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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Future of Librarians, What is the

David Warlick shared the following the other day:
While at the National School Boards Association Conference the other day, more than one school board member came up to me, a tech guy, and asked, “We’re trying desperately to find ways to deal with budget crunches. With all of these computers and access to online information, do we really need librarians or libraries any more?”

In the past, I have always viewed librarians as "gatekeepers" of information. I now view them (probably because I am one) more as "lifeguards" of information.

Do we need librarians now? I think more than ever! With so much information available, someone must be able to organize, maintain, update the information which is changing faster than ever before. Teachers simply do not have time to manage the information.

So what's the answer? I think a name change that means something. Like when stewardesses became flight attendants (and the title fit). Librarians have become "media specialists" but the name does not fit. Just because there are VHS tapes, DVDs, cassette tapes, CDs, and the players to make them work, does not mean that the librarian has become a specialist of the media. Computers can run media, but with all the different levels of restrictions (bandwidth and/or filtering) we are not ready to become Library 2.0 people either...if we are honest anyway.

Most librarians do not have a natural background in technology; so why thrust the media title on them (which relates more to technology). Most school librarians come from the classroom. They understand instruction, curriculum, and know how to find, manage, and utilize information that can be valuable in the classroom. I think a more accurate term for most (at least in our district) media specialist would be information specialists. To me, that is the power of the library/media center.

There are many forms of information. Some people prefer (or are more comfortable with) paper-based products (books, encyclopedias, etc.) Great! Others are more comfortable with online resources, and hope to see schools move to a Web 2.0/Library 2.0 world in the near future. Schools need a BOTH/AND approach not an either/or dichotomy. Regardless of the preference, the true value of the people who work in the big room with all the books and computers, is that they are trained to find, organize, utilize, and share information. To me the big issue is how to convince teachers that we exist for more than the reading teachers.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Around, Running the End

I've been watching the NFL playoffs, and just saw an end around. They never do that in the NFL, unless they are desperate or think they can surprise the opposition. These guys were desperate. It's funny how so many things remind me what it is like in public education, especially when it comes to the integration of technology. So many of my experiences have been the necessity to "go undercover" to reach my students where they were so I could take them where I wanted them to go.

On November 4, I made a statement that I can't get out of my head.
The library must make their walls transparent, if not fully dismantled. I have even begun to wonder if the fight against filtering is worth it, or if the manner in which we provide homework should change to something more Web 2.0. In other words, since the students and teachers can't access many of the great Web 2.0 tools at school, perhaps the teacher and/or librarian ought to consider homework that is conducted through Web 2.0 apps like YouTube, Wikis, IM, and blogs. If done this way, perhaps, assigning homework might make sense to me. Give students work at home that CANNOT be done at school. I might actually be on to something here...but then teachers would have to be willing to work at home.
The words in orange are the thoughts I continue to revisit. In The MC, we have been recording video booktalks, and people are viewing them. They cannot get to them at school, but word is getting out around school. Our two 6th grade students come in every Tuesday to record. (Their parents have provided written permission for them to be on the Internet as part of DMS). I digitally record their work, import it to iMovie on my MacBook at home, then upload the video to Google Video (blocked at school). I embed the video on our BookTalk blog, using Blogger (blocked at school), and then the fun begins.

Going to Google Video, and searching "Booktalk," you will usually find our students at the top of the list.

These are our results:
  • Artemis Fowl - 204 views
  • Giant Rat of Sumatra - 100 views
  • My Side of the Mountain - 58 views
  • The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs - 38 views
  • Eragon - 687 views
  • The Akhenaten Adventure - 33 views
This is 1120 views of our work in a little more than 2 months. The data indicates that Eragon is a favorite, probably due to the movie coming out last month. This will help us plan on the books we do in the future. With this success, we are linking the Google Videos back to The MC web page.

Now back to the haunting words: giving students homework that cannot be completed at school. The ease of publishing to the student's world (online) is such that I am beginning to believe that the kind of work we give students to do at home should be structured to be something that is totally different than what they expect to get at school. We have had several more students ask if they could contribute to the booktalks. I think we will be able to do this in the near future. Perhaps their homework should be to create their own school-related videos. They enjoy the process. There are so many things they could do to enhance their learning and the instructional process would be more engaging.

I'll be thinking more about this.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Story, Is It Always About Telling A

I mentioned in yesterday's post that I spent the day with colleagues in a meeting trying to develop a vision statement for our school. Several, nearly half, of these colleagues had scheduled stops in The MC today (our first day back with students). The conversations continued. There was a "buzz" about the meeting. There was a high degree of hope that I have not seen in our faculty for several years.

Interestingly, to me at least, was the number of times the teachers mentioned an idea of storytelling. It came out in terms of the anecdotes from the teachers who were in attendance, the stories that were told by the principal which inspired/motivated us to be active participants during the meeting, and one even mentioned she was hoping to have her students share stories with each other in class as a way of reviewing parts of writing essays (introduction, body, conclusion). She thought (I think) that hearing the stories of the people might be fun and motivational as they prepare for a writing exam later this month.

I'm not saying this was an epiphany for me, but there is definitely something about the way we are connecting to the idea of human stories that are motivating a group of faculty members right now. It could be that during the holiday season, we are open to stories; regardless of religious affiliation, there are stories of the season.

Now for the big wow of the day. I had four conversations with other teachers (not all a part of the vision team) who came to me, and wanted their students to share a story with me: four in one day!
One had a student's whose father took pictures of African wildlife and had it published in a book. The class is studying Africa, and wildlife was a part of their research. The student brought the book from home to show what his dad has done. What a story!
Another teacher was asking if there was a way for students to video interviews and have them edited into a single collection. He wants his students to collect stories from older family members that will describe their interaction with animals when they children: were there animals they feared, liked to watch, had as pets, etc. He wants to try and get a multi-generational discussion started. Perhaps the stories, he said, can help the kids connect with their families.
Immediately after this, Library Lady #1 and I began talking about our website. She said when she taught Language Arts, one of the projects she had her students do (based on reading The Lottery Rose) was to interview people in the community who lived through the Great Depression. She said we should try to figure out a way to preserve these types of stories as a Media Center project.

I don't know if it is coincidence, or that my brain is still on the "vision track," but there is a theme emerging. We all have a story to tell that is worth a listen.

  • Is education about telling the story (whatever the story might be)? Or is storytelling simply a part of education?
  • Is the fact that I funnelled everything that came my way today an example of how a vision is accepted (buy-in)?
  • Do the stories we tell develop the vision we adopt? Or does the vision determine the stories we tell?
Finally, I had one teacher ask me about a comment I made at our meeting. I said I believe we are sitting on a made-for-TV-movie at our school. We have all the ingredients of underdogs over-achieving, dramatic changes in population, and so much more. The question was "Why wait for TV? We have YouTube." Good point.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Vision, A Prescription for a Better

Today was a Teacher Work Day as we prepare to welcome our students back from our winter break. I was selected to be one of 16 people to help our school develop a new vision statement for our school.

I was torn all day long. I have led these kind of meeting in my past life in ministry. I enjoyed conducting the meetings, likely because I was young (in my 20s) and it was new to me. I was good at differentiating between core beliefs, vision, mission, goals, roles, and objectives...and in more than just a symantics type of way. After leading dozens of these kinds of meetings for different non-profit organizations, I became burned-out on the idea, because most groups are never able to give their vision wings to fly. Unfortunately, I have found the same things to be true in my educational organization experiences too. Many (wo)man-hours are spent developing a quality vision but, as was restated today, too many times we get them written down, put in the notebook, and then placed on the shelf...never given life.

I believe in order to give a vision the wings to take off and make a difference in the atmosphere of an organization the one key ingredient that is usually missing is the ability to communicate the vision with passion. The ability to inspire people is a talent that not many people possess. It is more than providing feel-good stories, it involves the ability to create a sense of urgency among the people involved in the organization (the stakeholders). It's not so much what will happen if we do this, it is what will happen if we fail to do this that motivates and inspires. Tony Robbins (in his book Awaken the Giant Within) has said people will do more to avoid pain than to attain pleasure. It is the same idea in communicating an organizational vision. Explaining what our students will get by focusing on our vision will not be as effective for most "stakeholders" as helping them understand what our students will miss out on by not focusing on our vision. It is a Plutarch method of communication seen in On the malice of Herodotus.

In respect to the new byline of asking questions to begin conversations...
So what are your thoughts? Are people more motivated by avoiding pain? What is your experience?

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Monday, January 01, 2007

New, Out the Old - In with the

It is January 1, 2007. It is a time of reflection and a time for looking ahead. So I will take a quick look backward.
  • Probably my most fond memory is earning my Ed.S. degree in Instructional Technology from Valdosta State University. I still say it is the best kept secret for educators in Southeast.
  • I began a new position in my school as the 2nd Media Specialist. It has been a great move for me. I needed the "change of scenery," but still enjoy the diverse student body of DMS.
  • I also began teaching online classes for Axia College of University of Phoenix. I did my internship from August to October by teaching 2 courses with a coach "by my side." Since then I have taught 4 more sections, and have 4 more waiting to begin on January 15 & February 12.
This is also the year when I became a daily reader of nearly 100 blogs from educators, librarians, and others. I use Bloglines as my aggregator, and I can attest that I have learned more from my year of reading, reflecting, and writing my own blog(s) than I have in any of my graduate courses I have taken. I mean no disrespect to my alma maters, only that I view my rss feeds as a lifeline of current, critical, and valuable information that is quickly influencing my development as an educator. This is both a blessing and a curse: A blessing because I have not been surprised by anything new the teachers or administrators in my system begin discussing. Not to sound conceited, but I am usually on to newer things by the time our system has had anyone mention anything "new." I heard for the first time in September 2006 from an adminstrator at our Central Office use the terms "digital natives" and "digitial immigrants." It was also about this time, several bloggers began to discuss the limiting features of the terms I first read from Marc Prensky in early 2002. Don't get me wrong, I am actually excited that anyone from our CO has heard of these terms. However, I am still not convinced we (as a system) know what to do with these terms as a manner of educating our students. I think, at this point, the terms are new to most of our people, so they sound cutting edge. I think it was Mark Twain (or some other cynic) who said, "To make yourself sound intelligent, use words others don't know." We do this frequently in education.

I do not want to be understood as being negative at this point, because I really am going somewhere with this...

As a new year begins, we all hope for a positive future. It's kind of odd in teaching though, because our new year is in August instead of January. And so, I begin with 7 Hopes for 2007:
  1. I hope I do not use unfamiliar words as a means of sounding more intelligent than those around me. I also hope that I am prepared enough to produce information for teachers and students who are ready to move beyond our basic approaches to teaching and learning. In other words, I'll know the vocabulary and how to put wings (as Marco Torres describes it) on the ideas of others.
  2. I hope to develop a large online presence of Video BookTalks done by our students and staff. One reason is because it is fun. Another reason is because it is valuable to our readers at the school. But primarily because it is a tool that helps our students read with a purpose, and create for a large audience.
  3. I hope to influence policy by having students and parents so involved in online projects that our system will have to make changes in filtering and technology policy.
  4. When policies change, I hope I can influence pedagogical changes. I am convinced that our students want to learn, but the presentation of information does not fill their needs. As I have said for at least 8 years, "We all learn what we want to know." The educator's job is to present material students may not normally want to know in such a way that the students don't know they have learned it until the lesson is over. Covert Education :^)
  5. I hope to truly make the Media Center THE place to be in the school. I want to train students to do the "basic tasks" of the library. I want students publicizing THE MC throughout the school building. Perhaps in the next school year (but still in 2007) beginning a book club for students, teachers, and parents.
  6. My biggest dream is to make THE MC a Web 2.0 hotbed. This requires the changing of system policy in filtering and communication. I believe all students should be required to have email accounts they can access at school. My belief is they should be Gmail accounts. I believe we should move away from proprietary software (MS Office, et. al.) to web-based applications where students have their own accounts within Google to type their papers online, and email them to their teachers for grading. I believe we should be using pictures and videos in an online setting to tell the stories of our school and community. I believe, with the international flavor we possess, that we should be a leading school in the nation in international collaboration with other schools. I believe we have been made to believe that technology is a dangerous thing, that only a few can understand. I guess that is enough...although I could go on.
  7. My final hope is that our school (and system) has the courage to take risks in teaching our students. I have been with the system only 11 years, but my observation is, although we are quick to try new programs (we are a bandwagon system), the programs are repackaged under a "New and Improved" label. Insanity, it is said, is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different outcome. It leads me to recall David Warlick's sentiment that never in the history of our educational system in America have we better prepared our students for the 20th century than we did in 2006. This final hope is really out of my hands.
Update - I read David Warlick's blog entry today, and he mentioned a superintendent from South Dakota made the following statement: "We are asking too many questions that require an answer, when we should be asking questions that require a conversation." I may have to make that part of my byline...OK...I just did.