The ever growing heap of neat digital research tools is simultaneously fascinating and problematic. Some of this stuff really has the potential to be transformational, to provide new avenues for scholarship, and teaching, but the sheer quantity of tools makes it a bit difficult for scholars and teachers to know where to start from, and what to do when they have started. I am excited to see some of these research tools, like Zotero, becoming part of library instruction on various campuses, but the ever increasing quantity of tools suggests that the possibilities for the few instruction folks at any institution to inform their users about these tools is outpacing the ability for instruction folks to fold them into their offerings. While there are many other avenues for learning about these tools, documentation, screencasts, etc. there is a lot to be said about the sort of hands on instruction and thoughtfulness you get from instruction folks.
With just a little creative thinking I think we could work this out. By pooling instructional resources together much the same way that libraries pool their collections, we could develop a rich collective distributed instruction network that could function alongside existing instruction networks. If folks are interested please leave comments. It’s also entirely possible that this sort of thing already exists, if so please take a moment to point me to it. Here are what I see as the potential advantages.
More Flexible Scheduling:
By pooling resources folks at libraries and other parts of schools involved in instruction can offer users a much more flexible schedule of instruction. If 15 campuses each offer 5 sessions on Zotero in this sort of pool students and faculty at each of their institutions now have access to 75 different sessions on Zotero instead of 5.
Share Exotic and Esoteric Research Tools:
Every instructional tech person I’ve met has a specialty. If there was this sort of distributed instruction network a Librarian in Kansas with an amazing way to use del.ico.us for immunology research who might not be able to fill a class on his campus could probably fill out the session with folks from a larger pool of students and researchers.
Connect Existing Instruction Networks:
Even at individual campuses instruction on tools tends to crop up in all sorts of unexpected places. For example, at GMU the Center for Teaching Excellence, Writing Center, Campus Libraries, Instructional Technology Services alongside individual departments all offer different sorts of training. Beyond these differences GMU is spread across three different campuses, meaning that face to face classes in each of these cases are distributed across each campus.
So what would this Distributed Digital Tool Instruction Thingy Look Like?
I don’t have a clear vision here. I think there are several different directions something like this could develop. Here are three options as I see it.
Piggy Back on An Existing Service: There are now a multitude of free enough platforms for screensharing, live chat, sharing slides, and video conferencing. A system for this could simply piggy back on a service like WiZiQ, or DimDim. This senario would have zero upfront investment, and folks could just start this network inside one of these tools.
Stitch together a much more flexible network: Another approach would be to be to stitch together small tool agnostic set up. Everyone uses the system they are comfortable with and then just aggregates info on what sorts of instruction going on and then everyone posts what they are teaching on a collaborative calender.
Build Something More Coherent: Work up a more coherent custom platform for pulling all of this together. There are a lot of neat, more complicated, possibilities. For example a system could keep track of karma points for users from an institution and classes offered by folks from that institution.