A tinkerer, a traditionalist, and a change agent walk into a library one day…

In 2010 I spent over half the year in East St. Louis helping to develop a set of grant proposals requesting a bit over $32 million in federal stimulus funds. Little did I know this would be my capstone project as changing funding priorities increasingly pulled me away from a community I had come to deeply love after more than a decade of engagement.

The grants, if funded, would have built much needed broadband infrastructure, public computing centers, and digital literacy programming. In the paper “Innovation Diffusion and Broadband Deployment in East St. Louis, Illinois, USA“, Lisa Bievenue and I reflected on lessons learned from the experience using Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation theory. The expansive theory has many components, but of particular note for us was the social communication process that fosters diffusion of an innovation throughout a defined population.

For Rogers, innovation is defined very broadly as an artifact, concept, or practice that is new to the population. His book identifies a wide range of innovations, from contour plowing to birth control to a digital technology. This proved valuable for us in that it allowed us to see cases of innovation diffusion in East St. Louis even if limits in resources limited digital innovation specifically.

Using a bell curve, Rogers divided a population adopting an innovation into five categories: the innovators, the early adopters, the early majority, the late majority, and the laggards. I’m not clear whether the terms used were meant to be value-laden when Rogers first proposed his theory in the 1960’s, but they certainly are today. We celebrate the innovator and innovations as generally positive and increasingly valuable if we are to solve the problems of today and thwart the potential problems of tomorrow. Laggards, then, are seen as hinderances to achieving that promise.

In this article I’d like to challenge that unquestioned valuing of innovation, though, and so I will instead use language pulled from the descriptions of these categories to instead label them: the tinkerer, the opinion leader, the cautious, the skeptic, and the traditionalist. Rogers also defines the change agent, who’s role is to come in from the outside to help affect change by fostering diffusion.

DD2When we work to address the “digital divide”, the assumption is that for multiple reasons certain communities lack access to the physical and educational resources to participate in our digital age. The goal of such programs is to distribute the technologies that the “haves” enjoy to the “have-nots”, and to provide the needed digital literacy so that they can get onboard before they are further left behind. SkewedDiffusionCurveWe deplore the lack of human resources that leaves communities without the important tinkerers and opinion leaders that would otherwise have been able to see the competitive advantage they could have gained through early adoption of innovations. From this lens, the adoption curve is highly skewed to the right side of the curve, and innovations encounter a wall of resistance. As such, we redouble our efforts to urgently reach the non-adopters.

But using Rogers broader conceptualization of innovations, Lisa and I began to notice that with many non-digital technologies, and even with some digital technologies, East St. Louis had as many tinkerers as did Urbana-Champaign, the hometown of the University of Illinois’ flagship campus. And Urbana-Champaign had as many traditionalists as East St. Louis. But with digital technologies, those who would typically be the important opinion leaders fostering diffusion to the broader community were waylaid from those roles as they worked multiple jobs to make ends meet in addition to serving as civic leaders. ExclusionDiffusionCurveAs such, they had limited discretionary time or income to play a critical role on behalf of their community. Combined with other axes of exclusion, then, the community did not have the full complement of players to help assure a classic diffusion of innovation model. With this lens, the work is to build capacity for the existing innovators and early adopters rather than to more generally distribute innovations from the outside into the community. But it is to also work as allies to the oppressed to identify and work to challenge the axes of exclusion, much of which is institutionalized within societies laws, policies, practices, and culture to privilege some over others.

From this framework of diffusion, colleagues and I have been working to develop a demystifying technology approach to digital literacy, an approach that is as much and more about demystifying the social as the technical that comprises a digital artifact.

But there has been another aspect to the curve that has been nagging at the back of my mind for some years and which I’ve been grappling with at the edges. It is the embedded value we give to innovations and those who bring them to new communities. Such a valuation is to assume that struggling communities are missing something — an innovation — that will fix their problems. As such, progress is defined in terms of needed new technologies and practices. This fits well our economic model that depends on growth if the nation is to remain healthy and thriving. But does unquestioned valuing of innovations truly advance human flourishing? Are market forces the best method for separating the good innovations from the bad?

Perhaps in our insistence to reform the skeptic and the traditionalist so that they no longer stand in the way of progress and instead join the enlightened, we’ve lost an important counterbalancing voice. Let me be clear, I do not say this because I romanticize a past that has often been equally and even more exclusionary and oppressive, albeit in different ways. But to race away from the time-honored ways championed by traditionalists and to ignore the warnings of the skeptic, I believe, is to run headlong off an unknown cliff where solid ground has been eroded away by the waves of progress. Such an approach is to  allow the exuberance of the tinkerer and the passion of the opinion leader to have domination over the ideas of others.

I instead am increasingly inclined to see the value in embracing another way, a way that works to integrate the ideas of the innovator, the insights of the opinion leader, the caution and skepticism of those in the middle, and the time-honored of the traditionalist. It is to embrace difference as a resource, where every perspective is sought and prized as important if we are to find emergent approaches to what are primarily social issues.

Change agents, rather than working to colonize a community through enforcement of outside values and goals, or working to promote the regime of the tinkerer, instead seek to foster community dialogue so that all voices can be heard. Change agents also work as allies to report back to those outside a community the ways in which systematized oppressions are serving to exclude the community, or certain voices within the community.

As for digital literacy programming, I am increasingly inclined to believe we need places where tinkerers, traditionalists, and all those in between come together to dialogue and learn from each other, as opposed to putting the technology expert at the head of the class to distribute knowledge to the unknowing student. We need to use dialogue to probe everyone’s expertise, so as to explore how and why we should appropriate an innovation, and how and why we should hold on to the time-honored ways. Further, it is to seek wisdom from the cautious and the skeptic to heighten our ability to critically question who might gain privilege and who might be oppressed through adoption of specific implementations of an innovation. And it is to see who and how use of an innovation might be humanizing and dehumanizing, and to develop and enforce policies that increase the former and work to eliminate the latter.

Both Fab Labs and Makerspaces have at their core a more radical approach to innovation that seeks to challenge the current industrial model of innovation, one that has most people awaiting the innovations that come from the “experts” that work for major companies. These innovations spaces work to reassert the garage tinkerer into the drivers seat of innovation, which is good. Tinkerers and early adopters within a community are much more aware of their community and its values and goals than a national or international corporation ever could.

But I am skeptical whether places like Fab Labs and Makerspaces can be sites where all voices in community come together in dialogue as described above. Their names alone prioritize the tinkerer over the traditionalist.

As such, I think there is need for another public place, and I think the library is an excellent choice. When properly designed, equipped, and staffed, the library can serve as a place where all members of a community are welcomed. A library that aggressively works to identify and challenge ways in which it is excluding some from the community, and that works to equip both the tinkerer and the traditionalist with the resources they need to accomplish that which they value being and doing, can be an essential site for community conversation and community building.

A tinkerer, a traditionalist, and a change agent walk into the library one day…

… to build a more resilient, inclusive, community together.

Posted in Libraries, Reflections, Technology and Society | 2 Comments

Living a Good Life

Today my wife and I have a deep sense of joy and satisfaction as we celebrate with both our sons their new internships. But even more to the point, we have joy that they are living a counter-cultural good life.

As I walked around campus after class today, I began to reflect on the dominant narrative of a good life that is broken into two phases. The first, long, laborious phase has us focusing on accumulation. We accumulate education so that we can exchange it for a job. We use the job to accumulate money so that we can exchange it for a home, for wealth, for status, for networks, for power. And some day, if we live responsibly enough and long enough, we’ll be able to live into the second, comfortable retirement phase. But how relatively few succeed? And how much is sacrificed in means to achieve the ends?

I see as a counter-cultural good life a deep appreciation, and actuality, that we have a choice and sense of that choice to be a valued member of community today, as we are, and not just for who we might become. We participate in learning experiences not for that which we are accumulating to someday exchange for something else, but rather for the use of that education today to be and do that which we value. Said more pointedly, education isn’t an early step in the accumulation phase, it is a lifelong part of being more fully human. Likewise a job in the good life — it’s not a step in the accumulation phase but another site of being more fully human.

Loss of the good life, then, isn’t that we miss out on accumulating things to reach the second, comfortable retirement phase. It’s when people cannot be that which they value being and doing, that which gives them a deep sense of purpose and value, that which lets them flourish in the now, not in some future that is some unknown number of exchanges away. Loss of a good life happens when people are tracked into jobs that do not pay a living wage, or into responsible jobs that will help them accumulate wealth for retirement, instead of jobs to which the feel a deep sense of calling. It happens when people grind through an education developing marketable skills, instead of reveling in education for the thrill of it.

God willing, I will die with a long todo list. But whether I die today, or tomorrow, or a year from now, a decade from now, or five decades from now, I long for a funeral in which people don’t weep over that which was unfulfilled, but that good life that was fulfilled to the extent possible, every day.

My longing is to reclaim community so that every person, and all of creation, can similarly have and sense their choice to do the same.

My joy and satisfaction is in the confidence that my sons do have, do sense, and are exercising their choice to be more fully human today and every day.

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Permaculture – discovering the new and formalizing the old


Here’s a post I wrote for the Wolske Urban Farm blog, but which came to mind this week as I read the Introduction to the book “Public Libraries and Resilient Cities”, edited by Michael Dudley. I believe there’s quite a bit of crossover between ideas.

Originally posted on Angie and Martin's Side-yard Urban Farm:

Permaculture is both very new and very old to me. It is new in that I only began to visit websites and read books about permaculture fall 2013. It is old in that I recognize in it a formalization of many of the principles that are a part of my family and religious heritage.

The Permaculture Flower The Permaculture Flower

Permaculture is a vision of a consciously designed landscape ecology that includes garden and farm, buildings and neighborhoods, and indeed our cultures so as to mimic the patterns found in nature. It is also practical “the use of systems thinking and design principles that provide the organising framework for implementing the above vision [1].” And it is the network of individuals and groups developing and implementing permaculture design solutions.

The concept was developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the mid-1970’s in Australia based on their observations of natural occurring patterns and…

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Demystifying What???

Collaborative reflections on field notes, data, and experiences within our research team the last couple of weeks have been immensely helpful in bringing to light some key ideas regarding our approach to digital literacy. We refer to the general approach as Demystifying Technology. Demystifying technology is a method that seeks to encourage movement from passive use to co-creation of innovations-in-use by community, in community, for community. It is being implemented both in digital literacy workshops and one-on-one technical support sessions with community members, and also in graduate level courses. And it readily adapts to those interacting directly with digital technologies for the first time, and those who have years of experience with the nuts and bolts.

The approach has been most associated with demystifying computer hardware, but it applies equally well to software and networks. By disassembling and reassembling computers, software, and networks, the black box of technology is opened. The goal isn’t to develop an army of technicians who work daily at the nuts and bolts level of technology. Rather, as highlighted in the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition’s list of principles:

Digital justice demystifies technology to the point where we can not only use it, but create our own technologies and participate in the decisions that will shape communications infrastructure.

Indeed, if we are to achieve goals of co-creation and informed decision making, we need to demystify the mutual shaping of technology and society as much and more than we do the physical aspects of technology. 

What are we demystifying?

Technology both shapes and is shaped by society. People bring specific histories, cultures, and ways of knowing to their work. These influence what they prioritize as opportunities and problems. Histories, cultures, and ways of knowing also influence how people move forward to understand and tackle opportunities and problems. An organic farmer may see a plant restoring the soil while an industrial farmer may see a weed. The organic farmer may ask what deficiencies are indicated because the plant is growing there and not elsewhere, and seek to complement that plant with others in a more complex intercropping or rotation cycle to facilitate the work of the plant and thereby bring the soil microbiome to better health. An industrial farmer may ask which herbicide and fertilizer combination will remove the plant and improve the soil as growing substrate to increase yields. Both may use state-of-the-art digital data collection and analysis technologies to inform their decision-making processes. But those collection and analysis technologies may have worked better out-of-the-box, and there may be a much larger support network, for the industrial farmers than for the organic farmers.

Demystifying social<->technology not only makes the hardware and software more approachable by opening up the black box, it also helps to open the OTHER black box, the social and its tight interaction with the technology. Let’s take as an example demystifying the digital data collection and analysis tools used by farmers today.

Today, the predominant funding of agricultural research comes from sources that prioritize industrial farming practices. Government policies prioritize industrial farming practices. Bank policies prioritize industrial farming practices. Transportation and sales prioritize industrial farming practices. And so engineers and computer scientists prioritize industrial farming practices.

But further, science that seeks to reduce complex systems to their smallest discrete part in order to discover regularities and causal laws is very different from science that assumes reality is an irreducibly complex, fluid, and fragile system that can only be understood through ongoing interaction and can never be fully predicted and controlled. If engineers and computer scientists build tools for the industrial farmer based on the first type of science listed above so that the tool works to reduce down components of the complex whole to its most essential part, it may not fit the second type of science the organic farmers pursues. Rather, they need tools that help them understand the complex and dynamic whole of billions of organisms below ground and a rich diversity of plants and animals above ground, as a living, fluid ecosystem.

The data collection and analysis tools used by farmers have been developed with a set of economic, political, and scientific values developed to fit specific cultural, historical, and current contexts. Understanding these values helps to understand — to demystify — how those values are embedded within the physical and software components of the technology. In turn, that helps to begin demystifying how use of the value-laden technology may subsequently shape us in ways that are consistent with, or counter to, our own values and the values of our community.

Ultimately, demystifying social<->technology is not only to demystify the social and to demystify the technical, but it is to demystify the bi-directional arrow that binds these two inextricably together as mutually shaping forces.

Why demystify social<->technology?

How often do we find ourselves frustrated by a technology, wondering why it works for everyone else, but not for us? I’ll readily admit, in spite of my deep knowledge of the nuts and bolts of technology, that I regularly am frustrated by technology. But rather than questioning myself, I recognize the likely influencing factors that have led to technology that works better for others than for me. Touch screens have much to like about them as an input+output mechanism, designed to the advantage of many. But my fatter-than-normal fingers combined with a lack of binocular depth perception means that I consistently struggle with the interface. Iconography that has replaced the written word can serve well a multi-lingual nation, but I often find the images confusing. The image telling me which way to swipe cards seems backwards to me, and so I often get it wrong. The old floppy disk icon that means save in much software means open to me, because I used to use floppy disks to open programs back in the old days. On the other hand, the manilla folder that means open in much software to me means save, because I generally only use manilla folders when a project is completed and I’m archiving old papers, hopefully never to be needed again.

When the social<->technology is demystified, it helps me to fight the urge to blame myself and instead to gain agency to consider ways to move forward. Maybe I just laugh at the silliness of it all and try again. Maybe I move back to traditional technologies like pen and paper for some things. Maybe I buy a smartphone with traditional keyboard. Maybe I find software that gives me more control over iconography. Or maybe I just allow myself to be angry that there are no good solutions because current social structures limit choice, and then show myself grace that I need to get by as best I can within those limited choices.

Engineering isn’t about doing things right, its about doing it just right enough (that statement was made recently on the PBS Nova episode “The Great Math Mystery“). To make things right is to reach for the unattainable. To make it right enough is to recognize tradeoffs always have to be made. But what does right enough mean. For instance, eliminating replaceable batteries on a smartphone may result in a more durable product in the immediate, but one that has a shorter lifespan in the longterm. Which choice is right enough? As another example, allowing phone calls over wifi using Skype or Google Hangout could reduce the demand for unlimited cell minutes, but that would reduce revenues for cell companies, decreasing investment and potentially research and development funding. Which choice is right enough?

When the social<->technology is demystified, it helps me to choose a phone without a replaceable battery to benefit from the durability. But I also selected one with an extra large battery so that even several years down the line that battery should still have enough juice after a day of use to keep it usable beyond the 2-year standard replacement cycle. When the social<->technology is demystified, it helps me to understand for what it is the “innovation” T-Mobile announced recently that now allows customers to make Skype and Google Hangout calls on wifi, which is not really an innovation but a removal of a restrictive policy. It is to recognize that some models of smartphones on the Verizon network enforce this policy, while others don’t, and any one of them can change that policy without my consent during the next software upgrade, which means maybe I upgrade less if it’s working as I want it to.

Returning to the example above related to soil data collection and analysis tools, when the social<->technology is demystified, it helps me to begin to situate the struggles of the organic farmer within a larger set of economic, political, cultural, and scientific values. Perhaps these values contributed to the development of the best model of farming, and organic farming is struggling not just because it is counter to these values but because it is inferior overall. But perhaps these values are right enough for a few but are suboptimal for many, and organic farming is struggling specifically because it is counter to the social values that benefit the few. Or perhaps the answer is somewhere between the two.

In opening up the black box of both the social and the technical, we don’t get a definitive answer, but a richer information base within which to have dialog and to build knowledge about what it is that is right enough to achieve our personal and community valued beings and doings. 

How can we demystify social<->technology?

Paulo Freire was an adult educator from Brazil, who in the 1960’s worked to develop educational projects that not only taught reading and writing to the illiterate, but at the same time worked to help raise awareness of the agency people had to bring a new reality into existence. He used techniques that would be familiar to us today — show a picture, show a word, help people to pronounce the word and associate it with the picture, connect the syllables of the word with specific sounds, generalize to other words. But as Freire went through these steps, he also encouraged learners to combine syllables in unique ways to create new words. And he encouraged them to see how the old word was often associated with objects that served to oppress the learner (for instance, a brick that perhaps they manufactured for elites who paid them a sub-living wage and then used the brick to build walled fortresses that kept wealth in and others out). At the same time they made connections of syllable sounds with new words, they also made connections between creating their own new words with creating new, more just realities — the social<->technology was demystified.

Here’s an example of how we’ve applied this to a digital technology workshop on hardware.

  1. Icebreaker:
    1. As you enter, please take a moment to draw a picture of an innovator innovating.
    2. Introduce yourself and describe one way you’ve taken something you have and used it in a way it wasn’t meant to be used to solve a problem. Then tell us about the picture you drew [most people draw a white male working alone doing something they deem innovative].
    3. Discussion: How does the pictures we each drew compare to our descriptions of ways that we’ve innovatively repurposed somethign we have?
  2. Hands-on Activity:
    1. Disassemble a computer, highlighting the main parts as we go.
    2. Imagine the flow of a keystroke as it travels from the keyboard input port to controller to CPU to memory and storage and back to the CPU to the video controller and out to the video display
    3. Disassemble other devices like a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Note that the flow of the keystroke passes through the same general parts.
  3. Discussion:
    1. What makes a desktop computer different from a laptop computer or a tablet or a smartphone if they use the same general parts?
    2. What values may have gone into the different ways the parts are put together?
    3. How might choosing one format over another benefit certain values and goals over others? Which is the best device? How might you redesign the device if you could to better fit your values, goals, and context?
    4. What is it? [Place a smartphone on the table, turned off. As suggestions come in, challenge participants to think expansively across different contexts. Also challenge them to consider what it can’t be because of policy or economic restrictions.]

As noted earlier, our demystifying technology approach has been generalized to a wide range of contexts, from the workshop example given above to short one-on-one sessions. It’s been applied to software and networks, not just hardware. It’s an approach just as at home in a library, church, or school as it is in a Makerspace or Fab Lab.

Importantly, we’re coming to realize demystifying technology isn’t about creating different curriculum, but it’s rather what is transformative is the way the curriculum is integrated together with other curriculum, icebreakers, and reflective discussion. In other words, it’s the programming that is built around the curriculum that matters more than the curriculum itself.

And most importantly, it’s the values that inform the programming that makes all the difference (covered in more depth in the post Technology Education and Social Justice):

  • that technology is both shaped by and shapes society;
  • that our most important work is to humanize others and help each person have the capability to flourish;
  • that resilient, just community is the essential outcome goal of our work;
  • that hardware and software expertise is but one of many expertise needed if we are to build and effectively use tools that help us achieve broader human and community development goals;
  • that difference is not just a nicety, but a desperately needed resource; and
  • that there are exclusionary social structures, some of which we actively — even if unintentionally — reinforce through our choices and actions, and that must be countered if we are to achieve these broader goals.
Posted in Education, Reflections, Social Justice | 1 Comment

New Class: Informal Learning Spaces and Pedagogies

I am so excited to share this early draft syllabus (bibliography posted separately) for a new class I will be developing for fall 2015.

  • Title: Informal Learning Spaces and Pedagogies
  • Meeting Time: Tuesday, 9-11:50, August 25 – December 8
  • Meeting Location: Library and Information Science Building, room 341
  • Prerequisites: none — open to all graduate students and upper-level undergraduates

Description: This course will explore the design of space and pedagogy for informal learning in collaborative environments. We will investigate together a variety of informal learning spaces such as information and learning commons, learning labs, and Makerspaces to understand the impact environment has on learning, and will review key literature concerning informal learning pedagogy and critical sociotechnical perspectives on technology and society. We will also consider qualitative and quantitative evaluation strategies for measuring output and impact of design of space and programming for informal learning in libraries, museums, and other public venues.

Learning Objectives: By the end of the semester, students should be able to identify the following:

  • The trends regarding adoption and use of informal learning spaces in school, public, academic, and special libraries, in museums, and in other public and private collaborative spaces;
  • Ways the built environment facilitates and inhibits learning;
  • Strategies for intentional design of space to better achieve desired learning outcomes;
  • The major educational theories related to informal learning and how to select and incorporate components of these into space and programming design;
  • How critical feminist and social shaping of technology perspectives usefully inform technology implementation within informal learning spaces;
  • Key alternative evaluation strategies, their theoretical assumptions, and important criteria for selection and implementation to aid in space and program development; and
  • How to bring theoretical perspectives from readings and field practice into dialogue as part of LIS professional life.

Assignments and Methods of Assessment: Students will be graded on a 90% (A), 80% (B), 70% (C), 60% (D) scale. Graded assignments and the overall percentage for each category of assignments are listed below.  Note that we will be covering around100 pages of readings per week. To receive full marks on each assessment component, it will be important that student-instructors complete the assigned readings in advance of class unless otherwise noted.

Concept Papers (50% of grade)

There will be a concept paper due at the end of each of the four major topic areas (trends, built environment, educational and critical sociotechnical theories, and evaluation) covered during the course of the semester. Students will be expected to create a 2 to 3-page paper for each topic area that summarizes and synthesizes the main issues related to that topic along with a brief bibliography that could be used to inform a library or museum administrator or board trustee.

Analysis of an Ongoing Informal Learning Space in a Library, Museum, or other public or private collaborative space (30% of grade):

This final project is a 5-6 page paper that analyzes an informal learning space in a library, museum, or other public/private collaborative venue. You may do the investigation in collaboration with another class member or someone in your local community. The length of the paper doesn’t change if it is done in collaboration with another student, however I expect that the depth of information that goes into the paper to be greater.

The analysis must include various sources of information, such as:

  • An interview with one or more LIS professionals and one or more active users of the space;
  • Readings, including but not limited to those on the resource bibliography for the course;
  • Websites with resources on the program/or related projects;
  • Your own direct experiences;
  • The organization’s mission and identified goals in the area

The analysis should incorporate an overview of the informal learning space, an analysis of the space and program design inspirations, a consideration of several examples of successful and failed uses of the informal learning space, and strategies used to evaluate the overall impact of the space. For full credit, the paper should make clear connections between the analysis of the informal learning space and the primary literature reviewed for the class.

Instructor Evaluation (20% of grade):

The instructor will evaluate student attendance, active participation, and overall progress throughout the course of the semester. The following rubric will be used to assign a score mid-semester and again at the end of the semester. These will be added together to create the final score.

  • 10 = Student has been an active participant in class discussions based on assigned readings and lived experiences and is demonstrating an increasing grasp of the key concepts covered in class.
  • 8 = Student has been an active participant in some of the class discussions based on assigned readings and lived experiences and is demonstrating some gains in grasping key concepts covered in class.
  • 6 = Student is occasionally active in class and is demonstrating some learning, but it is clear they are not performing to their full capabilities.
  • 4 = Student has missed several classes and/or is not always active when attending class.
  • 2 = Student has been absent frequently and/or rarely is active in class.
  • 0 = Student has consistently missed class during the rated period

Required Texts: None. Readings will be comprised of sources from journal articles and open web resources.

Attendance and Participation Policy: Students are expected to attend all class sessions except in case of emergency. If you have an emergency, communicate with the instructor as early as possible to prevent negatively impacting your grade.

It is expected that students will participate actively in the class activities and discussions in a professional manner, showing respect for differing ideas and a willingness and ability to defend their ideas by referring to relevant readings.

Library Resources: http://www.library.illinois.edu/lsx/; lislib@library.illinois.edu; 217-333-3804

Academic Integrity: Students should review and follow the University policy on academic integrity, available online at: http://admin.illinois.edu/policy/code/article1_part4_1-402.html . When you submit an assignment, you are certifying that the work is your own, or that of your project group, and that all use of other people’s material is used in accordance to fair use and copyright policies and is properly referenced.

Statement of Inclusion: The following is from the Chancellor’s Commitment Statement and informs our course approach to inclusion (http://www.inclusiveillinois.illinois.edu/chancellordivstmtswf.html#ValuStmt):

As the state’s premier public university, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s core mission is to serve the interests of the diverse people of the state of Illinois and beyond. The institution thus values inclusion and a pluralistic learning and research environment, one which we respect the varied perspectives and lived experiences of a diverse community and global workforce. We support diversity of worldviews, histories, and cultural knowledge across a range of social groups including race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, abilities, economic class, religion, and their intersections.

Accessibility Statement: To obtain accessibility-related academic adjustments and/or auxiliary aids, students with disabilities must contact the course instructor and the Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) as soon as possible. To contact DRES you may visit 1207 S. Oak St., Champaign, call 333-4603 (V/TTY), or e-mail a message to disability@uiuc.edu.

Organization and Course Calendar: The following is a tentative chronological list of the main topics that will be covered. This schedule is subject to change. Please refer to the online course Moodle page for the definitive schedule for any given week, including specific readings that should be completed prior to the class session.

  • Week 1-3: Library and Museum Informal Learning Space Trends
  • Week 4-8: The Built Environment and Informal Learning Spaces and Pedagogy
  • Week 9-13: Educational and Critical Interpretive Sociotechnical Theories for Informal Learning Spaces and Pedagogy
  • Week 14-15: Evaluation of Informal Learning Spaces and Pedagogy

Copyright: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Posted in Community Informatics, Teaching | Leave a comment

Draft Bibliography: Informal Learning Spaces and Pedagogies

The following is a draft bibliography for the new course I’m developing for fall 2015 called “Informal Learning Spaces and Pedagogies”. I welcome feedback on this bibliography, and also hope others find it valuable for their own work.

(Many of the resources related to Makerspaces and libraries were provided by Rachel Suntop and were developed in relation to her independent study with Emily Knox on this topic.)

Library and Museum Informal Learning Space Trends

Scott Bennet (2003) Libraries Designed for Learning. Available online at: http://www.clir.org/pubs/abstract/reports/pub122

Diana G. Oblinger, Editor. (2006). Learning Spaces. Educause report available online at: http://www.educause.edu/learningspaces

Becky Herr-Stephenson, Diana Rhoten, Dan Perkel, and Christo Sims (2011) Digital media and Technology in Afterschool Programs, Libraries, and Museums. Available online at: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/digital-media-and-technology-afterschool-programs-libraries-and-museums

Lauren Britton (2012) The Makings of Maker: Making Space for Creation, Not Just Consumption. Library Journal, October 2012. Available online at: http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2012/10/public-services/the-makings-of-maker-spaces-part-1-space-for-creation-not-just-consumption/

Kylie A. Peppler and Yasmin B. Kafai (2007) From Supergoo to Scratch: Exploring creative digital media production in informal learning. Learning, Media and Technology . Available online at: http://dml2011.dmlhub.net/sites/dmlcentral/files/resource_files/2007_Peppler_Supergoo.pdf

Burke, J. (2014). Chapter 12: Remaking the library? Tracking the present and future of making in libraries. Makerspaces: A practical guide for librarians (pp. 155-164)

Landgraf, G. (2015). Making Room for Informal Learning: Librarians discuss the Future of Makerspaces. American Libraries Magazine, March/April 2015, 32-34. Available online at: http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2014/02/26/making-room-for-informal-learning/

Bagley, C. (2014). Michigan makers group. Makerspaces: Top trailblazing projects (pp. 73-82)

Canino-Fluit, A. (2014). School library makerspaces: Making it up as I go. Teacher Librarian, 41(5), 21-28.

Houston, C. (2013). Makerspaces@ Your School Library: Consider the Possibilities! Kentucky Libraries, 77(3), 26-28.

Moorefield-Lang, H. (2015). Making, Libraries, and Literacies. Library Media Connection, 33(4), 30-31.

Bagley, C. (2014). Georgia institute of technology. Makerspaces: Top trailblazing projects (pp. 56-64)

Bagley, C. (2014). Valdosta State University, Odom library. Makerspaces: Top trailblazing projects (pp. 93-104)

Fisher, E. (2012). Makerspaces move into academic libraries. Retrieved from http://acrl.ala.org/techconnect/?p=2340

Kurt, L. (2012). 3D printers in the library: Toward a FabLab in the academic library. Retrieved from http://acrl.ala.org/techconnect/?p=1403

Pryor, S. (2014). Implementing a 3D printing service in an academic Library. Journal of Library Administration, 54(1), 1-10.

Bagley, C. (2014). Carnegie public Library. Makerspaces: Top trailblazing projects (pp. 37-45)

Makerspace: Is it right for your library. Carterette Series Webinars (Director). (2014).[Video/DVD]

Lee, M. (2014, The library of the century Design4Impact. Libraryjournal.

The Library as Incubator Project website: http://www.libraryasincubatorproject.org/

Madison Public Library. (2014). Bubbler. learn. share. create. Retrieved from http://madisonbubbler.org/

Pongan, L. (2013). The Bubbler, a New Madison Public Library Program, finds innovative ways to connect creative types. Isthmus.

Makerspace playbook (School Edition ed.) Maker Media. Available online at: http://makered.org/makerspace-playbook-school-edition/

IMLS (2014) Learning Labs in Libraries and Museums: Transformative Spaces for Teens. Report available online at: http://www.imls.gov/assets/1/AssetManager/LearningLabsReport.pdf

The Built Environment and Informal Learning Spaces and Pedagogy

Scott Bennet (2003) Libraries Designed for Learning. Available online at: http://www.clir.org/pubs/abstract/reports/pub122

Peter C. Lippman (2013) Designing Collaborative Spaces. Campus Technology, May 2013. Available online at: http://campustechnology.com/research/2013/05/magazine_may.aspx?tc=page0

Mizuko Ito, Kris Gutiérrez, Sonia Livingstone, Bill Penuel, Jean Rhodes, Katie Salen, Juliet Schor, Julian Sefton-Green, and S. Craig Watkins (2013) Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design. Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, Irvine, CA. Available online at: http://dmlhub.net/sites/default/files/ ConnectedLearning_report.pdf

Good, T. (2013). Three makerspace models that work. American Libraries, 44(1/2)

Diana G. Oblinger, Editor. (2006). Learning Spaces. Educause report available online at: http://www.educause.edu/learningspaces

Louise L. Lowe and Roylee Cummings (2009) Small Spaces, Small Budget, Big Results: Creating a user-centered Learning Space on a Budget. Georgia Library Quarterly. Available online at: http://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1272&context=glq

Martin Wolske, Deven Gibbs, Adam Kehoe, Vera Jones, and Sharon Irish. (2013) Outcome of Applying Evidence-Based Design to Public Computing Centers: A Preliminary Study. The Journal of Community Informatics, 9(1). Available online at: http://ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej/article/view/811

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. 21st Century Learning Environments. Available online at: http://www.p21.org/storage/documents/le_white_paper-1.pdf

Educational and Critical Interpretive Sociotechnical Theories for Informal Learning Spaces and Pedagogy

Gerhard Fischer (2011) Understanding, Fostering, and Supporting Cultures of Participation. Interactions, 18(3). Available online at: http://l3d.cs.colorado.edu/~gerhard/papers/2011/interactions-coverstory.pdf

Chachra, D. (2015). Why I am not a maker. The Atlantic.

Norris, A. (2014). Make-her-spaces as hybrid places: Designing and resisting self constructions in urban classrooms. Equity & Excellence in Education, 47(1), 63-77.

Toupin, S. (2014). Feminist hackerspaces: The synthesis of feminist and hacker cultures. Journal of Peer Production, (5)

Brady, T., et al. (2014). MakeAbility: Creating Accessible Makerspace Events in a Public Library. Public Library Quarterly, 33(4), 330-347.

Diana G. Oblinger, Editor. (2006). Learning Spaces. Educause report available online at: http://www.educause.edu/learningspaces

David Buckingham, Julian Sefton-Green, and Rebekah Willett (2003) Shared Spaces: Informal learning and Digital Cultures. Media Culture Online. Available online at: http://www.lmz-bw.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Medienbildung_MCO/fileadmin/bibliothek/buckingham_spaces/buckingham_spaces.pdf

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Community happens when…

Community happens when the many realize their oneness1 …

  • When the neighbor is loved as the self;2
  • When the suffering that is experienced by the one directly is also suffered by the many indirectly;3
  • When the common good – and especially the good of the poor, the oppressed, the stranger – is cherished as well as the good of the self;4
  • When difference is understood as the root of wholeness;5 and
  • When liberative dialogue grounded in love, humility, faith, mutual trust, hope, and critical thinking progressively speaks a new, more just reality into existence;6

… so that everyone – human and more-than-human7 – has the capability to fully flourish8.

The goal of engagement and social change projects is to, in allyship with the oppressed9, counter the coercive ideology of the elite and the common sense hegemony of our social institutions10 so as to dismantle the systems of oppression that stand in the way of community. The means of engagement and social change projects must, whenever possible, advance the knowledge power with and within11 the many and the one so as to avoid replacing one form of power over with another form of power over12. To this ends, engagement and social change are not side projects, but a lens and process that infuse all that we do and are as we dedicate ourselves to building community.


[1] We are always mutually interdependent but often act as if we are independent. Community starts when we come to appreciate and act intentionally on our oneness.
[2] Many of the major religions and the non-religious all champion some form of this golden rule. However, in her book Becoming an Ally, Anne Bishop highlights the importance of working to heal our own oppression if we are to better serve as an ally for others — that is, love our neighbors as ourselves. Unhealed, loving our neighbor as ourselves may instead serve as a mirror for the unhealthy ways we love ourselves.
[3] Many have noted this mutuality, but in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr., stated this point particularly well:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

[4] Calls towards a common good have been made periodically throughout our history. A good review of the problems with the concept, but also the value of it, has been developed by Manuel Velasquez, Claire Andre, Thomas Shanks, S.J., and Michael J. Meyer. An example of a recent dialog regarding the common good can be seen in this article by Jim Wallis and a followup caution by Onlielove Alston as part of Huffington Post’s ‘Common Good’ series.
[5] Two recommended resources exploring the value and necessity of difference are Iris Marion Young’s chapter “Difference as a Resource for Democratic Communication” in Deliberative Democracy: Essays on Reason and Politics, and Cricket Keating’s article “Building Coalitional Consciousness” in the NWSA Journal, 17(2), 86-103.
[6] Both John Dewey in Experience and Education and Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed highlight the need to bring action together with reflection in community as part of an educational process and also a social change process. We work together — community inquiry — to envision and bring about an alternate reality in what Dewey stresses is a true participatory democracy. Freire especially emphasizes the dialogic aspects and a process of liberative conscientization while Dewey helpfully constructs a theory of experience that grounds a progressive form of inquiry-based, problem-posing education.
[7] Many indigenous people deeply value the more-than-human as in community with the human. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s chapter “Learning the Grammar of Animacy” in her wonderful book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants was very helpful in bringing me to a new awareness of this. I also highly recommend Aldo Leopold’s concluding chapter “The Land Ethic” in his book A Sand County Almanac.
[8] The human development and capability approach has been developed as a more expansive alternative to the narrowly defined economic development models for individual and societal flourishing. It champions an approach to development that works to assure people have the capabilities to live lives they value and enabling them to become actors in their own destinies. An excellent introduction to this alternative to neoliberal market economics can be freely downloaded.
[9] Randy Stoecker introduced me to the idea of allyship as a primary method for how we do engagement. Anne Bishop’s Becoming an Ally is an important work describing the necessary work to assure we use this method in a respectful and helpful way.
[10] I highly recommend Mark Stoddart’s article “Ideology, Hegemony, Discourse: A Critical Review of Theories of Knowledge and Power” in Social Thought & Research, Vol. 28, Social “Movements for an introduction to important concepts like ideology and hegemony, and theories of knowledge and power that deeply underly our human interactions.
[11] InBecoming an Ally Anne Bishop helpfully clarifies distinctions in power, differentiating power with others and power within from power over others. She also notes that one person who brings forward power over can completely disrupt even the strongest power with community unless clearly recognized and carefully addressed, sometimes even resorting to power over briefly.
[12] In Pedagogy of the Oppressed Paulo Friere notes that even as the oppressed take ownership of their own liberation, they need to be intentional to assure that they also work to liberate their oppressor instead of becoming themselves an oppressor.

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