Inside Mizzou: Learning in the 21st Century

Illustration of modern media springing from the pages of an open book

Nov. 19, 2019

For 180 years, the University of Missouri has pioneered new advances in education. We taught the first course on engineering west of the Mississippi River, and our world-class School of Journalism developed the revolutionary Missouri Method of learning by doing. As our community continues to evolve, so do our learning practices and resources. From a collection of dime novels to 3D scanners, on campus and online, our faculty, staff and students constantly expand the ways we all learn and research.

Join Chancellor Cartwright on this week’s Inside Mizzou podcast as he talks with Navadeep Khanal, e-learning librarian and web development administrator; and Courtney Gillie, a library information specialist who recently earned a master’s from MU in information science and learning technologies, library and information science. They discuss how Mizzou’s comprehensive learning resources and technologies help our community excel — inside and outside the classroom.

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Moderator: [00:00:10] From the classroom to the cornfield, journalism to SEC athletics, the University Missouri worked 52 weeks a year, every year. This is Inside Mizzou — real stories, real discoveries and real impact of the Mizzou community. Today’s episode is called, “Learning in the 21st Century.” For 180 years, the University of Missouri has provided students a world-class learning environment. But as our student population continues to evolve, so do our learning practices and resources. From a collection of dime novels to 3-D scanners, on campus and online, Mizzou continues to expand the ways our community learns and researches. What does it take to ensure everyone can access the critical resources they need to succeed in today’s digital age? And how do these steps enable our incredible students, faculty and staff to change the world? Joining Chancellor Cartwright to talk more about this are Courtney Gillie, a library information specialist and a recent graduate with a master’s in Information, Science and Learning Technologies, Library and Information Science. Courtney also served as a graduate assistant in Mizzou’s Comic Art Collection. And Navadeep Khanal. Nav is MU’s e-learning and web development librarian. Thank you all for being here.

Everyone: [00:01:25] Thank you for having us.

Moderator: [00:01:27] So, Chancellor Cartwright, we’re starting with you today. When it comes to student learning, Mizzou has a tradition of innovation. In fact, the School of Journalism developed the hands-on Missouri Method over 100 years ago that remains a staple of our students’ educations. Can you talk a little bit about why it’s important that universities continue to rethink the best way students can learn?

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:01:47] You know, so much is changing so rapidly now. When I was a student, of course, we didn’t have access to information the way that we do today. You can carry so much more information just on your cell phone than you could have carried at any point, at least when I was growing up, if you integrated over the whole time. This means that we need to think through how do we think differently? It isn’t as necessary, potentially, to have everything memorized because you can find it so quickly. You may not need to spend all the time figuring out how to solve a particular problem because some of those things can be solved for us. So if you think about technology, technology gives us access to information in a way that we’ve never had it. And that changes the way you approach problem solving. It puts much more emphasis on what is it that we as humans, what is it that we have to offer to society? And it gets much more into creativity, and how can we leverage that tool, that ability to have access to prior knowledge in your hand? And our students today are used to finding information instantly. And you now have access to as much knowledge as we could imagine at your fingertips. That puts a bigger emphasis then on how do we differentiate? How are we more creative? How do we leverage what that information is and then having that information to solve problems that we may not have thought we could solve before. The grand challenges of society means that we need to be thinking of how do we work in an interdisciplinary way. What does it mean then to be on a team? How do we work across teams? Those skills that maybe, you know, have always been important, but they’re even more important today. I don’t think we would have imagined, at least when I was growing up, I wouldn’t have, when I was in school, I wouldn’t have imagined that it’d be possible now for us to use artificial intelligence to solve problems by having a computer look for patterns that we may never even see. Right? And that is something that can happen now, right? You look at a lot of health data and we may not see the patterns and in how we’re treating someone, but by having the right algorithm, you can start to pick out certain treatment methodologies resulting in certain outcomes. And I think that’s what’s changing. And how do we then make sure people understand the impact that information technology is having on education so that at least they’re familiar with what those tools are and how they might be able to use them, and then bring to bear all of the great knowledge they have from their discipline, but leverage what’s available in technology now?

Moderator: [00:04:55] There are so many perspectives that you can have for that answer. And so Courtney and Nav, while our students learning needs evolve, our libraries also evolve. What will each of you say is the role of a library today?

Courtney Gillie: [00:05:09] I would say context. Let me illustrate that with an example. I had a student come in a week or two ago and they wanted to research Korea. However, obviously, that’s going to be so much information. We offered her information on history, maybe socio-political relationships, religion or architecture. And then we realized in our new display we had gotten a book called “Sacred Architecture.” So she saw this relationship between the religion and architecture that maybe she hadn’t considered before. So what we did as a library was allow her to narrow her topic down enough that she could continue her own research without being overwhelmed with all the possibilities.

Moderator: [00:06:00] Nav?

Navadeep Khanal: [00:06:00] And some of the things remain the same. To start with that, we still provide resources for our students and faculty to do the best that they can as students, as researchers, as faculty in their teaching and their research. We help faculty with publications that are essential for their research — to find publications, to do the publications. More and more now, librarians also co-author papers with faculty, either being part of a project or being, in some cases, being the research specialist. But as libraries evolve, we provide different kinds of spaces to students to learn — a lot of learning spaces for research as collision spaces for ideas. And that’s, that’s what we’re understanding is the new way students are learning. Rather than being consumers of information, they want to be able to collaborate in creating information. And I think that’s where we’re heading towards in libraries. And then as much as we bring in and invite people to the libraries, we’re also online. And our libraries also go in the academic context outside of the libraries: We go to classes, especially our librarians like in health sciences and veterinary medicine. They go to the animal and human hospitals to work with clinicians, right? Help that way. Confusing topics like copyright, they exist even now, so that’s another place librarians and libraries still provide support and knowledge.

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:07:53] You know, what’s amazing to me, I was talking about, you know, the need to understand information and having access to information. Librarians, of course, this is what they’ve done always, right? Is how to best access information, how to validate information, how to understand those sources. And I think that’s a skill set that’s even more important today with the fact that we have so much more information to be dealing with.

Courtney Gillie: [00:08:19] That’s definitely the case. And I know that as a recent graduate, we definitely had a focus on inclusion and accessibility. So making sure that whoever is going to come into the library has access to the resources that they need and that we continue to fight for them if, for example, we would lose budget funding or if we lost part of a building. So the library as sort of the social advocate I think is a new wave here.

Moderator: [00:08:53] No, no, most definitely. And so, Nav, back to you. More specifically, as the e-learning librarian, you’ve been involved with expanding the Digital Media and Innovation Lab. How does this lab and other resources like it help us reimagine the way students use and access information?

Navadeep Khanal: [00:09:10] Right. And it’s kind of in the same vein of what we’re talking about is to enable students to create information, to provide these creative spaces rather than be more mere consumers of information. In the past, the idea was, you know, the expert is going to stand in front, tell everybody what what they need to learn. And now students engage with information in novel ways, find out how they want to use and digest this information and what they’re going to do with it. So resources like the Digital Media and Innovation Lab, they provide students a nudge to work with information, a nudge to engage with information and internalize that learning process. Like the the old adage about, you know, you can take the horse to the water. Well, spaces like this provide students that nudge to say: “I am interested in creating something, and in that process I’m going to access information, and in that process I’m going to learn to do these other things. So the outcome is not that I digest this information, but I do something with it that’s more meaningful to me as a student and to everybody else around me, that they might be able to benefit because I collaborate with them, I co-learn with them.” And in that sense, these types of resources are vital. One example was Dr. Motavalli’s course in soil science. He has a small project, part of his class project, that students have to create this public service announcement on environmental concerns. So the student’s task is to do all the research to figure out what they’re going to talk about, and that creative space, they’re not even thinking, “I’m going to find all of these resources and that’s my product.” No, the product is this more creative content that’s gonna come out of having played with that and engaged with that information.

Moderator: [00:11:16] I think that’s the real important thing about learning in the 21st century, is that it is a much more creative process and is a much more encouraging process of embracing that creativity than possibly in the past times. And I think the encouragement of that leads to a lot of students today feeling like they can learn in a way that makes it fun for them. I think you spoke to the fact that as, I think you spoke to the fact of, you know, the expert, you know, being the one that says this is this information, this is how you should learn it in times are just different to where you should be able to learn something, but maybe learn it in a way that’s, you know, not the norm, but it’s still fun and works for you as a student or just as a learner in general. And so some people may not know this, but Mizzou actually has a special Comics Art Collection in Ellis Library. So Courtney, what’s included in this collection, and how does it connect to Mizzou’s history and the other learning resources we have here?

Courtney Gillie: [00:12:15] So, we’ve actually got about 13,000 items in the Comic Art Collection. And our focus has generally been on mainstream superhero characters. We’ve got an extensive DC and Marvel collection. You’ll find Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko all over the place. And beyond just individual comics, we have many anthologies, and this will occasionally have forewords or prefaces that talk about the creative process, which I find endlessly fascinating. There’s occasionally back-and-forth between a creator and a publisher, or back-and-forth between the writer and the illustrator, the colorist, the letterer, and these sort of collaborative projects. Because comic books are collaborative — is one of the great sort of evolutions of storytelling. Traditionally, we have newspaper strips. We have Mort Walker’s collection. We have V.T. Hamlin. And these creator collections have beyond just the product — they’ve got these back-and-forths. You can see how what people wanted or what the newspaper was encouraging was different. And then we’ve got a great deal of comics created by Missouri creators. We recently got a donation that included local Columbia artists, which was fascinating to see. And we’ve been focusing on really expanding our collection to be a bit more extensive. For example, not everything is fiction. We have several publications that happen to be biographies. The United Nations publishes several comics. And I found a publication that is the biography of Pope John Paul II. It is produced by Marvel, it has a Spider-Man on the front. Yeah, approved by Comics Code Authority (CCA). Zero advertisments — very strange for a comic book. And to relate that to our other resources, we recently had the Asian Affairs Center had come in with Brad Jacobson, and they were using the comics as an English learning language exercise to work with not only words, but also images to help cement that sort of understanding that you get from being immersed in the language.

Moderator: [00:15:02] So we’ve spoken a lot about technology, the different type of resources, as well as how we can apply those things to learning in the 21st century. What would each of you say is either one of the biggest challenges or the biggest opportunities that learning in the 21st century presents.

Navadeep Khanal: [00:15:16] A major challenge, and something the Chancellor alluded to earlier, is — and an opportunity in many ways — is the overabundance of data and information that vary in quality from highly useful to misleading. And in that sense, I think librarians engage with this data. They find this to be a professional calling to organize data, to make data accessible, to provide ways for people to use that data. Sometimes access alone isn’t enough. Sometimes you need that little nudge or the bringing down the barriers, and I think that’s the opportunity there.

Courtney Gillie: [00:16:01] I would agree. Accessibility is definitely something that we’re still working on, offering digital scans, for example. So if you’re not on campus, you can still have access to the same high-quality resources that we have here in the library itself. For example, I’m working with our social media accounts through Special Collections and making sure to have all tags to describe the images if someone’s using a screen reader or to ensure that we have large print when needed. It’s really important, I think, to ensure that we also have multiple languages because I know obviously English is our primary language, but we’re an international university. So we need to make sure that if there are creations that come in different languages, those aren’t overlooked at all.

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:16:55] You know, to me, it’s as Nav and Courtney both said, I mean, it’s access to information. It’s information that’s verified. It’s ensuring that you’re actually using the right sources because it’s possible to be misled, as Nav said. And the libraries play a big role in that, right? We work with them, I know they’re involved in things we do with the Teaching for Learning Center. How do you provide the right resources? What’s the material that’s needed? How do you find the right publications around best practices and teaching? These are all part of what the libraries do, and ensuring that people have access to educational resources that are beyond maybe just the traditional textbooks that we would think of, right? It’s all the open educational resources, ensuring that they’re high quality, affordable, and that our students can easily access them. And as Courtney was talking about, making sure that they are accessible in so many ways. So I think there’s a huge part that the libraries continue to play in education of our students and certainly in the forwarding of society. So it continues to be a really important part of a university.

Courtney Gillie: [00:18:16] If I may add, having the library as sort of conversational with their patrons, knowing what they’re looking for, what they want, and sort of helping put around our goals, our collections around what they’re seeing as well, because it’s much easier now to be able to ask, you know, is this resource enough for you? Would this resource be better? Is the style of learning working out for you? So having that as a conversation is definitely something that we’re working on.

Moderator: [00:18:53] Yeah, no, adaptability is key, I think. And everything that you said, the ability for the library to be able to say, “Do you need to learn this way? Or is this way working for you,” I think is probably one of the most important things out of all things that we talked about. Yeah. And so thank you all for being here today. I think we touched on a lot of good things. And now there’s just one more thing to do before we all leave. So what’s orange and sounds like a parrot?

Courtney Gillie: [00:19:21] Is it a parrot?

Moderator: [00:19:22] It’s not a parrot, but it rhymes with parrot.

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:19:23] A carrot.

Moderator: [00:19:26] It’s a carrot!

Everyone: [00:19:27] (Laughing)

Moderator: [00:19:35] Our audio engineer is Aaron Hay. Our featured music is composed by MU master’s student, Niko D. Schroeder, and performed by the Donald Sinta Quartet. You can find more information about Niko, the Quartet and their piece on the Inside Mizzou webpage. Make sure to join us next time to stay on top of what’s happening at Mizzou. Thanks for joining us on this episode. See you around the Columns!