Back to School

We’ve been back at school for a week, and what a week it’s been! In a two year Master’s program, people pass through pretty quickly, so we who were the wide-eyed confused First Years of 2011-2012 are now the wizened (and somewhat cynical) Second Years of 2012-2013. A year is not a long time, but over the past twelve months we’ve developed a new shared vocabulary, been sensitized to issues that we probably hadn’t thought about in much detail prior to coming into the program, and forged new friendships.

The biggest difference that has struck me, though, is the critical streak that I find in myself which previously hadn’t been there. While I wouldn’t say that I’d been lazy or naïve in my thoughts about the internets or privacy or whatever prior to coming to the iSchool, I think that I chose to gloss over the downsides in order to focus on the positives: Google returns results based on your past browsing / search history — past Allison thought this seemed great, because the results that turned up were generally exactly what she was looking for and wanted to see; present Allison recognizes (and is mildly concerned) that there is a positive feedback mechanism at work here, which means that I’ll probably not see much that challenges me, disagrees with me or surprises me. Being exposed to new ideas is (almost) always a good thing, and when one gets the majority of one’s information from Google, there are limited opportunities to be challenged.

My program is a professional program: the majority of us are obtaining our Master of Information degrees in order to go out and work as librarians, archivists, systems designers, knowledge managers, information architects, projects managers, etc. A lot of us — myself included — wish that there was more practical instruction, that we learned more of the stuff we’ll need to use in our future workplaces, and less of the theory behind that stuff. I’ve been a fairly vocal proponent for including more of the practical skills that employers want, and I stand by that position. That said, I’m increasingly recognizant of the value of the theory components, and that learning to think critically about information issues is essential for all of us, as future information professionals/academics, and more generally as citizens of the ‘Information Age.’ I believe that training us to think can — and needs to — go hand-in-hand with training us to do.

I’m really pleased with my stream — as a systems design student, we develop more practical skills through our coursework than students in some of the other streams do. I complained a lot about the classes that were required when I began the program, the ‘Intro to …” classes, which are no longer required. I know I wouldn’t have taken some of them if they hadn’t been required, but as a wizened Second Year who is making connections between readings and concepts easily and with familiarity with the pertinent material, I’m glad I had to take them. I doubt I’d be as wizened without them.

I’m hopeful that next year’s First Years will find themselves in a program with an optimal balance of foundational and domain-specific knowledge, of practical instruction and theoretical, and that they get as much out of the program as I have thus far. I also hope that eight months from now future Allison will be writing about the awesome job I landed with my combination of practical and theoretical skills.

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