The Flipped Library

My colleague, Lorcan Dempsey, did a very nice synthesis of “MOOCs, Libraries, OCLC” for the OCLC Board of Trustees this morning. Given the massive attention and the surge of interest in MOOCs (witness that the article – Year of the MOOC – in the New York Times has stayed on the most emailed since it was published on 2 November 2012) he was asked to provide an overview and some foundational information so the trustees could have a preliminary discussion about the implications for libraries. Perhaps he will turn this into a piece for more general publication.

One of things he drew out was the ways in which MOOCs are forcing an exploration of the scale, shape and costs of pedagogy, prompting new thinking about assessment, and creating environments that can facilitate and take advantage of predictive and adaptive analytics. In talking about the shape of pedagogy he pointed out the ways in which they were consciously capitalizing on social technologies, gamification techniques, virtual laboratories and peer learning. MOOCs might become the vehicle that institutionalized the ‘flipped classroom’ as the norm.

I wasn’t very familiar with the ‘flipped classroom’ concept. I’d only come across it in reading about the Khan Academy. Teachers were assigning the Khan modular lectures as homework and then using the classroom time for personal tutoring, independent problem solving, inquiry-based activities, project-based learning and peer interaction. I now understand that the flipped classroom concept and approach is a much more broadly-established approach and that the Khan Academy example is just a specific manifestation of the concept. I found these three brief blog posts from leading proponents of the approach in secondary education to be very helpful.

As the trustee discussion proceeded Betsy Wilson, Dean of Libraries at the University of Washington seized on the flipped classroom observation saying that this is what libraries had been doing over the last ten years.

Everybody was already operating a flipped library.

I thought it was a spot-on analogy and very descriptive of where academic libraries have been heading. Consider that the current academic library no longer requires students and faculty to come to the libraries for their information seeking and consumption. It delivers materials online to the users preferred environment when they need the information in ways that support time-shifting consumption and repeated encounters. The library building is being re-imagined around support for independent study, collaborative work, group interactions and library services are being re-invented around support for the processes of learning and research rather than collections.

The phrase ‘flipped library’ is a very nice way to capture what’s going on. I’m going to start using it. I don’t know if it will gain traction. The phrase ‘flipped classroom’ seems to have gained widespread use because it had an accompanying catch phrase – “Moving from sage on the stage to guide on the side.” What’s the equivalent catch phrase for the flipped library? If you’ve got a candidate please share.

The flipped library in the photo is the Wyoming Branch of the Free Library at 231 East Wyoming Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19120 It was opened October 30, 1930 and was the last library funded by Carnegie.

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About Jim Michalko

Jim coordinates the OCLC Research office in San Mateo, CA, focuses on relationships with research libraries and work that renovates the library value proposition in the current information environment.

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