Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

The Future of Academic Librarianship: MOOCs and the Robot Revolution

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

The Future of Academic Librarianship: MOOCs and the Robot Revolution

Article excerpt

Many aspects of a librarian's job require so much attention to detail that we forget to take a moment to sit back and imagine the possibilities of the information world. Lura Sanborn offers you that respite here as she ponders the future of libraries ... with robots. She describes the features of a variety of existing technologies--including a robot currently working for a Connecticut public library--and poses many questions about how digitization and artificial intelligence might affect librarian employment in the future. She combines a refreshingly light style with copious quotes from popular and academic literature. Ultimately, she urges readers to consider possibilities, what those possibilities mean for librarians as a profession, and how our information needs might be met in the future.--Editor

Digitizing education is one of the most widely discussed topics in education today. Talk of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), flipped classrooms, and online-only degrees and nanodegrees, fills our news feeds, blogs, trade publications, and conversations. Simultaneously, digital education grows at a breathtaking rate. Class Central, an aggregator and reviewer of MOOCs offered by top tier schools, writes that in 2011, three courses were offered online by Stanford, and that by July 2014, more than 1,800 courses were being offered by a plethora of universities both in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. (1) According to OCLC, more than 85 percent of higher education institutions offer some form of digital education. (2) In an early 2015 interview, Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller explained that Coursera currently has more than 10 million users in the almost 1,000 courses available on the Coursera platform. She expects that in three years Coursera will be host to 5,000 courses. (3)

You can count me in the crowd that sees open digital education as the next big equalizer and simultaneous restructurer of the academy. This restructuring is because of the potential for a flexible and responsive digital education that adjusts to student learning and offers support in areas where and when the student needs it. This additional practice simultaneously allows the student to soar in areas of particular ability and strength (instead of being wedded to a plodding common curriculum), and it allows for a truly customized, individualized, supportive educational experience, beyond what the podium-based, in-person lecture series can accomplish. The cost (pennies to register and only dollars for a completed MOOC according to two Wharton School professors), (4) the customizable potential, and equality of reach are impossibly appealing. How does the digitization of education impact librarian teaching and learning? What becomes of the old model, and what is the new model, of academic librarianship?

Nouriel Roubini, a professor at NYU's Stern School of Business, asked in his late-2014 article for Project Syndicate "will we still need so many teachers in the decades to come if the cream of the profession can produce increasingly sophisticated online courses that millions of students can take? If not, how will all of those former teachers earn a living?" (5) What if we get more specific about our pedagogues and replace "teachers" with "instruction librarians"? What will fewer on-campus courses and potentially, fewer faculty, mean for librarians? Personally, I fear for language teachers first. Using the World Lens app, you can take a picture of any sign and the app translates the sign into whichever language is desired. How long will it be before Google Glass or other wearable technology of the future automatically translates spoken word, as the words are being articulated, into any language of our choice? Next up for automation could be the driver's ed teachers as we all text away in our autonomously driving vehicles.

If academia is boiled down to rock star profs delivering online courses, as some suggest it will (MIT has been musing on this since the 1970s), (6) where does the research and instruction librarian fit in? …

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