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Training, Integration, and Identity: A Roundtable Discussion of Undergraduate and Professional Master’s Programs in iSchools

Libby Hemphill and I are hosting a roundtable discussion at the 2008 iConference, hosted by UCLA, at the end of February.

Professional students, whether undergraduates or masters’ students, represent a significant portion of the iSchool community. How do iSchools effectively educate those students while continuing to develop successful research programs? This roundtable discussion will focus on how iSchools educate their professional students and engage them in the research aspect of their programs. Innovative approaches to training and integration will be the central theme of this discussion. In an iSchool – where students training for professions including librarianship, information policy, human-centered computing, preservation and researchers exploring such topics as incentive-centered design, forensic informatics, computational linguistics, and digital libraries have both competing and complimentary goals – the potentials for collaboration, innovation, misunderstanding, and disharmony are all high.

The annual iConference provides a unique opportunity for us, as a community, to discuss the roles our professional students have in shaping our identity and our practices. The proposed roundtable will invite participants to discuss questions such as:

  • What should the role of research in training information professionals be?
  • How can we best engage professional students in our research?
  • How do iSchools address the unique curricular challenges we face in preparing students for a very wide variety of careers?
  • What do we want an Information degree to signal in the marketplace?
  • What are some successes in which research and professional training have benefited one another?

Participants will share innovative approaches to professional education, best practices in engaging professional students in research programs, and remaining challenges. We intend roundtable participation to represent the diversity of iSchools’ current programs.

We’ve setup a wiki for pre-conference sharing of exemplary programs, questions, and thoughts. It’s pretty sparse right now, but we’ll be adding some of our thoughts before the conference, and we welcome your contributions!

This is a topic that I started giving more thought around the time of the 2006 iConference, and I am looking forward to the discussion in February.

Research vs Practice in Education

I’ve previously written a bit on the balance of research vs practice in professional programs, and so I was quite pleased to see this post by Dori Tunstall tonight:

Design education focuses too much on “practice” and not enough on “research.” What I mean by that controversial statement is that is that design education does not engage students with open-ended processes where there is no clear problem let alone answer.

There are a number of good points here — take a look! The end of the semester is taking its toll on my free time, so I’ll leave further reflection for the future.

Clifford Geertz and experiences that change perspectives

Clifford Geertz passed away last weekend. I’d written to a professor just a few days before that reading Interpretation of Cultures was one of those experiences that significantly shook up how I think about the world. This was really true of the entire Culture, Knowledge, and Creativity course (my first academic exposure to anthropology), but Geertz’s writings really catalyzed my shift in thinking.

I’ve been thinking some this week about other experiences that have caused similar changes in how I look at things in my day to day life. I’ve had a lot of great courses taught by excellent professors, but in the end, most of my educational progress feels pretty linear or evolutionary. To a large extent, SI504, Social Systems and Collections, is having a similar impact on me this semester, albeit at a slower pace. At the start of the semester, I was afraid this course would be not so interesting, but as surely as I find provenance and sensemaking slipping into my vocabularly, I find the ideas taking hold and making me look twice at things I would otherwise take for granted.

I want to toss this out there for general discussion. What courses and readings have changed how you think? (SI folks: I’m also thinking some about registration these days, so course recommendations are swell.) Non-academic experiences are welcome too, but I haven’t been contemplating those as much this week.

Research and professional track students

The i-Conference was two weeks ago (time seems to be going very quickly now). It was a really good experience, and I feel that I left with a much better understanding of the history of information schools and some of the challenges they (we?) face. Much of the conference was navel gazing through the lenses of other schools’ navels and in some ways this sort of brought me closer to some of the important reflection on education that I loved so much at Olin. There’s one thing, though, that’s bothering me a bit.

If you just happened to randomly walk into the conference and listen to a reasonable sampling of the discussion, you would have no idea that any of these schools have masters or undergraduate students apart from wonderful conference volunteers. One of the few times that these students were mentioned was as a way to accomplish more tedious or technical aspects of research (eg: hire students to program something) that are not of interest to PhD students or faculty. I made this remark in mixed company and got at least one “Amen,” so I’m emboldened to continue the conversation here for a bit.

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