Saturday, January 26, 2008

Growing Up Online

I hope that many of you had the watch the PBS program Frontline: Growing Up Online last Tuesday. If you didn't, you can watch it online. The blogosphere is certainly awash in discussions regarding the show. There are a number of thoughts that came to mind as I watched the show. I am going to focus on what I see are the implications to education, in particular school libraries and teacher librarians.
I thought that the education portion of the documentary was very reflective of the teacher digital divide that is currently in many schools. We certainly have many teachers who are embracing new technologies because they see this as a way of engaging their students. We have teachers who I think would be amenable to delving into new ways of student engagement but find that accessing the technology is too difficult for a variety of reasons - mostly because the technology is unavailable when they need it (labs are booked) or when they have made arrangements, there are 'technical difficulties' and student time on task is wasted while problems are trying to be fixed. Then of course we have teachers who are either intimidated by technology or not interested in doing anything different.
How do teachers encourage this participation? How can we use the tools that students have access to as part of our classrooms? How can we take advantage of this media saturated world to engage students? And not just our best students but all students. One of the reasons that we have behavior issues with some of our applied level students is they are not engaged. They tend to be very social - we need to tap in to this characteristic and develop learning strategies and activities that take advantage of their social, media-saturated world - through technology like podcasts, videocasts and social tools like wikis and blogs. Every classroom should be equipped with SMARTBoards, computers and Internet access. Every school library should be equipped with a media production area.
Steve Maher was the history teacher interviewed in this documentary. On the interview page on the PBS website, he talks about the shift away from content to process, i.e. the processes of critical evaluation of information and the skills necessary to know how to access information efficiently. He says:

How many times have I seen students wasting time looking for information by simply googling a topic? And then finding totally inappropriate sites and not having the skills to evaluate the content on the page? As teacher librarians, we can help students by partnering with teachers to follow a research process that includes skills lessons in narrowing topics, developing search strategies, teaching tricks to help evaluate web sites and directing students to online databases. There are many strategies that we can use with students to help them. There are excellent resources to help us do this (our own resources Imagine the Learning, Research Success @ your library, Reality Check as well as a number of web-based resources):

Maher also said in the documentary that we need to re-think plagiarism and what constitutes plagiarism. In this I disagree. What we need to do is to redesign the hunt and gather type of project and challenge students with projects that have them use the information they found. We need to make the research process transparent by requiring students to check in at various points along the way through the use of conferencing, blogging or wikis. I've linked two resources that show how blogs and wikis can be part of the research process.

David Loertscher has some excellent publications that show how to design projects that require students to evaluate, synthesize and analyze information. I've included a link to a page on his site - Ban the Bird Unit Action Research Project.
Loertscher's excellent books Ban Those Bird Units and Beyond Bird Units can be purchased through the OLA Store.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Why Libraries Are Not Obsolete!

I received an email from a colleague asking me to take a look at one of his recent posts regarding libraries. In particular, he asked that I read a comment that was posted in response to his post. This blog post is a rebuttle to dlp's comments.

I don't know when the last time you were in a library dlp, but libraries have been re-inventing themselves lately or at least trying to. It can be really hard when politicians seem to think that they are expendable. I recently had need of the services of not one but 2 public library systems. My experience made me thankful that they were still there and were staffed appropriately. I had help from librarians who went out of their way to help me find the things for which I was looking.

I'm sorry that you could never could find things -that's probably because when you were going to school, there was no qualified teacher-librarian to teach you the information literacy skills needed to find things. And if there was one and he/she was busy with administration all the time, it was probably an indication of lack of funding for support staff or there was a volunteer staffing the library. Is it the library's fault that the purse-string holders are short-sighted?

You also probably were never taught to ask the right questions to help you narrow your search and probably never taught what resources would be the best for your needs. Did you even have to think about whether or not a source was authoritative or reliable when you were in a library? You do when you are on the Interent. Anyone can put anything in a website/blog and there are no gatekeepers. Remember that there was and still are librarians who are choosing resources, making sure that they are dependable, are appropriate to the age level of the student/patron, buying from reputable print houses and publishers and making sure that there is balance in point of view. Who does this now for the Internet? This responsibility falls upon the user.

There is the assumption that everyone has the skills to critically evaluate what they are reading on the 'net. Everyone assumes that people /kids know how to research, but they don't. And there is every indication that even though students today seem Internet savy, they still do not know how to tell when a site is legitimate or not or whether there are better sources of information. Are students going to go to sites like Library Spot? They don't. Their search behaviour consists of the following: Google a keyword, look at the first page, take something from the first 5 listings and if it's 'good enough' they're done. Instant gratification. We need libraries and librarians to teach and require students/patrons to get the best resources, not just the 'good enough' ones.

But what about the 'hidden internet'? How do you access this without libraries? University, public, school and hospital libraries pay for online databases for their patrons so they can have access to resources that are not freely available on the Internet. Most reputable publications do not post their content on the free'net. Who else but librarians and libraries are going make the hidden visible? And you can't get much more current than a database. In addition, these databases are stable - they are not going to disappear one day (like some websites). And you know what - they are available 24/7 and are free to patrons who have a library card - which by the way is free.

Libraries are not just about books. They are about equity in our society. What about people who do not have a computer at home with Internet access? Who do you think provides this sevice for those people? Not everyone can afford the technology. In fact, not everyone has a car to go around to yard sales or the money to spare even to pick up cheap books. We need libraries to ensure equity of access to information and books for all citizens.

Why, why ,why are libraries always a target of cost-cutting? Why in this day and age of information do we cut the one place that can provide guidance through this explosion of facts? Libraries are not a luxury. They are a need in this information age. It makes absolutely no sense that library funding is cut in an information age!

Libraries are not just about books anymore. They are Internet cafes and children's programming. They are places for adult literacy, new language learners and geneology research. They are online "Ask a Librarian" service providers where you can have access to a real live person to help point you in the right direction. They are a place of equity.

When people ask why we need libraries and librarians when there is the Internet, here's what I say:
Why do we need road maps when we have roads? Why do we need cookbooks when we have all the ingredients we could ever want from all over the world? Why do we need teachers when all the facts you could ever want are on the Internet?

Why indeed?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Bits And Bytes

On Friday, I attended the Regional Literacy Council meeting held at the Thames Valley DSB in London. This group is a group of consultants from boards in southwest Ontario who meet 3 times a year and share literacy information and resources. When we meet, we usually have a ministry update, share new publications and literacy-based conferences and best practices.

The focus of this meeting was oral communication. We shared a number of resources (rubrics, lesson ideas, web sites) and also examined the Ministry documents that provide support and guidance to teaching. assessing and evaluating the oral communiation strand. I will pass these on to the English teachers through the department heads at our next meeting.

Here's some interesting websites that I have found from some of the feeds that I subscribe to:

One Minute Critic - this is from a library in Vancouver. They have created 1 minute booktalk videos for a variety of books. It looks fairly new because there aren't a lot of book talks. But you could use it as a model for either creating book talks for the school library or for students to create book talks.

Top 10 Obscure Google Tricks - For all you geeks out there, here is an interesting collection that tells you how to use Google to track flight information, find the time anywhere in the world, and a whole bunch of other stuff I probably wouldn't use.

20+ Places for Public Domain E-Books - This is a list of sites where you can find free books that can be downloaded to your ipod, pda or e book reader (Does it work with Kindle? BTW this little gadget is sold out according to Amazon's site. I still don't know if my eyes are ready for this).

The Red Room - Here's a site that will allow social networking between authors and readers. It has author bios, lists of works, audio and video.

YALSA Wiki - This wiki has lots of information for school librarians who work with Young Adults. Check out the book lists and advocacy toolkit section. - This is from the Academy of American Poets and incudes bios, lesson plans and other additional supports for the teaching of poetry.

United Nations International Year of the Potato - I kid you not, 2008 is the year of the potato (my husband will be happy to hear this!).

Google Lit Trips - This site combines Google Earth with literature by mapping story settings. Students can create lit trips as part of a book study.

Lastly, I went to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this Saturday morning. I don't think that I have been to the Auto Show since I was very young. My only memory ( I must have been around 8 or 9) is one of collecting pamphlets from as many of the car displays as possible. Well, I now know that pamphlet collection still seems to be the main attraction (besides the cars) as evidenced by the number of people who had a carry bag attached to their arms. I also now know why I haven't been to the show since I was young. I am definitely NOT a car fan.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Random Thoughts/Rants on a Saturday Morning

One reason that my blog is much easier to produce at home is the unfettered access I have to all of the creative tools on the Internet.

Case in point.

I was preparing this week for a Literature/Reading Circle workshop that I and a colleague are giving after school in a couple of weeks and I wanted to update the cover of the resource binder that we are providing to the participants. I wanted to get some new images - ones of kids reading, reflecting diversity, reading in groups, etc. To put this into context, I have just spent 2 weeks of playing with several Creative Commons (CC) image sites, and without thinking, I tried to do the same thing at work. Dumb! I forgot about the filters! Ok, I know that Google Images have been blocked for some time, but when you are in the flow of creativity, you tend to be so focused on what you are doing that you forget about stuff like filters. Well Flickr is blocked. Big surprise? Well it was to me because I forgot where I was working. A lot of other image share sites licensed under CC are blocked as well. I tried several of the image sites that are listed on a CC wiki pathfinder developed by my hero JV - but to no avail.

Yes I know, go to the databases and to the Media link on the Student Reference Portal - I did that but could not find what I wanted within the time I wanted to spend. Don't get me wrong - I love our databases. And if I am doing serious research I go to them first. But sometimes a database is not the right resource for information needs.

I just read an article about 21st Century Literacy that said that kids are on the Internet 27 hours per week at home and 15 minute a week at school ( this was a US statistic and it is an average). So who is teaching these kids at home about Internet safety and responsible, ethical use of resources?

Random comment by a teacher regarding school filters - "The kids just get around them anyway." Hmm? Thoughts on this one? Is this the norm?

Forest of Reading blogs are sprouting up all over! Just got an email that four elementary school TLs are setting up blogs for Silver Birch and Red Maple. So exciting!

BTW, here's a picture that won't be on any database!

Photo: jonno259. (21 August 2007). Teddy Bears' Reading Group. 12 January 2008.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Wikia Search

Both Joyce Valenza and David Warlick had posts regarding a new wiki search engine in development. It's called Wikia Search

This search engine is being developed by Jimmy Wales one of the co-founders of Wikipedia. In a nutshell, the reason they are doing this is to make things more transparent - Google and Yahoo do not reveal how they determine their hits. Wikia Search, since it will be user generated will clearly let users know how hits are ranked.

I had a problem with Wikipedia for a long time - mainly due to the fact that it is a wiki and can be changed at any time by anyone. But I am convinced that it has evolved and is a reputable source for the most part (however, I still would insist on triangulation to verify - especially if it is a topic about which one knows nothing). Wikia Search I think will evolve but will take time.

It is really in it's infancy - I tried a simple search (cat, dog - I know it's really simple but it's late, I'm tired). I got no hits on dog but did get some hits on cat - but most were in languages other than English. I then decided to search triangulation and did get some hits - not exactly what I was looking for but in the ballpark. I decided to add a mini article (one of the features - it can be a definition, short article, etc). I created an account (took about 30 seconds) and then added my definition. I'm sure that by the time anyone checks out the link it will probably be edited by someone, but I wanted to check out how easy it is to add to the wiki.

It is definitely not very useful yet - but it has potential. If Google is creating KNOL to compete with Wikipedia, then why not Wikia Search to compete with Google - somebody has to!

My Daemon

I completed the questionaire that was posted on LC's ChipVan Philosophy blog. What fun!

Friday, January 4, 2008

My Wishes for 2008

"You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it all true. You may have to work for it, however."-- Richard Bach

I've spent the last hour with Joyce Valenza's and Doug Johnson's most recent posts. Joyce's blog always has links to many, many resources and always makes me think about the directions to take. But when I read the following from Doug's post, I found myself agreeing:

I'm wishing I wouldn't feel guilty about not liking Twitter, Ning and other very-social, social networking sites. Is there an "anti-social" web somewhere for me?

Since I started this blog, I have found that I am investing a lot of time on the computer lately. I can't imagine how much of my life would be consumed if I was Twittering and Ninging.

But in the spirit of these 2 posts (and many others that I have read in the past few days), here's my wishes for this coming year:

1. I'm wishing for fair copyright laws for Canadian schools. Canadian copyright law as applied to schools sucks. Here are some resources to help understand our current situation:
Copyright Matters! (whole site has lots of info)
2. I'm wishing that more politicians, parents, teachers and school administrators would read Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (Release 3.0) to see what we are really up against when it comes to India, China and the rest of the world. Then perhaps our politicians would see the benefits of a thoroughly wired Canada (at reasonable prices) with technology easily available to all students, parents would see the need to expect their children to work hard, delay gratification and READ, administrators would support unfettered access to Internet resources and teachers would see the need to integrate technology (not just Powerpoint and Google) into their teaching so that our students can at least compete on a level playing field.

3. I'm wishing that the elementary teacher librarians would be able to have access to grade 6 - 8 students and teachers so that they can teach them the skills of information literacy and the process for research. That way, these students won't just Google, cut and paste. And they would know how to use the databases.

4. I'm wishing that our databases would get more use. Let's ditch the textbooks and get current, up-to-date reading resources for our students. And let's differentiate the reading levels so that all students can meet with success in our classrooms.
5. I'm wishing that all teachers would see the benefits of collaborating with each other - with an LNST, a TTLT, a TL. It really does make life a lot easier and we really do learn from each other. And in the end, if done right, our students benefit.
6. I really wish that we didn't have so many acronyms in education!
7. I wish that there won't be a 50% turn-over in elementary TLs inn the next school year.
8. I'm wishing that we have staffing standards and a job description for the position of TL.

9. I wish that school libraries were more of a priority. When funding is cut, libraries are the first to go. But why is this when literacy is so important? Why is this when study after study has shown that reading achievement and reading enjoyment improves when school libraries are well-stocked and qualified TLs collaborate with classroom teachers? Why does no one ever think to cut inter-scholastic sports (I'll probably get backlash about this one - however, I think that maybe it might be time to let sport be mostly community-based, not school-based. Radical idea here in N. America, but probably not in other parts of the world. This a whole other blog post)?
10. Finally, I'm wishing that I didn't need to write such long blog entries :)
P.S. Goodbye D.B. You will be missed!

Photo: Ilmungo (2006 July 13). The Sound of a Wish.