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

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To Google…NO!

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The above quote comes from that amazing advocate of all things library, Neil Gaiman. I researched extensively to ensure that the quote does originate from him and the answer seems to be a resounding yes. How did I do my research? On Google, of course. Who wouldn’t?

On Sunday last, the other half and I watched a film called AntiMatter, a film about a PhD student at a certain University in the UK who discovers how to move matter – wormhole technology, apparently (that’s the simplistic, non-scientific explanation because I don’t understand it!). If you want to know more, watch the film. It’s really very good.

The reason I have injected this non sequitur is that there is a scene in the film where the main protagonist (we’ll call her PhD 1, to align with the film’s scientific theme) asks a fellow student (PhD 2, D’oh!) a question about where to find some research on a neuroscience topic. Let’s set the scene: PhD 1 and PhD 2 are in the library. We know it’s a library because there are books on the shelf. This, in and of itself, doesn’t necessarily mean that they definitively are in a library, but we know that they are because of several other defining features on the set:

  1. They are both holding books…
  2. There are lots of books on the shelves…
  3. There are other students looking at books…
  4. There is a card catalogue next to PhD 2…

Hold on…a card catalogue? Either this is a very hard-up library (and, given the institution, I doubt that very much!) or the director of the film has a very narrow view of what a library is. But that aside, much as it annoyed me and then annoyed the other half because I ranted, the worst thing about this scene is the answer PhD 2 gives PhD 1 about finding neuroscience research…I’m hoping you guessed it? Yes, she says ‘have you tried Google?’.

Again, this just goes to show that the director, script writer, whomever has no concept of the information landscape or the resources we offer as libraries. Ok, if you are doing some generic research on a particular subject, Google et al would be good places to start. However, neuroscience research would be supported by the most up to date resources imaginable, available via the library and provided to the students through database and journal subs. It would contain authoritative and evidence-based information that Google can’t access as it’s hidden behind the passwords that are provided to staff and students to access the University resources.

So. An example I use with my first year students when trying (sometimes even successfully!) to get them to think outside the Googlebox (see what I did there? I’ll get my coat…) is, think of the web as an iceberg. The bit you can see is the bit that Google etc can see. But this is just a little bit of the information that is out there in the digital environment. Think of all the staff intranets around the world; all the company resources that are provided for staff; all of the medical information contained in secure online repositories, ad infinitum. The majority of this isnt available to search engines because they cant ‘see’ it. It’s hidden.

And that is just it; for these two, Google definitely isn’t the answer. What I would have liked to see would’ve been PhD 2 to sit down at one of the (non-existent) computers and say ‘hey, why don’t you try PubMed?’.

This is why so much of my job is teaching information literacy, or information skills, if you like. So that people (staff, students, users, etc) know how to access the most authoritative information for their research or information need. It’s not all about Google, although it can, as I have stated, be a good place to start and it definitely has its place. But it’s a real eye-opener for some students when they see that they can do so much more with our resources than with normal searching. And it adds such value to their studies too. I think more on this will be forthcoming: watch this space…

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.

‘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…

CILIP Chartership Chat!

A while ago I went along to the lovely Edge Hill University, to attend a talk on Chartership and Registration. I was asked to do a presentation at this event, which I mentioned in a previous post, on my Chartership (#chartership) journey thus far. In the previous post, I suggested I would use this experience as a basis for reflection, as I have never been head-hunted to do anything like this before. While I believe I have good presentation skills, this was a chance to test them out on an unknown audience.

When I have given presentations at work to colleagues it’s always been very informal and relaxed and the topic has normally been one of my choosing. Either that or it’s been to groups of students and that’s very different when you are using the presentation medium to teach information literacy. In the CILIP presentation, I had to talk about a specific subject pre-defined…me! So, I went with the ‘try to be a bit formal and informal at the same time’ method. Not an easy ask…

My presentation slides are uploaded with this post. I went with a narrative style – a little theme running through the presentation – which provided the basis for a more discursive presentation. And this was a good choice as I found out when I got there the other speaker couldn’t make it and I would be leading the session pretty much on my own (but thanks to Lorna, who organises these things and was very stressed!).

Well. How did I cope? I think it went well; I got some very positive feedback and a lovely email from Lorna endorsing how I had managed the session and initiated some interesting discussions. I think the attendees found my presentation interesting: I told the funny story about my old boss and the conversation about not wanting to be a Librarian (in 1997 I didnt really know my calling!), which got a few chuckles. I felt very energised knowing I was leading on this and it’s given me a real confidence boost, both in my presentation skills and also in my ability to lead colleagues in such situations.

So, what now? (in the true spirit of reflection!). I fully intend to become more involved with CILIP – in the chat I had with a colleague last week, she suggested that the North West group were looking for members. This could be a good thing for me to become involved in, although life is a little topsy-turvy at the minute so I will wait until it settles to make any firm decisions. Watch this space…

NoWAL Chartership presentation

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…