Thursday, October 1, 2009

What is technology?

One of our teachers poised the question last week, "What will our classrooms look like five years from now?"  He declared that teacher laptops and ceiling mount projectors are not viewed as "new technology" but are embedded and required components for today's teachers.  His question was primarily rhetorical; despite some suggestions, he offered no answers but it certainly got me thinking.

We work in a well-funded district that has pursued technology including the tools described above, wireless laptop labs, Elmo visualizers, PolyCom distance learning equipment, and a variety of other hardware and software solutions.  Our teachers use the available technology throughout the curriculum in a variety of ways.  I've argued repeatedly and usually with the majority, that technology is only beneficial when it improves the learning experience or helps to prepare our students for college or professional experiences.

This argument tends to open far more windows of opportunity than it closes.  The use of all types of hardware and software technology in business and in higher education is expanding exponentially.  Teachers who create successful technology based lessons increasingly focus upon creating better and more encompassing future lessons.  The question is more than valid and worthy of discussion; so, what will classrooms look like five years from now?

These were my thoughts when I read Ben Grey's recent post, "Excessive Inaccessibility", in the Tech & Learning Advisor Blog.  Grey relates a conversation with a student, recently returned from Zambia where she saw, "children who lined up by the hundreds so that they might receive a single pencil.  A pencil.  Not an iPod, or laptop, or cell phone, or netbook.  A single shaving of wood lined with graphite.  And she spoke of kids without books.  Kids who are trying to read without the words with which to accomplish the task.  Kids who crave the learning yet lack access to the intellectual nourishment."

Quickly, I remembered that not all education is the same.  Though a digital divide does exist in our district, I had not really focused on its impact on student education in quite a while.  The wake up call that Grey delivered in this piece, though, is way more than a digital divide.  It is a digital and educational chasm.  And the reality is that we need not travel to Zambia to experience the stark differences between the have and the have-not districts.  I have visited schools in my local area that own less than one class set of computers and rely upon 30-year-old (average age) library resources.

As I contemplate my future employment I admit that I would consider myself honored to teach and serve a student community regardless of the level of technology (or library) funding.  I would, however, work within any community that I serve to foster and nourish any programs that will lead to the most complete and well-rounded education possible.

So, what will our classrooms look like five years from now?  Obviously, this will depend greatly upon what they look like today and what funding can be generated in the coming years for upgrades and improvements.  Our goal should be to work within our schools and as part of the greater education community to identify and refine our most pressing needs and to pursue them with passion.

The teacher that initiated my thoughts argued that projectors and teacher laptops are no longer technology.  Grey countered that, "a pencil is technology."  Upon reflection that has included memories of my grandmother's stories about teaching in a cold and drafty one room schoolhouse where all writing was done on a piece of slate because no one could afford paper, I agree that a pencil is technology.

I also agree with Grey and with the teachers in my school, and probably all over the world, that it is not enough.  It was not enough for my grandmother who taught for almost 40 years and it is not enough for our students today, no matter where they live.  I guess the greater frustration is that we may never feel we have enough regardless of our level of funding or support.

I must therefore conclude that while planning and goal setting for the integration of technology in the future is critical, it is more critical that we identify every way possible to draw the most benefit from the tools that we do have available to us.  This is a topic for a whole series of posts that I will not be writing now but which we should all explore.

How can we make the most of what we have?  How can we share and use the technology and resources that we have to their fullest extent to fortify our student's educational experience?  These are questions to which we can respond and directly affect on a daily basis.  We do not need additional financial investment or approval of any board to increase the efficiency of the tools that we have.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Marketing opportunities abound !!

My son is running to replace himself as treasurer of his school student council - a job he thoroughly enjoyed last year.  While assisting him to prepare his speech we addressed the age-old sales technique of putting the product in the buyer's hands.  I suggested that he exchange, "if you vote for me," for a more powerful, "as your treasurer," to begin a paragraph.

As librarians, we need to constantly assert our facilities and services in many, many ways.  Like a good salesperson, we need to constantly be "on" and ready to sell our product in a way that motivates our ever-changing audience.  Our sales must be a blend of great service, great timing, and a measure of initiative toward self-promotion.

Today, I motivated several patrons to "love" the services I offered and the library I represent.  I was motivated to post this entry, however, by another librarian's motivated and motivating self-promotion of the Rochester Public Library over the weekend on a local radio, call-in, talk show and the buzz it created on our list-serve.

Linda Cruttenden from the Rochester Regional Library Council explained and complemented another Linda, from RPL, "I was listening to the Jim Salmon Home Repair Clinic on WHAM1180 this weekend, when he suggested that a caller consult a particular reference book for his/her answer.  The next caller was “Linda from RPL” who let the listeners know that RPL was ready to help, and that the reference book could be found at the downtown branch!!"

"After her call, Mr. Salmon mentioned that he 'never thought of the library any more' and that he appreciated Linda’s call.  Congratulations to Linda for helping the listeners, and getting some good promotion done for RPL’s libraries!"  Librarian responses on our listserve included Coleen Hopkins from SUNY Geneseo, "Great work Linda and shame on Jim Salmon, he is missing a major resource for himself and his listeners," and Wendy Stephany from Byron-Bergen Middle School, "That's a great example of taking the opportunity to remind people that the library is there and willing to do anything to help."

Certainly, we all thank Linda from RPL for being in the right place and doing the right thing to "sell" our facilities and services, but the real question is, do we step up and do the right thing when we have the opportunities?  Perhaps we don't all have the gumption or the opportunity to garner FREE radio advertising, but what do we do to guarantee our jobs in the 21st century?

I miss many opportunities and many days, should probably be beaten senseless by my own words, but today I enjoyed some successes.  Like Linda's success, I will share and celebrate these here and now, but the goal and focus needs to be to find a way to replicate library marketing success every day.  Today I . . .
  • Helped a teacher convert an unreadable file to one she could use with the Zamzar file conversion Website.  I "made [her] day!"  I am confident she will come back the next time she has a problem.
  • I got unruly, beginning-of-school-year, not-yet-ready computers to work for vast majority of students in classes increasing teacher confidence in our available technology.
  • I offered suggestions that were accepted and appreciated to a group of teachers that are collaborating to develop a new research assignment.  These suggestions will lead to increased research and synthesis by students completing this project.
  • I delivered a cart of books that another teacher and I had discussed to support a project her classes are completing.
  • And my favorite, when overhearing a student comment that she "found the perfect article but [she was] not going to pay for it," I asked if I could help.  When the article happened to be from our local newspaper, available through a database purchased by our local library, I showed her how to log on using my library card number.  When the article popped up she commented, "You can do that with a library card?  I'm gonna have to get one of those."
Good luck to me, and good luck other librarians.  We may not have successes every day but we can make service our focus, hope our timing is right, speak out when it seems appropriate, and do the best we can.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Google deep links -- You can too

Almost a year ago I allayed fears of many librarians who have created lists of Web Links that bypassed Website main pages, in order to land directly on content desired for specific lessons or projects. I wrote in a post titled Linking is Legal that,
“deep linking,” linking to “a particular page within another site (i.e., other than its homepage)” has never been identified by a court as either copyright or trademark infringement.
This information was gathered from the article, "Linking to Copyrighted," 2008.

For those who missed this previous wave of relief, you can now be assured that before the copyright police come for you, they will make a stop at Google headquarters. In his article, Jump to the Relevant Section of a Google Search Result, Alex Chito describes a new "Jump to" feature released by Google and points out that,
Google's goal is to send you directly to the right answer for your question, even if that means bypassing the homepage of a site, ignoring Flash intros or finding information from the snippets.
How can you not love Google?

Check it out! I'm reading, learning, thinking, and commenting on others blogs! Congrats to me! Its also very late and I should be zzzzzzzzzzzz

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tech Integration -- Expanded definition of digital divide

In a review of embedded curriculum and the potential for student success, Patrick Higgins at Chalkdust101 identifies the apparent failure of his (and many) schools with regards to technology integration.
"In our district, every teacher from grades six through twelve has a laptop . . . Our teachers are very wired, but our kids don’t have the same access. . ."
He gives credit to a job candidate in an interview for enlightening him,
"the next big hurdle for schools [is] to put the power to learn back into the hands of students."
In pursuit of this goal, he concludes his post,
"We have to start tipping the scales in favor of the question “what could they do if they had…” and go from there."
I am lucky to work in a district that has spent generously on computers, software and peripheral equipment. I get to work one-on-one and with large groups of students, collaborating with teachers to embed this technology into individual lessons and the curriculum. When I graduate (this spring) and accept a job in another district I will assuredly look back at this experience as, "the good old days."

As well equipped as we are, I cannot help thinking about the opportunities that we miss: lessons we could improve, social networking or blogging opportunities that are unavailable to us, and classes that can't (equipment not available) or won't (technophobe teacher) take advantage of the available technology. As a parent and citizen, it saddens me that there can be so much variation in the level of technology available from teacher to teacher, school to school and district to district.

I understand that funding varies and even understand that local environments are different but once they graduate, the vast majority of these young adults will be vying for the same opportunities without regard for background or level of technology integration in their high schools. Whose responsibility is it to prepare these students, if not ours? It may be a long and winding road but it is one that is definitely worth traveling.

Luckily, as time passes, lower cost hardware solutions are constantly being developed from the newly popular NetBooks to the SmartVine virtual monitors that allow up to 11 users to share a single computer. There are many, many very stable FREE software solutions available and constantly being developed (Audacity, GoogleEarth, Camtasia, and many more). While these solutions may not be acceptable in many districts, we should celebrate each success and improve upon each failure. Hopefully true technology integration will continue to grow across our country, continent, and world.

As we proceed, in addition to students, teachers, and administrators, we need to build relationships and with our network administrators. I have seen too many articles and blogs recently discussing the failed marriage of educational tech integration and the network administrators or IT departments. Among them, Higgins wrote on the subject in August drawing from a related article with a suggested solution by Jim Moulton in his Future of Education blog. Tech & Learning magazine published a brief article on the topic, focused primarily on the positive, in their September print and online issues.

I certainly don't have the answers but know that whether in a school with 20 computers or one with hundreds, until every student has access in all schools to computers, software, web based information and appropriate web utilities, our journey will not be complete. I'm so glad to be back at school! Sorry to take on such a loaded topic so early in the year . . . .

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Summertime And the livin' is easy

Wow! How do the days pass so quickly?

My kids had a great summer with play as a priority. We travelled many miles between Rochester and the Rideau Canal in Ontario trying to earn a living, enjoy life, and help our parents as much as we could. Though it is easy to feel as though we failed on all counts, there is no doubt we extended our best effort and enjoyed a personal best in the category of balance of our many responsibilities.

While we hope our parents appreciate the efforts we made on their behalf, and beat ourselves up when we feel we haven't done enough, we are proudest of the time we spent with our own kids camping, fishing, swimming, boating, skiing, kayaking, canoeing, bike riding, reading, playing the alphabet game in the car and board games at night and enjoying life along the way. (One of our highly recommended summer vacation destinations - Lloyd's Cottages -)

Though I took a break from classes, I am satisfied that I read some great books over the summer and am excited about the beginning of a new school year. I fell WAY Behind in reading of other blogs and advancement of my knowledge as a librarian but hope to catch up as the new year gets underway. I hope also to comment on this blog as I read, learn, and investigate new things.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Quality service = Priority one

"Why can't librarians learn to serve?" OK, maybe I shouldn't try to re-write My Fair Lady, "Why can't the English learn to speak," and maybe I shouldn't judge librarians before I technically am one, but with budget cuts and the pressure to compete against book stores, the Internet, television, and more, I believe that as individuals and as a group, when we are faced with an opportunity we need to step up.

In the last several weeks I have observed some exceptional librarians: ones who can answer multiple requests simultaneously and who can often predict upcoming questions; who in many cases have prepared pathfinders and brochures to answer them before they are even asked. I have seen librarians doing three different things at once with ten successful results and am in awe of how they do what they do!

Sadly though, not all librarians are as talented or as committed. I have seen school librarians create atmospheres that cause teachers and students to stay away; whose strategy seems not to be to collaborate but to hibernate. I am frustrated each time I see a school where the library seems "off-limits" and the librarian unreachable, but I am just as frustrated each time I visit a community library where patrons are not offered the best service possible.

A couple interactions I witnessed at a larger, local public library recently are representative of the type of failure that I find most irritating. I was aware of complaints regarding the service at this library but was truly frustrated to witness the lack of motivation firsthand. I was trained in retail with a customer first mentality and I believe, as did my reference professor who works as the head of reference at a local university, that librarians should be pro-active, often in front of the desk, in their approach to library service.

Contrary to this approach is the lack of service I saw offered during a one hour visit last week. In one instance, a young adult patron asked where the Stephanie Meyer books were located. The YA librarian, as indicated by a badge she was wearing, who was building a rather pathetic display, answered, "They'd be under MEY in the next aisle, but they're all on waiting lists right now because they are so popular." With this she ended the conversation. She made no effort to offer this student the option to join the waiting list and, in my opinion, more importantly, she made no effort to conduct a readers advisory interview and suggest possible alternative books.

In another case, just a few minutes later, a patron approached the reference desk while I was seated nearby. This patron asked if the library could get copies of a rather obscure television program from the 1970's that he had already discovered was owned by another branch. The librarian checked and told him the tape was checked out and not available. Again she did not offer a hold or any other alternative and was in the process of turning the patron away.

In both cases I took it upon myself to help the patrons, the first one without the librarian's knowledge, and the second right in front of the librarian at the reference desk before she had time to dismiss him altogether. The first patron, a veteran of Harry Potter and Eldest series', left the library with the first two books in the series by Rick Riordan beginning with The Lightning Thief. (I have not read them but my son has and says they are very good.) I suggested to the librarian and the second patron as he was leaving the desk, that all 24 episodes of the TV series he was looking for were available on and showed him, on library computer I was using, how to access the site.

Both patrons, and a third that I assisted before leaving the library, thanked me. The reference librarian (working the desk) also thanked me, claiming she had never thought to search Hulu, but sadly, she never thought to search anywhere. She and the other librarians at this branch and, sadly, many others are willing to put forth minimal effort and the easy answer without regard for the true, often underlying needs of our patrons. If our patrons can't get more from us than they can from their own search online or poring through the stacks themselves, what good do we serve, and what right do we have to be employed in this "non-essential" service position?

Part of what we learn as librarians and what good salespeople and retailers and even doctors, lawyers, and therapists learn is that customers, patrons and patients do not always know how to ask for what they want or need. It is the job of the professional to discover and to satisfy the true want or need. If we do not step up, as individuals and as a group, to make this satisfaction a priority, we will, as individuals and as a group, be out of a job.

Putting our current economy aside for a moment but not putting aside the reality of our modern, techno-savvy environment and communities, it is my opinion that library services and hours are not usually cut because of lack of need, but because of lack of perceived value. It is our job as professionals to prove our worthiness every day through the benefits that we return to our patrons and community. If we do not offer these services and benefits, the perceived need for the library and the librarian plummets and it becomes our own fault that jobs are lost.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Woohoo! What a great job!

Woohoo! What a great job! Every once in a while, after successfully assisting three or four (or maybe even only one) student in a row, I just have to smile! Topics today included finding resources about airline regulation, tests and treatments for ailing heart muscles, teen stress, self mutilation, biographical info on great American women, and sources for poetry criticism. I helped a small self-contained class of high-needs students create citations for a paper they are writing and felt the wash of relief when our network came back up (after being down) just as a class walked in the library door.

Sometimes things just go right! I am reading again (for YA resources & services class) and loving it. I have thoroughly enjoyed books in the last couple weeks by Joan Bauer, Melodie Bowsher, K.L. Going, and my favorite of the week, Orson Scott Card. I became so caught reading about 11 year old video gamers in Ender's Game, a science fiction novel, that I couldn't put the book down. I have always loved YA fiction and the opportunity to immerse myself in some of the best that is out there is very satisfying.

Trying to build LibraryThing account with books I have read recently (to help my failing memory, remember). As many things as are right with this application, and there are many, there are also quite a few that are wrong! I am a new user and may be missing something but in early use, I am amazed at some of the things that are missing:

  • No tag prompts or suggestions -- when user begins typing a tag description, it would be beneficial if the program prompted or suggested "most popular / similar" tags. For example should the tag be Young Adult, YA, YA fiction, ya fiction, young adult fiction, teen fiction, etc. (This is essentially what Google does when typing into the search bar.)
  • No tag pool to select from -- when tagging a book, it would be beneficial if user did not have to type every tag. Available pool to "quick pick" from could be tags previously used by the user, tags previously used by other users to describe the book, or a combination of the two. (Blogger does this if you are familiar with this host site.)
  • Tags can not be reorganized -- would be nice if tags for each book could be reorganized alphabetically or even by priority or relevance. They seem to remain, forever, in the order they came to mind and were typed into system. (Blogger automatically alphabetises.)
  • Unable to create different shelves -- I may be wrong, but have not found way to create separate shelves with, for example YA lit, children's lit, and career focused materials.

Ahh well, not to ruin a great day with complaints. Hopefully someone out there will write to correct, and explain to me, how each of these issues I describe can be corrected. I am sure the sun will be shining and the temperatures warm when I head for home. OK that went over the edge. Trying to limit my sarcasm. It truly has been a great day!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

LibraryThing - a better post-it note

Look for a LibraryThing widget here soon! I created an account some time ago but, like Facebook and several other 2.0 applications I signed-up for, left only a bare skeleton. The time has come to share my reading habits with myself!

What does that mean, you ask? LibraryThing is a social community of readers sharing their love of books with others. --- You are right. It also looks like a great way to remember what I have read, how I felt about it as I was reading it, and who I may want to recommend it to. My memory is not what it used to be and I am always looking for better post-it notes!

LibraryThing not only quickly pulls up author or title, bookcover, publication data, isbn, etc., it also allows users to "tag" for organizational purposes. Users are encouraged to "review" books and allowed to make private comments visual only through their own accounts. These will all help to spark my memory.

An added bonus is the social aspect. I look forward to using the tag-search process to locate similar books. It is also interesting to read other reader reviews and comments on books. This allows us to get inside the heads of non-professional (and many semi-pro) readers and reviewers.

I admit some concern about my ability in the area of readers advisory. I read voraciously as a teenager but that was many years ago. I really believe I can still think like a teen and understand feelings and needs of adolescence, but my knowledge about current juvenile and YA literature is limited. I read very little during my years in business and have forgotten much of what I read when I was younger. There are decades worth of new literature on the shelves and more being published each month than I could read in a year. I realize we don't have to read it all, but I know that this is a weak area that I need to address and improve.

I am reading when I can, and need a way to store, sort, organize, and remember what I have read (and maybe even some of what I need to read). LibraryThing is it! "The first step is to take the first step." I will enter some of the juvenile and YA books I have read recently into LibraryThing over the next couple weeks and will post my widget and user name to this blog soon. Please wish me luck!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

YouTube - the new copyright cop!

The copyright ©law cometh! The blogosphere is abuzz with news about the new YouTube policy of "muting" videos that contain copyrighted music. Very few videos have been affected by this policy so far but the potential is mindboggling!! Our students and other teachers may begin to see us as the copyright information specialists we are and no longer as the "copyright cops" they have perceived us to be. "There's a new Sheriff in town."

According to a Rolling Stone article, "YouTube Hits the Mute Button as Royalty Fight with Warner Bros. Continues" the policy currently only affects Warner Music Group releases. Videos being muted are tagged with the comment, “This video contains an audio track that has not been authorized by all copyright holders. The audio has been disabled.” They further report, "YouTube said in a statement issued after the muting began, 'Now we’ve added an additional choice. Instead of automatically removing the video from YouTube, we give users the option to modify the video by removing the music subject to the copyright claim and post the new version, and many of them are taking that option.'"

Both those who post to and who watch and listen to YouTube will feel the pain. As a consumer of music and video, I empathize with these users and will miss the popular, high-quality audio, but as an educator I am in full support of this policy and hope that it extends to all protect all studio releases. I have agreed before that our copyright law is in need of massive revision but I have also advocated strongly that creators should be allowed to earn a profit from their creations! Adding popular music, purchased or "borrowed," to videos and publishing them for mass consumption without compensation to the creator of that music is, by any reasonable revision of the law, infringement.

As teachers and librarians teaching in "project based" environments, we allow some level of legal (within the confines of the classroom) copyright infringement. Our students do not understand, though, that using an audio clip on their class video project is legal but posting the same clip to YouTube is not. It has been our responsibility to try to explain this concept, but lacking any form of evidence of the illegality by peers or providers on the Web, the explanations have fallen on deaf ears. We have been the nagging, copyright cops. A solid and sincere effort by You Tube, and other video hosting sites, to mute illegal posting of copyrighted music will not only protect creators, but will lend credence to librarians, and others who have assumed a responsibility for informing the public about the laws and attempting to protect creators.

Will this be the end of YouTube and publicly shared videos as we know them? I think not. It will be an obstacle to be hurdled. Many current users will, initially look for other hosting sites or ways to get around the filters. Beware the abusive and pornographic comments being added to every unmoderated blog and discussion group covering this story! Eventually though, this, like many obstacles we face, could make the system stronger and better. I will not attempt to predict specifics of the future, but feel confident that amateur created streaming video will mature and grow as a medium of entertainment and education for years to come.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ten days till Inauguration, Happy New Year, & blog thoughts

Great Start, hunh . . . . I committed to keeping up with this blog one month ago to the day, and have made only one post since. Though I should apologize to myself and interested readers I must preface with the facts. Our holiday vacation was fantastic! We enjoyed family time, games, travel, reading, fun and relaxation! All this and we even got a few (small) things done around the house.

I learned lots during the break, on topics I may revisit later, but am not going to beat myself up about not recording every discovery. As discussed in earlier posts, my interests are random and I am going to let this blog grow out of my interests and my ever continuing education. Posts will vary in length, style, and value, and will, without remorse, be posted at irregular intervals. Unlike many bloggers who commit to their readers, my primary commitment will remain with myself and with my family.

Spring semester starts this week! I have already started reading for both classes and am prepared to jump in with both feet. I am taking two classes: Resources and Services for Young Adults, and Curriculum Roles of the Library Media Specialist. I haven't decided how to track books I am reading for YA -- will consider LibraryThing and blogging about them in the next few days; wondering if there are other, better options?

Check this four minute montage of 44 presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama. Each presidential portrait is video morphed into the next to the tune of Bolero. While Obama may be a look different from his predecessor, he is certainly not the first president who looked different than the one before him! This is a very interesting way to look at our presidential history and our changing preferences and ideals regarding our leaders through the decades.