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question mark

"Caslon metal type question mark" by Leo Reynolds via Flickr

I’m much better at asking questions than answering them. Guess it’s no surprise I worked as a journalist for years.

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Origami dinosaur

"Triceratops" by EmreAyar via Flickr

And now for something completely different: the book.

I laughed to myself this week when brainstorming this post, realizing that it felt different to be talking about a technology so intimately associated with librarians to the point of stereotype. I suppose it says something about modern iSchools that we are usually arguing over proprietary file formats and digital scholarly publishing models rather than arguing about, you know, reading. It feels refreshing to be back in familiar territory, though, and with a new perspective on The Book, that monolithic concept and cultural institution.

I’m reminded, too, of my work in a preservation class this term, where we practice “media archaeology” — examining the larger historical, cultural, and technological contexts for legacy or defunct media forms, in order to better understand them. It’s great fun to look at player pianos and phantasmagoria and stereopticons, but one of my favorite discussions so far has been the one in which we attempted to see the book “from a distance,” to de-familiarize it and see it anew.

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"Play" by VinothChandar via Flickr.

We had a sharp and thoughtful conversation this week in class about games and gameification — a word my spellchecker still doesn’t recognize, so that must mean it’s trendy — as the two relate to motivation and transfer in school settings.

I’ll attempt to sketch my gameification soapbox quickly:

• “Games” is not a monolithic category — chess is not World of Warcraft is not Tetris, so let’s be precise when we discuss what games “are” or mean for learners.

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"Green/Blue" by Alexander Steinhof via Flickr

As I read this week about the importance of successful transfer of learning to new realms, I thought about how much of the technology we interact with each day can feel transparent to use but opaque to any deeper understanding.

It’s a paradox, isn’t it? I can search the Internet without understanding the mechanism behind the engine — unless, that is, a server goes down and I get some cryptic error message from the site I’d like to visit.

Environmentalist and writer John Michael Greer has a great passage on transparent technologies, describing how one could look at a slide rule and figure out how it worked and even make new slide rules. The mechanism is clear and replicable. But a calculator — that’s a little machine composed of batteries and solar panels. You can’t look inside a calculator and figure out how it works if you have no idea what a calculator is.

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Seattle Public Library by OzinOh via Flickr

OK, dumb question:

What does learning look like in the library?

I’m sitting in the Undergraduate Library as I write this, trying to gain a new perspective on a familiar place and feeling very much like Margaret Mead — if Margaret Mead were a librarian with a laptop.

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Image via Edushop

“Teachers’ conceptions of quality are typically held, largely in unarticulated form, inside their heads as tacit knowledge” (p. 126).

This quote from Sadler’s article “Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems” (1989) helped give words to feelings about many of my experiences as both a teacher and a student of writing.

Before coming to the University of Michigan, I studied in a creative writing graduate program. My classmates — all fellow writers who bravely put up their work for peer critique each week in our workshops — and I came to joke about what we called the “more cowbell problem.”

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"Jell-O molds aplenty" by flyheatherfly via Flickr

Anytime I think I’ve gotten closer to defining “information literacy,” I realize how slippery this concept is. It feels a bit like sparring with a bowl of Jell-O.

Now there’s a metaphor for you. I almost said “Jell-O wrestling,” but I caught myself.

Inspired by the recent chatter among my colleagues taking a user experience research methods class this term, let’s play “personas and scenarios” for information literacy.

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