Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

On June 12, 2005, Steve Jobs, CEO of both Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios, delivered the Stanford Commencement address on the theme of “You’ve got to find what you love.” You can see both the text and the video of the address below. It’s an excellent talk in its own right, but I thought it gave a good account of inquiry-based learning as well.

In the first part of his address, Jobs talks about dropping out of college, then taking a class in calligraphy, not because it was required, but simply because it was “beautiful, historical, artistically subtle.” He didn’t envision it as preparation for the future, but as something that had deep meaning in the present. Later, his study of calligraphy bore fruit in the design of the first Macintosh computer. As Jobs says, “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” This is closely akin to a key element of inquiry-based learning, captured in Dewey’s famous statement that “only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience are we prepared for doing the same thing in the future.” Continue reading

Why I came to library and information science

My academic career includes degrees in biology and computer science, teaching computer science in two universities, research in a high-tech, R&D firm, teaching in a college of education, and teaching now in a school of library and information science. My dissertation adviser was in philosophy, and the dissertation itself was in mathematical logic and artificial intelligence. I’ve published in a variety of journals, including those in other fields. People have often asked: Is there any rationale for this? Were you just booted from one place to another?

I could give a practical account of why I moved to a library and information science school nine years ago, but that wouldn’t explain how I think of the field and what led me to that decision. To do that, I need to start a bit earlier…


Chip in Fort Worth, 1954

When I was three years old, I enrolled along with four other children in the Frisky and Blossom Club held at the Fort Worth Children’s Museum (now the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History). Frisky and Blossom were de-scented skunks who lived in the old house that was the Museum then. The club evolved into the Museum School, the largest in the US, with over 200,000 alums. I stayed with the school, learning about plants and animals, astronomy, history, and many other topics. Most importantly, I learned how energizing learning could be when it’s connected to what we care about and how it can grow out of things in the world around us.

That interest in informal learning bolstered by museums and libraries, continued. When I was eight years old, I never missed the bookmobile when it came by our neighborhood. I was a collector of insects, sea shells, postage stamps, books, and all sorts of other things. But reading and writing were the most important means for expanding my world. It’s sad to say, but little of this occurred for me in school, which often felt like some unjustified punishment. I learned arithmetic from card and board games outside of school, but also by counting the minutes until the end of the class, the school day, or the school year. Science was as much through a chemistry set and nature study as through classes. And so on.

These experiences led me to value inquiry-based learning. They also made it harder for me to understand knowledge as confined within static categories. When I applied to college, I considered majoring in history, geology, biology, and English, but later thought philosophy or behavioral sciences might be better. For graduate school, I chose computer sciences, not because I was so enamored of the machine, but because the field appeared the be the closest to offering a general tool for interdisciplinary inquiry. My work in artificial intelligence emphasized computer natural language understanding and reasoning. That led in a more direct way than might appear at first into education. Fortunately, working on projects such as a statistics curriculum and software for high school students, or Quill, a program for reading and writing, allowed me to create learning environments that were more integrated and connected to the life of students, something I had missed to a large extent in my own schooling.

Later, I brought those experiences to a college of education. I found many opportunities to expand on those experiences. But I also found that the means of formal schooling were sometimes disconnected from the ends I valued. The emphases on measurable learning objectives and teacher credentialing often crowded out discourse on the changing nature of literacy or the connection of learning and life. Because my work involves collaborations with those in other disciplines, I saw space for those ideas in other realms, such as writing studies, communication, occasionally in the sciences, and especially, in library and information science.


Chip in Dublin, 2007

As I worked with people in library and information science, I found a serious engagement with issues such as the moral and political aspects of texts and information systems, changes to literacy practices related to new technologies and globalization, distributed knowledge making, information for community needs, and new ways of organizing and providing access to information. Although not all of my colleagues would characterize it this way, I see issues of learning threaded through everything we do. Learning is the creative act of meaning making that occurs in praxis, the integration of theory and practice. More than any other discipline, library and information science provides the space to engage with that phenomenon. It brings together the informed and critical understanding of texts and information systems with serious attention to the impact on human life.

There are many other reasons I might add for my joining GSLIS per se–the high level of collegiality, the moral commitment, the respect for both the old and the new, and the sincere interest in and openness to continuing to learn. These things make coming to library and information science seem wise, in spite of myself and my meandering path.

Lecture and class at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart Üniversitesi

I recently went to Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart Üniversitesi (the 18th of March University in Çanakkale, Turkey) on a trip arranged by Prof. Mustafa Yunus Eryaman. The faculty there were wonderful hosts and showed me many excellent projects, including international connections, in this rapidly growing university.

While in Çanakkale, I lectured on Learning at the Border, presented in a doctoral seminar on Integrating Technology with Literacy, and visited Children’s House (Çocuklar Evi), a preschool.

There was much interest at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart Üniversites in our community informatics work, in part because John Dewey had played such an important role in establishing education in the new Turkish nation. In the summer of 1924, Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) had invited Dewey to advise him on modernizing the Turkish educational system, including instituting compulsory primary education for both girls and boys. Reforms were intended to enhance literacy and thus to raise a generation able to participate in what Ataturk called the public culture.

“Club Ed: This University Is at Your Service”

Thomas Bartlett writes in the Chronicle about High Point University in North Carolina, which takes student services to a new level. It’s a stark contrast to the idea of student service discussed at the conference on The student as the axis of change in the university, or Dewey’s idea of The school as social center. As we continue on the path to a greater divide between rich and poor, I imagine we’ll see copies of High Point’s approach accompanied by increasing irrelevance of universities to the world around.

Lots of colleges treat students like customers. But how many have an ice-cream truck? And valet parking? And a concierge desk? And an enormous hot tub in the middle of the campus?

Not too many. Actually, only one: High Point University.

This once-sleepy institution in the hills of North Carolina has undergone a revival in the last couple of years, thanks in part to its jaw-dropping menu of student services. Behind it all is High Point’s president, Nido R. Qubein, a motivational speaker and businessman who believes that the customer (that is, the student) should be not only satisfied, but wowed.

Club Ed: This University Is at Your Service –

first Youth Community Informatics Forum

In the Youth Community Informatics Forum held June 27-28, 2008, about 40 young people and youth leaders came to Champaign from a variety of economically disadvantaged, mostly minority communities throughout the state.

There was a youth media festival on Friday. Then on Saturday, participants spent the morning working in one of four small groups to investigate “information spaces” in the community. These included the Center for Children’s Books, Champaign Public Library, the Independent Media Center, Espresso Royale, Native House, Cafe Paradiso, Transit Plaza, Illini Union, and bronze plaques around campus. The group leader introduced a staff member from the center to the students for a small tour and helped them use a Flip video camera and a GPS receiver to record their observations.

At each site, the youth asked questions such as:

  1. What do we see in this information center? How do we like it?
  2. What is this center about?
  3. What do we want people to know about the center?
  4. How can we give others a clear idea about the center through watching/hearing our report?

In the afternoon, they created a Google map with their videos, text, and GPS coordinates. They also added music (an innovation we hadn’t planned on, but perfectly appropriate). They then shared their findings in a public presentation.

The activity was conceived in terms of an Inquiry Cycle:

Inquiry cycle

Inquiry cycle

  • Ask: What are the information spaces in the community?
  • Investigate: Visit, listen, explore, video, determine geo-coordinates.
  • Create: Make a GIS site with video, music, text.
  • Discuss: Share the product and the findings with others.
  • Reflect: Think about issues of journalism, democracy, careers, technologies, etc.

We found that the students learned technology skills, problem solving, cooperative work, writing, public presentation, specific information spaces, community journalism, university life, and much more.

Although the June activity made use of diverse new technologies, it is important to note that the focus was on learning about the community, asking questions, and sharing findings with others, not on the technologies per se. The most effective use of these technologies in libraries and similar settings would likely involve embedding that use in a larger, purposeful context. That context in turn could be a way to help connect youth with other resources, such as books and structured activities.

We’re now planning a similar activity in October with the Mortenson Center Associates, a group of visiting, international librarians. This will be the first day of a two- or three-day event. The longer time will allow for discussion about how the information spaces might differ in different countries, what technologies are available in different contexts, how valuable the activity would be for youth in their libraries, and so on. Students from the Community Informatics (LEEP) course would lead the investigation of the local-area information centers.

Both youth leaders and young people said they enjoyed the Forum, learned a lot, and hope for more. One youth leader said that next year he’d like to bring a much larger group. Another wrote,

I believe, in the not too distant future, that this conference will be seen as a landmark in developing a new perspective as part of the partnership between those marginalized sectors of civil society and the university in bridging the digital divide.

As Myles Horton might say, that’s a long haul, but at least there was good spirit of cooperation in learning, which I hope will carry over to continuing work in these communities.

[Cross-posted on social issues]

Living teaching: The genius loci

My most memorable moments in Dublin came through encounters with living people, the many warm individuals who introduced me to life in the city and country, and from all the enriching, direct experiences, some of which I’ve tried to recount here.

But oddly enough, I also value the encounters I had with people who live on only in their writings or institutions. I say “oddly,” because I could easily have come to know them somewhat without being physically present in Ireland, and yet I seemed to need the tradition of place, or genius loci, to open the book.

One of these is Cardinal John Henry Newman. I didn’t know much about his work, other than valuing the many Newman Centers on university campuses. Frankly, I had a negative view, that his focus was on education for “gentlemen,” and that he held an elitist and sectarian approach to learning. At best, his ideas were locked away in 19th-century Ireland and unlikely to be relevant to my world today.

Cardinal John Henry NewmanFortunately, a colleague, Leo Casey, was able to gently point out that my conception was based on not knowing anything, and to suggest that if I did open a book, I might learn something.

In this case, the book was Cardinal Newman: The Catholic University, which contains a selection of his writings. University College Dublin, which he presided over, published it in 1990, to commemorate the century after his death. One of the essays in the collection is entitled “Living Teaching rather than passive reception of facts.” It’s from his The Idea of the University, and introduced me among other things to the term, genius loci.

Newman writes about “young men,” but I believe that today he’d quickly revise his essay to include all people. He asks a provocative question: Suppose we

had to choose between a so-called University, which dispensed with residence and tutorial superintendence, and gave its degrees to any person who passed an examination in a wide range of subjects, and a University which had no professors or examinations at all, but merely brought a number of young men together for three or four years, and then sent them away…[which of these would be] more successful in training, moulding, enlarging the mind, which sent out men the more fitted for their secular duties, which produced better public men, men of the world, men whose names would descend to posterity

Newman is quick to say, in his 19th-century style, that he can’t fully endorse the second model, as he considers “idleness an intolerable mischief.” But he has “no hesitation in giving the preference to that University which did nothing, over that which exacted of its members an acquaintance with every science under the sun.” He explains as follows:

When a multitude of young men, keen, open-hearted, sympathetic, and observant, … come together and freely mix with each other, they are sure to learn one from another, even if there be no one to teach them; the conversation of all is a series of lectures to each, and they gain for themselves new ideas and views, fresh matter of thought, and distinct principles for judging and acting, day by day…students come from very different places, and with widely different notions, and there is much to generalize, much to adjust, much to eliminate, there are inter-relations to be defined, and conventional rules to be established, in the process, by which the whole assemblage is moulded together, and gains one tone and one character…

that youthful community will constitute a whole, it will embody a specific idea, it will represent a doctrine, it will administer a code of conduct, and it will furnish principles of thought and action. It will give birth to a living teaching, which in course of time will take the shape of a self-perpetuating tradition, or a genius loci

Here then is a real teaching…it at least recognizes that knowledge is something more than a sort of passive reception of scraps and details; it is a something, and it does a something, which never will issue from the most strenuous efforts of a set of teachers, with no mutual sympathies and no inter-communion, of a set of examiners with no opinions which they dare profess, and with no common principles, who are teaching or questioning a set of youths who do not know them, and do not know each other, on a large number of subjects, different in kind, and connected by no wide philosophy

Newman recognizes the limits of such self-education, but nevertheless argues, the result is better than for

those earnest but ill-used persons, who are forced to load their minds with a score of subjects against an examination, who have too much on their hands to indulge themselves in thinking or investigation, who devour premiss and conclusion together with indiscriminate greediness, who hold whole sciences on faith, and commit demonstrations to memory, and who too often, as might be expected, when their period of education is passed, throw up all they have learned in disgust…they leave their place of education simply dissipated and relaxed by the multiplicity of subjects, which they have never really mastered, and so shallow as not even to know their shallowness.

How much better, he says,

to eschew the College and the University altogether, than to submit to a drudgery so ignoble, a mockery so contumelious! How much more profitable for the independent mind, after the mere rudiments of education, to range through a library at random, taking down books as they meet him, and pursuing the trains of thought which his mother wit suggests! How much healthier to wander into the fields…

[or from] the beach, and the quay, and the fisher’s boat, and the inn’s fireside, and the tradesman’s shop, and the shepherd’s walk, and the smuggler’s hut, and the mossy moor, and the screaming gulls, and the restless waves, to fashion for himself a philosophy and a poetry of his own!

Newman’s style is dated, but his questions are more relevant today than when he wrote. Our university education, indeed formal education at all levels in both the US and Ireland, often strives to do little more than load minds against examinations. We run from the idea of genius loci and see no need for living teaching.

Meanwhile, university administrators worldwide now measure success against a benchmark of mechanization. Efficient, modular, and uniform delivery of certifications is the goal. Newman reminds us that achieving that goal means not only that students will “throw up all they have learned in disgust,” but that society will ultimately throw up the university in disgust as well.

The student as the axis of change in the university

Univest 08 I just returned from the Univest 08 conference: The student as the axis of change in the university, which was held on June 2-3 in Girona, Spain. There were excellent presentations and discussions, for me aided considerably by simultaneous translation from Spanish or Catalan into English.

I thought that it worked very well to have students respond to the major presentations. It’s also hard to think of a more pleasant place to hold a conference than Girona, with outstanding restaurants, a beautiful old city, large parks, rivers, and great museums.

Girona wall, cathedralOne motivation for the conference was the European Convergence Process, a scheme to make Europe competitive with the United States in tertiary education. Beginning in 2010, more than 40 European countries will participate in the European Space for Higher Education, in which students, professors, and researchers will be able to move about without borders.

img_73581The aim of the process, which began in 1999 in Bologna is to produce a higher-quality, more homogeneous system, which is also more competitive in its teaching methods. A hope is that it will help build a society based on European knowledge, manifesting in culture and education the convergence that is already underway in the political and economic arenas.

The conference brought together teachers, students, administrators, and people from government and industry around topics, such as:

  • Student-centered instructional planning
  • Learner self-regulation
  • Student supervision and tuition
  • Student participation in university life
  • Experiences outside the classroom

My own talk was on student-centered learning, particularly on helping students by getting them to focus not on themselves, but instead on their communities.

Prolearn Summer School: Usability Panel

The first PROLEARN Summer School was held September 5-9, 2005 at Isik University in Sile, Turkey. The objective was “to contribute to the creation of an institutional culture, integrating distributed researchers across Europe into one community. It provides a framework for structuring a number of on going research, training, and scientific leadership activities.”

This slideshow could not be started. Try refreshing the page or viewing it in another browser.


  • online professional development program
  • library & information science
  • 10 units, leading to a masters degree
  • ~100 Ss/year


  • low expertise, high resistance among Ss and Ts
  • low-end equipment
  • courses incompatible with online


  • 100% retention
  • faculty choose
  • now larger than on-campus
  • students around world
  • model for others
  • WISE consortium (13 unis)


  • low-end tech
  • tech support
  • faculty buy-in
  • cohort model
  • coordination with library, advising, etc
  • blended learning
  • mix sync & async

inquiry model

  • appropriate tech for each course
  • participatory design
  • diversity as a resource
  • Learning, culture and community in online education: Research and practice
  • LEEP Virtual Reunion

Literacy in the information age: Inquiries into meaning making with new technologies

liabookEducators today want to go beyond how-to manuals and publications that merely celebrate the many exciting new technologies as they appear in schools. Students are immersed in an evolving world of new technology development in which they are not passive recipients of these technologies but active interpreters of them. How do you help learners interpret these technologies as we all become immersed in the new information age? Continue reading

Reasoning Under Uncertainty

Student-created box plot

Student-created box plot

Reasoning Under Uncertainty was a project funded by the National Science Foundation under its EHR/Applications of Advanced Technology program during 1985-91. The project led to a variety a publications and presentations (e.g., Rosebery & Rubin, 2007; Rubin & Bruce, 1991). Andee Rubin and I were the PIs, but the project eventually involved many other colleagues at Bolt Beranek and Newman, MIT, and local schools in the Cambridge, Massachusetts area. Continue reading