on teachers feeling disrupted …

Lifeboat-drillMan the lifeboats!

Teachers are feeling disrupted here.  There’s a lot of stress.

Librarians, as a profession, have been rowing along in our lifeboats for a while now, but I think we’re going to be getting a lot more company (and, hopefully, some help with the rowing).  In the twelve years I’ve been a librarian, we have gone from from a world of information scarcity to a world of information abundance.  In a world where students and parents walk around the planet with computers in their cell phones a library’s business model and the CEO’s or Head of School’s perceptions about a librarian’s value-add to an institution had better change or the library will be seen as little more than an expensive department providing services that are no longer essential. In other words, the library becomes a cost cutting opportunity.  That, you see, is why we’ve been rowing along in our lifeboats while the rest of our independent school faculty colleagues cruised along on the Lido Deck.

Alas, I think that the pleasure cruise on the Lido Deck might soon be over–at least for a while. There have been increasing numbers of stories, recently, about the disruptive forces beginning to be felt in higher education.  This morning, NPR ran an interview with author Jeffrey Selingo about his book College (Un)Bound: the Future of Higher Ed and What It Means for Students where he discusses disruptive forces like MOOCs that are quickly making the business models of many middle tier institutions of higher learning obsolete.  In Napster, Udacity, and the Academy, Clay Shirky provides one of the clearest descriptions of just how the disruptions are playing out that I’ve read to date.

Ultimately, teachers feeling disrupted here is a good thing as complacency is almost always a really bad state for any institution or organization to be in.  It bothers me, however, that I suspect many of our teachers are ascribing their feelings of disruption (and in many cases the anxiety that comes with disruption) to the introduction of a 1:1 computing initiative that is being launched with our seventh graders in the fall.  To put it bluntly, they are wrong.

1:1 computing’s arrival at our doorstep is not causing disruption in our lives, 1:1 computing has arrived because a disruption in our lives has already occurred–teachers, however, are only now finally having little choice but to have to take notice.  Let’s face it, disruption is stressful and disruption is hard so the typical human (well, me at least) often makes it a habit to ignore stressful and hard things for as long as possible.

For librarians, while it probably isn’t the state-of-being or condition that I’d choose if it were up to me, being in a state of disruption, flux, and change is just a state that we, as librarians, have come to accept as our new modus operandi.  Perhaps the silver lining  in the black cloud (black cloud if you are a traditionalists at least), is that because the disruptive change in information access affected librarians so early and so very starkly, it was impossible for us to ignore.  When wonderful colleagues in other independent schools running wonderful, but traditional, programs retired and didn’t get replaced, we had no choice but to take note.  When our counter-parts in public schools and public libraries were the first to receive pink slips when budgets got tight, we had no choice but to take note.  As a result, now that the disruption that swept over libraries during the last ten years has found it’s way into the halls of higher education and the protective bubble around the cozy world inhabited by independent school teachers has also finally been burst.  Teachers are realizing that the curtain has been pulled back and projects and lessons that were “best practice” ten years ago, no longer fit that bill.

Don’t get me wrong, libraries are still under the gun to reinvent ourselves, but we have a lot more company in the reinvention boat.  And … We’ve had a ten year head start on thinking through what our programs should be and where our programs should go.  It’s quite scary and quite exciting all at once! Welcome to our world, folks!  Now, grab an oar and start rowing or get the heck out of the boat.  We have no room for dead weight.

The USS Learn or Retire has set sail …


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