Welcoming U-M Librarians into the Course Management Party

crowded dance party with disco lights

By Rio H2K (Rio H2K) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

We’ve been invited to the party, and it appears that makes us unusual among academic libraries.  Check out the Storify thread on the ACRL's recent Instructional Technologies Twitter chat from September 23, in which:

Librarians discussed the Summer 2015 Tips and Trends on Libraries in the Learning Management System and shared ideas about [dis]satisfaction with their library’s presence in the LMS, as well as tips for communicating with faculty and developing an LMS presence.[1]

By contrast, the U-M Librarians have not merely been invited as the token nerds to the cool kids bash so that, you know, the parents think it's legit. Nope. And we’ve not merely been enlisted by hipsters looking for a few warm bodies to pummel in the mosh pit. Nope. Here in Ann Arbor,  we have been welcomed to the party by folks who dance regularly, and dance well, and are looking for new partners.

Okay, so, the metaphor pretty much breaks down at this point. After all, I've got the IT folks cast as the cool kids.

Besides, the party hasn't really started yet, because fewer than 50% of our class websites are currently hosted in Canvas. It's more like we're on the party planning committee. Even then, we're not just sitting silently at the table hoping not to get called on. We're offering our various expertise and doing significant work; UM ITS colleagues are taking our suggestions and pushing through our feature and functionality requests; and in Fall 2016 when the whole university is hipping' and hoppin' and rockin' in Canvas, U-M librarians will definitely be In The House.

So, Diana, what are you actually saying? What’s your Library Insight?

I'm saying that when U-M ITS first began piloting Canvas last year, it was obvious that the Library as resource and Librarians as partners had been overlooked by Instructure-dot-com.  This didn't necessarily surprise us, since Instructure began as a platform for K-12, where the library/librarian is too often seen as a nice-to-have rather than integral to the mission of the institution.

That was in fairly stark contrast to the footprint we had worked to stake out for ourselves in Sakai/CTools.  There, instructors could add individuals to a course site in the role of "Librarian."  They could easily add the Library Help tool to their site, giving students direct access to Ask A Librarian.  The Library Search tool similarly gave students direct access to our Mirlyn catalogue from the site navigation; likewise, the Library Materials tool for direct access to physical course reserves and the Library Research Guides tool for embedding a SpringShare LibGuide.

U-M Library IT has significant experience collaborating on the initial development and implementation of these orignal CTools tools, and a number of current Library IT staff have worked for the local Sakai development team.

Revisiting the teenaged dance fantasy for just a moment: the Library and ITS have history together. We've been hanging out on the block for years -- building forts, walking to school together.  That may help to explain why we are now being so warmly received in this new Canvas collaboration, and why it might be so good for us compared to the experience of other academic libraries.

This is the kind of dividend that perhaps wasn’t obvious when U-M invested in Sakai as a founding member back in the early 2000’s, or when the experiment of the Digital Media Commons put all of us CTools folks in the same room for a dozen years.  Those of us involved directly in the project back then learned the dance of software development together.  Line dance, circle dance, waltz, Moonwalk: rhetorical moves that we may or may not perform every day anymore, but maneuvers that can still be performed efficiently and elegantly with trusted partners.

U-M may be the only member of the CIC or UNIZIN with a full complement of library tools installed in the default template for all course sites in Winter 2016.  We may be one of the only Canvas schools with the “Librarian” role on the dropdown list for adding people to sites.  As far as I can tell, no other institutions have given their subject specialists the option to become special course management administrators for their departments or units. And when we invited the SpringShare account rep and programmer to a conference call with library and ITS staff, they jumped at the opportunity.  They had been developing their LibGuides LTI tool in a black box without input from anyone with Course Management System admin privileges.

I’m looking forward to us U-M librarians rocking the Canvas dance floor in this next 12 months.  Let’s show them what we’ve got (see Ferris Bueller), and by "them" I mean instructors, departmental administration, IT professionals, academic librarians at other institutions, even vendors. Oh, and STUDENTS.  Did I mention students?  

If you’re not sure about your own next steps, feel free to contact me directly, or if you’re looking for more general guidance about how to better integrate library instruction into the classes you support, contact the Instructor College Steering Committee.

Until then, [dlp]

[1] Bernsten, Susanne. “Re: Storify of recent Twitter chat about Libraries in Learning Management Systems.” Message to ili-l@lists.ala.org. 2 October 2015. Email.