It Better Be About The Technology

In my blog post yesterday, I started at Peter Skillen’s blog and read his latest entry “It’s not about the tool” – a naïve myth. In the post, Peter makes reference to a posting from Dean Shareski entitled “It’s Not Just a Tool“.  Both entries are good reading and I would encourage you to take reads.  This tacks on to my thoughts that I had shared a while back entitled “Why Isn’t It About the Pedagogy?

I find all of this very appropriately timed given the recent rash of stories about the closing of school libraries and/or the laying off of teacher-librarians.

This is all over the news…

So, what is it about libraries at the present time?  As school boards are trying to get expenses under control, it’s time to look around and make cuts to save the money.  It may well be that the decision is based upon a teacher-librarian who doesn’t have a home room class but I suspect that it may well be more of the romantic notion of a library as a place for books and a smaller perceived need for books and their managing.  All that it takes is to read the public replies to many of the articles to get a sense of a public perception.  I would encourage them to take a look at common areas these days.  Check out a Chapters or a public library or ask to see what’s happening at a school library.  Chances are, you’ll see an active learning place.

It’s too bad that people don’t understand the role of a true teacher-librarian.  I think back to the secondary school where I taught.  There were three things that you saw immediately when you entered the building.  The main office, the guidance offices, and the library.  The library was like a bee hive of activity.  Computer banks were almost always filled with students; groups of students would sit on the couches and chair or mill around some round tables or be in the stacks looking for a book.  The seminar rooms were very popular as a quieter place for groups to work on projects.  And, work they did.  There just weren’t enough room to be there without being actively engaged in something academic.  But, it was the real value of a teacher-librarian that put it over the top for me.

I used to have a research project on computers in society.  Now, I had a pretty good idea of what computer books were in the library, having checked out the resources.  But, booking the library from this teacher-librarian was more than just filling in a chart.  He wanted to know what the topic was and what my expectations were for student performance.  When we gathered in the library for our class research period, he had pulled all of what he thought would be helpful.  Sure, he had the computer books, but had also made the connection to books from the humanities and the sciences and periodicals.  I had never thought.  The experience was successful beyond my anticipation.  For that activity, we were truly partners.

Report after report have been written about the correlation between successful library programs and success in literacy.  In fact, I’ve searched for a report that would generate the opposite report and have come up dry.

So, where will we head instead?  What does a library look like without a teacher-librarian?  There are comments that we should be reaching students with learning for the 21st Century.  Since we’re 11 years in, we are playing catchup.  Recently, I was invited to present at the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference.  Part of our presentation team was Dr. David Loertscher from San Jose State University.  His contribution was a section that he called the Types of Learning Boosts from Technology.  He lists a great collection of what’s possible.

Types of Learning Boosts from Technology:

Learning How to Learn:

  • Brainstorming
  • Question building
  • Gathering and organizing quality information
  • Reading engagement
  • Analysis and synthesis of information and ideas
  • Collaborative writing and editing
  • Collaborative visualization; Mindmapping
  • Presenting, publishing and communicating
  • Reflection and metacognition
  • Collaborative knowledge building; Collaborative intelligence

Motivation:

  • Novelty
  • Real world
  • Relevant
  • Experimenting and playing Problem posing and problem solving Simulations
  • Global projects: Appreciation of other cultures

Creativity and Content Creation:

  • Building/composing, creating using many tools and presentation venues
  • Digital story telling; growth in oral speaking
  • Creativity tools and innovation because of those tools
  • Presenting, publishing and communicating
  • Collaborative  and individual writing

Efficiency:

  • Tools that save time for individuals and groups
  • Organizational tools that help everyone get the job done.

Deep Understanding of Content Knowledge:

  • Collaborative visualization; Mindmapping
  • Multimedia experiences not possible in a non-tech world
  • Simulations
  • Growth in Content Knowledge: the major ideas of the various disciplines: what we know and are able to do

Assessing What We Really Value:

  • Deep understanding
  • Learning How to Learn
  • Critical thinking
  • Creative thinking
  • Habits of mind
  • College and career ready
  • Common Core Standards and other standards we value
  • Formative and summative

Teaching Strategies, Techniques and Organization:

  • Differentiation
  • Presentations
  • Going paperless
  • Tracking and managing
  • management systems for courses, grading
  • Environments such as Google Apps for Education; Moodle

It’s a good list and certainly it’s difficult to argue that any of the above should be excluded.  Is that all that we want from a library program though?  If so, then let’s make it only about the technology.  Far more technology needs to be purchased to make this happen.  On top of that, we need to be able to develop professionally those who will make it happen.  So, in this one aspect, it better be about the technology.

I think that those who fund and make these decisions need to seriously ask and answer the question, “Is this all that we want from a library program?”  “Can we do all of the above without qualified teacher-librarians and call it a successful program?”  “Is this good enough?” “Will we be happy without a person that knows every student in the school and helps them make connections in research and also for recreational reading?”  As you answer these questions, read Seth Godin’s blog entry “The future of the library.”

Decisions seem to be made about a particular direction.  It’s not just about the two or three districts in the articles above.  Keep your eyes open and you’ll see that there are many more as decisions are made about budget. I would suggest that, if you’re going to do the technology properly, it will be far more expensive and recurring in the long run.  Today’s well trained teacher-librarian already does the above before breakfast!

To finish with a Godin quote –

The librarian isn’t a clerk who happens to work at a library. A librarian is a data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher. The librarian is the interface between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user.

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2 thoughts on “It Better Be About The Technology

  1. Yes Doug,

    Sad times for libraries, librarians, teacher-librarians and the potential for students and learning in these cross-curricular, cross-age, MORE NATURAL learning environments.

    Yes, budgets are the reason I guess – because we are such a poor country – a poor province. Give me a break!

    I am not a raving socialist, but honestly – we have some issues with wealth distribution.

    We have some issues with our priorities as a society.

    Thank you for this post.

    Like

  2. Exciting times actually Peter, yes sad because of one district’s misunderstanding about learning in today’s world but also very stimulating to see the potential path of school libraries as they evolve to truly take on teaching and learning to learn. The new Ontario document Together for Learning provides a good starting point for transformations. http://www.accessola.com/data/6/rec_docs/677_OLATogetherforLearning.pdf
    This document provides the big picture of school library program with Technology for Learning being a key component. The Ministry originally requested that the OSLA writing team develop a vision for schools for learning for the future. This document is a great start for schools not only playing ‘catch up’ as you state Doug but also for planning for sustainable school improvement. Together for Learning aligns so well with the Ministry’s School Effectiveness Framework.
    We have schools and districts around Ontario working on putting this vision into effect with the school library as the driving force and that is exciting. Thanks for this posting Doug and thanks to both of you for speaking up for strong school library programs now and for the future.
    Carol

    Like

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