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Friday
Oct092009

Gone missing


A "phantom" tollbooth

There are a number of people I just don't see much of anymore...

  • I don't see the toll booth operator when entering or leaving the airport parking lots anymore. My credit card talks to a machine on the way in and again on the way out. My only interaction is answering whether I want a receipt.
  • I don't talk to check-in people at the airline counters anymore since I rarely check bags. My credit card talks to a terminal that prints out my boarding pass (if I've not already done so at home.)
  • I am seeing fewer bank tellers and grocery clerks. My cash card talks to the ATM and to the cash register at the supermarket after I have scanned my own groceries.
  • My son thinks I am telling tall tales when I tell him that I once had "people" who pumped my gas, washed my car windows, filled my tires and sometimes gave me a free tumbler as a gift when I went to a service station.
  • I don't hear the voice of a human telephone operator, tech support or reservation clerks until I've waded through a half dozen phone menus. "Trends in Tasks Done by the U.S. Workforce 1969-1998 (1969=0)"

Dr. McLeod shared a chart similar to the one above in his keynote last Friday. (This one comes from Levy and Murnane's article "Education and the Changing Job Market" in the October 2004 issue of Educational Leadership.) My tollbooth operator and his kindred that have gone missing fall into the "Routine Cognitive Work" category. The information given and processes performed were all standardized - multiple choice, if you will. Any higher order problem-solving in the interaction usually required finding a supervisor.

So some questions...

  1. Who else in your life encounters has "gone missing?" Who might be next?
  2. Are teachers vulnerable? Can those who are only information dispensers, flash card holders, babysitters and multiple choice quiz givers be automated? One of Scott's possible futures scenarios was one teacher per 90 station computer lab with all students doing programmed instruction.
  3. How do we give our students experience in "Complex Communications" and "Expert Thinking" skills? If we are really paying attention to these skills, why do we still give objective tests over the recall of trivia and only test low level basic skills?

I keep thinking about a prediction made in the mid-90's by a federal DOE official that in the future, economically disadvantaged students will all have computers while the wealthy students will have human teachers.

If all educators don't attended to adding value as expert thinkers and complex communicators, rebelling against  "teacher-proof the classroom" models, this future may be here sooner than one thinks.

Thursday
Oct082009

Horace Greeley and Major Adams - we need both

At our Minnesota Educational Media Organization (MEMO) conference last week, we were treated to two outstanding - but very different - keynote presentations.

On Friday, Dr. Scott (Dangerously Irrelevant) McLeod challenged us by asking:

     Do I understand the global economic climate?

     Do I support 21st Century Skills?

and right down to...

     What does it mean to be a book?

     What does it mean to be a library?

and...

     Why am I here?

     Do I truly "get it?"

Most of us felt pushed and maybe a little defensive. Even scared.

Scott played the role of big picture visionary - a modern day Horace "Go West, Young Man" Greeley. And did it well.

 

On Saturday, practicing school library media specialists Amy Oberts and Anita Beaman from central Illinois presented a more focused vision and some concrete means of reaching it. In an extremely entertaining fashion, A&A demonstrated how literature can be promoted and the reading experience expanded through the use of Web2.0 tools. They answered, in a way, Scott's question 'What is a book?" And we did it by "shakin' our bacon."

Amy and Anita played the role of the wagon master (Major Seth Adams of Wagon Train in my mispent youth). Their destination was more specific and a realization of getting there was demonstrated.

Folks, we need both the Greeleys and the Adams to inspire us, to scare us, to direct us, and to give us heart by showing us that change is possible and good.

I am happy to say that I can highly, highly recommend both Scott and the Amy/Anita team as wonderful keynote conference speakers.

Ward Bond in Wagon Train. Come on, you watched it.

Wednesday
Oct072009

Where are the others?

In response to the article "Things That Keep Us Up at Night," Beth (no email given or I would have asked permission to repost this) writes:

I wonder - where are the librarians who disagree with this [article]? I know they are out there. You point your finger right at them in this piece and tell them they are dragging us down. However, they never seem to enter the conversation. Many of us think we know some of these librarians. But they are absent from the debate.

I attended part of the @karlfisch inspired Elluminate session that asked "Is there a place for media specialists who don't know social media?" It was such an excellent presentation, but it was also a little unnerving - all the people who presented had the same answer to the question that framed the debate: no. Where are the people who say "yes"? Would we allow one of our students to investigate only one side of a debate topic when creating a presentation or making a decision? Why ask a question if you already know the answer?

Of course, those of us who have PLNs are likely going to be moving along in the same mindset - we engage in conversations on twitter and elsewhere with people who believe, more or less, in social media. Again, we only hear one side of the argument.

Yes, there are people in our profession who resist change. This is true in all of education. But outside of our blogging-tweeting-2.0 professional circles are librarians who are concerned about things like basic internet access, aging collections, fixed scheduling and no paraprofessional support. In my district, our high schools often have over 3000 students with two librarians. Test scores dictate instruction. Money to travel to conferences no longer exists. Filtering reigns. In many cases, the librarians are advocating for the immediate issues at hand: Basic access to information. Flexible scheduling. Updated resources. They may face administrators who don't support them, teachers with no time to collaborate, and few obvious opportunities to develop whatever a PLN is.

You say that there is no perfect library anymore. I agree. But there certainly seem to be many unacceptable ones in your view. I think we can all do better. We can all push for change. Maybe it is, instead of judging the person who does not tweet or have a webpage, taking an afternoon to sit with them and walk them through setting up a twitter feed or google site. Just because someone doesn't incorporate tech doesn't mean they are opposed to it. It is hard, as a professional in the world of schools, to admit you don't know something or don't understand it. I don't think our profession makes this easy either. Sometimes one-on-one mentoring can help. There are all kinds of opportunities to transform our profession if we take time to listen. The tone of pieces like this, in my view, may do more to drive people out of the conversation than invite them in.

In the end, we need to know what is going on with everyone. What barriers do they face as information professionals: material, professional or otherwise? Many librarians are not given autonomy. We operate within a system that has many many problems that affect our practice. I think if we created opportunities for librarians to share these stories we might better understand why they do what they do. I think we still have to listen to the "yeah, buts" - but that can't be the end of the conversation. We can't dismiss them, but instead open a dialogue and try to strategize through it with everyone's input. Then the transformation of the profession continues with more buy in than we have now, we hope.

Our brand really can't be social media. It can't be databases. It can't be 2.0. Not only will these things fade away, they exclude large parts of our profession from participation. I'd rather adopt our brand as "cultivating curiosity." That will stand the test of time. And it's something we can all gather around the table and talk about pushing toward.

So, excoriate or sympathize with our colleagues who do not push the professional envelope? Were Joyce and I too harsh, too out of touch with the "real" world of libraries? (Do remember Joyce is a practicing library media specialist and I am practicing library/technology director.) Do we owe an apology to those who struggle in silence? How can we give a voice to those who choose not to network?

Interesting comments, Beth, and I am guessing you speak for more folks than you realize. Thank you for writing.

But would you write the same eloqent defense of dentists who continue to practice their craft as though it were 1975?

Image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaqian/9081816/