Flying straight into…a window: A story about technology

Around six months ago, I submitted a few proposals looking for funding for a new piece of technology. Bird, by MUV Interactive, was something a colleague of mine had suggested. Essentially, it’s a piece of tech that perches on your finger and allows you to manipulate digital content collaboratively and at a distance. Some have called it a “fancy mouse” (but that’s your decision to decide).  

It was an intriguing concept and seemed to have several use cases for a library setting. We could use it with student groups using our group study rooms, we could use it as instructors in information literacy classes (we could be untethered from the podium), and perhaps, we could use it the students we work with in the classroom. Excited by the possibilities, we submitted a few proposals and waited.

Good news – we got funding, from two places. We now had the resources to explore Bird in our group study rooms and in the instruction classroom. A few Birds got ordered and my colleague and I started the process to get them flying. This has ended up being a learning experience, with some failure but ultimately, success and collaboration. Technology is far from perfect and Bird has showcased that well. I’ve done a lot of failing forward this fall and that has been really useful for me.

This summer, my colleague and I started to work through what Bird would look like in the classroom. We wanted to use the tech as a way to enhance collaboration between students, while exploring parts of the research process. Team based learning (TBL) was also on our mind, after participating in an internal workshop earlier in the summer. We created a TBL inspired lesson plan where students would go through the process of writing a research question, using keywords to find three sources, and deciding on criteria for credibility for those sources (all in 50 minutes!). Within each group, every student would have a role (so that you couldn’t complete the project alone) and we had chosen the topic, student debt, to help give students complete all that we were asking for in one class.

To get the most out of those 50 minutes, we had some required work for the student to complete before our class, watching a few videos on how to use our discovery layer (Summon) and an intro video on how to use Bird. And, in order to create compatible groups, we had students complete a questionnaire in CATME that allowed us to put together students. This lesson plan excited us and we couldn’t wait until October to test it out.

As September went on, we ran into two problems...

  • Our order of Birds (enough for a class of 25) hadn’t arrived
  • The Birds we did have wouldn’t work on our instructor computer due to some Bluetooth compatibility issues

We did our best trouble shooting, found solutions, and had to be flexible as our Bird classes approached. In the moment, I was frustrated, because all these holes in my thinking became visible. I kept thinking, Why didn’t the tech “just work?” or It’s 2017, shouldn’t Bluetooth be available on everything? I had made a lot of assumptions and I was now facing some setbacks. I kept telling myself I was “failing forward,” the phase my grad school mentor, Martin, would say in the face of setbacks. This experience was teaching me a lot, lessons I’ll probably use any other time I decide to get new technology.

Our Bird classes had to change to accommodate the lack of a Bird for every student. We set up a laptop with Bird on it, and let students rotate through during class and test it out. We had also created a lesson plan that would be enhanced by technology like Bird, but ultimately, still worked without the technology. This approach to teaching information literacy to these ENGL 15 classes resulted in some nice collaboration and relationship building with those professors (some who expressed interest in trying it again in the spring).   

And then, things really fell into place last week. The Bluetooth adapters came in and our tech department was able to install the drivers and Bird software on a few of our instructor computers. The Birds connected and we were flying. Our timing was perfect because last Wednesday, just a day after the Birds got installed, we had an open house for one of our renovated instruction classrooms. I was able to set up Bird and show my colleagues this technology. It was fun to see everyone try out the tech and get their feedback on ways they could see this working in the classroom. All the waiting and creating new, at-the-last-minute plans were worth it.

This project has continued to influence how I think about and use technology. From the multiple times Bird has failed us or set us back, it reminds me that technology is not a solution. It’s a way to reframe your thinking (we wouldn’t have created that lesson plan without the frame of Bird as a tool). As a new librarian, I’m learning how to fly with projects like these*. I spent this fall doing a lot of small take offs, with my own version of crash landings. But I think things are starting to soar, so we’ll have to wait and see how things turn out.

*If you know me, you know I can’t turn down the opportunity to use as many bird metaphors as I can.

Cover image [CC 0] via Pexels