Panlibus Blog

Insight 2007: Les Watson

les-watson-chartLes Watson is up talking about Reconfiguring the Library for 21st Century Learning, a bold title. Paul and Andy and other have seen Les before, so he comes with high expectations as a great speaker; easily able to deliver on a title that promises so much.

Les starts with a great statement:

There is, as yet, no paradigm for the 21st century library.

and explains that he was instrumental in the much acclaimed work on the Saltire Centre at Glasgow Caledonian University

He talks about the transition over time from a mainly agricultural economy where knowledge was about Know-How, through industrial and information based economies where knowledge is about Know-What to what we see as our destination; a Concept economy where the important knowledge is Know-Who and Know-Why. This story starts to feel directly relevant to me, not just in a passing interest in academic libraries, but as a lifelong learner trying to understand how I know what I do know and how to keep moving to cover more of what I don’t.

The chart showing the transition in the dominant economy he attributes to Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind. Yet another one to add to the bedside table.

The only tool to get the country as a whole up this curve is our education system, students coming out need to have more skills in collaboration and lifelong learning than those before them. In large part this is because the world is no longer about what we know, but about what we can work together to achieve – it is the discovery and emergence of the unexpected, the surfacing of the previously unknown that drives innovation. To support and illustrate that notion Les directs us to The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Having justified the need for real and fundamental change Les discusses a three-legged strategy: People, Technology and the Built Environment. Unlike most projects that consider these three in isolation, often at different times, Les shows that they interplay and must be considered together.

So with these three legs working together in a synergistic strategy Les goes on to tell us that buildings are predictions; that is the designs of buildings are predictions about how they will be used. But as well know that predictions are always wrong, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot we must try to build in a way that flex with the mistakes we make.

To do that Les believes it’s important to understand how far students today are from the education system they have to go through. To illustrate this point brilliantly he uses the great video A Vision of Students Today from the Digital Ethnography project at Kansas State University. The video tells us lots of things we already know – that their is a generation of digital natives who work differently to the generations before them, that think differently. Les goes a step further than acknowledging that culture and way beyond simply tolerating or even accepting that culture. Les explains that the education system needs to positively embrace this culture.

As Les talks about txting, Facebook and gaming he explains that the common thread is one of playfulness and fun and that maybe the fundamental change in education is one of building a play ethic rather than a work ethic; especially if we are to develop the concept economy he referred to earlier. In this play ethic there is a move to collaboration, synthesis rather than analysis of knowledge and above all engagement.

Les represents this in brilliant way with a quadrant chart showing intrinsic and extrinsic motivation on the Y axis and active or passive engagement on the X. He explains that our education is firmly in bottom-left, yet the people we want our students to become need to be firmly in the top-right. As a parent with school-age children this is a description that feels all too familiar. He quotes Sir Ken Robinson:

without motivation there is no learning

Les didn’t reference it, but a great parallel to this presentation is Sir Ken Robinsons’ talk, Do schools kill creativity?, at TED. What he did reference in addition to the Ken Robinson quote is Richard Florida‘s book The Rise of The Creative Class. Richard Florida podcasted The Rise of The Creative Class on IT Conversations back in 2004. This move from services to experience relies heavily on informal, social learning time. This instinctively feels right, all learning starts with conversation – remember how you started to learn to do our job? But if you’re still unsure he offers up Richard Feynman’s assertion from The Pleasure of Finding Things Out:

thinking is nothing but talking to yourself inside

For more insight into Feynman you might want to check out video of The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, from 1981. As an inspiring call for action, Les finishes up with an inspiring slideshow of great buildings that people want to engage with and a short video from an American Architectural Foundation project working on a Denver school – a project that makes the students feel welcome, important and the focus of the schools activities.

Uplifting and inspiring – if you get the chance to hear Les talk; or invite him to help you work on your own projects you should expect something special.

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