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EdTech Update





My frustrating war on printers


I admit it. I have an irrational dislike of printers and printing. I guess it's not that I dislike the printing itself, but I dislike its cost on both the environment and the school budget in a era where digital methods of information sharing and storage can be used.

It seems like at least a couple times a month, I get a request from someone in the district for a new printer. The request is usually based on the number of feet the requester needs to travel to pick up her/his printing. Confidentiality is also cited at times by nurses, counselors, etc., but we do have a secure means of printing to our copiers.

After three years in this position, I have successfully:
  • Not purchased a new printer or copier
  • Established a building ratio of 1:60 printer ratio (based on nearby district's recommendation)
  • Eliminated non-networked and personal printers
  • Created a monthly cost-per-student by building report shared with principals
  • Created a chart that shows the cost per sheet of printing on different devices
  • Refused to enable printing from Chromebooks
And despite easy sharing with GoogleDocs, 1:1 devices for all kids 9-12, the adoption and widespread use of a learning management system, and a commitment by many teachers to go paperless, our printing costs have gone up slightly - from $1.49 per student in May of 2015 to $1.56 per student in May of 2017. 

OK, readers, is this simply an unsolvable problem, beyond my weak mind to solve - or have you worked in a district or building that has successfully slowed the paper avalanche?

The librarian's most critical skill: time management

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
                                         Annie Dillard

Like most educational administrators/leaders, I have a good deal of discretion in my schedule. There are days, of course, when I have meetings floor to ceiling, but nearly every day I can make choices about how I spent my time. This was also the case when I was a school librarian.

So my work has always been divided between adminitrivia (OKing, time sheets, signing off on purchase orders, etc) and the implementation of larger projects intended to make our schools more effective for more kids.

I've long seen Covey's time management quadrant above as a simple but effective means of evaluating one's tasks. He makes, as I remember, some interesting observations about the relationship of the tasks in the different quadrants. The only way to reduce the amount of time spend in Quadrant I is by doing more Quandrant II work. The only way to free up more time to spend on Quadrant II work is to spend less time in Quandrants III and IV. Easier said than done.

Time management (through the lens of Covey's Quandrants) is the critical skill that separates the effective and non-effective school librarian. In an old column (How we spend our days, November 1996), I added some time management advice:

1) Should someone else be doing this task?
As a taxpayer, I hate seeing a professional educator get paid a professional salary to install software, fix a printer, checkout books or babysit with videotapes. When no one else is available to do an essential clerical, technical or paraprofessional task, the professional often winds up doing it. If the professional spends too high a percent of her day on these tasks, guess what? The position gets “right-sized.”

I would rather manage two media centers or technology programs each with a good support staff than try to manage a single program alone. Consider it.

2) Am I operating out of tradition rather than necessity?
Yearly inventories. Weekly overdue notices. Shelf lists. Seasonal bulletin boards. Daily equipment check out. State reports. Skip doing a task for an entire year and see if anyone really notices. When you’re asked for numbers, estimate. A job not worth doing is not worth doing well.

3) Is this a task which calls for unique professional abilities?
John Lubbock once wrote: “There are three great questions which in life we have to ask over and over again to answer: Is it right or wrong? Is it true or false? Is it beautiful or ugly? Our education ought to help us to answer these questions.”

Computers are wonderful devices, but even the most powerful can’t even start to help us answer these questions. A computer can’t evaluate good materials, comfort a child, inspire a learner, write an imaginative lesson, or try a new way of doing things. If you can be replaced by a computer, you should be. I hope every task you do each day - from helping a child find a good book to planning a district wide technology inservice - taps your creativity and wisdom.

Teachers and principals are wonderful people, but you should spend your time doing what they don’t have the training, temperament or skills to do. What is it that you understand about information use that makes you a valuable resource? What productivity software do you know better than anyone else in the school? What communication, leadership or organizational skills do you bring to a project that really get things moving? Ask yourself what it is that only you can do or that you can do better that anyone else in your organization and spend as much of your day doing it as possible.

4) Is this a job that will have a long-term effect?
In a management class I teach, an interesting discussion revolves around whether a professional should help an unscheduled group of students find research materials, even if it means skipping an important social studies curriculum meeting. It is in our nature to help those who seek our help, and that’s exactly as it should be. But too often, the minutia of the job pin us down, like Gulliver trapped by the Lilliputians, and we make small progress toward major accomplishments. Remind yourself that that the big projects you work on often have more impact on your students and staff than the little attentions paid to them. Spend at least one part of everyday on the big stuff.

I'd like to think that this advice still works today. And I like to think even more that I follow it myself.

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BFTP: The neglected side of intellectual freedom

Intellectual freedom is the right to freedom of thought and of expression of thought. As defined by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is a human right. Article 19 states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

The modern concept of intellectual freedom developed out of an opposition to book censorship.  Wikipedia

Intellectual freedom includes having the right to create and disseminate information and opinions as well as having the right to access the intellectual products of others. Given the difficulty and exclusivity of publishing in print (primarily books, newspapers, and magazines) prior to online publishing, the expression side of the intellectual freedom coin has been largely ignored by school librarians and teachers. 

But given the increased importance of social networking, the availability of Web 2.0 tools, the realization that knowledge creation is a valuable skill, and the growing recognition of creativity as a primary means of securing a place in the contempory workforce. all educators should be advocating for students' rights to be read, heard, and viewed.

The library profession is only slowly acknowledging that our battle over student rights to access to digital information sources is as, or more, important that our battle over student rights to access print resources. (AASL has a Banned Websites Awareness Day vs. ALA's Banned Books Week.) But already the battle ground is shifiting once again.

Many of the websites schools are blocking are those that allow students to share information. Much of the fear associated with today's Internet is less about what students will find on it and more about what students will post to it. To some degree these concerns are justified - contact with dangerous strangers, cyberbullying, and online repution damage are all negative consequences of the ignorant or malicious use of Web 2.0 and social netwoking tools. Digitial citizenship training needs to address these safety issues, of course.

But there is also a real "danger" in probibiting students from accessing the tools needed to build and share digital portfolios of original work, of participating in collaborative online learning experiences, communicating with global experts and fellow students, and using Web2.0 tools to do primary data collection as a part of research projects. The modern learner needs to share his or her ideas, receive feedback about them,participate in discussions surrounding school topics, and use online tools for collaboration. Too many students find schools blocking or limiting the tools that make publication and communication possible.

Librarians, are we ready to fight for students' rights not just to access, but to produce? Get ready - this will be the real intellectual freedom battle for our kids this decade.

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