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Saturday
Jun252016

Library ethics for non-librarians - Statement VIII (and final)

ALA Library Code of Ethics Statement VIII: We strive for excellence in the profession by maintaining and enhancing our own knowledge and skills, by encouraging the professional development of co-workers, and by fostering the aspirations of potential members of the profession.

While we do need to practice and help others practice the standards of ethical behaviors I-VII, statement VIII, for those of us in education, supercedes them all. Our primary ethical responsibility is promoting meaningful change in our institutions.

Technology is being used as a catalyst for change in education in the best and worst senses of the word. It has opened avenues toward previously undreamt of information and communication opportunities. It is spurring some teachers to be more creative, more constructivist-based, and more individualized in their instruction. But the chance of technology being used badly is also great as critics like The Alliance for Childhood, Jane Healy, Larry Cuban and Clifford Stoll suggest. Technology can depersonalize education, divert funds from more effective educational practices, and over-emphasize low-level skill attainment as the ultimate educational goal.

As librarians we understand perhaps better than many in education that teaching is a moral pursuit. It is changing the world in a positive way through changing lives of our students in positive way. Technology we must recognize as simply a tool that will help us achieve those changes.

Too many of our schools lack effective leadership for the positive changes that technology can foster or accelerate. In such situations, a clear vision of what technology can and should be doing, well-articulated by the librarian, can have a tremendous impact. We can and should help fill such a directional void. Librarians make especially effective change agents because: 

  • our programs affect the whole school climate
  • we advocate information skills and personalized learning for every child
  • we advocate for technology being used to promote problem-solving and higher level thinking
  • we have no subject area biases or territories to protect
  • we’re extremely charming

While often uncomfortable, the librarian must challenge the system to be an effective agent for change. We do so by working on school governing committees, leading staff development activities, and exemplifying great teaching practices and technology use ourselves. We are involved in curriculum revision and fight for the effective integration of technology and information literacy skills. We write for district newsletters and talk to parent and community organizations. We hold offices in unions and other professional organizations. We write to legislators and attend political functions and school board meetings. We form strong networks with like-minded reformers inside and outside our profession. And throughout these efforts, we keep firmly in mind that technology’s purpose is to empower our students.

Our role as the “teacher of teachers” has never been greater as was alluded to in Statement V. We need to lead formal staff development activities, work on long-term staff development plans and serve as mentors and peer-coaches in our schools. The librarian is especially effective in working with teachers on the meaningful integration of technology into the curriculum through instructional units that include information literacy skills and stress higher level thinking and by designing authentic assessments of performance-based units of instruction. We are the team players, the hand-holders, the encouragers, the cheerleaders, the resource-providers and the shoulders on which to cry. We help improve our institutions by helping to improve the performance of the people who work within them.

As the tools of our profession change with technology and our mission grows to encompass teacher-training and leadership, our ethical duty to upgrade our own professional skills takes on ever increasing importance. My formal education ended with a master’s degree in 1979 from an excellent ALA accredited program. This was before personal computers of any usefulness; before popular use of OPACs; before online databases; before the acceptance of the Internet by the bourgeoisie; before multimedia encyclopedias; before the printing press (well, not quite).     

It follows that our ethical duty also includes membership and participation in professional associations devoted to ongoing professional development and attend the conferences and workshops they offer. We must continue to read professional journals and books. We must take advantage of listservs and other forms of electronic communication that help us maintain virtual conversations about our practice.

As Statement VIII concludes, we must foster “the aspirations of potential members of the profession.” A person recently commented to me that one must be mad to go into school librarianship. He’s right, of course, on a number of levels. You have to mad (passionate) for stories, computers, and especially working with kids. You have to be mad (angry) about how poorly our schools underserve too many vulnerable children. And finally, you have to be mad (crazy) enough to believe that you as one individual have the power to change your institution, your political systems, and especially, the lives of your students and teachers. It is a rightful part of our ethical code that we must recruit other madmen and madwomen to our profession.

We should all be on, as the Blues Brothers describe it, “a mission from God” everyday to make sure technology use in our schools is actually improving the lives of our students and staff. Heaven knows that nobody goes into the profession to make money. As educators, our satisfaction comes from actually believing we are doing something that will make the world a more humane place in which to live. The ultimate ethic of our practice is improving the lives of the children who attend out schools. The addition of technology to our schools does not change this; in fact, it may just make it more imperative. Minnesota writer, Frederick Manfred in his poem “What about you, boy?” says it far better than I ever could:

…Open up and let go.
Even if it’s only blowing. But blast.
And I say this loving my God.
Because we are all he has at last.
So what about it, boy?
Is your work going well?
Are you still lighting lamps
Against darkness and hell?
Friday
Jun242016

Library ethics for non-librarians - Statement VII

ALA Library Code of Ethics Statement VII: We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.

Distinguishing between our personal convictions and professional duties is one of the narrower tight ropes we walk as librarians. Well, educators as a profession. The addition of information technologies into schools and libraries has not made upholding this standard any easier. This statement should be addressed on two levels: policy and resources.

Policy
I hear many concerns and questions about information access policies, especially from teachers and librarians who believe their school guidelines are too restrictive. Should students have access to email? To chat? To music and video files? How much printing should a student be able to do? For what purposes? Should students be able to use the Internet to play games? To check sports scores? To find jokes and pictures of questionable taste? Technology has made circulation rules (three books per student) seem quite simple.

As was stated earlier, good rules should reflect the philosophy of the institution and create ownership of the library program by staff, students and parents. A good advisory committee that has as one of its charges oversight of library rules can help do this. The technician or IT manager whose responsibility includes network maintenance and security is an important member of such a committee. When the lines of communication open up between those whose expertise is in technology and those whose expertise is in education, intelligent, workable rules for student and staff result. If a teacher, student or parent disagrees with a library policy, reconsideration of the policy by the advisory committee is an effective means of addressing such a difference. 

Resources
We owe it to our students and staff to keep our personal feelings on issues from restricting their access to information, as well. (Remember Ethical Statement I? We provide the highest level of service to all library users through … accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests.)

I have political biases. Ask me about gun control, abortion, immigration policies, homosexuality, mass transportation, global-warming or the President, I will happily give you my opinions – some more informed than others. But as a librarian, I have prided myself in not allowing my personal convictions about specific topics to dictate the range of materials I make available to users.

This seemed to be relatively easy when our libraries offered users a limited range of print resources. If I ordered the SIRS Research folders, Facts-On-File titles, and Opposing Viewpoints books along with both The Nation and The National Review magazines, I thought I had all sides of most controversial issues covered.

But the Internet and online services have given us access to an unimaginable spectrum of opinions, now readily available to students and staff in even the smallest of school library media centers. Scholars, pundits, wackos, and 7th-graders all can and do publish “information” online, undistinguishable by appearance or availability. The information presented by businesses, non-profits, “think-tanks,” and other sites maybe be accurate, but heavily biased. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that there is no “supported” belief that cannot be found on the Internet. (Want a recipe for spotted owls? It’s easily found.)

While the availability of misinformation or biased opinions is often confusing or can lead researchers to make choices or form opinions that are embarrassing, there is a profound and very serious dimension to this issue as well. Increasingly students are using the Internet to meet personal needs and for school assignments that ask them to solve genuine problems. Making good consumer choices, health decisions, and career choices are a part of many districts’ curricula. Gaining historical background and perspectives on social, scientific and political issues through research is a common task expected by many teachers.

Ethically, we cannot rely on the “free” Internet alone to meet the information needs of our patrons. The availability of resources that have been edited and selected for their authority is perhaps more essential than ever. It is our ethical duty to provide print reference and trade materials at reading levels accessible to the age of the student, a range of periodicals related to the curriculum and personal interests, and subscriptions to online resources such as content specific databases and full-text periodical databases. We also must teach students about and facilitate their access to materials that are available through interlibrary loan.

But even more importantly we need to teach our library users to be able to evaluate information for themselves. Were I the Grand Panjandrum of Libraries, I would instantly add Johnson’s IXth Statement to ALA’s Code of Ethics: We teach our library users to be critical users of information.

Some established guidelines for the accuracy and reliability of information seem relatively simple to teach:

  • Authority. Who compiled this information or offered this opinion and what is author’s expertise?
  • Age. How old is the information?
  • Verifiability. Is the information or opinion found similar to that in other information sources?
  • Bias. What is the reason the information has been compiled or opinion offered? Does the author have some vested interest in the reader sharing his or her opinion? Who sponsors this site and how might the sponsor profit from convincing a reader to form specific beliefs?

Establishing the “authority” of information sources dealing with controversial social issues can be challenging if the educator wishes to honor the religious or political views of a student’s family, especially when those views differ radically from one’s own. Commentaries on environmental issues, for example, offered on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation and on the Rush Limbaugh Show may be seen by some parents, some teachers, and by oneself as having differing degrees of value and reliability. This is compounded by the degree to which people at both ends of the political spectrum are more reliant on dogma or doctrine than on a thoughtful review of evidence to help them make decisions.

Yet as ethical educators, we need to ask students to support their conclusions and be able to defend the sources of the information with which they have chosen to do so. If parents are sufficiently uncomfortable with the spirit of open inquiry as a part of education, I believe they should consider enrolling their children in a non-public school that reflects their specific set of beliefs.

For countries like ours founded on democratic freedoms and individual choices, the ability to analyze information should be the most important goal of our schools.

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Thursday
Jun232016

Library ethics for non-librarians - Statement VI

ALA Library Code of Ethics Statement VI: We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions.

In a school setting, I can’t say that I’ve had much chance to violate this sixth standard. I’ve never been offered a huge sum of cash or an exotic vacation in exchange for purchasing a grossly inferior encyclopedia instead of the World Book. Probably just as well.

Does accepting vendor purchased meals at conferences, adding vacation days to out-of-town conferences, or working on professional organization duties during school time violate this ethical standard? These infractions seem to be small potatoes in a world of political “contributions” and school boards being wined-and-dined in luxurious settings by big technology companies. My own conscience is not troubled doing any of these things in moderation. With one big exception: taking any form of gift from companies who supply E-rateable services or equipment should be absolutely refused regardless of type or value.

Regardless of the amount of discretionary funds at our disposal, we do have an ethical obligation to practice open service and equipment procurement practices, accurate curriculum mapping, review-driven material selection practices, and detailed budgeting. When budgets are tight, the selection of resources for their specific value to students and the educational program becomes even more critical. Convenience, charm of salespersons, or the lure of that free calendar simply should not enter into the choice of one product over another. I am genuinely distressed by seeing long rows of gourmet cookbooks on the shelve of an elementary school library. And those were ordered for whom?

A combination of new and expensive technologies, modest pay in the teaching profession, and a national spirit of entrepreneurship has created an environment in which some educators, including librarians, may be tempted to use school resources for personal gain. Establishing a website for a personal business on the school server, using school email to close a deal, or using computer equipment to do non-school or projects for pay certainly qualify as advancing “private interests at the expense of … our employing institutions.” We need to carefully separate the time, equipment and supplies we use as school employees from those we use for any private business or non-school volunteer activities we may undertake.

Our time is also a resource. Ethically we are bound to use the time we are at work in the service of our school, our staff and our students. We need to conscientiously eliminate what Steven Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People would identify as Quadrant III or Quadrant IV activities toward Quadrant II activities: those that are not urgent, but are important such as long-term planning, relationship building, and communications. We need to differentiate between our professional duties and those technical and clerical duties.

Most of us work in tax-supported institutions and have the obligation not just to be wise and honest in our expenditure of public funds, but avoid the appearance of any wrong-doing as well.

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