#fote13 – Some remote observations (including on Open Access)

Today I have been following tweets from the Future of Technology in Education event (#fote13) which a lot of my Twitter contacts seem to have attended.  Interestingly, it included some content on Open Access, less encouraging is that according to this blog at least the only question emerging early on was “so what else is new?”.

This made me think back to my previous comment that (learning technology) conferences all too easily preach to the converted.  Contrast this to Noam Chomsky, who I have been catching up with a bit of late, who successfully seems to suggest a way forward at the end of speeches/Q&As.  Admittedly, those ways forward may be difficult, even unrealistic, but he does seem to do a good job of at least proposing something.

Open Access interests me partly as it was a fairly big topic when I did my MA but also in that it offers alternatives to very established business models, which at the very least makes it worthy of attention considering how entrenched some are. Pre and prior to the MA I have attended a number of sessions over the years where the feeling in the room has been academics/librarians vs publishers and its interesting that Open Access models still seem to revert to that or concerns around quality.  The alternative discourse then becomes publishers saying ‘well you don’t want Amazon to win do you?’ when it perhaps should be academics saying ‘okay so what about self publishing?’.  Even though the web has various platforms for self publishing the argument seems to be that take up doesn’t happen due to the RAE, or equivalents, or that Amazon is already the one-stop shop.  This is how I see it though…

Accenture’s offering to help publishers establish new digital business models is an interesting development but also surely too little too late for those who have not progressed already, especially considering that the publishing industry is itself dominated by a fairly small number of big players (and even more so at the delivery level with Amazon, Play and iTunes dominating digital distribution).

For universities, the real value in MOOCs seems to be that it is bringing up old debates on improving the format of university courses and I would hope the outcome will be:

  1. A chance to reinvigorate the ‘university press’, with iBooks, Kindle and other formats bringing in funding.  If Korean secondary school teachers can make millions of dollars selling videos online surely UK academics could make a few quid via rethinking scholarly communication as mentioned above?
  2. Publicly funded research made available publicly.  Papers, yes, but also make academics disseminate via Wikipedia, etc.
  3. A better offering of varied course length/types for different audiences.  Foundation degrees were a start, but there is plenty of room for MOOCs to influence the pre and post degree skill/knowledge set (I’m presuming the degree already has plenty of online/blended elements – if it does not it more than likely should have had about 5 years ago).

All of the above would mean big changes for HE organizations and I suspect discussion will inevitably run and run, meaning plenty more conferences on such areas.  Ultimately they could find themselves in a more diversified industry but ultimately that makes sense – seeking revenue streams away from the traditional under/postgraduate teaching/research restraints.

New academic year – state of higher education (aka lessons from the media, Stephen Fry and Cengage)

A new academic year and renewed, but no doubt short lived, interest in the media for (higher) education.  The BBC’s On The Money advocated the continued value of a degree in face of renewed interest in apprenticeships and ongoing tuition fee burdens.  Meanwhile The Guardian ran a story on the negative impacts of the rises in degree seeking students numbers, the comments including some ‘interesting’, but valid, ones on how industry, economic and education policy still do not seem to be aligned.

Personally I always like to think of education in the terms of Stephen Fry’s memoirs – “a university is not, thank heavens, a place for vocational instruction, it has nothing to do with training for a working life and career, it is a place for education, something quite different.  A real education takes place, not in the lecture hall or library, but in the rooms of friends”.  I perhaps exaggerate my support for what he calls a “loose learning” experience, especially of the late ‘70s Cambridge kind, but in hindsight his experience was similar to mine, I transformed between 18 and 21.  Although I acknowledge there are other ways to do it, I do not think going into the management training scheme I was offered at 18 would have led to me becoming as ‘rounded’ a person as I am now, albeit one still in debt to the Student Loan Company decades on.

On The Money’s host and panel still found, in 2013, that they could make jokey remarks about getting up late, staying up late and enjoying ‘dating’ whilst a student.  We seem to have created a perverse situation where we tell students they should be enjoying themselves but effectively force them into a world of debt worries and part time work.  I could only complete my BA through parental support (ably assisted by the cheapest rents of any UK university city), the fact tuition fees were much less then than now and when it came to my MA I worked 9am-10pm for a fair percentage of the time (university in the day and shop work in the evenings – with an hour or so commute at the end of the day).  It is this postgraduate spell which creates my empathy for today’s undergraduates, I did not enjoy myself in the way I did as an undergraduate and I did not take away a full ‘education’, it was very much about passing the vocationally-focused course.  The growth in student numbers, highlighted by The Guardian, has created the situation that degrees are, as it describes, used as a differentiator for any kind of job description (when I’ve advertised for jobs the logic has been that a graduate should guarantee a certain grasp of English that a school level qualification would not) and we are really now talking about postgraduate qualifications as the way into a particular workplace.  In this regard Mr Fry is perhaps correct that undergraduates would be better looking for liberal arts grounding but the postgraduate costs are such that people are jumping in to a profession centric undergraduate degree, limiting their options afterward.  The realities of today’s job market versus the need to educate people to be flexible in tomorrow’s are the great challenge created by tuition fees in my opinion, people simply cannot afford to reskill in the way the country should need them to.  There has been much in the press about a lack of anti-cyber crime skills, presumably there are un(der)employed computer science graduates who would love the option to study that area to a higher level but simply would not be able to afford the fees (presuming training providers can get the course out in the first place).

This all said, there seems to be less bad news in the press about the economic malaise facing education than last year, perhaps as the HE funding landscape has had a year to readjust.  However, a warning of the long feared ‘education bubble’ has come from the bankruptcy of Cengage (excellently covered in this article).  Whilst it is easy to consider that OER, MOOCs and the resources available on the Open Web have crippled Cengage it is a clear warning to those expecting guaranteed results from investment in education.  Indeed it is perhaps a warning against specialist organisations, in publishing or anything else, going it alone rather than having a larger body to absorb losses.  YouTube, for example, is infamously expensive to run but via its own marketing and Google’s muscle can continue.  Cengage seems to have left itself open to collapse unlike education publishing within bigger organisations such as McGraw-Hill or Pearson.  Perhaps the publishers saw the collapse coming but it is noticeable that, after years of complaining at publishers holding onto materials and charging too much, that there is now the risk that really high quality products are lost to the world’s educators and students.  It is simply not the case to say the web will serve everything you would need to educate, self publishing may be a solution but the potential volume of digitisation and the scope for innovative design means that there will surely be a room for the for-profit sector.  Indeed their real value may be in capturing subject expertise from industry, such as cyber detection, for students where the professional does not perceive a career in academia as the correct one for themselves.  Whilst JISC and others have worked with partners in digitisation and other areas I would see this as a key area for academic publishers to improve upon, they seem the natural conduit for bringing business and academia better aligned and they might just make some money in the process.

CILIP rebrand part two – aka for the love of ‘qualifications’

I had not intended to follow up my previous post with another but the disaster* that has been the CILIP corporate rebranding exercise has perhaps allowed for just as big an issue to go seemingly unnoticed.
This elephant in the room is what is happening to CILIP Qualifications.  Firstly, I will admit it’s not all bad but this just seems to make it even more disconcerting, the PKSB is good (as I’ve already suggested) and the simplifications in process make sense.   So what’s bad then?  Well…
  1. Fixed time (20 hours) for CPD – many members will know the problems this causes in their industries.  Lawyers, accountants, teachers and many more have professions backed by timesheet driven box ticking – no focus on learning outcomes or application of learning in the workplace or other professional activity.  Building a portfolio of evidence can be a pain but if we genuinely want reflective practitioners, working from a strong research basis, then portfolios are far better than saying ‘yep I’ve attended a course for two hours’.  This time driven approach is also difficult in light of 70/20/10 and other models which recognize the fuzziness of informal learning.  Again a portfolio, which for many people will be based on a blog they are maintaining anyway, allows for better recognition, articulation and reflection of and on learning.  I presume this is a change to encourage members to re-validate chartered status rather than doing it once and then letting it lapse, I fear it will simply water down the status of the ‘chartered’ role.  Of course a name change, from CILIP, within the rebrand may do this anyway.
  2. “Registration” – from primary school to Ellis Island this implies, to me, something you have to do.  Something you are forced into to make sure a greater power is aware you exist.  This is not how I envision my professionalism.  It is a tricky one, granted, but why not ‘career path’, ‘development path’, etc?  Perhaps the logic is that new professionals can be told to ensure they are ‘professionally registered’.  However, it again implies something you are doing for the good of CILIP rather than yourself.
* I’m taking “disaster” as the correct term on the basis that:
  • it has split the membership (the General Meeting vote being roughly 50/50) and undoubtedly alienated many people (the c.90% of members who did not vote).
  • correctly singled out on JISCmail lists and elsewhere as how not to perform change or communication management.
  • seemingly led to CILIP HQ being on the defensive and even less representative of the members than normal; the decision to call on branches and groups to support the rebrand seemed particularly odd as branches should be the conduit for membership concerns, not the other way around.
  • it even led to a horribly tabloid piece in The Times.
What does this all mean – well it encourages me to become even more withdrawn from the organization.  Indeed I may well fall into the ‘paying my dues and revalidating for the sake of it’ group I hint at above.  Amazing that a group I had such enthusiasm for six or so years ago can sap it away from you quite so impressively.

CILIP rebranding and professional futures

Things have moved on quickly since I first drafted bits of this post (I’ve been away from home) but its still useful for my own reflections on what is happening…

Back at the start of the year there were a number of events which considered the future of the ‘information profession’.  I had planned to blog my thoughts on the topic at the time but did not get around to it.  However, the recent CILIP survey related to a proposed re-branding and the resulting outrage/discussion got me thinking about it again.

Firstly, some personal background:

When I first joined a (law sector) information team the suggestion was largely that CILIP would be irrelevant to me.  When I completed my MA, the lecturers were far more positive about the organization, the message I took away was very much “you get out what you put in”.  As a result, once I was in a ‘professional’ post, I was keen to get involved and volunteered for the local professional development group’s committee.  That committee was not short of members so I eventually joined the local branch committee instead.  After a couple of years I then stepped down as I could not commit the time due to starting an MSc course.  When on the committee I performed the “communications officer” role and can testify to problems with the current CILIP brand, website, typeface, etc from that role in setting up new web pages, Twitter feeds, etc.

Therefore, within a relatively short space of time, I had gone from graduate post, to postgrad student, to active member and through to completing another course and being a lurker.  Partly due to my work, the changing workplace and that second postgrad course I now have a quite complex work profile, as mentioned in previous posts CILIP (even though it is an umbrella organization aiming to cover a wide array of roles) is only one of a number of organizations that relate to my professional identify.

Thoughts on professional futures and CILIP’s rebranding:

The CILIP president’s blog post on the rebrand hints at some major issues with the organization:

One of my responsibilities as CILIP President is to act as a conduit between members and CILIP Council and senior staff…in the interests of transparency that the first I knew of the contents of the survey was when it was presented to me last Friday afternoon

A lack of harmony between members, staff and the complex setup of groups, branches and council seems to foster a lack of genuine collaboration within the organization.  The second point, on the President not having seen the survey in advance, seems particularly odd and indicative in that a person who holds that position is not involved from the offset.  Yet that would be wrong too, CILIP should be as strong as its members – not offering them a longer list of suggestions for something as important as the organization’s name seems odd at best and against the membership at worst.  The one thing I do hope for is that any new tagline recognizes what the organization represents “members of the information community” not representing “for the information community”. Whilst advocacy is a key part of CILIP’s role it should not be seen as distinct from its members/staff.  I know there are legacy issues about not being a trade union but the gap between CILIP HQ and members threatens the organization, in my opinion, more than downsizing in public libraries, off-shoring in corporate libraries, Higher Education budget cuts or any other challenge.

The President’s blog post later mentions that the current governance review will hopefully resolve some of these issues.  However, I don’t see why the idea of the re-brand has had to come so out of the blue.  Yes, the world and the CILIP organization are changing, yes the CILIP brand has always been questionable and, yes, it will continue to be so.  My main concern really is that, as a professional organization, crowd sourcing possible names would have been just one example of making it more democratic, as the organization should be, than a survey on suggested names.  Although it is important to point out that the difference between ‘survey’ and ‘vote’/’election’ seems to be lost of some members.

So, overall, I’m not against a rebrand but I do not think it is the correct time economically (the £35,000 budget being at least 180 members annual fees if my lazy maths is correct)  and it certainly has not been handled in the correct way even though there are not a lack of good examples in related sectors.  JISC, for example, has a lot of shared interests but whilst it has improved itself they have been a mix of internal improvements (better website, etc), crowd sourcing (which services could be stopped) and funder/owner led (HEFCE changes, etc).  JISC has not always done this perfectly, but better than CILIP seem to have managed at least, and JISC was/is a more complex beast.  CIPD, for example, has a very clear voice and has its opinions voiced through the media, by those in positions agreed with the membership, more efficiently than CILIP seems to manage.

What for professional futures?  The point which has concerned many is that the survey’s proposed names all drop the ‘library’ word with “information” staying or both replaced by “knowledge”.  This seems a mistake, surely any future proofing of the, once, ‘Library Association’ brand has to maintain the L word or it loses its relevance/grounding?  Also the suggested names were awful and I did comment to this effect on the survey before the Twitterati backlash – ‘The Knowledge People’ sounds like a recruitment agency, ‘Information UK’ like a government agency or freedom of information watchdog [apologies if I’ve got those names wrong].  The President acknowledges this so, again, why bother with the survey step before crowdsourcing?  This said, the term ‘library’ is far from popular, as pointed out by the President.  Indeed at the CLSIG event earlier in the year an information scientist made it clear in the Q&A they didn’t feel associated with CILIP and disappointed that a ‘future of the profession’ evening was a talk about CILIP’s future (and I am pretty sure Francis did not mention a rebrand).  There remain questions here over the original foundation (i.e. it wasn’t just the Library Association) and as such the original purpose of CILIP is still being questioned, as such it doesn’t fill you with any confidence that a rebranded CILIP will be any better than the current.

Back a few months (around the same time as the CLSIG event) and AIIM was running a webinar to report that its members had completed surveys saying they chose a preference for the title “Information Professional”.  Now this is ‘CILIPs territory’ so to speak and you could well say that with today’s specializations the ‘library’ component is all that keeps CILIP unique from AIIM, BCS, etc.  Indeed there was an interesting suggestion in the AIIM session that effectively IT professionals want a rebrand and that rebrand is some BCS/CILIP hybrid in terms of UK organizations.  Personally I fear that, in the globalized workplace, CILIP should be branching out to the international groups it already has relations with or risk losing relevance for those within the changing workplace.

Finally, for now at least, is the point about CILIP dropping the ‘chartered’ tag.  I suggested in the survey that this is a clear mistake, it is the one thing which keeps an organization above an informal learning and networking organization.  Any dropping of this would, I fear, suggests a deprofessionalization.  If you deprofessionalize CILIP then there is far less value in it is an umbrella organization and there would be fewer reasons for keeping the expense of the parent organization and not simply branching off the special interest groups into their own organizations.

Overall, it is difficult to reposition an organization, especially one that arguably is not needed, but considering the predictable feedback it is odd that the exercise has been conducted in such a way.  There is also a risk of underplaying the public’s understanding of the ‘librarian’ role – I hold that title in my job title, partly because my employer still associates it with a certain skill set.  ‘Information professional’ may be a professionals’ identity but I would doubt it holds such a sway.  Ultimately the answer may be for CILIP to be far less inward looking in preparing rebrands and future advocacy and instead ask the likes of the BBC and major employers what make sense to them.  This would be a sensible suggestion to other groups too, for example, and to show I’m not just picking on information professionals, ‘Instructional Designers’ disagree over their identity too.

A Future For CILIP?

One thing that does seem to be emerging from this is a re-invigoration of CILIP as the training/accreditation body – their own website release stresses some of the things in the pipeline:

some new offers have been launched, including the Professional Knowledge and Skills Base and others will follow – such as a new qualifications scheme, new accreditation of courses and a new virtual learning environment on a refreshed website.

This might work provided the organization recognizes the potential for members, and their employers, to influence the agenda and the PKSB, training, etc. keeps up with change.

Another key item, for me, would be to move Umbrella from its biannual setup to something different.  A free event with paid for sections would be best – especially considering the success of CIPD, Learning and Skills, etc. in this regard.

What I will miss about my online MSC #1

Now it might be very librarian of me to say that I will miss the library…but I will.

Once my access to the, easy to use single-sign-on, university portal ends I will not be able to access the various ejournals I have kept an eye on over the three years, many in areas such as business and health not directly related to the education/technology schools of my course.  In the form of non-Open Access journals the publishers are effectively helping the universities maintain a legacy control on knowledge from the pre-web era.

Certainly I opted for the course I did knowing I could use the excellent SCONUL Access scheme.  SCONUL Access allows students, at participating UK Higher Education institutions, to visit other physical collections.  However, it was the ejournals that were really useful for my general development even with some of the problems in trying to access materials across different vendor platforms.

Of course University libraries have supported Open Access for a long time now and hopefully this can continue so libraries are empowered to play their part in getting students attached to key information sources.  Students can then go on using and contributing to these resources, and other quality resources and peer reviewed activities, during the rest of their lifelong learning.  The possible death of publishing has been well documented elsewhere, all I would say is that the journals do not just need to be open/affordable but also as easy to use/access as any other thought leadership in the modern era.