The Intelligent Library – some thoughts and reflections on AI and the future Library

 

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(Image of Radcliffe Camera, on a wall in Oxford. Copyright Karen Dolman, 2018).

Recently, at home, we signed up for the Hive system for our heating. As part of the deal, we now have an ‘Alexa’ device, which has been a bit of an eye-opener for us both. My partner is very techy, but not very digital, and I’ve had to have a few ‘Librarian’ moments with him in terms of using it correctly (for example, he asked her to ‘play Peatbog Faeries’ and she didn’t understand. I asked her to ‘play music by the Peatbog Faeries’ and she understood, rewarding us with some very good tracks!).

So, this little issue made me think about how this technology will impact on how we teach students and also how it will impact on how they access information – we already have issues when trying to explain how to use key terms and words; how much more difficult will this be when we have to try to explain how to get the best from an AI system? As Librarians, we are used to the language of key terms, concepts, controlled vocabulary and, in Health and Medicine, MeSH Headings. However, this is something that not everyone will understand or develop and this leads me to wonder how we can develop these skills to make sure our students, and the populace at large, are accessing correct, relevant and appropriate information?

I saw a conference advertised a while ago, at which one of the presentations was ‘Skills for the future academic library‘. I couldn’t attend due to staffing demands, but my manager went and said this was a very interesting presentation. I immediately followed up with this and realised that, apart from being a future consideration, AI in libraries is already here. The presentation highlights that such systems as ‘Deakin Genie’, ‘Revision Assistant (Turnitin)’ and chatbots are already in use and becoming accepted as a way of communicating and disseminating information.

At Hallam, we don’t have any automated systems as yet, but we have recently introduced a new portal, MyHallam, which has a knowledge-base for students to search. The idea is that they should be able to find answers to their queries within this system, only coming to seek help should they not find an answer within the system. The knowledge-base will grow with enquiries that come in, and, eventually, students should find answers to all of their questions, as well as interacting with us via this portal. It’s not really AI, but I envision that we wont be long in subscribing to one of the above-mentioned systems. We already have access to an online 24 hour academic feedback service, so we are definitely moving in that direction.

Returning to the research issue: one comment is particularly telling in the presentation. A researcher points out that AI may make journal publications obsolete as a way of communicating research as, rather than subscribing to many different journals, researchers could just subscribe to a filtering service which will tailor their research strategies to personal need and the algorithms will do all the work for them. Hmmm, interesting.

For me, this begs the question: how do you know you are getting the best results? I may be being naïve here, but the elephant has to be grasped by the trunk. When I construct a research strategy and apply it to the database, I can be flexible enough to have the opportunity to do the initial scanning of articles myself, in order to eliminate any that may not be peer-reviewed or of appropriate provenance etc…I am not sure, given the rigid nature of algorithms, that a filtering service would allow this flexibility and also that it would give me the best results every time, with this in mind. A conversation with a colleague about this also raised the issue that algorithms are constructed by people and therefore could reflect the biases and opinions of those people – ie white, middle-class and male. This is another issue that I think affects the validity of such systems and which is exactly why they are unreliable in my view. People make mistakes.

Look at Facebook: it works on algorithms, the same as any other system, but at certain points it seems to get stuck in a loop – I regularly have to go in and change my settings to make it do what I want. And I only see consistently the results that I interact with, which generates more of the same results, which I interact with, and so on. Applying this to a research methodology – how can I be sure that this isn’t also happening with a filtering service? Given that, when conducting research, the idea (especially in my areas) is that we need to find as much of the body of literature that is available as possible, then select the most appropriate using screening methods and evaluation tools. How can a filtering system manage that, given these algorithmic limitations? Indeed, one of the issues raised about the use of AI in the presentation is that of accuracy and validity.

However, I also realise that a lot of these systems are ‘learning’ systems (heuristics, for example), but I still beg leave to doubt, as there are questions about whether these still will give the best results. The possibilities inherent in these systems are infinite, but I think, for me, there needs to be more evidence of their effectiveness before I subscribe wholeheartedly. We need to make sure our students (and staff!) understand the value of good research techniques, as well as the systems out there designed to help them find the appropriate resources and how to use them effectively, and their place in the research process. As a Librarian, I am all about saving the time of the user, but there is a definite ‘cutting corners’ feel to these systems that I am rather wary of. Watch this space…

Back to the original subject however, Alexa has proved to be a hit in our home, although we still can’t make her talk to the heating system…I’ll leave that to the technician in the family.

References:

Cox A, Pinfield, S & Rutter, S. (2018). Skills for the intelligent library. CILIP Briefing: Skills for the future academic library. London: CILIP

Some TEL Reflections…

Next week is my last full week before the new students begin arriving (feels like two minutes since they were finishing). After that, I’m off on a holiday – the last for quite some time! I’m really looking forward to my holiday and intend to relax and refresh after a busy academic year and what feels like an even busier summer! But we don’t really get a summer here at Collegiate as we have students all year round, with March intakes still being on campus until well into August…

So I’m well into prepping for next academic year, and have most of my teaching booked in (a few fingers are being waved at certain folk!). And I am also getting to grips with the TEL applications I am going to use to support my staff and students, but not without problems.

I’ve been using Storyline to create a resource to support our level 6 students; however, as this is a licensed product, we purchase a certain amount to be spread across the university and recently, in the middle of using the product, IT services decided to remove all of the licenses from our department for no apparent reason. Our very wonderful systems team and TEL person are working hard to get them back but it is going to be a very tight schedule to get this finished and up and running for the start of term. My approach to addressing this has been two-pronged: to make sure all of my material is ready to be put into the product when it comes back online; and to ensure we have a fall back resource, in this case I have put together a playlist in Lynda.com that we can direct students to should the worst happen and we don’t have it ready. I really have no idea why IT would do this and no explanation has been forthcoming, either to us or to systems. When they asked, they were told there had been some communication breakdown (cue song…) and the message that our staff were using the product and on a tight schedule had been missed…This is always an issue in a large organisation but surely there should have been some comms from IT going out to staff to enquire about usage? Or is that just me being naïve…?

But I have also had some success with TEL. My video on youtube now has it’s subtitles and I only need to correct a little bit of it. In spite of my fear that the voice recognition software wouldn’t understand my accent, it has proven me (mostly!) wrong. I have to edit the part where I am talking about alternative names (it’s a cob!) as the VR software cant seem to get its AI around the term ‘barmcake’ (bomcake) or ‘teacake’ (tk)! 🙂 Oh how I laughed!

Another success this year, is I began using an app as part of my teaching at level 5 (2nd year). We do a lecture for these students and we talk about identifying the type of academic literature they may encounter, namely primary versus secondary. Previously we have just put up a powerpoint slide and the students shout out what that type of literature is (systematic review = secondary, etc). One of my colleagues discovered Kahoot and so we trialled using it for this activity – with great success! It’s an absolutely hysterical exercise (well, in my class it is!) with the students either discussing it with each other, or, more realistically, taking light relief in gentle banter with their friends (aka taking the mick!). I had two learning points with this though, after the first time:

  1. Make sure you explain the technology properly! The question comes up on the main screen NOT on the students (players) devices. This led to the first question being a non-starter, so I am going to amend the quiz for this year to include a test question.
  2. Tell the students to use a nickname (ok) but remember to tell them to keep it clean and family-friendly! Naughty students! 🙂

One of the reasons for using Kahoot is that it is (apparently) easy to use and understand. It’s very easy to create content, so for a dinosaur like me, it’s an absolute godsend.

Next up is an adventure with Adobe Spark which I am using to create a quick video on why you need to reference material and also one with Screencastify; an add on in Chrome that allows you to record your desktop live, with audio, and upload it as a video to wherever. Much excitement! Watch this space…

Update: 29.11.17: we had a group meeting to discuss the end of the project. The outcomes were that we felt we needed a facilitator to oversee the project who was not directly involved; more generic content and responsibility divided between the team for creating this; earlier at-elbow support for the technology and to gather all resources and information before you begin to create the package. I felt that I went around in circles a bit because I had forgotten what I had done and spent a lot of time covering ground that had already been covered.

In the Summertime, when the weather is fine…and other TEL adventures!

Margate in the sun

(Image taken Margate Sands, August, 2017. Copyright K Dolman, 2017)

So, over the past few weeks I’ve had a bit of a hiatus as I’ve been away on holiday, as you can see from the photo above. It was so lovely to see one of the places I love best and have some incredibly happy memories from, come back to life after quite a long time in the doldrums. The regeneration of the SE coast seems to be going well and to see so many people enjoying the lovely weather and each others’ company brought back many happy memories of my childhood, youth and young womanhood that I was blown sideways a few times. Goes to show what you can do when you put your mind to it…

However, it was back to work and the work still progresses as we are currently working on preparing teaching materials for the new Academic Year…particularly as we have changed our teaching offer to the faculty and are now working towards a more ‘flipped classroom’ model. I piloted this with two of my departments last year, with some success. Having the academics on board and reinforcing the need to do the prep work also helped!

My pilot involved turning our one hour introductory information skills lecture for the first year undergrads into two short videos that they needed to watch before coming to the sessions. On the whole, the students did this work and for this year I have suggested to my Radiotherapy lead that we include this in the induction sessions (waiting for a response, still). The technology I used to create the videos is called Camtasia, and I have to admit I struggled a little with it…however, that said, it does create very polished videos! Last year I merely sent the videos out as an mp4 link, but this year – after a bit of faff that included the dialogue going missing in transit –  we’ve uploaded it to youtube. So I am a youtube star! (Well, a little fame and all that…). You can view it in all its Brummie-sounding glory here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpFHkG0VT7

So next week I am going to be using another TEL platform called Adobe Spark to create a couple of very quick videos for referencing and evaluating information. I’ve just come from a quick update with a colleague on how to use it and have to say that it is remarkably easier to use than Camtasia, and, as it isn’t a licensed product (yet…), I don’t have to use a special machine. I can simply find somewhere quiet to go and record it! 🙂

I’m really looking forward to doing these now, after putting it off and procrastinating because I thought I would have to fight with Camtasia again. Now that I have mastered the technology (I am as a god!), I just need some elocution lessons to sort the accent out. Watch this space…

‘Flipped Classroom’ and ‘Flipped Learning’.

Changing the way we do things…

Previously with our first year undergraduates we have had a one hour introductory lecture to research skills. This lecture has never really worked well for me – I felt it was not interactive enough and that it was very dry…however, I persevered.

This year, I couldn’t get the lecture timetabled for two of my courses – the usual packed timetable for Level 4’s couldn’t accommodate me. However, the students need this input before they come to the workshops in order to have some context in which to work.

So, I decided to turn the one hour lecture into two short videos: the first about searching for information and the second about evaluation, information management and referencing. These would then be sent to students a week prior to the workshops with the instruction to watch them. Below are some of the responses I had in the workshop evaluation, to a specific question on their learning outcomes:

Level 4 responses to workshop – some examples

What is the most important thing you have learned today?

  • Useful information on how to refine searches effectively and efficiently. Also, clearer understanding as to how referencing should be practiced.
  • The important thing I have learnt has to be knowing where to find hidden articles and journals for my modules/course and also having knowledge to reference.
  • Being shown how to use ” and * in the search box to help find as many primary and secondary sources as possible to help with assignments.
  • How to search a database to find accurate resources
  • How to search through databases and find journals and books
  • how to find the resources for my course
  • How to search a database properly
  • How to refine searches and search for specific phrases and truncations.
  • How to find appropriate literature for my course.

 

These comments highlight how important it is for our students to have these skills. They will go out into practice and need to use these skills to make clinical decisions and find evidence-based practice to make these decisions with.

I found that providing them with introductory videos before the session worked really well – I had the academic tutor’s support and reinforcement that they adhere to the ‘flipped classroom’ approach, which helped. We could then focus on applying the knowledge they had gained from watching the videos to their assignment topics.

With the positive comments I received, I will definitely be using this approach this year with all of my first years. I plan to develop the videos a bit more (we use camtasia) to include our new look interface for Library Gateway, so that students are familiar with the functionality before they attend the workshops. Watch this space…

Reflection on ‘Collaborative Approaches to IL’

I recently attended a conference entitled ‘Collaborative Approaches to Information Literacy’ hosted at MMU by the CILIP Information Literacy Group. The day comprised five presentations/workshops from librarians and practitioners working in IL. Below are some musings on some of the issues that I found particularly interesting/stimulating/worth pilfering.

What happens when your degree doesn’t make you fit for the workplace? An interesting story was told regarding an English Graduate who was going for media jobs. Are we teaching students to get a job or expand their knowledge? For me, we should be doing both, really and this is where IL comes into its own as it is a transferable skill that feeds into the workplace.

UoM talked about ‘clarity’; making students aware of what we already do, what their skills are and how they can transfer these into their wider life. Their ethos is to facilitate students into being what employers want, rather than just telling them what employers expect. They realised students waited until crisis point before asking for help and so their strategy is based around developing student skills to help them support themselves: essentially being independent learners.

They talked about the value to the session is in using prior knowledge (what do they already know) and exploring what happens after (where do they go with it?). Their focus is on positives: not about where the gaps in student skills are are but about positive improvement; no levelling – they wanted to open out to learning that might happen, rather than pedagogical learning. Also considered in the strategy is to promote the positives of referencing – it’s badged as joining a tradition hundreds of years old; the correspondence of the learned population was merely them holding up their research in the light of other’s findings. Essentially a form of gossip as it showed whom they had been ‘talking to’! Ergo, non-negative badging…

After the degree? We teach IL using Uni resources, but what happens when students go into the workplace and don’t have access to subscribed resources? ‘Outduction’ at UoD (Buxton) are sessions on how to use the knowledge and skills they have developed in three years at Uni, turning them into real world skills. Edge Hill’s ‘Steps to Success’ programme includes session on how to find information in the workplace, covering things such as how to adapt to the information environment in the workplace, finding and recognising credible information and accessing resources as an EHU alumni. The programme also includes sessions on how to promote yourself online and report and presentation writing skills.

So, there’s some very innovative work in IL out there. I like the idea of an ‘exit session’ like the outducting of UoD. I’d be interested in taking something like that on, to build on my experience of teaching on the basic skills sessions in my PGCE, as they are very similar in application. I’m resolved to looking into this in more detail, possibly contacting the folk at UoD to ask some more questions and then mention it at my next review to see if it would be feasible to pursue. Watch this space…

#chartership – update

On Friday last, I had a very interesting conversation with a colleague who gave me some very good advice concerning my lack of skill in the reflective practice business of chartership. She’s recently become a Fellow and said that she found this a great aid to organising her thoughts and reflections. She told me (and it is common sense, really) to ask other colleagues, with whom I have worked on projects (including herself) about the impact my involvement has had. So, I’m thinking about the work I did for the consolidation and asking those colleagues whom it affected, and my work with e-journal purchases and investigation.

The more she spoke, the more I thought ‘hang on, this is probably what I would be telling someone if the roles were reversed’…and realised that the problem with my reflection is that I dont apply the techniques to myself…do as I say, not as I do, kind of thing. Probably comes from being a mother! I do know where my ‘do-er’ aptitude comes from: dancing. As a child I learned by doing the steps/poses, not by being told how to do them, this being a physical, rather than mental, exercise. Ergo, kinesthetic, pragmatic learner…

So what? I ask myself, in the true style of reflection…in future (as with this post!), I will endeavour to coach myself, as I have learned to coach others, and apply a little thought rather than jumping in with both feet, before I pursue any activity. For me, this will be breaking the habit of a lifetime, but, hey-ho, let’s try! It’ll be interesting to find out what I learn about myself along the way. Watch this space…

MOOC(ing) Around Again!

#ocTEL
I’m doing a MOOC again, this time about Technology Enhanced Learning. I have to admit, we don’t do a lot of this at my institution; the focus is still on face-to-face or traditional lab learning. However, some colleagues have made inroads into webinar teaching, with varying results.
My impression of TEL is that it is very subjective to the area of study. For example, our A&D students (unless they are doing GD or some such course) probably won’t be using much in the way of technology as most of their stuff is still in printed form (I know this because, as manager of the serials collection they cause me some considerable headaches!). Whereas our tech students in Computing or Science, say, do engage more with the use of technology for learning.
So saying, I’m part of the Social Media Team and we are very aware that our students don’t use these platforms for studying. They will tweet if it’s too noisy in a study area, but generally if they have an information query they will come to the helpdesk to speak to someone. I’ve encountered very few information enquiries via twitter or FB, and these tend to be from overseas or distance students who are using these communication channels generally to be pointed in the direction of the relevant subject librarian.
One of the reflective questions this week is ‘[Am I] leaning towards one approach in particular on ocTEL, and if so why might that be? Perhaps you are employing strategies from more than one approach?’. The approaches to learning under discussion are ‘deep’, ‘strategic’ and ‘surface’.
I’ve always been a strategic learner: maximum gain for minimum effort. So, I use knowledge already acquired and assimilate this into a strategy for expanding on this learning without too much effort! Ergo, this blog post! I know quite a bit about social media and learning and so I am reflecting on this bit of TEL; the use of social media as a learning tool (discussed a bit further down in the post The Joy of Facebook).
For the purposes of this MOOC, my approach is mostly strategic, with a bit of surface thrown in, as I havent got too much time to devote to it. Plus, I wont be graded on it, so I am not too worried about being top of the class, as that isn’t the point.
As to social media being a valid learning tool…well, again, I suppose this is completely subjective and moves into the area we will be exploring in more depth next week. Watch this space…