A few weeks back I took my sons to the Fayetteville Free Library to learn more about their new Fab Lab and see the 3D MakerBot printer in action. While we were busy printing out a robot and ring on the 3D printer, the librarian (Lauren) mentioned an upcoming open house for the Fab Lab that would include the 3D printer, making jewelry, and making things in Duct Tape…if she could find someone who made things with Duct Tape. Riley, my 11 year old said “I make stuff with Duct Tape,” and before Lauren knew what was happening he was flipping though pictures of his creations on his phone.
“Great” said Lauren without missing a beat “you could teach it.” And he did.
You should have seen him beam when Sue Considine, the amazing director of Fayetteville Free, personally thanked him for helping out.
A week later my youngest son said he had a great idea for this year’s science fair. “I’m going to design the library of the future!” he declared. Within 10 minutes he had sketched it out on paper.
20 minutes after that he and his brother were building the library in Minecraft, a popular game akin to SecondLife, or SimCity. Sure they could build it in Legos (Andrew later did), but Legos don’t have working roller-coasters and you can’t invite your friends from around the world to walk through it (there are as I write this over 23 million registered Minecraft users).
The next Saturday we took the “library” on a disk back to Fayetteville and printed it out.
Now you might think this is the point when I to talk about millennials, or the power of Fab Labs (I don’t buy the millennial argument and I hope you know I LOVE the Maker Space in the library concept). But that’s not what sticks out to me about this story. What sticks out to me is the motivations my sons had, and how that was encouraged by the librarian. Sure the 3D printing was cool, but that’s not what hooked Riley. What hooked him was when Lauren asked him to teach the duct tape class. What got him hooked was when he came into the Fab Lab two weeks later and saw that the librarians had hung his duct tape Fab Lab sign on the door. What got Andrew hooked was sitting in front of the maker bot while it printed during the open house and got to explain how it worked, and what it was printing.
Recently – as our LIS students are hearing about participation, reading the Atlas of New Librarianship, following the Library of the People as part of Occupy Wall Street – they have been stopping by faculty offices and asking why we teach what we do, and forming their own lecture series to fill in the gaps they perceive in their preparations. They have reached out to the Hack Library School blog, and have been doing a pretty good job of usurping the school-wide tech blog. They want to know when we talk about the value and power of librarians regardless of institution, why they are being taught to only work in one type of institution. They want to know why curriculum only gets overhauled every 10 years. They are holding the faculty to account in ways as never before. To paraphrase the famous line – the students are revolting…and I think I like it.
And in the midst of this, the faculty are looking for new models. One that is of frequent conversation is the “flipped classroom.” The one where “students do homework in class and classwork at home.” The one where students do project based work in the class and listen to the lectures online. So in the middle of this discussion – in the middle of 3D printing – in the middle of student run symposia – it hits me. I apologize to all who find this obvious, and I could probably have said these words before, but it really hit home for me:
While we sit here and debate when we deliver our lectures, or how long they are, or in what channels; the real flip is already occurring. The lecture? The long form or short form, oratory? That is not the point of this. They all have a place. No, the real flip is faculty are losing control. The real flip is from us – LIS faculty – thinking we have the content and we are just debating the delivery to the truth that we need to relearn the content continuously right along side our students.
That last bit, the relearning bit, that is crucial. This is not simply ceding control, or turning education into one long do it yourself project. There is value in a good teacher and a good researcher – they will always have a strong ability to guide. No, it is about realizing that truly co-owning a curriculum, or library program, requires constant reinvention if for nothing else than applying it to new contexts. It is why the university model of researcher/teacher has worked so well for so long…it is in the disconnection of these two things that we run into breakdowns.
The same is true of our libraries. The Maker Space concept does not work unless all are involved – librarians, members, experts, children, parents – understand that they are all learning at the same time. If a kid shows up and is trained and treated as a consumer, the Maker Space will fail. No $2,000 MakerBot can match the quality of a store bought lego or toy. No, the trick is to show the child, or parent, or member, that they are part of a learning process and discovering something new – if only it is new to them. They have to be in on the truth that we are all just figuring this out as we go. And if we have it all figured out? Time to try something new.
I know there are long discussions to be had about the role of experts, the value of experience, and pedagogy of well known and new areas. I get that. I know I am oversimplifying here, but that is kind of the point. Those discussion of expertise and pedagogy need to be just that – discussions – conversations. They are messy, and there is a huge amount of ego riding on them. And yet, if we don’t open those conversations up beyond the faculty – beyond the librarians, then we have shut down a most remarkable opportunity for motivation and student/member involvement. And if we shut down conversation we have failed in our mission.