Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thing 1: Learning things and sharing what you know

Online Communities 2010 map

It's a big world out there, and a big Internet. (The map is from xkcd, showing the approximate size and variety of online communities in 2010. It's even more complicated now.)  

Technology and resources change all the time, and it's hard to keep up with what's new, what you need to worry about, what would solve a problem for you if you only knew about it, or just what's usefully cool. One way to solve this is by building some low-effort ways to come across interesting new stuff into your life.

People sometimes refer to this as a personal learning network (or PLN). Personal, because yours won't look exactly like anyone else's. Learning, because you want to look for the people who want to share information. And a network because you'll be connected to the people you read, then to the people they read and learn from, and so on.

The best PLNs are about people being themselves. One of my favorite personal examples comes from a former job, where I was trying to help a high school senior find a reputable source to support a particular argument she wanted to make. I posted something to my personal blog, and half an hour later, I had an answer from someone who's an expert in that field, pointing me at a specific book we had in our library. I know that person from a totally different area of interest - she just had time that day to point me at the perfect thing.

Most importantly, a PLN isn't about solving an immediate need - it's about keeping you aware of other things in the world, that you might find useful next month or next semester, or next year, or next time you're considering a research project. Over time, you'll learn that some sources are great for sorting out one kind of problem, or remember than this person probably has something in their archives that will help you out.

Not everyone you know will share this kind of content. And of the people who do, some will do brand new content (like an explanation), some will share lists of links, some will share links with additional comment. Many people do more than one. Chances are, some of this will work better for you (or for a particular topic) than others. Try some different approaches and keep doing the ones that work for you.

How do you build a personal learning network? 

1) Pay attention and keep track of interesting things (blogs, sites, books, resources, authors, speakers, podcasts, and more) you come across. We'll be talking about some tech tools to do this in an upcoming Thing in this series but a notebook or some sticky notes or a plain text file or computer bookmarks can work fine. Look for things on the edge of what you already know.

2) If you're already using social media (Facebook, Twitter, RSS readers, etc.) you can do a lot by just adding a couple of resources on the topics you're interested in. Add a couple at a time, and take a look every few months to see if you need to rebalance.

3) Be a 'real' person. Don't look at people just as resources - in my own networks, the people I like most are the people who are passionate about sharing what they love (and sometimes that's library stuff, and sometimes that's a great book on some other topic.) Think about sharing what you love, too - it's a great way to connect with others, and encourage them to share neat and useful things with you.

4) Don't forget about hobbies or interests. Exploring something that's not for our job can feel a lot easier and more fun. (And we may find it easier to try something outside our comfort zone.) Plus, you might run into people who share both your hobby and your academic interests.

The Year to Improved Productivity blog has a great post that talks about more resources and research on building a learning network. 

Give it a try:  

1) Find at least 3 social media accounts, blogs, or regularly updated resources. Try for one that talks about an area of interest, one that talks about tools or resources, and one that talks about a hobby.

2) Explore at least one site that gives you brief (2-20 minute) overviews of something new. Some options include AtomicLearning (UMF subscribes, access through the MyCampus launchpad), TEDTalks (many topics), or CommonCraft (which explains technology in simple videos).

3) Set yourself a low-key goal to find a new source for your learning. Maybe that's reading a general book about a topic you don't know much about by the end of the semester. Maybe it's finding a couple more resources for your list, and checking them regularly. Maybe it's asking someone you respect (a professor, a colleague, a student, a librarian) what they've learned recently outside the classroom and how they learned it.
If you'd like some examples, you can check out some of the resources I find handy at my own blog

Thursday, September 19, 2013

14 things: 3 unexpected presentations of research.

As promised in last week's intro to 14 things, we're doing a handful of links highlighting interesting things in the world of technology. Today's list is a tour of three videos, showing off how people are using technology to research or to describe their research in ways you may not have anticipated.
Big Data + Old History is an explanation of how advances in technology help us refine masses of data to find out fascinating things. It's part of the PhD Comics series of videos of people talking about their research. (Captioned video, 2 minutes).

The Fingerprint of Stars : A longer animation from PhD Comics, this time talking about stars, astronomy, the perception of the colors of the stars. It's a great example of integrating animation, voiceover, and use of color and design to convey complex information. (Not fully captioned, but most content is captioned in the animation. About 8 minutes.) 

Bohemian Gravity: Check out Tim Blaise singing his Master's thesis on physics (or the basics of his thesis, anyway) to Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. (Music video, lyrics below if you click through to YouTube. Also about 8 minutes.)

Check in next week for our first 14 Things topic!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

14 things, coming soon

from john.schultz @ flickr : used under Creative Commons license
Have you seen the new changes in Gmail? Heard about Getting Things Done? Wondered what the fuss is about TEDtalks? Thought about Facebook's privacy settings and what they mean for you? Wanted to know about managing your email or your online notes better?

Starting next Thursday (9/19/13), we'll be hosting regular posts on these topics and many more. Every other week during the academic year, we'll have a post highlighting a particular topic or issue. Our exact list of topics and dates is flexible, because we want to be able to respond if some great new resource or some new issue comes up, but some of the posts we're planning on include:
  • Managing your email better - everything from theories of how to do it to tools to help you keep track of the emails you need to come back to. 
  • Using Google Drive for collaboration - sharing, chatting, and revision tools. 
  • Conquering your to-do list: systems for task management, and tools to help you keep track. 
  • Passwords: what's secure, why, and some ways to choose good ones. 
  • How to learn new things: developing a network of resources, plus finding help when you need it. 
  • Making better presentations: sources for great images and ways to make more effective slides. 
  • Smartphones: what the computer in your pocket can do for you. 
  • Keeping track of references and notes: Great for academic research, but also for your home life. 
  • Your digital footprint: what can other people find about you online - and what you should know about that.
  • And more! 
On the weeks we don't have a focused post, we'll be sharing a handful of interesting links on related topics. Please feel free to share more - or your own thoughts and tips - in the comments of any of these posts. You can find all our posts under the 14 Things tag.

Monday, September 9, 2013

New: featured materials displays in Mantor Library!

Remember how, in the days before Netflix, you used to go to a video store to rent movies? And the stores would sometimes have "staff picks" shelves that made you want to hang out with certain employees because their picks were quirky and smart and funny? (And some picks made you want check various crime databases, in case you were ever alone in the store with the guy who loved all the creeper movies...but I digress.)
This year, we're trying something along those lines. Every month, a display in the browsing room will feature specially selected materials. Sometimes the materials will be inspired by a special theme. For instance, this month's display honors Banned Books Week, and offers banned and challenged books from the 1950s to the very latest in controversial fiction.

So come on in, and join the forces of good by fighting censorship - check out and read a banned book.  For even more radical good times, take a selfie holding your book, and post it to the library Facebook page with the comment: "Caught Reading Banned Books", or "I'm with the Banned."  We'll see who the real Freadom Fighters are around campus!

Next month, scary movie buff Bryce will be offering up an Octoberfest of gore galore. In February, we'll be playing the dating game (as several of you have suggested) and offering up Blind Dates with Books. Those are just a couple of the features we have planned. And hey, don't be afraid to let us know what you think of our themes and choices - we love hearing from you!