A Bit on Learning Environments

As is so often the case, a blog languishes when a lot is going on. Over the past year and a half a lot has been going on: a new job, family stuff, and most recently some new focuses at work.

It’s an exciting time to be at Tech. We’re aligning more closely with our strategic plan, we’re restructuring in ways that will enable better communication and collaboration, and generally it’s exciting to be positioning ourselves to meet our new mission, vision, and aspirational identity. Some of us are finding ourselves in new roles as a result of this focus, and on July 1, I’ll begin the role of Director for Learning Environments at Virginia Tech.

Today I had the opportunity to begin speaking publicly about what that means at an NLI workshop: Transforming research, teaching, and learning through the new University Libraries.  I suspect this is the first of many chances to hone the message around what “Learning Environments” are, but to briefly describe it, we’re framing Learning Environments as the environments in which learning takes place, as well as the services and partnerships that are situated in those environments.  In our thinking, this includes online learning environments, circulation, reference, point-of-need (roving assistance), spaces, and academic programming. Putting these units and services under one umbrella will allow for some really strong partnerships and collaborations within the library, as well as providing a context from which we can offer consistent learner experience and messages that reinforce one another.

The larger Learning Division also includes Learning Services, where a lot of traditional instruction falls. Learning Environments and Services will be close partners as we are both stakeholders in a number of overlapping areas (such as classrooms, online learning, etc).

If you’re interested in our first stabs at outlining this work, we posted a LibGuide for the workshop and I’ve posted my slides here. (I’m hoping by the third or fourth time I talk on this topic I can move the slides to something more typical of my presentation style. :) )

The Importance of a Research Agenda

I’ve been having conversations lately about the importance of a research agenda.

To me, it seems very closely to the discussion of goals that pops up from time to time. Some of my professional friends swear by goals, others swear by taking opportunities as they arise. (My answer, in that debate, is much less about a specific goal and more about choosing activities and opportunities that mesh with my mission.)

Similarly: do you have a single, clear focus for your research projects, or do you take opportunities as they arise? So far, in my professional life, I’ve had a broad topic that I’d classify as my “research agenda” but I also publish on the things I’m doing in my work to help share the ideas that have worked in my experience. I also take opportunities that arise, as well, often writing or preparing talks based on a request someone has made (which is often rooted in either my research agenda or the work that I’m doing).

That means my publishing and presenting is all over the map. I have dealt with instruction, design, and technology most often, because I try to build in a chance to write or speak into any new project I take on and a lot of my work has been in those two realms. I also have written about epistemological connections to library issues, which is closer to my research interest. I have been asked to write on issues related to feminist theory and information ethics, probably due to my academic background in those areas and how I wrote on related topics throughout library school. There doesn’t appear to be a focus in my work but that’s largely because “work” is too broad of a bucket. Some professional involvement is about (essentially) reporting, some is about my research agenda, and some is basically responding to an information need that I’ve been requested to fill.

I’m not sure I’d want it to be more focused than that. I like framing the work this way. It does make me think that perhaps some kind of indicator on a CV could help committees understand more of what they are looking at and the research and professional areas of interest of a given individual.

What do you think? If you’re in libraries: does your research agenda match your job? How much do you feel the pull to stick to your specific research agenda?