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Archive for the ‘Technologies’ Category

Libraries, Beacons, and the Internet of Things

27 Feb

A while ago I tweeted this helpful graphic:

I know what you're thinking - it will be climate change that renders the debate on the future of libraries moot, not the singularity! And you're quite right, of course.

I know what you’re thinking – it will be climate change that renders the debate on the future of libraries moot, not the singularity! And you’re quite right, of course.

 

The Internet of Things will, hopefully, be a big deal in libraries. Some of the technology associated with it feels very far-away in terms of the resources it would take to implement it, but we’ve seen how these things work – what starts off as unattainable fantasy becomes cheaply available reality soon enough.

But what does it mean, though? I mean really mean, for libraries? I found this UX article on beacons very helpful in giving me an overview of the technology, and this post is an extrapolation of the ideas it presents, into a library context.

What is The Internet of Things?

In short, the Internet of Things refers to when objects are able to connect with each other online, because they can be uniquely identified.

We’re actually very familiar with this in Libraries, because we use RFID. You put the book in the cradle, and that book (due to its RFID tag) speaks to the issue-machine, which then informs the library management system that the book has been issued to your account. It’s the internet, but interacting with a Thing! Brilliant.

What are beacons?

Beacons are wireless devices which use Bluetooth (but an especially low-energy version which doesn’t drain battery) to broadcast to other Bluetooth objects around them. You may have seen wearable technology like Jawbone or Fitbit, which monitor your physical activity – these use beacons to ‘talk’ to your phone, allowing you to get information via your phone’s screen.

In physical terms, you can already get commercially available beacons – for example from Estimote – which are discreet physical objects (as opposed to something integrated into a Fitbit wrist-band) to put in physical locations, allowing smartphones to interact with them according to parameters you define.

Give me some examples of what Libraries could do

Here are some ideas to enhance the library user experience:

  1. Locate items from my books list. Most library catalogues have a ‘favourite’ function, where you can add items to a list. Imagine you make your list of books at home using this feature, then come into a library fully hooked up to the Internet of Things – as you walk in, you’re presented with a map and directions to each of the available items. You’d know before you got past the foyer if any books had already been borrowed, and you’d even be able to find them if they were misshelved.
    ..
    Wait, come back! I’ve got better ones, look…
    .
  2. A self-guided virtual tour. Set up beacons at key points around the Library, and send users off on a tour. When they get to each location their phone plays them videos, or audio, and gives them more information on how to get the most from that area. Combine this with augmented reality to really knock people’s socks off.
    .
  3. An enriched Special Collections experience. When you’re near the glass case displaying the rare and precious illuminated manuscript that you can’t touch, your phone or tablet can show you the whole document in digital format. It could even play you audio of expert analysis by the Special Collections librarian.
    .
  4. Contactless fine payment. The Internet of Things knows how much you owe, and has the capability to let you pay it without you having to queue for a till or a card-reader.
    .
  5. Availability of machines. Some library apps already show you which PCs are in use and which are actually free within the Library building, which users find invaluable. Beacons could easily extend this to printers (and 3D printers), scanners, study rooms, blu-ray players etc etc – all quick to check from your phone as you enter the Library.
    .
  6. More details on items. In the same way you can put a QR Code on a DVD box which takes the user to the imdb entry on the film in question, or on a music score to take the user to an MP3 of the piece, you could give any manner of contextual information on items in your collection via the Internet of Things. If a user is in the vicinity of an item, she or he will be able to get information on it online via their phone.
    .

My brain is not particularly wired to invention. When someone else lays out ideas I can spark off them, but I can very rarely think up anything from scratch – so with that in mind, the list above is quite small, and I’d be VERY interested to hear what you think we could do with this technology, via a comment…

 

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Can you use Twitter for Academic teaching? Yes, here are some examples

17 Feb

I have read, and contributed to, an awful lot of writing online about Twitter in HE. Social networks in general and Twitter in particular are increasingly accepted as a valuable part of the academic world. If you want to know about how to use Twitter for communication, for building reputation, for research, then Google will provide you with endless hours of reading.

However, using Twitter in teaching seems to be far more tricky and ambiguous. There are a lot more people asking ‘Can we use Twitter in academic teaching, and if so, how?’ then answering that question. Interestingly, there’s a lot more info out there in using it in the school classroom than on using it in the University seminar room, lab, or lecture theatre.

With that in mind, and to make the most of a real edtech zietgeist happening at the University of York at the moment, I put together a 1.5 hour workshop for academics, as part of a series I’m doing for the Learning & Teaching Forum. I really enjoyed putting this together because I learnt a lot, and spoke to a lot of academics doing really interesting things with tweets.

The biggest issue in this area seems to be that you can’t make students sign up for the platform, so how do you make sure no one is excluded if you’re providing key info via Twitter (without you having to duplicate everything)? The first answer is embedding a Twitter stream in the VLE – there is a full guide on how to do that (with BlackBoard) in the handout which accompanied the session (embedded below). The second answer is projecting a hashtag onto the walls during teaching. Chemistry at York is, for some reason, always at the front of the curve with social media, and one of the things Simon Lancaster does is have a back-channel running on big screens during lab-sessions, using Tweetbeam, so that students who don’t wish to sign up for Twitter can still get the benefit of seeing other students’ tweets (and also pictures shared by Simon). I really liked this idea – I liked the ceding of control, the high risk of it, and I like the fact that the students don’t abuse the trust, and take the opportunity instead to contribute enthusiastically and productively.

Anyhow, here are the slides from the workshop – I hope if you’re reading this you find them useful. If you’re an academic and want to chip in via the comments with how you utilise Twitter, that would be great; if you’re an information professional and you also run these sorts of workshops, I’d love to hear from you too.

 

 

Using Twitter in Academic Teaching by University of York Information

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Steal this: Student Guide to Social Media

07 Nov

If you click the image below, you’ll be taken to the Student Guide to Social Media. This is an interactive online resource, giving information on various social media platforms, and on tasks you can accomplish using social media – it is aimed primarily at undergraduates but has applications across the board.

It is made available under a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons licence: in other words if you think this resource might be of use to YOUR students, feel free to use this, link to this, make it part of your own institution’s website, just as long as you credit the creators (the BY part), aren’t using it for commercial purposes (the NC part) and use it entirely as it is, in its current state, rather than creating your own version or derivatives (the ND part).

A screenshot of the resource's homepage

Click to access the resource

 

Alternatively, book mark libassets.manchester.ac.uk/social-media-guide/ or click the link to open the resource in a new window.

A Northern collaboration

The resource is the result of a joint project between the Libraries of the Universities of Leeds, Manchester and York, developed over the Summer. Michelle Schneider from Leeds’ very successful Skills@Library team approached me about working together on a social media resource for undergraduates – I was extremely pleased she did, because it was something on my list to do anyway.

There’s a lot of support out there for postgrads, academics, researchers generally in using social media, but I don’t think there’s as much for undergraduates. It’s an area we’re looking to expand at my own institution, and as well as face-to-face workshops I really wanted something that worked as an interactive learning object online, probably made using Articulate / Storyline. Imagine how pleased I was, therefore, when Michelle told me the other collaborators would be Manchester, including Jade Kelsall, who is absolutely brilliant with Articulate! I’d worked with Jade before at Leeds; she provided all the technical expertise to create the Digitisation Toolkit (using the Articulate), one of the parts of the LIFE-Share project I actually enjoyed. Also on the team were Carla Harwood at Leeds, and Sam Aston at Manchester.

So we got together, brainstormed on lots of massive pieces of paper, photographed the paper with our ipads, emailed each other a lot, and came up with a resource which we think will be really useful. I feel quite bad because I was off on paternity leave for a month of this and it took me ages to get back up to speed, so I don’t feel like I contributed enough compared to Jade and Michelle who worked tirelessly on this (sorry guys!) but I’m really pleased with the result. It’s gone down very well on Twitter, and I was excited to see we’ve found our way onto a curriculum already:

 

 

How it works

Increasingly as I do more and more teaching, training, and planning, I’m aware that when introducing people to new tools (or trying to help people use existing tools better) you have to give them two different versions of the same core information. The first and obvious thing is how to use a tool – e.g. here’s Twitter, here’s how you create an account, here’s some tips on using it. But this assumes some prior knowledge – what if you don’t know why you’d need Twitter? So you also have to present the information in terms of tasks people want to achieve: “I want to boost my professional reputation” is one such task, and Twitter would be among the tools you might recommend to achieve this. The great thing about using Storyline is we can do exactly that – students can explore this resource by tool, or by task, or both.

We’ve also included case studies (some video, some not) and I’m indebted to my colleague in the Career’s Service at York, Chris Millson, for providing a lot of really useful information about both tools and tasks and sourcing case studies…

The resource is, deliberately, very straightforward. We stripped out everything non-essential to give students easily digestible, bite-sized introductions to the various things they might want to use these tools for (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Slideshare, Google+, Academia.edu, blogs etc). It’s also relatively informal without attempting to be in any way cool or streetwise. I’ve showed it to some of my students in info skills classes already and it’s gone down very positively; I think even students who are very au fait with web 2.0 tools still appreciate some guidance on how to meld the social with the academic and the professional.

So, check out the Students Guide to Social Media, tell us what you think, and if you’d like to steal it, feel free.

 

 

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Import your floorplans into Prezi to create an interactive map

04 Nov

A couple of years ago I wrote about some interactive maps we’d made of the Library, which we used for induction and teaching – they went down very well. The students are much more engaged by a slick Prezi than a tired PowerPoint, and it’s also very practical to have information about the library geographically located in a map, rather than in linear slides. So the maps worked really well as stand-alone web objects to be viewed independently by students and staff, as well as actual materials for live presentations and workshops.

You can read the post – Student Induction, Libraries, Prezi, and Interactive Maps – here; it also contains an embedded Prezi map, with which to compare the new version I’ve created below.

In 2012 we tried to improve the maps a little, including embedded a lot of videos in them – things like the virtual tour, but also information at the point of need, for example ’1 minute on… how to photocopy and scan’ next to where the printer/scanners are on the map.

This year, we did something I’ve wanted to do from the start, which is import floor plans to Prezi and create the maps based on those. Previously we simply didn’t have good enough floor-plans in a format I could use – hence having an outline of the Library buildings (drawn by someone in the Digital Library team), somewhat awkwardly divided up by me using lines and boxes. Now though, we have a MUCH better interactive map, the basis of which is an imported PDF of our floor plans.

Here is the generic map we display on our Info for New Students page (as always I’d recommend going into Full-Screen mode to view this – press the Start Prezi button then once it loads, click the box icon in the bottom-right corner):

We experimented with various ways of representing the different floors: separate maps for each floor, or one map but with box-outs containing the other floors, for example. In the end we opted for making the ground floor plan of the overall building take up most of each ground floor, but with the other floors contained within the same space. (That doesn’t make much sense; you’ll see what I mean if you look at the map.)

Unexpected benefits

Once again the response from the students was really good. Quite a lot of our induction talks happen as part of wider introductions to the course, from academics, the Student Union, Careers office etc – just the fact that we aren’t using PPT and they all are makes the students sit up and take notice. They’ve often not seen Prezi before so are impressed by the ability to zoom in on different parts of the Library and talk about them. It really does have more impact, and make people more aware of what you’re saying about the Library, than a PowerPoint presentation. (And I say that as someone who still likes and uses PPT a lot, including for a lot of teaching.)

That is the expected benefit of using Prezi, but each year another benefit that occurs is the map instigates conversations with the academics. People from the Departments we’re presenting in come up to us and want to talk about the Prezi – they’re often impressed by it, and they appreciate the fact that the students took notice of it. I really do think I’ve found it easier to work with departments after they’ve seen me using Prezi; it serves as a jumping off point / builds bridges. (Bit of a mix of metaphors there but you get what I mean!)

If you want to try making your own interactive map, here’s how

The process we followed at York was this:

  1. Open a new Prezi and edit the template so it reflected our branding
  2. Import the floorplans as a PDF. When you import as a PDF each page of becomes a seperate object on the canvas, to be manipulated: picked up, shrunk, stretched, etc
  3. Stretched the overall top-down view of the Library so it was absolutely massive – after all, everything else has to fit inside it
  4. Placed the individual building plans within the stretched top-down view
  5. Annotated the maps with further information by simply double clicking anywhere on the canvas to type
  6. Put in photographs to give the audience a better idea of where they were in the building
  7. Embedded YouTube vids at all appropriate places (this is very easy with Prezi – you just need the video’s URL)
  8. Saved a copy – individual Academic Liaison Librarians then took the generic map and made bespoke versions for each department
  9. Made different versions, by copying the maps, to suit specific needs – so edited the ‘path’ (the order in which the Prezi moves through all the text and pictures on the canvas) to make e.g. 5 or 6 key points only for a 10 minute presentation, or every single thing on the map for the stand-alone web version
    ..

An example of a different version of the map (as in point 9) is this iteration I made for my History of Art PG students, with subject-specific information added and non-essential path-points taken out:

We also use Prezi for some teaching but not all. So for my History of Art 1st years, with whom I have an hour on Texts and an hour on images, I use PowerPoint for the Finding Texts session, and Prezi for the Finding Images. The latter was created using a Prezi template – these are really good if you need something nice looking in a hurry. It took me around 2 hours to turn my predecessors PPT into the Prezi you see there.

Non-York examples

Here are other takes on the interactive map:

If you have examples I can add me list, or any comments or questions, let me know below!

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