International School Librarians' Knowledge Sharing Weekend in Brunei: my take-aways

A huge thank-you to Karli Downey and her team at Jerudong International School in Brunei for hosting a valuable two-day workshop for international school librarians, Feb. 21-22, 2014.  About thirty of us came together from Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, and Brunei to share our practice and thoughts.

See the LKSW Libguide for an overview.

The highlights for me included:
  • Lyn Hay, from SybaAcademy and Charles Sturt University, spoke on the concept of the iCentre (see her slides here)
  • Lyn Hay also spoke about guided inquiry -- and Linda Twitchett (AISS) spoke about how she developed a scope and sequence of information fluency for her secondary school.
    • As Lyn listed the seven survival skills a la Tony Wagner, I mentally tried to remember the 9 elements of our UWCSEA profile:  Qualities ( Commitment to Care, Principled, Resilient, Self-Aware) and Skills (Critical Thinker, Creative, Collaborative, Communicator, Self-Manager).  Information fluency/literacy is implicit in the descriptions of each.
    • Made me realize our library team needs to schedule time with our curriculum dept to continue to hash out our own research model.  Linda came up with four main stages: Exploring, Investigating, Processing, and Creating.  Our middle school has most recently settled on five stages:
      • Identify and ask relevant questions
      • Gather and organise information from different perspectives
      • Analyse, synthesise and evaluate information
      • Communicate
      • Reflection
    • Made me re-read my blog post on "Carol Kuhlthau meets Tim Brown: Guided {Design} Inquiry"
    • Lyn highly recommended Keri Smith's book, How to be an explorer of the world -- which is one of those books I hesitate to buy for the library, as it's meant to be written in and personalised.
    • Check out Linda's Libguide on Research.
  •  Crys Mills reminded us of some great Australian picture books -- I put the list here in LibraryThing -- and will double-check we have them.
  • Library tech topics....
    • In the RFID discussion Rob George reminded us that RFID isn't sufficient for security, that most libraries still use magnetic strips for that.  We don't anticipate going to RFID though the self-check and ease of inventory are appealing.
    • Thumbprint (biometric) recognition for check-out with Follett Destiny: Kim Beeman said she has a working installation -- which I look forward to seeing when I get to Bangkok next.  I always envisioned it for primary, but several people warned me that it doesn't work reliably with kids younger than seven or so -- as their fingerprints are too soft? unformed?  Others also mentioned parental concern over storing biometric data of children.
  • Book Weeks.... listened to others discussing what they do.  What we all do is cram a lot into one week.  Why not make every week "book week"?  Spread out more author visits over time, matching the right author to the right age level during the right curriculum time.  World Book Day in April could be the excuse for the whole campus to dress up as a book character.  The UN provides enough days throughout the year to focus on (especially for us as we aren't a nation-based school), e.g., World Literacy Day, Mother Tongue Day, etc.
  • Engaging readers.... Lots of good ideas and resources.
  • Collection development... Ditto.
  • Audiobooks and e-books....  A topic we all have opinions about and experiences with, e.g., Shrewsbury has Overdrive, so we were quizzing Kim Beeman.  Many of us have FollettShelf, Bookflix, and TumbleBooks.   Barb Philip shared the wealth of her experiments in her primary school library.
  • Style of PD.... this small group worked well.  I'm now thinking our network in Singapore (ISLN) should go for one-day Bootcamps designed for no more than 50 participants at a time, on various topics, e.g., on graphic design and signage, copyright, RDA and cataloging, managing genres and the trend to genre-fication, etc. -- for all library staff.
Next year LKSW might be in Bangkok..... ? 

Photo above:  a snapshot of the fabulous biscuits made specially for the conference!





Connecting books and readers via the virtual, visible, spatial, and personal

I have a penchant for schematics.  Below is the one I made while thinking about the types of connections between readers and books -- and ways to enable them.
Note: when choosing ways to connect, three factors must always be considered:  Can it scale? (i.e., will it work for large numbers)  Is it easily accessible?  How will it be maintained?

We recently started an initiative that manages to combine all four delivery methods.

The personal connection is that we invite secondary school teachers to identify the books they want to recommend to their students.  The library then buys 3+ copies of those books for the general library collection.

The virtual connection is a booklist of the titles via our library catalog, e.g., see Dr. Alex's Favorites (where Alex McGregor is the head of History).

The visual connection is a huge skeuomorphic bookshelf poster (thanks to a new big Epson printer and this *.jpg of a blank wooden bookshelf) of the booklist, with a QR code linking to the list. 
To give you an idea of the size, the blank spots on the "shelf" are A4 size (8.5"x11") so teachers can add books to their shelf (read: maintenance) -- by printing out a cover and just blue-tacking it into place.  (Who said cutting and pasting is dead?)  See below example of a poster on a classroom wall.

The spatial connection is a display shelf in the library where multiple copies of each book are displayed - in a very visible way.  (The wall posters are also displayed, but as A4 size in acrylic holders.)
The books are placed face-out with the extra copies stacked behind -- and in the event that all copies are gone, we have a mini-poster (another visual connection) which is a piece of paper inside a plastic sleeve -- which has a QR code and shortened URL leading to the title in the library catalog, so people can check how many copies are available.  I always complain you can't see what books are missing when looking at a shelf -- this way you can permanently display the most important or popular titles.


Will we have room for all the teachers' selections?  We'll find the space....  Click here for a Google Presentation showing all the book wall posters made so far.

Next I want to some teachers to write up little booktalking blurbs and see if we can hang them off the metal holders -- the way independent bookstores do.....

Outside Connections and Follett Destiny

If I could wave a magic wand and improve Follett Destiny as a school library catalog, it would be to improve ways of linking and looking into it.

Here are a few ways to ameliorate the situation.

1)  Share a Destiny link -- the need to add the all-important 'site' information


Have you ever wanted to send a Destiny link to a title, resource list, or copy category to someone?  If so, you know you HAVE TO add:

&site=NUMBER

to the end of the link, where NUMBER is usually 100, 101, 102, 103, etc.

We host our own catalog, so that's all we have to do.  I just learned that if Follett hosts your catalog, you also have to add:

&context=BLAH

For example:  &context=saas18_8553630&site=100

You can see your particular site information by hovering over the link that gets you into your particular catalog.  For example, our Dover Secondary library is site 100, our Dover Primary library is site 101, our East Primary library is 102, and our East Secondary library is 103.  So that information is added to any link we send to anyone.


Update 12Apr14:  If Follett hosts your catalog and you need to find your CONTEXT number, look at the URL when you see all your catalogs displayed -- and it will be at the end of the URL:

2)  Get a Destiny link -- to a set of search results


If you want to send someone a "canned" ("tinned"?) search -- such that they can dynamically search the catalog by clicking on a link, you need to edit the URL.

For example, suppose I want to send someone a link that will do a keyword search on "economics".  I put "economics" in the Basic Search box and press Enter.  The URL that results is not reproducible -- you can't send it to someone and get the same results.  Instead you need to choose "Refine your search" and work with that URL.


When you get that URL, you need to change the word "present" to "handle":

Lastly, I have to add the site/context info, e.g., here is the final URL.

http://catalog.uwcsea.edu.sg/cataloging/servlet/handlebasicsearchform.do?keywordText=economics&siteTypeID=-2&searchType=keyword&siteID=&includeLibrary=true&includeMedia=false&mediaSiteID=&doNotSaveSearchHistory=false&awardGroupID=-1&site=103

The URL above will do a keyword search on "economics" for the East Second Library of UWCSEA and present the results.

Note:  You can also use DQL (Destiny Query Language) to do a more complicated search out of the Basic search box (because you can't access meaningful URLs based on an Advanced Search).

See the Destiny Help system for more information, e.g.,


3)  Goodreads -- how to click to check if you already have a Goodreads book in your Destiny catalog


First, find a book in Goodreads.  On the Title information page, look for "online stores" and "book links" at the bottom.  It's the "Book Links" bit that you (and your patrons) can customize to go to your school's Destiny catalog to check availability.



Angie Erickson and I presented a workshop on "Geeking out with Goodreads" in September at the Google Apps Summit here in Singapore -- and put "how to" information about integration with Follett Destiny up on a Google Site page here:

https://sites.google.com/site/geekingoutwithgoodreads/library-catalog-interfaces

4)  Book Cover Displays -- mirroring bits of your collection via Goodreads or LibraryThing or showing "Latest Arrivals" via Pinterest


Many people use Goodreads or LibraryThing to generate book display widgets for parts of their catalog.

Basically, you reproduce a Resource List or Copy Category (i.e., a list of books) in your catalog into Goodreads or LibraryThing or Pinterest -- and then put them on a shelf or board or tag them.

E.g., here is the 2013-2014 Red Dot books for Older Readers -- display out of Goodreads:


Update 12Apr14:  
If you "pin" books from within your Destiny catalog (adding the &site=xxx as per above), then when users click through on the board, they will be taken to the title in your catalog.

Pinterest, unlike Goodreads and LibraryThing, is a time-sensitive -- last in, first out -- list.  So it's perfect for showing things like "Latest Arrivals". (In Destiny Quest, users can see latest arrivals, but only 10 or so and you can't control what is on that list.   Via Pinterest, you can choose the books to advertise.

And here are some links to Pinterest boards that show our latest arrivals:

5)  LibraryThing for Libraries -- Book Display Widgets -- linking back to Destiny


LibraryThing for Libraries has a javascript Book Widget generator available via Bowker for about US$ 400 -- which allows you to create any number of book display widgets in four different styles that will let people click on a book cover and go directly to that item in your school catalog.

We're now using it to get beautiful displays of booklists on our Libguide pages, e.g., see our Economics: Introduction: Books & Physical Resources and our Mathematics: Introduction: Books & Physical Resources guides.

The widget can take a variety of inputs -- as the screenshot to the right shows.

If you want to have the book covers displayed link back to your own catalog -- you need to use the "LibraryThing.com User".  When you buy the widget generator, you automatically get a LibraryThing account to put books into.  The widget works off LibraryThing "Collections" -- so when you enter or import titles, put them in a Collection.

If you have a Destiny Resource List and want those titles imported into LibraryThing, you can run a "Title/Copy List" report out of Destiny -- which includes the ISBN of copies. When the report is displayed, select all and copy the whole text output.  Then in LibraryThing go to "Add Books" then "Import Books" -- and paste that text into the "Grab ISBN" box.  Identify what collection you want them imported into -- then import.

You can then create a widget based on that collection.

You can also dump your whole school catalog as MARC records out of Destiny - and LibraryThing will upload them in batch mode -- though you can't identify tags or collections upon import.

In order to have the widget link back to your catalog, you have to tell LibraryThing how to search your catalog using a URL, e.g.,

ISBN search:
http://catalog.uwcsea.edu.sg/cataloging/servlet/handlenumbersearchform.do?searchOption=3&searchText=MAGICNUMBER&includeLibrary=true&includeMedia=false&siteTypeID=-2&siteID=&mediaSiteID=&doNotSaveSearchHistory=false&awardGroupID=-1&site=103

Title search:
http://catalog.uwcsea.edu.sg/cataloging/servlet/handlebasicsearchform.do?keywordText=KEYWORDS&siteTypeID=101&searchType=title&siteID=&includeLibrary=true&includeMedia=false&mediaSiteID=&doNotSaveSearchHistory=false&awardGroupID=-1&site=103

 Access-based URL:
http://catalog.uwcsea.edu.sg/cataloging/servlet/presenttitledetailform.do?siteTypeID=101&siteID=&includeLibrary=true&includeMedia=false&mediaSiteID=&bibID=ACCESSION&awardGroupID=-1&site=103


After you get these Global Configurations set up, creating the widget is straight-forward.

Here are the four styles available:

3D Carousel example:


Dynamic Grid example:


Carousel example:



Scrolling example:

NB: As it's javascript, it's not possible to embed these widgets into Google Sites nor in the Destiny HTML homepage.

 6)  Destiny Homepage -- call numbers and collections....


Last but not least, I think we all should be providing better clues about the structure of our catalogs on our Destiny homepages.   

When I get to somebody's catalog start page, I have no way of knowing how many books they have or how they've organized their collections.  So I'll look at Resource Lists and Visual Search lists, but if people haven't create any -- then it's a blind search box and I have to guess.

Ideally I'd like to create a map showing my library's layout and physical collections as well as digital resources -- and have that on my homepage.

Until I get around to to doing that, I list all the major call number prefixes on our Destiny Home Page.

Liberate your book cupboards and create a more true "bookstore" model in your school library?

We all enjoy the mental exercise of comparing libraries and bookstores as spaces where humans come to interact with books.

Libraries nobly address users' needs (the story goes), while bookstores focus on their wants -- and therefore provide a better browsing experience, being organized for optimum attention rather than intellectual access. 

Positing bookstores as the outside competition prompts us to examine and improve discoverability in our library environment -- to increase the likelihood people will find the books they want - or, more importantly, books they didn't even know they wanted.

First there's the basic environmental psychology of shopping, which Paco Underhill explained so well in his 1999 book, Why We Buy: the science of shopping -- what I think of as the "grocery store" approach. Put the most frequently purchased items at the back of the store, forcing people to walk through the space and be exposed to more merchandise.  Put the tempting last-minute purchases (the candy and gossip magazines) in the checkout aisle.  Make as much stuff face-front display as possible (who buys cereal by looking at the spine of the box?).

More commonly, talk of implementing bookstore models in libraries is associated with ditching Dewey (e.g., see this September 2012 article in School Library Journal) in favor of sections with real names on prominent signs ("Science Fiction", "Sports", "Travel", etc.), not decimal numbers.  Of course, we all ditch Dewey to some degree.  Everyone has an A-Z author-sorted "Fiction" section outside the 800s.  Many have a separate "Biography" section.  Every collection outside the run of the Dewey numbers can be claimed as a victory by the bookstore model.

The Magic of Multiple Copies


But there's one aspect of the bookstore model that most libraries don't or can't reproduce -- having multiple copies on the shelf and potentially more stock "out back" somewhere.

In our library this year, we have started to create "bookstore" sections.  Book covers facing out.  Rough grouping by author or genre.  Multiple copies behind the front book. And, most importantly, a paper place-holder sign showing you what book is normally shelved in the spot -- and a QR code to let you see how many copies are still available.

We started with the English Dept'.s resources, creating a Hot Reads for High School (over 250 titles so far) and a Middle School Reading Zone (over 170 titles so far).  Next the Math Dept. came up with a list of books to buy multiple copies, and the Economics Dept. wasn't far behind.  We've put those titles face-front at the beginning of the subject Dewey section in Nonfiction.

The best thing is - you can booktalk efficiently.  The selection is smaller and definitely selected - by virtue of the curriculum or a teacher or librarian. And there is an instant supply!

Because that's the usual frustration of a school librarian in front of a group of students - booktalking when only one copy is available.  What if you could booktalk a book and have 4, 6, 8, 12, 24, 144+ copies available?

The project started with our middle school's foray into Reading Workshop, with its focus on literature circles instead of whole-grade novel study, and our Grade 9 English teachers deciding they wanted to kick off the year with a wide reading initiative (inspired by Penny Kittle's Book Love) before having to hone in on IGCSE texts.

How could we quickly produce varied class libraries for 8+ English classrooms per grade level?  Where would these books come from?

Solution:  Take all the multiple copies previously purchased for whole-class novel study by the English Dept. and make them available to all students (when not required by a particular teacher).  Then choose some extra titles for purchase, whether in small or large sets, based on curriculum need or teacher/librarian choice.  Finally, for us, add in the multiple copies purchased as part of running of the annual Red Dot Awards (see history here).

Voila!  The library as massive class library.  With multiple copies of great books available on the shelf.  This is our "Best Books for Middle School" list, our "This is What Your Child Will Be Reading in English Class" list, our "What Your Teacher Recommends" list.  Parents love it, as do kids.  It's the quick pick-up zone.  The whole Fiction section still has a fantastic selection of books, but students don't have to negotiate it until they are motivated to do so.

I want to focus now on the logistics of our implementation.  Because there always are tricks that make things work, in any given situation.

Q:  How to you keep multiple copies on the shelf?

A:   Our shelves are deep enough to store a stack of books behind a simple metal bookend, bent to hold a front-facing book on display.  The excess are kept in a backroom, handy enough that library staff can go retrieve them to replenish the shelf stock or upon request.


Q:  What if all the "hot reads" are gone?  How do I know what is all out?

A:  There is still evidence left behind.  No titles out of sight, out of mind. We have made A5 (half of 8.5x11" sheets, for you Americans) printouts showing the cover plus a QR code and shortened URL -- which take you to the catalog, showing how many copies are still available.


QR codes are magic.  I've liked them from the beginning and have them sprinkled around my library, connecting the visible with the virtual.

I recommend you get ShortenMe in the Chrome Extension store.  With one click, you get an instant QR code and goo.gl URL.

NB: if you're using Follett Destiny, you always need to add your site number at the end of the URL before shortening it (e.g., blahblahblah&site=100).  Contact me if you use Destiny and don't know what I'm talking about.
The A5 paper signs go into re-usable stiff plastic "card cases". Sample at left.

Q:  How do people know if there are more copies out back?

A:  By scanning the QR code or typing in the Goo.gl shortened URL provided on every display stand -- both of which link into our catalog, e.g., click here to see availability of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.




As mentioned above, this model is being extended into subject departments in high school, creating pockets of the "bookstore experience" within the Dewey run.  Mathematics, Economics, History, and Drama are the first.

To the right are books on the Mathematics shelves in the Dewey section.

We have virtual walls, too, mirroring these bookstore sections -- thanks to a new HP large-format printer, which can make posters up to 1.x meters in size.  See examples in the slideshow below.

Looking back: the evolution of the Red Dot Book Awards & Readers Cup in Singapore

The Red Dot book awards (reddotawards.com) are one of those hybrid awards:  students vote on shortlists selected by adults (school librarians).  Eight books in four categories, one winner in each -- followed by a Readers Cup competition between international schools here in Singapore.

"But what's the mission statement?  Good literature or just promoting books from various countries?" someone asked as we gathered to sort through the longlists of the four categories this year.

My gut response was "good literature from various countries."

The awards website's "About" page says:
The Red Dot categories are roughly based on readers, rather than book formats or school divisions.  (NB: It is up to every librarian to determine which books are right for which classes in your school to read.)
  • Early Years (ages 3-7) -- formerly Picture Books
  • Younger Readers (ages 7-10) -- formerly Junior) -- (where Captain Underpants and Geronimo Stilton are the assumed reading level)
  • Older Readers (ages 10-14) -- formerly Middle) -- (where Inkheart and The Lightning Thief are the assumed reading level)
  • Mature Readers (ages 14-adult) -- (formerly Senior) --  (where Twilight and The Book Thief are the assumed reading level)
Shortlist titles are chosen by a committee of teacher-librarians from recent children's literature (first published in English within the past four years), with the goal of offering a range of books from around the world
The initiative is now entering its fifth year, just long enough for its origins to deserve review -- especially given our transient teaching population.
As one of its creators, it was interesting for me to go back through the minutes of meetings and  posts in the Google Group of our local network - ISLN (International Schools Library Network - Singapore) and remember how it developed.

First there was Barb Philip Reid, a NZ/Australian teacher-librarian at Tanglin Trust School, back in September 2008 wanting to get a Readers Cup going between all our schools, similar to the Readers Cup in Australia.   As research, she and I did a librarians-on-tour trip to Hong Kong in May 2009 to watch the finale of the annual Battle of the Books (based on a well-established American model) run by their international school library network, ALESS.

At the same time I had been wanting to get an annual international students-voting book award going in Singapore, inspired by the Panda Book Awards created by SLIC (School Librarians in China) and the Sakura Medal started by the international school librarians in Japan.  (The French international schools in Asia run a similar program: see here and here -- and there is now the Morning Calm Medal in South Korea.) 

Barb and I figured, why not combine the two ambitions and start an annual book award program, whose shortlists would become the source of the Readers Cup competition booklists.  Introduce the books in Oct/Nov, vote in March, and the three older categories (as shown) would compete in May.
  • Younger Readers - Year 3, 4 & 5 / Grade 2, 3 & 4
  • Older Readers - Year 5, 6, 7, & 8 / Grade 4, 5, 6 & 7
  • Mature Readers - Year 8+ / Grade 7+
Our booklists would then necessarily be "formative" ones, meaning only fairly recent literature, in contrast to the "summative" kind most "Battle of the Books" (Google it) use, mixing old and new titles.  Both have their place.  The "summative" approach guarantees kids don't miss great books from any era.  The "formative" ensures students and teachers are exposed to the best of the latest -- and encourages schools to buy multiple copies of new titles every year, potentially freshening up the book cupboards.

We got a committee together and in October 2009 it was announced the award would be called the "Red Dots" (as Singapore is proud of that epithet).   The shortlists followed in November, with 14 schools immediately signing up to participate, including a British school, an American school, a German school, a French school, a Canadian school, an Australian school, plus just plain Anglo-heritage/international ones.  And so it started, and has continued, with some variation in implementation.

Each school can do what they want with the lists.  Buy them all or only a selection.  Participate in voting or not.  Participate in the Readers Cup or not.  Give your students different criteria for choosing one book to vote for in each category.  (Your personal favorite? The one you would recommend to friends the most?)  We only say students should probably have read at least two books in a category in order to make a choice.  We do expect just one vote per student per category.  Results are tallied by category and school, and then for all the schools, giving us overall winners.

An International Approach (in Singapore)

 

But back to the question, how do we choose titles?   What assumptions has the committee been working on over the past five years?

Barb and I did a presentation at the 2010 IASL (International Association of School Librarians) in Brisbane, Australia, on "Creating Internationally Literate Readers" (see the workshop website and our conference paper), which recounted the Red Dot story and summarized the challenges we face in choosing books suitable for and accessible to the wide range of students in our various international schools.

We brought up the danger of the single story (a la Chimamanda Adichie's TED talk) and the need for books to serve as both mirrors and windows of culture for children, especially given the predominance of "third culture" kids in our schools.  We showed examples of books that bridge cultures well - and others that are problematic.  For example, the question always has to be asked, is this book too American? too British? too Australian? too Canadian? too Singaporean? etc.

There are so many factors, but these are the major ones considered for the Red Dot books:
  •  Publication date:  published in English within the past four years.  That seems to increase the chance that books are available in paperback.  It also allows enough time for us to take advantage of other/national book awards which may be limited to just the past year - we can choose from their backlists.
  • Cost and ease of access:  If a book is perfect, but not available through our regular book-buying channels, or only available in hardcover, we hesitate to choose it.  Likewise, if a book is available as an ebook as well as print, that would give it extra points.  Everyone runs their Red Dot program differently, but we assume multiple copies will be purchased.
  • Genres:  with only eight titles per category, variety is desirable, but there is no formula.  One non-fiction? One poetry or verse novel? One graphic novel? One fantasy? One historical fiction?   One book in translation?  One book featuring global concerns, like child labor or refugees or war? There has been talk of starting a separate category for graphic novels.  Maybe next year?
  • Reading Level vs. Reader Maturity Level:  This is the hardest thing to gauge.  Where to place a book.  Sometimes we get it wrong.  There is an assumed one year overlap (at least for the Readers Cup) between Younger and Older Readers, and Older and Mature Readers.  And schools have different comfort levels with language and content.  All we can say is, each librarian is responsible for reading and placing the books in their school.  There is no requirement that each school stock each book.  Students don't have to read all the books in order to vote.
  • Country of origin or country of flavor:  We like to include a book or two in each category that reflects the region.  Having said that, we try not to privilege country of origin over quality.   If there's a good one from Singapore, that's great (especially if the author likes to do school visits), but if not, we would be happy with a good one from, or set in, another Asian country.  Also, no one country of origin should dominate a list.  When in doubt, think international.
  • Literary vs. Popular:  This is the tension in the modified children's choice style of book awards.  They don't pick the longlist or shortlist - they only get to vote.  So are we choosing books we want them to read?  Or books they would choose to read on their own?  Should we choose a book if we already have a sense that it's going to a big hit?  Or avoid the easy choice and try to put another one in their path, a lesser known one that could have just as much appeal?  (Some of our past choices might look like we went for a bestseller, but if you check the dates, we chose them before their massive popularity - e.g., "The Hunger Games".)

    The bottom line is, we are buying multiple copies of these books.  They might not have to be texts worth teaching in depth, but if the extra copies are going to be used (after the Red Dot cycle is over) for literature circles or to enhance class libraries, then we want both quality and appeal.  I know I want books my students can possibly make at least two connections with (using the Keene & Zimmerman / Harvey & Goudvis strategies):
    • Text-to-Self -- emotional or personal connections -- think empathy...
    • Text-to-World -- social or political or historical connections -- relevant issues or introduction to other cultures...
    • Text-to-Text -- literary/literacy or intellectual connections -- perhaps an author, series, or genre that will keep kids reading...

Balance is Everything

This means within the list, across the categories, and across the years.  For all the factors above.

I found some old photos of our Red Dot committee shortlist meeting from September 2010.   Here we are:  drinks, nibbles, laptops (note the person being skyped in), smartphones, and books.  I recall it was a marathon session.

And here's the whiteboard where the balance of the lists was incessantly being assessed.
This year we've split into two groups to do the selection:  Early/Younger and Older/Mature.  Time is ticking and we should be finishing our lists within the next two weeks.  There are books to be bought.  And a new website to get up and running.  Watch reddotawards.com for updates......

Title talk: Librarian + What? Teacher? Facilitator? Curriculum Leader?

The last time our school posted a library job, it asked for a Teacher-Librarian (TL).*

This time it says we need a Library Facilitator.  (Apply by October 23!)  Primary or secondary.  (While I'm in secondary now, I'm flexible.)

Jane & Louise Wilson "Oddments room"
Where did the teaching go?  It's still in there, but shifted - from direct to indirect - while retaining learning as the priority.  Read the job responsibilities:

  • Work collaboratively with library staff across the campus and college.
  • Work collaboratively with the curriculum leaders and department heads to develop resources and promote inquiry-based learning and all forms of literacy.
  • Work collaboratively with all members of the community (whether students, parents, or staff) to support teaching and learning.
  • Manage the library as a learning environment and public space, including patron services and library staff.
  • Manage and develop learning resources, physical and digital, both for the library and classrooms/departments.
  • Lead the development and promotion of the library as a centre dedicated to the spread of ideas, information, and learning.
  • Other responsibilities as determined by the Head of Libraries and Head of Campus.

 The issue is our librarian-student ratio.

With only two teacher-librarians, one in the primary library and one in the secondary library, and 2,600 students total, the ratio is challenging (to be euphemistic).  We  have roughly 1,000 students in primary and 1,300 students this year in middle/high school (secondary) - and will be adding another 300 students in secondary next year, for a maximum of 2,600 on this new campus.  (And we have a mirror campus across town with 2,900 students, K-12.)

How can one person "teach" 1,000 students?  They can't.  At least not regularly.  Instead they must focus on developing teachers' capacity (as a coach, modeling lessons and acting as a consultant) and learning resources (from pathfinders via Libguides to videos, podcasts, slide presentations), not to mention running a facility that is a learning space by default (the environment as the 3rd teacher), hosting events and initiatives.   Our libraries are in prominent well-trodden paths.  There's no danger of students not coming into them.  Two major pillars of support are the stalwart library staff and the motivated and multi-talented parent body.  Both are critical to maintaining library sanity.

Did I mention that, at this campus, the library is also responsible for the processing and management of all teaching resources?  This includes textbooks for secondary (where we have them) and reading/writing workshop resources for middle and primary (i.e., literature circles and class libraries).  In addition, the secondary library works closely with departments to ensure multiple copies of great books for each age and subject are available (imagine "Hot Reads for High School" across disciplines).

In this situation, we decided that the librarian half is more important than the teacher half in recruiting a new person.  Hence the word "facilitator" over "teacher".  We played with several others.  Coach? Curriculum Liaison? Curriculum Developer?  Curriculum Leader?

We have great teachers.  And we have a great number of resources, digital and physical.  What we need is someone dedicated to connecting the two efficiently.  Perhaps we are just looking for a TL committed to the Flipped Classroom -- who is also excited by metadata.  Because that's what the librarian end should be focusing on -- ensuring easy, intellectual access to everything (the curriculum++) from anywhere.  And this must be accomplished while living in the center of the library, where the students live each day.   It's a front-of-office job with back-of-office responsibilities.

So consider applying.  Whether you agree with our label or not.  What's important is that you appreciate our situation and feel you could not only cope, but add value.

Head of Library role is another interesting definition to consider.  This is how I describe it at the moment.

  • Develop staffing plans and co-ordinate staff recruitment and deployment
  • Co-ordinate the budget process
  • Represent the library team in a variety of settings
  • Facilitate communication between libraries across the campus and college
  • Develop a strategic plan and co-ordinate goal-setting for the libraries
  • Co-ordinate staff professional development
  • Manage facility planning and development
  • Develop library policies and procedures
  • Liaise with heads of departments & grades about policy and procedures relating to the management of learning resources (e.g., textbooks and class libraries)
  • Oversee the provision of information services

Comments welcome.... as well as sympathy.

Update Oct 15:

I forgot to mention two other very very very important positions that complement the library ones.

The primary school has two digital literacy coaches as well as one literacy coach (in charge of the reading/writing workshop learning).  There are also two digital literacy coaches in secondary.

So five other people in the school are supporting other literacies (digital, traditional, etc.) that in a smaller school would probably fall within the teacher-librarian's remit.  Which helps a lot.

I always draw the relationship like this:


Also note the head of library responsibilities listed above are additional to a basic role.  I have to do that as Head of Library on top of being the secondary school teacher-librarian (or library facilitator).

Update Oct 17:

Several questions keep coming up.

1)  Is this a teaching position, with a teacher's contract and benefits?  Yes.

2)  Is there library support staff?  Yes.  Lovely, hard-working staff.  And we have just been given approval to advertise for a local-hire, administrative librarian for our campus (the other campus already has one - giving them three fully-qualified librarians, including the TLs).

3)  What about the online portfolio that must be submitted?
In addition to the usual requirement for applicants to submit a resume and letter of application, candidates for this position should also submit an online portfolio showing evidence of implementation/innovation in these six overlapping areas of the library:  patrons; resources; teaching & learning; events & initiatives; the library environment as "the 3rd teacher"; library staff/team.
Our campus is moving towards teacher portfolios instead of appraisals, so this seemed a good way to have new staff start off -- by showing us things you've done that you're proud of and that have made a difference to the learning in the institutions you've worked in.  Feel free to interpret the six areas as you will and to fashion a portfolio that suits you.  Just give us something to click.


* For the record, I have always been irritated by the American term, "Library Media Specialist".  Years before I became one, I imagined such a person in charge of just CDs and DVDs (ok, it was many years ago).....

A look at staffing in international school libraries

I've been asked to project what our library staffing needs will be post-set-up phase (as we are in Year 3 of a brand-new school with one more year of expansion).

Please fill out the form below if you are a fully-established middle or high school library in an international school.  Don't forget to hit the Submit button at the bottom.

Many thanks.... I've made it so everyone can see the results right after you complete the form.

UPDATED Sep 6: Here is a direct link to the spreadsheet of results.

Making and Tinkering to Learn

If you want to have a good read about the history and future of the "making" movement in education and tinkering as "a mindset for learning," I highly recommend the book "Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom -- by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager.

Go to their website for an overview of the chapters, with links to extended resources for each.


The best thing it did was to send me back to read/re-read Seymour Papert, the grandfather of the movement.  (I didn't realize the roots of his projects were in Maine.)

I also refreshed my acquaintance with the writings of Mitchel Resnick (head of the MIT Lifelong Kindergarten group) re the cycle of imagine, create, play, share, reflect, imagine.  And a biography of Nikola Tesla is on my "to read" list.

A few notes/quotes from the book:
Stager's hypothesis:  "A good prompt is worth a thousand words." -- where 'good' means it has (a) brevity (e.g., can fit on a post-it note), (b) ambiguity (let the learner be free to satisfy the prompt in their own voice), and (c) has immunity to assessment. (60-61)
Learners can exceed expectations with the following four variables in place:
-- a good prompt, motivating challenge, or thoughtful question
-- appropriate materials
-- sufficient time
-- a supportive culture, including a range of expertise (60)
"Great teachers know that their highest calling is to make memories." (67)
"Constructivism is a theory of learning that doesn't mandate a specified method of teaching.... Constructionism is a theory of teaching.  We believe that constructionism is the best way to implement constructivist learning." (71)
Advice: skip the pre-load, don't overteach planning, encourage continuous improvement, allow reflection. (77)
Assessment interrupts the learning process.  Even asking a kid what they're doing is disruptive. (81)
"Writing, filmmaking, and presenting information are the low-hanging fruit of creative expression in the digital age." (84)
"The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge." -- Seymour Papert (157)
 Educators need to be reminded that it is possible to learn without being taught. (202)


Reading the book, I remembered my father's workshop down cellar in the house in Maine where I grew up.  We loved to make things with him.  My biggest project was a bookcase that would double as my bed's headboard.  Mainly we marveled at how he could fix things.  He was definitely a tinkerer.

A few years ago it was time to clear the workshop out.  After all, he'd been dead for some twenty years and no one was using it.  But I took some last photos.

IMG_4571 
Full Flickr set here 

Reporting back: On being with 26,000 other librarians for five days

I started this year's ALA* (#ALA2013) experience with two very practical all-day pre-conference workshops.
  • Library Makerspaces: The Field Trip -- at the Chicago Public Library, which focused on the spaces being created to allow  kids to experience hands-on tinkering, especially with flexible, inexpensive digital/electronic components.  Various people presented, on various aspects. All-day interesting.  Separate blog post coming. 
  • RDA: Back to the Basics -- which explained, in illuminating detail, the benefits to libraries of the new metadata Resource Description and Access standard and how to gradually implement it via existing MARC data records.  Welcome, worthwhile. Separate blog post coming.
 The conference itself involved shorter sessions.  Highlights included:
  • Friction: Teaching Slow Thinking and Intentionality in Online Research -- a presentation by Debbie Abilock (NoodleTools) and Tasha Bergson-Michelson again (see above).  See presentation slides here.  Not only was I thrilled to finally meet Debbie in person, having known and interacted with her online for years, but this was one of the few sessions which managed to involve the audience effectively.  If you go to http://bit.ly/FrictionALA, you can get links to the ten Google Docs used to record the small group discussions. 

    I liked the idea of focusing on "friction points" in the research process -- where students could or should be prompted to use System Two thinking (as in Daniel Kahneman's book, "Thinking, Fast and Slow" - one of my favorites).  More on on this in another blog post.
  • Studying Ourselves: Libraries and the User Experience -- a panel presentation by a professor and two university librarians, each of whom had studied the library environment -- and students' use of the library -- using sociological and/or anthropological research methods.  The sociology professor, Andrew Abbott, was particularly fascinating.  Again, more in another blog post.
  • LibrarARy Orientation: Augmented Reality in the Library:  Reality -- a quick session by the University of Houston librarians on how they are using Aurasma, a free augmented reality app, to enhance their library orientation sessions.  Click here for their Prezi presentation.  I had already played with Aurasma and found it interesting to see how they were using it.  More on this later.
  • Bleak New World: YA Authors Decode Dystopia -- a panel discussion by four top-notch dystopia authors, from old to young: Lois Lowry ("The Giver"), Cory Doctorow ("Little Brother"), Patrick Ness ("The Knife of Never Letting Go"), and Veronica Roth ("Insurgent").  As Ness said, the best YA books promote the question, "what would you do if....?" And another of them said, dystopia is not a story, but a way to tell a story.
  • Jaron Lanier: Who Owns the Future? -- An auditorium presentation by a major player in the making of today's digital world, unafraid to criticize it with compelling economic arguments in his new book.  Also thoroughly charming. I'm a long-time follower of his thinking, so I felt like it was a fireside chat with an old friend, bringing up scary topics (too true, big data is a big danger), but also reassuring that we can change history by raising awareness at critical moments. (What a lovable hippie....).  Google him for all kinds of resources, starting with his homepage.
  •  Ping Fu: Bend Not Break -- An auditorium presentation by a woman who grew up in the worst of China's Cultural Revolution and today is a cutting edge American entrepreneur in the 3D digital "maker" space, thanks to her company, Geomagic.  Her story is fascinating - as she started out doing comparative literature in China, while computer science was her ticket to success in the States.  In the photo below, note her her shoes and scarf are both 3D-printed objects. 

    For more info re her book, see her website: bendnotbreak.com -- though she has come under a lot of scrutiny for some of her depictions of the Cultural Revolution.  Has she exaggerated or mis-remembered?  Google it yourself, if you're interested in the controversy.  I still enjoyed listening to a rags-to-riches-via-technology American immigrant woman on stage -- and hope some of my students will read her autobiography.

  •  Beyond Genre: Exploring the Perception, Uses, and Misuses of Genres by Readers, Writers, etc. -- a panel discussion by three popular writers (for adults, not teens or children) -- crime novelist Laura Lippman (wife of David Simon, if that name means anything to you fans of "The Wire"),  Margaret Dilloway, and Naomi Novik, fantasy writer and analyst of fandom fiction.  All new-to-me authors.  The comments that stuck with me include:   "Never forget, literature can be done within genre; the author is potentially limited, not the form."  Also a reminder of the benefit of genre lists, i.e., booklists that help young people in a library looking for the next thing to read.  NB:  Since the session the organizers have posted a long list of resources related to genres -- it's well worth a look:  Beyond Genre: Research and Trends PDF.
Next year ALA is in Las Vegas, a place I would normally not go near.  Now it sounds quite attractive.

*ALA - the American Library Association's annual conference, held at the end of June (convenient for those of us on the northern hemisphere school calendar - and for me regularly winging my way from Singapore to Maine - so any US city is "on the way".... this year it was Chicago...).  A conference that attracts 26,000 librarians/attendees.  Yes, think mega-library.  Below is a photo which gives an idea of the expanse of the exhibition space -- which I navigated, iPhone in hand, snapping books and ideas to pursue later.

All photos taken by me.

The digital sensitivity of a library collection

"How many books are there in the library and what are the annual circulation statistics?" says the secondary school administrator.

My first response is, what do you think that measures?
Books and Books
Okay, it's budget allocation time, so the underlying issue is financial competition with other development goals.  It's a request to justify the collection we're building as a new secondary school, finishing our second year of operation.

But let's start with the devil in the detail of our circulation statistics.
  • Browsing vs. Check-out:  A lot of books are taken off the shelf, but don't get taken out.  They're read  in the library, then left on tables.  Every day we have to go around and pick them up.  The most popular browsing material seems to be self-help and well-being books (yes, this includes sex-ed), art and photography books, poetry, graphic format (think: cartoons, comics and manga), middle-school novels (because: teachers regularly bring their classes in for free-choice, silent sustained reading), and Chinese-language books (reasons: various). 

    The fact that we're open until 9:30pm four nights a week for boarding house study time increases students' browsing potential within the library -- without having to check books out.

  • In-library-use-only Displays: Large numbers of curriculum-related books are kept on display tables while a grade has a particular focus - and students are asked NOT to take them out, for mass maximum access.  Students' ability to scan-to-PDF pages or chapters from books makes in-library-use-only more manageable.  Recent displays have supported units on peace and conflict resolution, human rights and up-standers/heroes, the Vietnam war, religions of the world, genetics, South Africa, etc.
  • Library resources are intertwined with those of the English Dept. -- so our circulation statistics should be considered jointly.
    • Some English teachers use the school library for their class library, checking out a box of books for in-class circulation over a long period.
    • Multiple copies of titles bought by the English Dept. are available on library shelves for general loan -- when not needed by a particular teacher -- rather than letting them languish in departmental book cupboards.
    • The library buys multiple copies of recently-published titles as part of the annual Red Dot Book Awards, and those books are automatically shifted to the English Dept. (both in the catalog and on the shelves) each June.
  • In such a new library, large numbers of new items are constantly being added.  Many resources haven't had much chance to be discovered and taken out.
Each school will have its own context that weakens the power of plain circulation statistics.

What is the ideal number of books in a secondary school library?  In different countries at different times, school library associations, whether national or regional, have cited research and quoted numbers.  12? 16? 20? 36? books per student?  I know schools that swear by each of those. 

But what are we counting?  Just physical books?

Avian books 34

Our collection size and substance is definitely affected by students' access to digital resources, due to our 1:1 Macbook program for grades 6-12.

To start with, we have no need for a separate reference section -- as databases provide that so well.

What doesn't the internet deliver as well as physical volumes in a school library?
  • Large-format art and design books -- ones you can spread out on a table and see many images at once.  Big beautiful books to browse.
  • Graphic novels and sophisticated picture books.  Same idea.  Big visuals.
  • Poetry.  Yes, you can find poems on websites, but due to copyright you can't find whole collections of one poet.  And so many poetry books are physical works of art in themselves.
  • Playscripts.  Again, a collection not accessed every day by everyone, but a godsend to someone interested in drama.
  • Special collections in one physical location, available for browsing -- Singapore books, self-help and well-being books, third-culture kids and global nomad books, "vintage" books (books published prior to 1950, culled from piles of donations, are a fascination to our students).  World languages (mother-tongue) collections come under this category, too.
  • Books the average person isn't going to buy for their home library.  For example, The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Letters of Vincent Van Gogh.  Price: Expensive. Who is reading this, you ask?  Not just the art teachers.  Yes, they're assigning it -- because they're thrilled to have it available. 
  • Narrative and visual non-fiction -- about science, math, history, etc.  Biographies fall in this category. 
  • Experience with non-fiction book layout standards -- e.g., how to use a table of contents, index, appendices, etc.   I find middle school teachers are particularly concerned with giving their students access to and experience with non-fiction books precisely because the internet doesn't easily allow them to absorb the conventions of research texts. I'd prefer to let databases provide (up-to-date) access to basic science, humanities, and geography information, but the teachers are still requesting a physical collection.
  • Fiction.  We're still delivering fiction via physical books for the time being.  While ebooks are growing in popularity and availability, the software to be able to lend ebooks (e.g., Overdrive) isn't cheap or doesn't have a good enough interface yet (e.g., Destiny), plus the whole DRM (digital rights management) situation isn't easy.  Several international school libraries have bought the ebook lending software only to find the books their students want to read aren't available as ebooks (legally) outside the US or UK.  

    Our students spend a lot of time in front of a screen and when we have tried to deliver English-class texts digitally (e.g., for works out of copyright and readily available in epub format), there has been push-back. The school's standard-issue laptop isn't the ideal ebook device.  I am also not convinced that the library should invest in mobile ereaders to lend out.

    Discoverability -- seeing what's available to borrow -- is also much harder with a digital loan collection.  It's not like sweeping your eyes over a bookshelf.  (I find Overdrive very frustrating on the browsing-for-titles front.)  
Making the virtual visible is one of my library mantras.  Not just making the library's digital presence visually evident, but also creating a physical space that provides a sense of the world's knowledge -- organized in some fashion.  The environment is the "third" teacher --  therefore the library, as a physical space, should be a powerful influence upon learning.

What I think the library space needs to do better is to connect the user with the online resources that complement and expand the physical resources on the shelf.  To let digital nuggets convince you to read a whole book; it could be a video of the author speaking or an animated illustration of a book's argument or just a great article related to the book, freely available online.
The book

I never answered the question of how many books is enough.  This comes back to the question of what we want to measure in the library - and how it can be measured.  I'll save my proposed dashboard for a separate post. 

Images via Flickr:   
Books and Books by Kara Allyson 
Avian books 34 by Mal Booth 
The book by giopuo

Carol Kuhlthau meets Tim Brown: Guided Inquiry {Design} Thinking

Two books have been guiding my thinking about research & inquiry cycles for the past couple of years.
a)  Change by Design -- by Tim Brown, of IDEO "design thinking" fame.  His framework is not explicitly educational, though IDEO have published a toolkit of design thinking for educators.


b)  Guided Inquiry Design: a framework for Inquiry in your School -- by Carol C. Kuhlthau, Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari.  Kuhlthau is the grand dame of teacher-librarianship and the one who first recognized the emotional element involved in the ISP (Information Search Process) back in 1991.

For me, the most important feature they share is the recognition of that emotional element in research.  We all get discouraged - or should.  If you don't experience any dip in confidence, then it means you're not really pushing yourself in terms of researching.   Tim's sketch illustrates Carol's original insight very well.
Tim's design process is an incredibly simple iterative cycle between Inspiration, Ideation, and Implementation (below is my sketch) -- but I think it works just as well in terms of research.

Carol's latest framework is more expansive, incorporating 8 "verb" steps (mirroring her older ISP "noun" stages - shown in parentheses) :
  • Open (Initiation)
    • Invitation to inquiry
    • Open minds
    • Stimulate curiosity
  • Immerse (Selection)
    • Build background knowledge
    • Connect to content
    • Discover interesting ideas
  • Explore (Exploration)
    • Explore interesting ideas
    • Look around
    • Dip in
  • Identify (Formulation)
    • Pause and ponder
    • Identify inquiry questions
    • Decide direction
  • Gather (Collection)
    • Gather important information
    • Go broad
    • Go deep
  • Create (Presentation)
    • Reflect on learning
    • Go beyond facts to make meaning
    • Create to communicate
  • Share (Presentation)
    • Learn from each other
    • Sharing learning
    • Tell your story
  • Evaluate (Assessment)
    • Evaluate achievement of learning goals
    • Reflect on content
    • Reflect on process

Carol's book offers plenty of practical suggestions for implementing inquiry in schools, e.g., she stresses the need for an Inquiry Journal (a workspace for individual composing and reflection) as well as Inquiry Charts (attempts to visualize ideas, connections, questions, etc.) and an Inquiry Log (a record of sources consulted), but one of the most important points she makes is the crucial distinction between the Explore and the Gather stages.

The Explore stage is about browsing, scanning, and skimming.  "Dipping in" means you need to relax, read, and reflect.  Sources should just be tracked in the Inquiry Log at this point.

The Gather stage is about detailed note-taking, comprehensive searching, and "going deep".  This is also the stage when you need to thinking about citing, quoting, and paraphrasing. Too often students think they have to take detailed notes on a source the first time they encounter it - before they have decided on an inquiry focus.

Again, Tim has a simple distinction which I think epitomizes the difference.

Here I have added just two extra descriptions:  Finding Out vs. Sorting Out (a la Kath Murdoch)
When talking to students, I now like to have them clarify which mode they think they are currently in.  And the emotional dip of uncertainty is often a sign that's time for the shift.  What a metacognitive skill -- to know how much first stage searching is enough to work with -- to have enough choices.

This is Carol's Identify stage -- which is about focusing and establishing a meaningful inquiry question -- when the thinking shifts from divergent (broad) to convergent (deep).

Tim Brown insists all ideas (i.e., research questions) must be analyzed in light of three criteria:  Desirability (personal interest/passion), Viability (for Tim this means "makes business sense," but in the educational realm it translates to "fits the assignment or criteria" and satisfies the big "so what?"), and Feasibility (the time and resources to actually complete the project).
Similarly, Carol asks students to consider their question in terms of the assigned task, their own interest, the time available, and the information and resources available.

I think Tim's four basic illustrations concisely convey the key stages of research better than Carol's more elaborate theory.  I still want her book on my shelf, but, until I can get more teachers to read and absorb it, I'll be using Tim's ideas and images in conversation.

OUT OF THE DRAFTS FOLDER: (2009) An Injection of Ideas on Library Design

How many draft blog posts do you have sitting around?  Here is one from two years ago -- on library design.  I never got around to publishing it, so am doing so now - with the intent of posting a recent update of thoughts and resources, especially after hearing of a recent Kevin Hennah consultation in Kuala Lumpur with international school librarians.


On August 22nd [2009] about 30 international school librarians from around Asia gathered at ISB in Bangkok for a one-day workshop on library design by Kevin Hennah, a retail merchandising consultant and designer who has done a lot of work with libraries in Australia.
(While he seems to have worked with many major companies, it was this advertising campaign in his portfolio that made the biggest visual impression on me: Australia Post: If you really want to touch someone, send them a letter. I should also mention his featured section in the Australian book, Rethink! Ideas for Inspiring School Library Design -- and I think he said he's working on a book with Opening the Book in the UK. )

The success of the workshop can be summed up by Barb Philip's comment as she walked out: "I feel like taking a sledgehammer to my library."

What did he say? Well, others who attended the workshop have been much more efficient in sharing about it online. Within 24 hours Kim Cofino, one of the event organizers, had blogged about it and Tara Ethridge, the other event organizer, blogged about it on Monday the 24th. Anthony Tilke posted information about it on the ECIS iSkoodle forum for librarians (registration required to view), and Beth Gourley made public her Evernote notebook on Library as Space and Place, which includes her notes on Kevin's presentation.

What can I add? A few extension links, perhaps...

Kevin's value was in his slideshow presentation -- talk about visual learning! We saw over 600 images, illustrating retail principles in practice in libraries. He talked us through before-and-after shots, good examples, bad examples, interesting examples. (And, no, for copyright reasons, he said he couldn't give us copies of his presentation.)

As Kevin spoke, I kept scribbling down the names of the libraries being shown (mainly Australian and more public than school ones) -- see the list of libraries here. I tried to find images of them on the internet, without much success -- except for The Idea Stores in London (UK), e.g., search of Flickr for "idea store" and "library".

Instead you might have a look at some of these libraries:
I was familiar with the retail design approaches in libraries -- as Paco Underhill's book "Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping" became popular with librarians in the US several years ago, e.g., see the Library Journal article "Power Users - Designing buildings and services from the end user's viewpoint transforms access for everyone" [2005], as well as "What libraries can learn from bookstores: Applying bookstore design to public libraries " [2003]. But it's always good to have it re-iterated.

He recommends a "What's Hot?" display (see how Barb went back and immediately put that up on the wall in her library).

Kevin is all for ditching Dewey and using more user-friendly, bookstore-type categories to organize books. He cited the Palmerston Public Library (NT, Australia) as an example of a library choosing to organize the collection in terms of 17 "living rooms" or categories (read this 2006 white paper "Where's the Dewey?" for background on the process they went through).

Similar attempts:
The National Library of Singapore has its own variation on re-grouping Dewey, supposedly to help the public find books, but I find it confusing -- as the catalog just gives me the Dewey number - so I have to wander to find the section that Dewey number is stored in.


One thing I do like about the NLB shelves is the use of ColorMarq, a library shelf ID system where each letter of the alphabet has a different color.  It makes it easy to see when a book is mis-shelved.  (I do have a problem when NLB shelvers only bother to sort by the first three letters of the authors' names.... especially in areas like BRO or WIL.)

[Photos by me]

The disturbing thought of the unknown, or, what is learning? teaching? education?

As part of a self-study accreditation process, our school has invited staff to consider the question of what learning is -- for three hours on a Saturday morning.  Reps from each grade/area should be in attendance -- and each person is asked to bring along a book, article, or reference.  I know what mine will be.

Engaging Minds: changing teaching in complex times -- 2nd ed, 2008 -- by Brent Davis, Dennis Sumara, and Rebecca Luce-Kapler.

Here are some bits.... taken from my notes.....

Learning is about becoming attentive to things you never noticed before -- becoming conscious -- becoming aware.

Teachers play a pivotal role in orientating attentions in ways that prompt transformations in personal perception and consciousness -- helping people to notice what they haven't noticed.

Education is not about compelling others to see the world in the ways we see it, but in terms of expanding the space of the possible.

The notion of shared labor -- social learning -- highlighting how complex knowing is distributed across a web of individuals.

The learner is the collective.  Knowledge cannot exist independent of the knower -- it is a potential to action both embodied and situated.  Bodies know, and that's what makes them part of grander knowing bodies.  Knowledge, then is about relationship.

The metaphor of the teacher as "the consciousness of the collective" -- expanding the space of the possible and "creating conditions for the emergence of the as-yet unimagined".

Prompting change or learning is a matter of disequilibrium.... with the teacher in the middle, mediating, mentoring -- giving voice and advocating... opening up spaces for collective action, not defining the action.


Teaching is not about what the teacher does, it's about what happens to the learner. 

Learning is complex, full of recursive elaboration... iterative processes and nested systems.

"A complexified conception of curriculum would suggest an image more like a phase space or a fractal tree, in which each event opens up new possibilities for action, which in turn open still other divergent possibilities.  There is no particular direction -- except, perhaps, toward the expansion of the space of the possible."

A teacher is constantly perturbed and being perturbed.

Teaching is an event that prompts a complex system to respond differently.

The lesson plan is a thought experiment.


I'm fascinated with the idea of the unknown unknowns*.  E.g., see my blog post on Roger Schank.  His definition of learning bears repeating:

"Learning to explain phenomena such that one continues to be fascinated by the failure of one's explanations creates a continuing cycle of thinking that is the crux of intelligence."

Piaget said intelligence is what is called on when an agent doesn't know what to do, i.e., discerning what really matters in a situation.

Karl Hostetler, a professor interested in both philosophy and education -- (download a PDF of his article << What is "Good" Education Research?>> (2005)),  quotes Hans-Georg Gadamer (1960/1989) :

"Knowledge always means, precisely, considering opposites.  Its superiority over preconceived opinion consists in the fact that is able to conceive of possibilities as possibilities.... [So] only a person who has questions can have knowledge. [However] there is no such thing as a method of learning to ask questions, of learning to see what is questionable.  On the contrary, the example of Socrates teaches that the important thing is the knowledge that one does not know."

This potential knowledge is what we as teachers must value -- in ourselves as much as in our students.

Errol Morris, the documentary filmmaker, did a 5-part series of articles on knowing and unknowing in the NYT earlier this year -- "The Anosognosic's Dilemma:  Something's Wrong but You'll Never Know What It Is" (Part I) -- in which he interviews David Dunning, a professor who is known for his elaboration of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is when our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence.

Dunning:
"Unknown unknown solutions haunt the mediocre without their knowledge. The average detective does not realize the clues he or she neglects.  The mediocre doctor is not aware of the diagnostic possibilities or treatments never considered.  The run-of-the-mill lawyer fails to recognize the winning legal argument that is out there.  People fail to reach their potential as professionals, lovers, parents and people simply because they are not aware of the possible.  This is one of the reasons I often urge my student advisees to find out who the smart professors are, and to get themselves in front of those professors so they can see what smart looks like."

When I read that, I realized why I love TED Talks so much -- it gives me easy access to seeing what smart looks like.  It also gives another angle on the role of the teacher.  People like to say 21st century learning demands teachers shift from "the sage on the stage" to the "guide on the side".  I think there are times to be the "sage on the stage" -- to exhibit "unnatural acts" of thinking (a la Sam Wineburg -- more re him in a future blog post) -- though overall, I prefer the concept of the teacher as "the meddler in the middle" (Erica McWilliams, 2005).

In an interview Benjamin Barber reflects on the positive aspect of disturbing thoughts:

London: It occurs to me that you are not at all afraid of controversy — not in your statements here and not in your books certainly. You say somewhere in An Aristocracy of Everyone that "with good teaching, as with good art, someone is always offended." Is that really true?

Barber: I think so. I think that if you don't offend someone, you haven't even woken them up, let alone gotten their mental energies going. One thing that does bother me about so-called political correctness — I don't like the term PC — it's really an unfair word, it's kind of a slur in the way that it's used. But the true part of it is that there are some people who seem unwilling to be offended and provocative speech, free speech, and most importantly educational speech — speech that makes people think — has to be to some degree offensive. That's how you get people woken up, that's how you get people caring, that's how you get them reacting.

Another vision of the teacher as a constructive mediator is the grandmother -- in Sugata Mitra's sense -- in his SOLEs (Self-Organized Learning Environments).  The person who stands behind you every now and then-- who is there to support you in your own learning.

Isn't that the role of our own PLN (personal learning networks) -- for us as teacher-learners?  We just need to make sure we are allowing ourselves to be disturbed.  That is the danger for adults... that we move into spaces (mental and physical) which do not regularly perturb us.


* Yes, "unknown unknowns" brings Donald Rumsfeld to mind -- and my favorite packaging of him is in the 2003 Slate article on "The Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld":
The Unknown

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.
—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Building Digitally Literate Communities, or, what I learned at IASL/SLAQ 2010


"Building literate communities"
and  "Supporting the digital education agenda" were two of the four strands of  the IASL / SLAQ (Int'l Assoc. of School Librarianship / School Library Assoc. of Queensland) 2010 conference held in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Sep. 27 - Oct. 1.

Over the course of the week the two themes merged into an essential question for me:

How to build digitally literate communities?

Our school is embarking on a "21st Century Teaching & Learning" program (aka iLearn) over the next two years, part of which will involve going 1:1 with Apple laptops in Grade 6 and above (and 2:1 below that) -- and designing new library/information spaces.

Presentations by two academics - one an education/business/think-tank professor and the other a education/futurist -- gave me some interesting concepts and phrases to play with -- re people and spaces that will support the digitally literate community we want to become.
  • Michael Hough, Professorial Fellow at the Univ. of Wollongong -- Keynote: "In Schools that Face the Future, Libraries Matter" -- & Session: "The Role of the Teacher-Librarian in Developing Leadership Capabilities in Staff"
  • Erica McWilliam, co-leader of the Creative Workforce Program at Queensland University of Technology -- Keynote: "High Standards or a High Standard of Standardness?"

>>> See a vodcast and accompanying slideshow for each keynote<<<


Both explored the e-learning shift underway and confirmed the need for 21st Century Teacher-Librarians (see Joyce Valenza's Manifesto for the definitive description of one), with Hough claiming librarians should become the C.I.O. (Chief Information Officer) of their schools.

He highly recommended the recently published book -- Developing a Networked School Community -- and cited Chapter 9 (most of which you can read via GoogleBooks) by Lyn Hay (who was one of my online professors -- I wrote a paper on Gaming in Education for her back in 2005...)

Hough particularly liked her concept of the iCentre, which she defines as 
"the central facility within the school where information, technology, learning and teaching needs are supported by qualified information and learning technology specialists.  It is a centre that provides students and teachers with a one-stop shop for all resourcing, technology, and learning needs on a daily basis."
(See also the slides from a recent keynote by Hay: "21st Century Teacher-Librarian: Rethink, Rebuild, and Re-brand".)


McWilliam provided an interesting variation on the idea, by surveying the culture of the coffee house from raucous 17th century London up until erudite 20th century Vienna.  A home away from home, a place you want to go to. She argued Hogarth's coffee house was an antecedent of the lifelong learning space -- a round table of communal resources (both liquid and intellectual) -- and that librarians would benefit from considering the various skills and dispositions of those distant coffee house landlords (arbiter, assembler, gossip provider, business manager, service manager, social broker of relationships, etc) over time. 

She suggested today's online model might be nings, an iCafe for shared passions. I think Twitter is a fitter descendant.

#slaqiasl2010 was the Twitter tag for the conference -- and others in my personal learning network were far more adept at typing up the passing thoughts (special thanks to Stacey Taylor, Marita Thomson, and Jessica Jorna for their quick minds and fingers. You allowed me to concentrate on my own more expansive note-taking.)

The whole conference was a community experience, with an overlapping of school librarians, international school librarians, IBO school librarians, and academics.

In line with the same "building communities" theme, Barb Philip, the junior school teacher-librarian at Tanglin Trust School here in Singapore, and I did a presentation on "Building Internationally Literate Communities", based on our library network's efforts to expand the reading experiences of our students.


More blog posts re learning and connections made at the conference to follow...


It's Storytelling, Stupid!


Clay doesn't stop. Luckily the blog entry he just wrote -- “You Suck at Photoshop”: Paragon of Creative Project-Based Learning -- fits in perfectly with where I want to continue from my last post (which was spurred by a previous post of his: Barbarians with Laptops).

It's about the importance of narrative in the teaching/learning process.

Okay, You Suck at Photoshop isn't "a grand narrative" (one of the three essential elements of teaching according to Michael Wesch (see my previous post)). But the format could be used to help convey one, incorporating "disciplinary knowledge" into a funny story with a good hook. And Clay showed us an example of a teacher, Lynn Hunt of UCLA -- a "sage on the stage" -- presenting a compelling introduction to the Enlightenment -- by telling us a good story. It's "chalk and talk" but effective. (See his blog post: New Tech Teaching Habits.)

The power of storytelling is often lost in the ongoing debates over:
  • teacher-centered vs. student-centered learning
  • content vs. process focus
  • traditional vs. progressive
  • "sage on the stage" vs. "guide on the side"
  • disciplinary knowledge vs. 21st century skills
Two theorists who consider storytelling at the constant heart of intelligence and teaching and learning are Roger Schank and Kieran Egan. Both have been around for a long time and are still producing work, e.g., see:
-- and both deserve wider audiences, if only as interesting voices from the margins to test your own ideas against.

Roger Schank

The best historical introduction to Roger Schank is probably via the Edge.org website. You might read his article "Information is Surprises" (1995). Especially note the comments by other people at the end -- re him, not that article. I particularly like this one:
W. Daniel Hillis: The Roger Schank I knew was a thorn in everybody's side — constructively so. The interesting thing about Roger Schank, something he shares with Minsky, is the fact that he's produced an incredible string of students. Anybody who's produced such a great string of students has to be a constructive pain in the ass. He's always taken an adversarial stance in his theories. He doesn't just say, "Here's my theory." He says, "Here's why I'm right and everybody else is an idiot." He's often right.
Okay, now that you're primed for someone quite opinionated (I like that phrase: "a constructive pain the ass"...), go watch this Jan 2009 video, filmed in Barcelona where he is helping to open a new Institute for the Learning Sciences (as part of their Business Engineering program*) -- based on a Story-Centered Curriculum. He goes through everything wrong with existing schools and describes his ideal school:




In summary: "Every curriculum should tell a story... and the story should be one that tells what the life of the future practitioner is like (and it should involve lots of practice)." As he says, teaching doesn't mean talking -- people aren't good at listening -- we listen to be entertained, not to learn. Learning happens as a result of being hooked by good stories -- and by practicing goal-based scenarios that are fun or obviously useful.

Here are my notes on Roger Schank's 1999 book, Tell Me a Story: Narrative and Intelligence, a thought-provoking read for teacher-librarians as it's about stories, learning, and information retrieval (out of the brain, not the internet) --and so relates to fiction, non-fiction, and tagging/cataloging. (Google Books makes a lot of the book available online, as well as the foreword by the literary critic Gary Saul Morson.)
Teaching is the right story at the right time.

Good stories with lots of information allow listeners to derive their own conclusions.

We do not remember a whole story, but only the gist, indexed in different ways.

Listening is hard -- stories usually just trigger stories back and forth -- how does new learning occur?

Creativity is the adaptation of old stories to new purposes -- it arises not from the void, but from the drawer. And the drawer is only full by virtue of intelligent indexing over time -- the collecting of lots of stories in the brain. Understanding is the process of index extraction -- figuring out what story to tell.

Find an anomaly -- ask a question -- get a story. Anomalies are when we don't know the answer. When we have no story to tell, we look for one -- by asking ourselves questions.

Curiosity is about recognizing anomalies and having the ability to take pleasure in exploring them, which leads us to the value of the search process itself and to prefer answers that lead to ever more questions.
Or as Schank says on page 231: "Learning to explain phenomena such that one continues to be fascinated by the failure of one's explanations creates a continuing cycle of thinking that is the crux of intelligence."

Re the failure to listen to failure, see this recent Wired article - Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up. The importance of having a broad input of stories -- and a broad audience -- is highlighted:
When Dunbar reviewed the transcripts of the meeting, he found that the intellectual mix generated a distinct type of interaction in which the scientists were forced to rely on metaphors and analogies to express themselves. (That’s because, unlike the E. coli group, the second lab lacked a specialized language that everyone could understand.) These abstractions proved essential for problem-solving, as they encouraged the scientists to reconsider their assumptions. Having to explain the problem to someone else forced them to think, if only for a moment, like an intellectual on the margins, filled with self-skepticism.
[bold added]
This is similar to something a former PhD student said about what he learned from Schank (quoted by Schank in his four-chapter preview of his upcoming book:
You taught me that often our theories get so complex that it takes a specialist with years of training to understand them. When we get our theories this distant from everyday life and everyday people, it is awkward explaining what we do when in conversation with our family, friends, the press, and even upper level executives, etc. You taught me to test to see if what you are doing matters and is of interest to the everyday person seeking distraction and some entertainment, but not entirely brain dead, with some curiosity left about life and what others think.
In other words, can you make an interesting story out of it?

Kieran Egan

Kieran Egan argues that students have access to plenty of information - the problem is getting it into them and getting it to mean anything to them. Knowledge exists only in people, in living tissue in our bodies; what exists in libraries and computers are only codes or externally stored symbolic material.

This is where powerful stories and metaphors come in -- as tools to engage students' imagination and emotions in learning about the world.

Egan insists that students' imaginations can only work with what they know, so a great deal of content knowledge is required. He's an advocate of students becoming experts, e.g., by studying one topic throughout their whole school career (in addition to the usual curriculum). (See his new Learning in Depth project.)

Storytelling fits into Egan's larger framework of cognitive tools and theory of Imaginative Education. These cognitive tools are the things that enable our brains to do cultural work -- and he likens to operating systems or programs in the brain, forms of which are running at all times in varying degrees at all ages: the Somatic (the body & its senses), the Mythic (oral language), the Romantic (reading and writing), the Philosophic (the meta-narrative of systems in the world), and the Ironic (multiple perspectives in the mind at one time).

For more details on Egan's framework, see The Educated Mind: how cognitive tools shape our understanding (1997); for a more practical guide to his storytelling ideas for younger students, see his Teaching as Storytelling: an alternative approach to teaching and curriculum in the elementary school (1986).

Egan defines education as "the process in which we maximize the tool kit we individually take from the external storehouse of culture." For me, libraries (whether physical or virtual) are primary portals to that cultural storehouse. (As they say, knowledge is free at the library -- bring your own container.) And librarians are there with embodied knowledge to help people find the right story at the right time.

More on Storytelling and Metaphors
These next ones are NOT specifically re education and you probably know most of them, but they're some of my favorite examples of storytelling and metaphors.


* re business schools, there's a debate in the NYTimes re the appropriate metaphor for how universities (especially business schools) treat students - as customers? as products? For a really unusual business school - one that is living 21st century skills, check out KaosPilot.

And for an example of graduate schools looking for applicants with creative storytelling capabilities -- or at least competency in metaphors, see this NYTimes slideshow of images meant to prompt applicants' admission essays: What Do You See?

Teachers, Meaningful Connections, & Mindful Information Consumption


Clay Burell has been on a writing binge over the holiday -- and there have been long conversations in the comments of several posts, which, as Clay put it, have been the equivalent of college-level credit in terms of professional development. NB: Some of my contributions are re-formatted and expanded below.

First of all, see the original Beyond School blog posts (among others):
Clay expressed his fear that we are producing barbarians with laptops and challenged people to to provide good examples of learning that effectively enhanced content and the development of important skills -- and many did. (Check out the responses of Roberto Greco, Monika Hardy, Neil Stephenson, Hellen Harding, et al.)

I cited Michael Wesch's philosophy of teaching outlined in a video in 2008 as my guiding light.



In summary, to create students who make meaningful connections we need to
  • find a grand narrative and provide context and relevance (i.e., semantic meaning);
  • create a learning environment that values and leverages learners themselves (i.e., personal meaning); and
  • do both in a way that realizes and leverages the existing media environment
Technology isn’t an end in itself -- it’s about leverage in the service of meaningful connections. So if it doesn't enhance the learning in the classroom and it's not authentic participation in the existing media environment (read: busywork), you shouldn't feel obliged to use it.

Cliff Stoll is someone who comes down squarely against computers in the classroom. See his 1999 book, High-Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don't Belong in the Classroom and Other Reflections by a Computer Contrarian -- as well as his Feb. 2006 TED talk (which provides an excellent preview of how he would perform as a teacher in a classroom).



(And if you want an example of what it means to be a ruthless and natural inquirer, read his 1989 book The Cuckoo's Egg: tracking a spy through the maze of computer espionage .)

Here he is talking about computers in classrooms -- from an interview in 2000:

Stoll: The one thing that computers do extraordinarily well is bring information to kids. Computers give kids access to vast amounts of information.

EW: Don't computers have a place in the classroom, then, if merely as a source of information?

Stoll: Is a lack of information a problem in schools? I've never once had a teacher say to me "I don't have enough information." Teachers say they don't have enough time. The problem in classrooms is not a lack of information. It's too much information. ......

Stoll
: ... The problem is that the use of computers subtracts from the student-to-teacher contact hours. It directs attention away from the student-teacher relationship and directs it toward the student-computer relationship. It teaches students to focus on getting information rather than on exploring and creating. Which is more interactive -- a student and a teacher or a student and a computer? ...

Re the love inherent in classroom teaching and the importance of time with a teacher (technology aside), I can't help but re-recommend a commencement address by Margaret Edson, teacher and playwright. There's a link in this blog post (skip the first 3 min of her talk and get to the heart of it).


Umberto Eco in this interview also brings up the problem of too much information, but sees the teacher (in the role of master to apprentices) as instrumental in dealing with it.
Eco: ... These [Google] lists can be dangerous -- not for old people like me, who have acquired their knowledge in another way, but for young people, for whom Google is a tragedy. Schools ought to teach the high art of how to be discriminating.

SPIEGEL: Are you saying that teachers should instruct students on the difference between good and bad? If so, how should they do that?

Eco: Education should return to the way it was in the workshops of the Renaissance. There, the masters may not necessarily have been able to explain to their students why a painting was good in theoretical terms, but they did so in more practical ways. Look, this is what your finger can look like, and this is what it has to look like. Look, this is a good mixing of colors. The same approach should be used in school when dealing with the Internet. The teacher should say: "Choose any old subject, whether it be German history or the life of ants. Search 25 different Web pages and, by comparing them, try to figure out which one has good information." If 10 pages describe the same thing, it can be a sign that the information printed there is correct. But it can also be a sign that some sites merely copied the others' mistakes.
Last year Clay Shirky pointed out It's Not Information Overload, It's Filter Failure.

In that light, Umberto Eco is proposing teachers as human filters** for disciplinary knowledge and practices, teaching students to discriminate.

Frank Schirrmacher recognizes this same need to question what we're consuming in the way of information.

He talks about humans as ''informavores" in this video/transcript: Edge In Frankfurt: THE AGE OF THE INFORMAVORE— A Talk with Frank Schirrmacher.


I think it's very interesting, the concept — again, Daniel Dennett and others said it — the concept of the informavores, the human being as somebody eating information. So you can, in a way, see that the Internet and that the information overload we are faced with at this very moment has a lot to do with food chains, has a lot to do with food you take or not to take, with food which has many calories and doesn't do you any good, and with food that is very healthy and is good for you. ....
As we know, information is fed by attention, so we have not enough attention, not enough food for all this information. And, as we know — this is the old Darwinian thought, the moment when Darwin started reading Malthus — when you have a conflict between a population explosion and not enough food, then Darwinian selection starts. And Darwinian systems start to change situations. And so what interests me is that we are, because we have the Internet, now entering a phase where Darwinian structures, where Darwinian dynamics, Darwinian selection, apparently attacks ideas themselves: what to remember, what not to remember, which idea is stronger, which idea is weaker.
It's the question: what is important, what is not important, what is important to know? Is this information important? Can we still decide what is important? And it starts with this absolutely normal, everyday news.
Having introduced the metaphor of information as food, I can't help but end with a link to one of the essays David Brooks gave a 2009 Sidney (best essay) award to:

Is Food the New Sex? - Mary Eberhardt - Hoover Institution - Policy Review
Try reading it, substituting the word "information" for "food" or "sex"....
These disciplines imposed historically on access to food and sex now raise a question that has not come up before, probably because it was not even possible to imagine it until the lifetimes of the people reading this: What happens when, for the first time in history — at least in theory, and at least in the advanced nations — adult human beings are more or less free to have all the sex and food they want?
This question opens the door to a real paradox. For given how closely connected the two appetites appear to be, it would be natural to expect that people would do the same kinds of things with both appetites — that they would pursue both with equal ardor when finally allowed to do so, for example, or with equal abandon for consequence; or conversely, with similar degrees of discipline in the consumption of each.
In fact, though, evidence from the advanced West suggests that nearly the opposite seems to be true. The answer appears to be that when many people are faced with these possibilities for the very first time, they end up doing very different things — things we might signal by shorthand as mindful eating, and mindless sex. This essay is both an exploration of that curious dynamic, and a speculation about what is driving it.
[bold added]

Here we are, for the first time in history with all the information we want. It's the "Informavore's Dilemma" ***. Now we just need to develop the discipline for mindful information consumption.


** Social bookmarking is a form of discriminating filtering and Roberto Greco, with over 17,500 bookmarks on Delicious is one of my richest human filters for reading material. As a librarian, I'm impressed with both his descriptions and his tags.

*** I thought I was being clever vis-a-vis Michael Pollan's book "The Omnivore's Dilemma", but Google tells me findability.org used it first...


p.s. Wherever I've used the word "teacher", I obviously include "librarians".

Image of Umberto Eco via giveawayboy on Flickr / Image of bento box via Cowism / Image of Google log via the Telegraph UK

21st C Learning@HK: a team approach


Keri-Lee and I are now the East IDL team.

IDL? you ask.

Take your pick: idol, idyll, idle, or, the correct answer: Information & Digital Literacies.

It's a tag I am more comfortable with than "21st century" (no matter what you put after it, whether "skills" or "learning" or "tools") -- because, as Dennis Harter points out, we're already in the 21st century and will be for the rest of our lives, and the adjective "21st century" (like "Web 2.0") may have instant recognition to those in the educational blogosphere, but induces either alienation or only vague comprehension in others.

It's understandable to want to stress the new and to avoid focusing on technology alone, but I'm voting for a return to Information and Digital Literacies as the label for what we are trying to spread and embed in the classrooms, which I think David Warlick captures in these statements:
"As I say again and again, it is not the computers that are impacting us as a society or as individuals. It’s what we can do with information that is changing things." (2008)
"... embracing tools that give all their student-learners and teacher-learners ubiquitous access to networked, digital, and abundant information — and the capacity to work that information and express discoveries and outcomes compellingly to authentic audiences." (2009)
Information & Digital Literacies also nicely combines the main characteristic of our respective subject areas -- me as the Teacher-Librarian and Keri-Lee as the ICT Facilitator.

What's new this year besides recognition of us as a team?

One, Keri-Lee is no longer an ICT "teacher" on a release-time, weekly fixed schedule with classes; instead she's a facilitator on a flexi-schedule, collaborating with classroom teachers on different units of inquiry, as I have been.

Two, we're using the ISTE NETS for Students as our roadmap and are working on a document for our teachers, translating the NETS Profiles into possible experiences/scenarios for our students based on our curriculum and taking the IBO PYP Transdisciplinary Skills (Communication, Research, Thinking, Self-Management, and Social) into account. In addition, we're looking at the NETS for Teachers, Administrators, and Technology Facilitators.

Three, we have some new technology toys, which teachers can book, just like they can book us: a set of iPod Touches and a set of video cameras.

In celebration of this shift, Keri-Lee and I attended the 21st Century Learning @ Hong Kong: Extending Tomorrow's Leaders with Digital Learning, held September 17-19, 2009, at Hong Kong International School (HKIS).

With over 500 attendees, many of us from overseas, there was a good mix of teachers (a lot of IT/ICT, but also librarians and others) - and the program had plenty to offer.

(NB: I presented a workshop with Beth Gourley, from the International School of Tianjin, called Digital Gist: Harnessing digital content for learning and the library: an inquiry into texts online in audio, video, and e-book formats.)


One of the most useful sessions Keri-Lee and I attended, in terms of our goals for our own school, was Walking the Talk: 21st Century Learning in Curriculum Design and Learning by Greg Curtis, Curriculum Director at the International School of Beijing (ISB).

He started off with this video (from The Onion) re the "21st century skills" our kids are going to need.


Greg stressed that the 21st century movement (yes, they do use the term at ISB) is a learning one, not a technology one -- and therefore needs to be driven by the curriculum unit, not the IT department -- that it's about strategic planning and future visioning, not IT planning. (Read: management buy-in is critical.)

At ISB they are trying to create a "pull" culture, rather than a "push" one -- to infuse technology into learning experiences and explorations, not force it. A culture where technology is expected to be used and will be drawn in. Never technology for its own sake. Context is everything. It's all about the learning -- always about the learning.

He walked us through ISB's Learning 21 framework -- with Standards in the center, then moving out a ring to the Learning 21 Approaches, and then the outer ring of Learning 21 Skills. (I was pleased to learn they had blended the library and technology standards.)

All these are incorporated, along with Understanding by Design constructs, into their Curriculum Mapping system, which allows them to visually check the spread of assessment tasks and see how the Learn 21 Approaches and Skills are being integrated.

To implement this program, ISB has initiated an early release afternoon on Wednesdays, providing two hours a week of concentrated staff professional development time.

What a tremendous commitment to a program and a process. I look forward to following ISB's progress over the next few years.

See Greg's handout - scanned and uploaded to Google Docs

See also my rough notes on his presentation - in Google Docs

(By the way, I was pleased to see Sharon Vipond, the secondary librarian at HKIS, has posted her notes on all the keynote speeches from the conference.)

It was such a beneficial and collaborative exercise attending the conference together with Keri-Lee -- we were continually bouncing impressions and ideas off each other. We'll see how we get on with our own integrated standards, approaches, and skills initiative -- and our efforts to infuse information and digital literacy into our East campus classrooms.

And hats off to the conference organizers -- it was a well-executed event and I would definitely attend it again.


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23 Things & Avid Online Learners

Back in early January Keri-Lee Beasley, the ICT teacher, and I started an optional Web 2.0 professional development initiative for staff at our new little campus (400 students K1 through Grade 4)- copying the very successful and widespread 23 Things movement in libraries (see this background summary and all these Delicious bookmarks tagged "23things", if you've never heard of it).

Our pre-assessment was an online survey asking about our teachers' familiarity -- either Never heard of / Have heard of / Have used / or Use regularly -- with a wide range of "things" like social bookmarking, blogs, wikis, RSS, Twitter, photo sharing, screen capture tools, podcasts, avatars, Skype, Google Docs, etc. (as well as some software the school subscribes to -- like StudyWiz, Atomic Learning, United Streaming, etc.).

The results were quite revealing, especially as we had little knowledge of the existing digital literacy of our staff, this being the first year of a start-up school. (Note: the results for our counterparts at the other campus were similarly interesting.)


Our goal was to increase awareness of what's available online to improve teachers' personal/professional productivity and enhance their teaching. We could only tempt people to try new things -- hopefully stretching/scaffolding them to increase their ability to take more responsibility for their own Web n.0 learning. (It would be a bit ambitious to say we were aiming for the ISTE Educational Technology Standards for Teachers.)

I have never liked the digital native vs. digital immigrant distinction, as it privileges the accident of birth -- and I don't think age is the critical factor. Digital tourists vs. digital residents would be more appropriate. However, as a librarian I prefer a comparison with how people become an avid reader.

The "Magic Bullet" theory of reading says the right book at the right time can turn a non-reader into a lifelong reader. Sometimes all it takes is a strong recommendation or taste of a genre to become smitten.

Becoming an avid online learner is similar. For some people it happens quite easily, while others are still waiting for the "Magic Bullet" -- the right tool at the right time -- in order to understand the power of the experience. So, in selecting "things" (or Web 2.0 genres) for our Connecting East initiative and recommending examples to have a look at, Keri-Lee and I were hoping to expose our teachers to potential "Magic Bullets".

A recent article in Innovate identifies the progression of a 21st century online learner as first to link, then to lurk, and then to lunge. In deciding what we could -- and should -- cover in 10 assignments, Keri-Lee and I basically set out a similar path for our participants while offering four levels of differentiation: Novice / Apprentice / Practitioner / Expert

For example, we began with social bookmarking (i.e., linking), as 44% of our target audience had never heard of sites like Delicious and Diigo. Later we suggested blogs to read (i.e., lurking) and ways to collect their own personal learning online (i.e., lunging). Other assignments included more prosaic skills, like manipulating/creating images and using interactive whiteboards. See our Connecting East wiki for an overview. (NB: The links in red on the wiki sidebar also show what we didn't manage to fit in or get around to.)
E-mail was used to announce a new topic, introduced via a Connecting East blog posting, with task details described on a Connecting East wiki page -- plus weekly face-to-face time on "Fruity Fridays" where we were available before school in the joint library/ICT lab to answer questions, with breakfast fruit on offer as an incentive.

It's not over yet -- the last assignment goes out today -- a reflective exercise, of which this blog post is part. Participants then have until early June to complete all tasks to qualify for a prize draw of an iPod, wine, or books.

But has it been worthwhile? Yes, definitely -- at least for me and Keri-Lee. In fact, it's been a good example of meaningful work, which Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers defines by the qualities of autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward. It's also been a case of collaborative fun -- for which my role model is Dan Ariely; I just read his book Predictably Irrational and I was struck by how many colleagues he regularly collaborates with in setting up his quirky experiments in behavioral economics. Keri-Lee and I put just as much time and thought into setting up the Connecting East experiences for our colleagues and analyzing the results -- and had (almost) as much fun as Ariely and his friends.

If our own learning has been the greatest reward so far, it's less certain how much others have gained. We have seen definite glimmers, but the uptake hasn't been as high as we, of course, would like.

Which reminds me of the advice:

Don't water rocks...

Be thankful for the teachers who did take us up on our offer and who have tried something new, whether it's starting to bookmark, to Twitter, or to play with Netvibes -- and put more energy into them. After all, it takes time for someone to turn into an avid reader/learner.







Networked teacher image via langwitches @ Flickr
Rock image via jasohill @ Flickr

Wine image via Joe Pitz @ Flickr
iPod image via Andrew* @ Flickr
Books image via librarybug @ Flickr
Butterfly bullet image via razZziel @ Flickr

Pulling it all together online -- LibGuides? Netvibes? Pageflakes?

Research resources -- shared and organized in easily configured widgets/modules on tabbed pages -- that's what libraries using Web 2.0 tools like LibGuides, Netvibes, and Pageflakes can offer their customers. It's one of the quickest ways to create a library portal or home page.

LibGuides is not free, but it looks like it could be worth buying.

Check out the LibGuides Community page where you can browse for academic, public, and school libraries and see how they have used the product.

For example, see the library guides created by:
Buffy (alias The Unquiet Librarian) recently blogged about how much she loves LibGuides and she's someone who has been exploring the best means of providing students with research guides and pathfinders for some time now -- see her wiki: Research Pathfinders 2.0: Information Streams for Students.


Netvibes is the next best option -- and it's free. This is what I've been playing with for the past few weeks, inspired by these librarians:

The beauty of Netvibes is that anything I see on any of their pages, I can easily copy to my own by simply clicking "Share" on a particular widget. And everyone has both a private page and a public page, so you can play around with customizing widgets on your private page and then move them to the public sphere.

For example, I just copied over links to kids' magazines from Fiona, links on books and reading from Leanne, more book and reading links from Yvonne, links to audio book sites from Dianne, and dictionary websites from Kathy.

I like how Kathy has made a separate page for the PYP units of inquiry -- and I'll be doing that as well, but for now here's my initial effort:


Pageflakes is a similar tool that I have experimented with before, but then I recently read a blog posting which suggested Pageflakes might die (from lack of funding). So I immediately began exploring Netvibes and was thrilled to find so many good library examples out there to copy. But then just the other day there was an ominous blog posting about Netvibes! Well, I'm not giving up on Netvibes yet. But as a form of insurance I've also just requested a proper LibGuides demo (and formal quote). By the way, this is the official comment on costs:

The cost of an annual license depends on the size of your institution and the number of libraries involved. We try to customize the pricing for every client, to meet their specific needs (as well to fit within their budgets!). The annual license fee ranges from $899 to $2,999 ($549 for K-12 libraries). Most libraries would fall under the lower license range. Contact us with the info about your institution (FTE or # of card holders) and we'll give you an exact quote. Chances are, you'll be pleasantly surprised - LibGuides is a great deal, any way you look at it!
I haven't mentioned iGoogle personalized pages, though they're quite similar. You can also share widgets and tabs with other people, but they're designed more for personal homepages -- where someone is logged into their Google account. So if your students all have iGoogle pages, then you could publicize library-specific widgets for them to add to their homepages. And if you want to explore other options, see this list of "start page" tools via Delicious.

Speaking of library websites, there are two I've admired recently for their clean "Mac" look and layout, though only Leanne's was made on a Mac. The other was created using a free tool called Weebly.



p.s. Check out the screencasts/tutorials The Big House Library has made using Jing (a free screen capture/screencast tool) showing how to use their library catalog (Follett's Destiny). I plan to do the same (someday).


Improving the inquiry process

Photos from Flickr: istlibrary
Learning from peers is powerful -- in the classroom and in life. I often get my share early on a Saturday morning, thanks to Skype and Beth Gourley, my friend and fellow teacher-librarian. When our video cameras come into focus, the difference in our locations is obvious. Beth, up in Tianjin, China, at this time of year is wearing a thick bathrobe and huddled under a duvet, while I, down in Singapore, lounge in sleeveless nightwear, cooled by a ceiling fan.

This week's treasures from Beth included an article she wrote last year for KnowledgeQuest called "Inquiry -- The Road Less Travelled" (Vol. 37, No. 1, Sept/Oct 2008) and some related photos. Unfortunately, the article is not yet available online, but should be eventually (and you could always write Beth and ask her to send you a copy.... )

In the article she describes the International School of Tianjin (an IBO school) and how the teaching team there has worked on improving inquiry in the classrooms and library, starting with a group exploration of inquiry and information literacy models.

The result was a model adapted from three major sources: the spiral of making personal meaning and understanding from Barbara Stripling (2003), guiding questions from Jennifer Branch and Dianne Oberg (2005), and language from Kath Murdoch (2005). The secondary school version is shown above, and they have a similar one with simplified questions for the elementary school.

I especially love how teachers use the model as a framework for documenting the units of inquiry. Here is an example from one of their Kindergarten classes (click to enlarge):


When Kath Murdoch came and worked with their teachers last year, they did a reflective exercise on their implementation of inquiry. Here is a partial summary of the remarks collected (also taken from the article):

They go on to create the list (below left).

Nothing radical there -- everyone struggling to improve their inquiry will recognize the items as common goals. Still it's good to be reminded of them.

Beth is also working on a wiki called Research Story, based on their inquiry model (which I trust she won't mind me sharing). Like all wikis, it's a work in progress. But I know it's made me want to go back and re-organize my own grade-level wikis around an inquiry model.





NB: The inquiry cycle image at the top was developed at the International School of Tianjin (IST) in 2007.
Sources for the image compilation-- as taken from the IST Flickr page:
Stripling, Barbara K. 2003. “Inquiry-Based Learning.” In Curriculum Connections through the Library, ed. Barbara K. Stripling and Sandra Hughes-Hassell, 3-39. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited. Murdoch, Kath. 1998. Classroom Connections: Strategies for Integrated Learning. Ar-madale, Vic: Eleanor Curtain Pub.Branch, Jennifer, and Dianne Oberg. 2005 “Focus on Inquiry.” IASL. (accessed 6 May 2007).