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EdTech Update





Is librarianship a reactionary profession?

This tweet appeared in my feed a day or so ago:


Link in post:

As anyone knows who reads this blog, I am a believer in libraries and the good they do for kids, communities, and society. But I worry that we dismiss educational innovations out-of-hand when funds are spent that "could have gone to libraries."

While the objection to the UK's "English hubs" came from a political party, it was re-tweeted by an eminent library leader, I suspect in agreement. To me the post sends a message that a new effort to help disadvantaged students means less money for libraries. I find it hard to believe there is a direct cause-effect relationship.

While libraries have been empirically proven to improve literacy for many people, there are obviously many people libraries fail to reach - and for probably many reasons.

I worry that we as librarians do ourselves a disservice when we reject out-of-hand innovative practices when they seem to threaten our established practices and norms.

As I have often stated, creativity is needed when the accepted best practice in education does not work. I don't know of any educational resource, practice, or theory that meets the needs of 100% of our kids. My analogy has been that I want my dentist to use best practice when working on my teeth - unless that practice is not effective. Then I want him to be creative. 

What might be some new programs in your school that are getting funds "that might be instead spent on the library?" Digital resources? A new reading curriculum? 1:1 initiatives? Do we as librarians simply resist, protecting our own programs?

Or do we critically examine these innovations to see if we have a role in making them as effective as possible, especially for those not now well-served by our traditional programs?

Do we as a profession want to be known as reactionaries or innovators? I hope it is the latter, especially as long as some kids are not doing as well as they might.


Sophistication and simplicity - can you have it both ways?

One of the main premises of the book is that although people are often keen to blame themselves when objects appear to malfunction, it is not the fault of the user but rather the lack of intuitive guidance that should be present in the design. Wikipedia entry for The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman

This old cartoon came to mind when thinking about a new-ish AV system we have in some meeting rooms at our district offices.

The room in which our school board meets is connected via sliding walls to two other large rooms. The advantages are obvious - when there is a large gathering a huge room can be created. When there is a need for space for multiple meetings, we can have that as well. Flexibility.

The difficulty we have had is providing a flexible means of controlling the sound and projection systems in these rooms. A single audio source - computer or microphone - needs to be heard on the speakers in either one, two, or three rooms depending on the setup. A single video source needs to be shown on between one and eight projectors and monitors depending on the setup. (Add to this, additional audio and visual recording and transmission needed for school board meetings which are broadcast over community television.)

The consultants put in a clever system using software on wall mounted iPads that allows us to do this. Serving as touch panels, the user can select the input and output sources needed for the particular event. When it works, it works like magic. When it doesn't work or if the user is unfamiliar with the system, frustration mounts. Often these rooms are used in the evenings, outside our tech staff's regular hours.

This dilemma - the need for both sophistication and simplicity - is increasing during what feels like a very rapid, transitional time in technology evolution. Automobiles now have complex systems that control audio, navigation, and who knows what else, but they don't yet have a Siri-type AI that allows the driver to simply say "Please play NPR at a medium volume" or "Give me the GPS directions to the nearest gas station." We still need to know what buttons to push and in what order.

It's lovely to have highly-functional technologies. It's not so lovely to need a programming degree and the patience of Job to operate them.

Do we, when selecting resources for our schools (or homes) ever make simplicity a criteria when making the choice - or do we always just go for the product with the most bells and whistles?

I am going to find my old copy of Donald Norman's wonderful book The Design of Everyday Things. I may be worth a re-read.

Oh, Alexa, learn quickly, please


Homage to LM_Net

Georgia library media specialist Tony Pope last week began a series of listserv posts (these means of communication for people who have the intellect and patience to write over 140 characters) asking about the history of LM_Net, a now 25-year-old Professional Learning Network for school librarians. Below is a Head for the Edge column I wrote in 2008 called "Continuing Education" that honors the role LM_Net played in my career:

Continuing Education

Head for the Edge, Library Media Connection, September 2008

You Know You’re a Librarian in 2008 when…you know more librarians in Texas than you do in your home state because of LM_Net.

Peter Milbury and Mike Eisenberg, the founders and moderators par excellence of LM_Net for the past 15 years, announced last November that they are passing the torch.

For the one or two of you reading this who don’t know about LM_Net, it has been the mainstay electronic mailing list for an estimated 100 million school librarians in 2 million countries, on a dozen other planets, and at least two identified alternative universes. It produces in excess of a billion e-mail messages each day - 10 billion on “recipe day.” (These numbers are rough estimates.)

I was an early subscriber and participant on LM_Net using my university “vax” account back in 1992 when I first joined. This was 1200 baud modem dial-up, line interface, pre-WWW, uphill-both-directions-in-the-snow Internet days. Not soft and cushy like young‘uns have it today with your graphical interfaces and wirelessness. The computer screen was hard to read by lamplight, too.

Anyway, LM_Net became my first Internet “continuing education” experience. And the learning began early.

It was my second year as library media supervisor and I was getting lots of push-back from the district librarians I had inherited. I was determined to make them tech integration specialists and they seemed just as determined to remain print-only librarians. After one particularly frustrating day, I turned on my computer, opened my e-mail, and just let rip about the reactionary, troglodytic, myopic, nature of school librarians, concluding that they had better damn well wake-up and smell the coffee or they would all be replaced with techs and not to let the door hit ‘m where the good lord split’m on the way out. And off the rant went to LM_Net. 

Let me put it this way - I got some reaction. I knew librarians had good vocabularies, but even I learned some new words. I believe after that other LM_Netters opened my e-mails simply wondering what idiotic thing I might say next. In LM_Net I found my voice.

But more importantly, I found colleagues who offered information, encouragement, and support. It was my first true “continuous learning” experience not because I was the one doing the teaching, but because we were all learning together – as we do to this day. The virtual community built by LM_Net (a professional learning community before they were so named) was a lifeline and sanity-keeper for many of us.

Continuing education prior to LM_Net consisted of reading professional journals, attending library conferences, and taking college classes. These activities are still available and important. But given the pace and amount of change, they alone are insufficient to keep most of us current with the happenings in librarianship and information technology. Thank goodness for these online continuing education options:

  • Electronic mailing lists (aka listservs) continue to be a valuable means of locating of “primary source” information – human expertise. While LM_Net is the granddaddy of such resources, you might also be reading AASLForum, ISTE SIGMS, WWWEdu, and your own state’s mailing list. A simple query to such lists often results in not just recommended published information, but in shared experiences and wisdom as well. Don’t forget that some mailing lists like LM_Net archive their messages for later retrieval.
  • Smaller “professional networks” such as Joyce Valenza’s TeacherLibrarian Ning <> are complimenting listservs by providing a forum along with a means of sharing photos, videos and other resources with fellow network members. Aimed at creating links for professionals, these operate much like the larger social networking sites Facebook and MySpace.
  • Blogs and their aural cousins, podcasts, let library media specialists read or hear, react and converse on the latest thinking by leaders in the school library field. Information on blogs tends to be timely, short and often opinionated. Pick the ones that are fun to read and you, like me, will become addicted.
  • Webcasts, presentations and workshops done via an Internet website like GoToMeeting or Elluminate qare becoming increasingly popular. Watch your e-mail for these “web seminars.”
  • Finally, Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs) such as Second Life are offering a growing number of opportunities to interact and learn with colleagues. Your Second Life avatar can attend a presentation, communicate with fellow professionals in real time, and even build virtual learning resources using this new but powerful information and communication interface. Watch for SIGMS offerings on ISTE Island. (Whatever happened to Second Life??? - DAJ)

These are just a few of the growing number of “continuous learning” opportunities the Internet is making available to those of us engaged in the rapidly evolving field of school librarianship.

Does your school’s mission statement include the words “life-long learning?” It should. And the sentiment should also apply to us as well.

Shonda Brisco called out a 20 or so contributers to LM_Net who influenced her work and I am honored to have made the list. I have not been as good a contributer to the mailing list for the past few years as I once was, but a new and able group of librarians are keeping it as valuable as ever.