or control cohorts the year before.
Interviews with students indicated that some found real value in having access to an instructor “twenty-four hours a day.” They found all components of the course to have higher educational value – including in-class activities as well as lecture videos. Their ratings of the MOOC itself were also more positive:
Students also received higher average grades in the second round, but these are hard to interpret given discrepancies in the sequencing of the course and lack of background controls.
The instructor (who had not participated in the first round of tests) was pleased with the way the course went. She found the MOOC to be an improvement over the set of YouTube videos upon which she had relied in the past due to its coherency and integration of assessments with lecture videos. She was pleasantly surprised that students were able to complete a particularly advanced task which she would not normally have assigned at the end of the course. The second iteration of the course also took far less time to plan and deliver, in large part because they used the same version of the MOOC (i.e. not the newer version available on Coursera).
It is essential to note that there were only 18 students in the section, and only nine of them completed the survey (a lower response rate than in the previous year). We did not attempt to control for background characteristics with such a small sample size. The test was run over a far larger student population the year before, with 124 students completing surveys and 177 students enrolled across the two cohorts. This small group of students clearly had a better experience than those in either the treatment or control groups the year before, but there are multiple possible explanations. One is that the student experience can be enhanced with well designed and executed use of these tools, and that additional rounds of tests would produce quantitative evidence of these benefits. (This would come as no surprise to experts in course redesign, who know that it takes a few tries to get a new course format right!) It is also possible that external factors (e.g. instructor quality) accounted for the difference, and we can only know this for sure with additional testing. We are conducting another iteration of a second blended MOOC test this spring, and hope to gain further insight into these questions.
Locus of Authority deftly chronicles the emergence of shared governance as a means to further university goals, and its ossification into an end in itself and a barrier against which transformative changes crash. As my colleague Deanna Marcum elaborates, university leaders interested in pursuing innovations in online learning and other areas have sought to evade sclerotic shared governance processes through various workarounds, such as new, agile subunits and incentive programs.
Such approaches are often marginal, providing an opportunity for the willing few, while leaving the unwilling many to their own devices. But what if the workaround were made the norm?
A recent Ithaka S+R report on the ambitious redesign effort underway at Arizona State University, provides some insight. Michael Crow, president of ASU since 2002, has focused on promoting entrepreneurial efforts to further a set of broad university goals. This approach has reshaped the institution, leading to the consolidation of departments and schools into interdisciplinary units, launching a vibrant online division and other new organizations, and revolutionizing student advising. Crow’s efforts have also reshaped the administration and faculty, attracting to ASU and empowering within it those who appreciate the vision and leading those who disagree to depart.
Shortly into his presidency, Crow established a “vision” for ASU that has remained consistent during his tenure:
"To establish ASU as the model for the New American University, measured not by who we exclude, but rather by who we include and how they succeed; pursuing research and discovery that benefits the public good; and assuming major responsibility for the economic, social and cultural vitality and health and well-being of the community."
The vision statement—buttressed by detailed, aligned goals and targets for a half-dozen key performance measures—has become a north star for the university. As numerous administrators told us, there is always disagreement about the means, but it is very hard for anyone to argue that the mission is inappropriate for a public university. It serves as a shared language and criteria for evaluation of new and existing activities.
Crow coupled this vision with a strong emphasis on entrepreneurialism. Crow and senior administrators encourage all levels of the organization to generate new ideas that further the vision. They have not shied away from risk, approving significant changes in established structures and putting resources behind initiatives that show promise. ASU Online is an important example: a new leader was given the authority to rebuild this signature initiative from scratch after initial efforts were found to be insufficiently transformative. Similarly, consolidating numerous departments into interdisciplinary units was a huge risk that has apparently paid off, achieving its efficiency goals while also catalyzing new approaches to research and teaching.
Not every initiative has worked out—and many have produced harsh critics—but Crow has maintained his approach in the face of the failures and the criticism. As a result, over time, there have been fewer and fewer internal critics. Faculty and administrators who disagreed with the approach at the outset left the institution or adapted to it. Faculty and administrators at other institutions who admired the approach flocked to ASU. Eventually, there developed a critical mass of “buy-in”—interviewees consistently estimated the current buy-in rate at about 80 percent.
ASU has made some progress toward its performance targets and its vision of being “the new American university.” It still has a ways to go. But the change in governance is palpable: the entrepreneurial exception has become the norm.
Often, when discussing shared governance, we talk as if everyone is part of the system—either administrator or faculty. It is also assumed that when change does happen, it occurs through formal channels. Last year, Ithaka S+R conducted a landscape review of technology-enhanced education in ten public flagship universities. The goal of our study was to understand the online learning strategies in these institutions and to learn more about perspectives on this topic among faculty and administrators. In our multiple-day visits to ten public flagship universities, we soon realized that the situation is more complicated than the conventional wisdom suggests.
Tenure track faculty told us that it is their research that is highly valued by their universities. Many of them are dedicated and good teachers, but their first priority is doing research, for that is how they are valued and rewarded. A large portion of undergraduate courses are taught by professional teachers, who are not on the tenure track. The public flagships have recognized the value of hiring disciplinary experts on contract, often multiple-year contracts, rather than relying on adjuncts, because the professional teachers have a loyalty to the institution, and though they are more expensive than adjuncts, they do not command the same salaries as the tenure track faculty. In many cases, we found that these professional teachers were the individuals responsible for developing more customized technology-enhanced courses for undergraduate courses. They had time to do it, and their sole responsibility was teaching. While these teachers often commanded a great deal of respect among their colleagues in their departments, it was not typically the case that they had any role in the governance system of the university. Their voices are not heard in the faculty senate debates about online learning.
Another finding from our study is that administrators as a group were more interested in and positive about online learning than the faculty as a group. Of course there were individual exceptions. Administrators are facing similar challenges in the public flagship institutions: the need to broaden access to public higher education, the push to improve learning outcomes for students and improve their completion rates, the pressure to reduce tuition costs, and the expectations of their state legislatures that technology will provide at least partial solutions. On nearly all of the campuses, online learning is seen as one way of addressing these problems. Many presidents and provosts told us that it was simply too difficult to secure agreement from the faculty governance structures to proceed in a timely and uniform way. Most administrators appointed a member of the faculty to work from the president's or provost's office to promote online learning experimentation. With small grants to individual faculty, they incentivize those who want to try something new. Several presidents also established faculty committees to make recommendations for the university's online learning strategy, but these committees take a long time to work through their deliberations. So the administrators set up separate units to make progress with the coalition of the willing. The faculty who head offices or programs of online learning are most often not in a line position. Their power of persuasion is what they rely on.
These are but two examples of how universities could benefit from a reconceptualization of shared governance. Current governance structures neither represent the stakeholders nor keep up with the evolving needs of the 21st Century university.