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A colleague of mine at work forwarded information about this to our reference librarians, but I just read about it on Jenny Levine’s blog: the idea of using Meebo’s IM widget in the library catalog to create a user-librarian interaction at the point of need. Our library has gone back and forth about using IM at the reference desk for years, without actually doing anything. We have a student population of mostly residential students, with no distance learning component at all. Never seemed like IM would be necessary in our library.

However, I can see the benefits of using IM or chat in the library catalog, even on a residential campus. Questions about using our library catalog are probably the second most frequent interaction at the reference desk, behind searching for journal articles. If students could chat with a reference librarian while they were having difficulties in the catalog, we could help the students at the point of need, rather than interrupting their research and having them come down to the main floor or over to the reference desk to ask a question. The Meebo widget could be a great solution.

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Today I have been thinking a lot about book discussions and libraries, particularly academic libraries.  My library is sponsoring a faculty book discussion next week, around the book The View From the Center of the Universe, and it got me thinking about why my library doesn’t do more book discussion projects.  Time is, of course, the first reason which comes to mind.  But it shouldn’t be that hard considering we are an academic library and have access to great material and a faculty who are generally fond of the library and the programming we provide.   Laura Cohen writes about adding value to the library; not just through marketing our collections, but also through engaging users in social and participatory websites that discuss books.  One example she uses is the creation of discussion blogs revolving around campus reading programs or visiting writers.  A library website or blog is the perfect place to start these virtual discussions.  People recognize the word “library” and may have an old-fashioned idea about our mission or may see us as just dusty warehouses of books.  Since people are going to the web for book discussions, shouldn’t we be there when go looking?

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Our local newspaper, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle has a front-page story about Facebook and the dispute over safety on the popular social networking site. State officials are investigating the solicitation of minors and the use of inappropriate images on the site. Two teens interviewed for the story expressed little or no concern over their privacy being violated by online predators:

“Aixin Wang, 17, of Brighton and a member of the Democrat and Chronicle Editorial Board’s Teen Council, said she has an account with Facebook, which she said “has been really safe in protecting my information” and “I haven’t had a problem with anything.” But she said that “if there seems to be a problem, it’s a good thing to check it out.”

Fellow Teen Council member Sujay Tyle, 14, who attends Pittsford Mendon High School, expressed similar sentiments. He said he feels secure on the site because he believes it adequately restricts contacts to invited friends and other members of his school.”

I have a problem with this, because no child or teenager should wholly trust a company to protect their privacy and their interests. This is the parents’ responsibility, who should be monitoring the teenagers and their use of online networking sites. It strikes me as an issue that needs to be addressed in the classroom, whether through the library or primary teacher, but a class on Internet privacy and information ethics should be an essential component to information literacy instruction.

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I’m currently taking a class in Second Life and we posted our first impressions of the virtual world to the class forum today.  One of my classmates posted this interesting article about a professor’s “second thoughts about Second Life”, which raises some important legal and ethical concerns about institutions of higher learning using and requiring students to participate in Second Life.  Among them:

What about a complaint by a student who agrees to meet the teacher’s avatar outside of class but in-world and then witnesses or engages in an unwanted virtual act? Or a claim of emotional distress filed by a student exposed to virtual shootings or any number of sexist, racist, homophobic, or offensive avatar behaviors?

Who is responsible?

Did you, as a faculty member who assigned your students an exercise on Second Life, have appropriate warnings in your syllabus for such scenarios? Will you have to pay legal fees to defend yourself if you signed up for Second Life and required your students to do so, too, without informing your supervisor?

Does your institution’s top administration or its legal, ombudsman, and equity offices even know about sexual harassment in virtual worlds? Has your campus teaching center promoted virtual-life games without investigating guidelines for use?

Based on its terms of service, Linden Lab may have anticipated some of those questions. It identifies itself as a distributor of content and, as such, “has very limited control, if any, over the quality, safety, morality, legality, truthfulness, or accuracy of various aspects of the Service.

That burden may fall on you.

These issues need to be discussed before land is bought, avatars created, classes formed inside the virtual world.

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EDUCAUSE Centre for Applied Research has just released the latest report in its longitudinal study of undergraduates and their use of information technology. It is called, “The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2007” and is,

“…based on quantitative data from a spring 2007 survey and interviews with 27,846 freshman, senior, and community college students at 103 higher education institutions. It focuses on what kinds of information technologies these students use, own, and experience; their technology behaviors, preferences, and skills; how IT impacts their experiences in their courses; and their perceptions of the role of IT in the academic experience.”

There could be some really useful stuff in this report for institutions of higher learning who want to use information technology in a meaningful way for their students’ learning.

 Read what Inside Higher Ed has to say about the report…

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