Tag Archives: schools

Is marketing a dirty word for school libraries?

La lectura es el viaje de los q no pueden tomar el tren

I’m writing an article about marketing the school library for the publication FYI.

Marketing. I used to think that it had nothing to do with education. Marketing school libraries? Bad taste. Things of value should stand on their own merits.

But here we are living in libraries within schools – part of the school, not quite part of the school. I have to admit that much of what I do is a form of marketing – the benign kind, the sincere kind, but marketing nonetheless. No, we are not selling our souls but we do need to reach out and make connections with the teachers who have charge of the students. We need them all so that we can make a difference.

Still, I have many questions about this marketing thing. I would love to have a full-on discussion with other teacher librarians about this, and with teachers, to see what they think. To see what you think.

So I’m going to offer a few of my thoughts in the hope that you will leave a comment. What do you think about this as a teacher librarian, as a teacher? The following is selected from my article:

Library promotion and the forging of relationships with staff is what we do every day.I don’t claim to be an expert and there is no ‘one size fits all’, but what I’d like to do is share my personal experience and my story.

Marketing your school library is not optional, as far as I’m concerned.

Why?

Marketing the library is a most important job, not only to make the library visible but also to make it shine, to show its vibrancy, so that teachers and students will take a break from their relentless busyness and take notice; so that they will want to come in to see what’s going on.

Sadly, libraries are sometimes invisible – despite bright and shiny new furniture, despite the brilliant displays, despite the extensive collections, despite the well meaning efforts of librarians. What I mean by that is that the library and library staff are not an intrinsic part of the essential teaching and learning activity of our schools – they don’t show up on teachers’ or students’ radar –  unless we make them so. And we have to keep making them so on a daily basis.

The library used to be THE PLACE people came for information but it’s simply not the case any more. Surely you’ve noticed how often student assignments are set and completed without anyone stepping into the library. We all know how indispensable we can be and should be when research assignments are created so we need to educate students and teachers that we have the experience to support them in navigating the flood of information they now have at their fingertips. We all know our area of expertise: we can show them how to find what they need when it seems like finding a needle in a haystack – how to locate, evaluate, sort through and select, organise, interact with and synthesize information so they can create what is required. But often teachers and students will have no idea that they are playing in a sinkhole when they trust Google to find what they need. There is no doubt that we need to seriously promote ourselves as playing an essential part in everyday teaching and learning.

How?

Granted, that is easier said than done. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. I would say, trust your instincts. create connections, nurture authentic and meaningful relationships with teachers, faculty heads, leading teachers, assistant principals and principals.

Be yourself, be real. Don’t put on your teacher librarian persona and go out door knocking like a missionary. There is no script. You will know what to say.

Be patient. It won’t happen overnight. It might not happen the way you envisage but something will happen. Connect with other teacher librarians, blog and tweet about it, and share your experiences, reflections, evaluations. Be honest, be deep. It’s not all about what can be seen from the outside, it’s also about creating cultural shifts, shifts in understanding. All of this takes time. Look for and celebrate small successes.

Be awesome, surprising, and indispensable. Find and share what teachers want and need, but also make it amazing and wrap it up in gorgeous colours with metres of ribbon and exotic feathers.

Think about the library as a space; it’s prime real estate. The library can be a Wunderkammer, and when people come in, they should feel happy and intrigued, and wish they could stay a while. It should be a refuge for teachers from their relentless running from class to class. And you should become indispensable because you have offered to create something they have little time to do.

Where?

Everywhere – in library spaces, in classrooms, during chats in the corridor or quick catch-ups after a staff meeting, during sports days, music days, and PD days.

Don’t forget the power of promotion online – to your staff, students and school community but also to those outside the school walls. Let’s promote ourselves and what we do in our schools to the outside world, creating a reputation for being awesome, inspiring others, and being inspired by them.

It’s essential that we are seen in places other than the library. Let’s unleash ourselves from that ancient library institution – the desk. If we are stamping books and dealing with delinquent photocopiers for too much of our time, let’s think about what we can do to change that.

How to develop good relationships with teachers

My personal approach is working from the ground up with individual teachers I feel are responsive to collaboration and to my crazy ideas. I recommend you spend a lot of time in that relationship, trying to make solid, deep things happen, and that you blog the whole process with photos and repost everywhere. This way one documented collaborative project can be used as an example for many more such projects. The blog post will capture examples, reflection and evaluation, for teachers who want to see how the project worked, as well as evidence of good things happening.

Integrate, integrate, integrate

Become integrated with classes and the curriculum. Avoid feeling happy enough with isolated ‘library program’ -type lessons. As long as teachers view what we do as library programs, they will view what we do as separate, and not take it seriously. This goes for  students too. We need to be there throughout the whole project, either in the classroom or through our interaction with teachers. 

Should we speak up about what we’re doing and how we can help teachers in staff meetings? I’m in two minds about this. Staff meetings are usually after school and staff are tired and want to go home. On the occasion that I did stand up and promote what teacher librarians could do to support staff and students, I tried to be as entertaining as possible, and hoped that laughter would keep them focused. I would be reluctant to do that too often so that staff do not start to switch off. In my opinion, working on deeper relationships with individual teachers is more effective.

So these selections are a small part of the article which will soon be published in FYI. The article includes a lot more practical examples which I hope will be useful to other teacher librarians.

It would be so good to hear from you all. I open to changing my mind about approaches. Leave me a comment, okay?

But seriously, can we afford not to be marketing our libraries?

 

 

 

 

 

9 Comments

Filed under Libraries, Teacher librarians, Uncategorized

We are not where we need to be for what we want to happen

Still following the mental thread from my last post. I’m feeling restless in my professional position at the moment, a mini crisis which is usually a part of preventing stagnation and breaking through to a better flow. I’m not sure if I can adequately explain it (feeling unwell) so what I’ll do instead is share talks and articles which have resonated.

First off, I revisited Charles Leadbeater’s old TED talk. This article reminded me of this.

And Charles’ more recent TED talk. The man can talk. If only I could communicate so well.

The piece by Richard Elmore has a standout phrase for me which is that ‘a progressive dissociation between learning and schooling’. This is very disturbing, particularly if you believe it. It makes me question everything we do in school. It makes me think that whatever assessment we have for teaching is ineffective. Do our compulsory self-evaluations for renewed registration mean anything? Isn’t it relatively easy to justify what we do using the relevant terminology? Isn’t it really about the students? When are we going to assess our teaching based on what our students really need in life? I can’t recall that conversation in any staff meeting or curriculum day program.

A ship in the harbour is safe but that’s not what ships are for – photo by Joel Robinson

You might think I’m being negative but I’m just breaking things up a little, thinking about what I could do, in my free space as teacher librarian, unfettered by marking and curriculum guidelines, to create wonderful, surprising, fun learning opportunities. Anyone join me?

I leave you with this.

Wait, another one. Many voices and much sense here.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Musing

What’s our future – school libraries and librarians

It disturbs me that we are not seriously thinking about the future of school libraries. This statement will receive incensed objections; teacher librarians are, after all, talking about changes in what we do and how we do it at conferences and in their own libraries. We talk about some of these changes in my own school library – delivering ebooks, providing transferable skills such as critical literacies to our students, delivering online resources. Well shoot me down if I upset you but I still think we’re not getting it. We can’t make changes to our libraries and continue to hold onto the way we’ve always done it. I seriously think we’ll be out of a job soon unless we move along with public libraries and transform what we’re doing. We need to look at future predictions for education and the world of work, let go of what we’re comfortable with and make serious and fast-moving plans for change.

I don’t know about you but I can’t stop thinking about this topic. I don’t plan to retire for a long time (God willing) and don’t like to see myself made redundant. I’m also enamoured with my job and its possibilities, its enormous range of roles, its creative and connective nature, its freedom from the daily grind of curriculum and assessment of exhausted and time-poor teachers, its focus on school community, the empowerment of essential skills teaching, its embracing of transformative technologies. I could go on.

Just this morning I asked Jenny Luca on Twitter what she would be speaking about at the SLAQ2012 conference. She said she hoped ‘to talk about the future of the profession – what we need to do to ensure there is one’. I look forward to following her talk online because I know Jenny understands the imperative nature of this topic and will be worth listening to.

Also this morning I found on Twitter (via Judy O’Connell) a link to this article from Northwest England: ‘Special report: The future of public libraries; what the senior managers think’. I can see in many ways that school libraries (at least the ones in Melbourne, Australia) are lagging behind public libraries in their unwillingness to move with the times. New, shiny, colourful spaces – lovely, but that’s not fixing the problem. I found myself thinking that many of the points made in this article applied equally to school libraries. (You can read notes summarising the meeting here or listen the 60 minute  recording.

I’ve pulled out what I think is relevant to school libraries (open to discussion about these) –

What are the core services of libraries now and in ten year’s time?
  • To provide unbiased access to info.
  • To promote community and civic engagement (For us we definitely need to take a more pro-active role in connecting to the school community and also the wider community. Yes, we’ve been doing that through parent book clubs, providing our libraries for school related meetings and events  but I think we could break out even more and organise events which are not traditionally associated with libraries and books)
  • Digital access (We should provide more online, taking notice of an attractive and user-friendly web design – how outdated are some of our web pages! Let’s not ignore – or block- the students’ mobile devices which already enable them to connect to and create so much)
  • No longer transactional [that is, not based on stamping out books] but moving to transformational [presumably, this means, improving people’s life chances]. (Oh yes! Some school libraries have got this but at my school we are still spending most of our time stamping books and putting print credit on our boys’ printing accounts! How can we move into a transformational role? Something we should be discussing. I’m going to tread onto dangerous ground and even suggest that we avoid freeing ourselves up from the desk because provides us with the busy work our school community is used to observing. If we freed ourselves up we’d be challenged to organise engagement with teachers and students).
  • Force for social change (We can be leaders in modeling and integrating social media into learning and teaching. What other kinds of social change can we impact?)
  • Libraries can be a space for businesses and entrepreneurs,  providing meeting space, patent clinicsinventor clinics.  (Our school libraries should provide spaces for teachers to get away, relax, take part in discussions, collaborative planning – whatever. How many TLs are finding it difficult to catch a teacher on the run for a meaningful conversation? Money is always an issue. Some schools have been able to afford refurbishment, creating beautiful new and welcoming spaces. That hasn’t happened in our library yet but I think we should seriously think creatively and rearrange our spaces. So much space is taken up by our vast and archival non-fiction and reference collection. Beautiful but not the most contemporary face for our library. We also have small rooms housing journals and text books going back so far! What we can’t afford we can make up for using collective creative thought.)
  • In the larger cities, libraries can in the future supply 3D printing and fab-labs (Wow, I’d never heard of fab-labs before) (More about 3D printing here.)
  • Community spaces for all sorts of different things (Bring our school community in! Who has done this and how?)
  • Libraries will increasingly work with communities, where “anything can happen”.  Libraries will be very different “two miles down the road”. Volunteers can deliver more so “every neighbourhood is different” and every library will be different.  We need to employ people who positively react to community and allow libraries to be places which  “people can recognise as their own space”. (I wonder if our school community views our library as their space or our space? Certainly our students treat our library as they would their lounge room – noisy but vibrant. How can we do the same for teachers? I know that Kevin Whitney (Head of Library at Kew High School) does this by providing a quick, friendly service, a ‘yes, we can do that for you’ manner and a cup of coffee and CD playlist.

I like the idea of libraries being places where ‘anything can happen’. Yes, we should run ‘library-type’ events, as we always have, but what about breaking out of our mold and planning something unrelated to libraries and books. How better to dislodge the community’s narrow view of us and our role? I think public libraries are doing this better than us.)

This point interested me –

Public libraries will need to engage more with e-books and encourage “live” literature such as author visits which are really important. [However, it seemed like all the participants, with the possible exception of Ciara Eastell of Devon, did not really have their heart in this one and saw the delivery of books as, well, tedious and somewhat old-fashioned.  This was summed up by one panel member who said “we’re going to get savvier than offering just books”.

Of course school libraries focus on reading for enjoyment and literacy which is central to education. There’s so much more we can do (and are doing in many cases). Reading is not just decoding the writing and that’s why we offer audio and ebooks. But it’s also about many others things such as the thinking, discussion and debates that come out of it. Why not provide regular activities which focus on these things? Some of these things are happening in our libraries and others outside the library. Let’s become event organisers and creators for these things so that we’re not just limiting ourselves to author talks (fantastic as these are). We could do these things in different ways. I haven’t yet skyped an author but I plan to. I have brought authors into our yr 9 English student blogs, and students are thrilled that authors are commenting on their posts and sharing ideas. I’m hoping to organise a Slam Poetry event at the school – outside the library and hope to include teachers from different curricular areas to sit on the judging panel. What are you doing? What would you do if you had more courage?

Are there any limit to what libraries can do?
  • Libraries are provided by local authorities so need to have a responsibility to make life better for people.  However within this,  “the sky’s the limit” as long as framed by core needs.  “The ambition is to create surprises.”

I really like the idea of surprises. I have a plan for a surprise which I can’t share in case it’s not going to be realised. If I had my way, our library would overcome its financial limitations by decorating ‘grunge’ or be a kind of Wunderkammer. What I’ve seen in beautifully refurbished and designed school libraries is fantastic but it’s more a reflection of what librarians want and how they perceive their space than what students want. I say we listen to our students and include popular culture in our designing of spaces.

And this brings me to my final, and most dangerous, paragraph. This is where I lose friends (I hope not!) I’ve observed a defensiveness in our profession. One which occasionally divides teacher librarians and technicians into class distinctions; which sometimes sees us frustrated when we understand more about important literacies than teachers do but are unable to get a foot into classrooms to make any difference; which sees us taking up our precious class time cramming what our professional journals have told us we should be doing – unaware that nobody sees the value in this, unaware that the teacher really only wanted a quick 15 minute talk. Sometimes we don’t listen enough to the teachers, don’t have enough patience to build trust in the relationship before we go for it. Sometimes we don’t ask students if they already know something, or ask them what they really need help with, because we are determined to ‘do’ our planned information literacy lesson. If this isn’t you, then I apologize but I know I’ve been in all these situations at some stage and I’m never going to be there again. Our separation from the rest of the teachers and from ‘owning’ classes of students is difficult, and we have to work hard to build these relationships, because we know that relationships need to be forged before we can successfully teach our skills. I believe these relationships have to be sincere, real, not just as a way of promoting ourselves, and teachers can see through the marketing approach.

The Institute For The Future (USA) has published its Future Work Skills 2020 report. If you look at the summary below, you get an idea about what we should be thinking about in terms of our own future for school libraries.

You’ll have to view the original version to be able to read this. There’s so much here we could be helping the school community to realise: novel and adaptive thinking, new media literacies, transdisciplinarity, cross cultural competencies – we have the potential to play a role in all of these. We should take note of the ‘rise of smart machines’ prediction and free ourselves from the repetitive work which stops us from getting out and doing more essential things. We can do so much for social media competencies across the school so that the whole school focus is on a globally connected world. Just take a look at the Optus Future of Work Report 2012-2016 and its appeal for flexible workspaces. Futurist speaker, Tom Frey, lists teachers as one of the jobs which he predicts will disappear by 2030. But coaches and course designers will stay, according to the report.

Believe these reports or not, we should be looking at the future; things can’t stay the way they have been. We have been lulled into thinking that education will not be subject to the changes which take place in business because it actually hasn’t changed for such a long time! But this disconnect will not last too long, and we need the mindset and understanding to move with the changes. We should be part of schools which educate students for their future world; let’s look outside the walls of our libraries and our schools, and start moving.

(I am a secondary school teacher librarian and speak from this perspective. Views expressed are my own and do not represent those of my school).

41 Comments

Filed under Libraries

Sir Ken Robinson animated

Here’s a great example of how visualisation enhances a very good talk by Sir Ken Robinson;

Some of the most disturbing parts:

  • Schools are trying to educate children like they did in the past, and consequently alienating millions of kids who don’t see any purpose in what they do in school.
  • Ritalin is overprescribed (in USA). We shouldn’t be sedating our kids, we should be waking them up to what they have inside themselves. They live in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth; they’re being besieged with information that calls for their attention from every platform, and they are getting distracted from comparatively boring stuff at school.
  • Schools are still organised on factory lines. We still educate our children by batches in age groups. Why is the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are. It’s essentially about conformity and standardisation.
  • Kids’ scores for divergent thinking deteriorate the older they become mainly because they become educated to accept that there’s only one answer and that you don’t copy.

Two concluding points by Ken Robinson:

  • Collaboration is the stuff of growth.
  • It’s mostly about the culture, the habits of our institutions.

What does this say to  me?

We can’t improve kids’ learning in schools by doing what we are already trying to do inside the current system. We can only improve their learning by changing the culture of schools, by changing the ways we do things – not within the current setup we have which is clearly not working because our teachers are really trying. What we need is a whole school system change which will discard the outdated factory model. I think this talk explains why we are trying so hard and yet failing on the whole.

What do you think?

Read about RSA here. How is it I hadn’t heard of RSA Animate before? It really does bring discourse to life.

Thanks to Sheryl A. McCoy for the link to this video.

2 Comments

Filed under animation, Education

Whose job is it to teach responsible online behaviour?

Everybody’s talking about it: online behaviour.

We’ve come around, finally and reluctantly, on the whole, to accepting that social media is part of our world, young people as well as adult. Even television shows and radio stations are tweeting and blogging – how more mainstream can you get?

On the negative side, we also hear about  bad behaviour online, and the confusion arising from changes to privacy, particularly on Facebook. Many people have spoken out about what needs to be happening in schools, including Jenny Luca and Will Richardson. There are many passionate responses to Facebook’s handling of privacy on the web.

Some people are leaving Facebook.

Some people are staying.

It’s interesting that morning programs on television are often featuring conversations about social media, Twitter and Facebook in particular. This morning Channel 7’s morning program featured a spokeswoman talking about Facebook privacy and the inappropriate content that was being shared outside the users’ immediate circle of Facebook friends. I was surprised that the tone was reasonable, and many interesting points were raised, for example, the question as to why people post strong and even abusive comments to people on Twitter when they wouldn’t behave that way if they met these people face to face.

That’s the difference – face to face interaction compared to faceless interaction. Facebook, ironically, is faceless. When we get involved in a passionate discussion we may be talking to friends of friends who are faceless to us. We don’t expect to meet them, and we don’t exercise the same caution that we would if we knew we’d be seeing them in person. It’s the same with road rage.

For me, that’s the message we need to get out to students. Don’t get me wrong – I’m an advocate of the connective power of social media, but I think that students should be reminded that while they are chatting with ‘friends’ in the privacy of their bedrooms, their conversations are very public.

Facebook is very easy to use. It’s easy to add friends, photos, applications, become fans and group members. But it isn’t easy to wade through the new privacy regulations. Even with a manual it confuses me. And it’s not something young people (or anyone) are likely to do any more than they would happily peruse a legal document. Changes occur without enough notice, it’s easy to let it all go and hope for the best.

The Australian government’s cybersafety program directed by The Australian Communications and Media Authority has published units of work designed to teach responsible online behaviour.

But who is responsible for teaching this? Will it be taught by the few educators who have independently decided it’s important, or across the school following a directive from principals?

I worry that while primary schools may consider this an essential part of the curriculum, just as they educate children about bullying, drug-taking, etc., secondary schools may be confused as to whose role this is.  It may not fit into an already overcrowded curriculum. It may be perceived that secondary students are old enough to be responsible or that what they do in their private time is no concern of the school.

I would like to run parent sessions on Facebook, but it’s blocked for staff and students in our school. The leaders of our school have made this decision in the best interests of our students. Fair enough, but have they thought the issue through? Blocking Facebook at school prevents education. It indicates serious handwashing.

Parents are talking about feeling helpless and ignorant when it comes to their children’s online activities. We could say that they should monitor their children’s Facebook activity, but until what age? Try monitoring a 16 year old and see what happens.

Parents should be educated but then so should school leaders and teachers. The only way to understand something is to get into it and see how it works. It’s not a matter of saying ‘it’s not for me’; we can’t afford to say that anymore. We can’t keep blaming parents, schools, the government.

I remember a primary school principal once saying that what the students did out of school wasn’t his responsibility (when I raised the issue of pornography sites being passed around online). We can no longer separate school and home. Online interaction out of school spills into school interaction.

We are all responsible. We should all become educated. We should all educate where appropriate.

11 Comments

Filed under debate, Education, internet, network literacy

Blogs, nings and wikis – taking learning out of the classroom

Photo via @jennyluca as part of an ebook Field Guide for Change Agents

At the end of last year our school committed to embracing Web 2.0 technologies, and some teachers have begun to explore the potential of blogs, wikis and other platforms for teaching and learning. Others are still either reluctant, don’t see the relevance for their teaching, or consider the challenges in supporting Web 2.0 technologies greater than the benefits.

More and more often I find myself wondering how it is that educators can have such a different view of what education is about, and which skills are more important to students for their future. And how can we talk about learning outcomes before we procure for ourselves a comprehensive and consistent picture of the kind of world in which our students will be working and living?  If we don’t inform ourselves, aren’t we way off the mark  and therefore failing our students?

Why should we use external blogs, wikis, flickr, and other cloud-based applications? Why is it important to connect students in their learning with each other and with those outside their school? In answering these questions for myself and for others, I thought I’d investigate research into future trends which affect education and the world of work.

Recently I  came across an article via Will Richardson in Twitter, Defining the big shift by John Hagel on his website Edge perspectives with John Hagel. John identifies trends which support a move away from teaching content and toward facilitating networked learning:

We are moving from a world where the source of strategic advantage was in protecting and efficiently extracting value from a given set of knowledge stocks – what we know at any point in time…  Finding ways to connect with people and institutions possessing new knowledge becomes increasingly important. Since there are far more smart people outside any one organization than inside, gaining access to the most useful knowledge flows requires reaching beyond the four walls of any enterprise.

The greatest economic value will come from finding ways to connecting relevant yet diverse people, both within the firm and outside it, to create new knowledge. They do this best by addressing challenging performance requirements that motivate them to get out of their comfort zone and come up with creative new approaches that generate more value with fewer resources.

From transactions to relationships

The transactional mindset undermines the ability to build long-term, trust based relationships. And in the absence of those relationships it becomes almost impossible to effectively participate in the knowledge flows that matter the most. It is very difficult to get diverse people to come together and constructively engage around challenging performance issues by sharing their tacit knowledge unless long-term trust-based relationships already exist. Once again, since the most valuable knowledge flows are distributed well beyond the boundaries of the firm, these trust based relationships must also extend into broad, scalable networks that literally span the globe.

And so, relationships and connections with a global network are recommended. Isn’t this the whole point of Web 2.0 technologies since they enable these connections and provide a community of learners?

The Horizon Report 2010 is a ‘qualitative research project established in 2002 that identifies and describes emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning, or creative inquiry on college and university campuses within the next five years’. It identifies key trends resulting from changes in technology:

People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to. Life in an increasingly busy world where learners must balance demands from home, work, school, and family poses a host of logistical challenges with which today’s ever more mobile students must cope. A faster approach is often perceived as a better approach, and as such people want easy and timely access not only to the information on the network, but to their social networks that can help them to interpret it and maximize its value. The implications for informal learning are profound, as are the notions of “just-in-time” learning and “found” learning, both ways of maximizing the impact of learning by ensuring it is timely and efficient.

And further:

The work of students is increasingly seen as collaborative by nature, and there is more cross-campus collaboration between departments. While this trend is not as widespread as the others listed here, where schools have created a climate in which students, their peers, and their teachers are all working towards the same goals, where research is something open even to first year students, the results have shown tantalizing promise. Increasingly, both students and their professors see the challenges facing the world as multidisciplinary, and the need for collaboration great. Over the past few years, the emergence of a raft of new (and often free) tools has made collaboration easier than at any other point in history.

It concerns me that many of us are still functioning in the very old ways of teaching and learning. What percentage of teachers, principals and deputy principals, heads of faculty, heads of IT, have read The Horizon Report 2010?

One of the main arguments against Web 2.0 applications, such as blogs, nings, flickr, etc. is that resources can be more efficiently provided and shared on the school’s intranet, and that this way is safe and easier to control. However, according to the  Report:

A growing emphasis on collaboration in education — and an increasing recognition that collaboration is the norm in many modern workplaces — has led more teachers to seek tools to facilitate group interaction and teamwork in their classes. ..  Collaborative environments provide the means for students to work with peers both local and distant, practice creative teamwork, and develop peer relationships.

Last year I was involved in a pilot project for our school in the form of a ning which supported a year 7 English class. Instead of writing for their teacher alone, the ning provided transparency in discussion and the sharing of writing which sometimes took place in class or otherwise at home in the students’ own time. It also enabled a connection with two Australian authors, Allan Baillie (whose book we were studying) and Michael Gerard Bauer, who provided individual feedback to students’ questions and contributions specific to the class’s needs. This experience made real for us precisely what the research has shown:

The common features that unite collaborative environments are that multiple people can work within them at once; that users can leave evidence of their thoughts, and reflections on the thoughts of others; and that they can support users in any location at any time.

This year a few more teachers have expressed an interest in this new kind of learning, and so I’ve been happy to set up these Web 2.0 learning environments which not only enhance peer interaction but also provide opportunities to connect with people and classes outside the school, even in other countries. A ning I created for Year 12 Literature sparked hours of engaged and rich discussion amongst the students in their own time and going late into the night. Students obviously didn’t consider this ‘work’ and at one point a student remarked, ‘Hey, I just realised I’m doing homework!’

I’m also collaborating with a teacher at school and two overseas educators and their students, one from Florida, USA, and the other from Finland, in a project which operates entirely in Flickr. I’m excited about the global connections and conversations which will be created through this project.

Collaborative environments of all kinds extend the classroom, eroding geographic and time limitations that used to constrain academic interactions. Students can work on group homework assignments with their peers whether or not they are able to get together physically, and can receive feedback and coaching from teachers outside of school hours, if both parties wish.

Collaborative environments foster teamwork and collaboration, but students can also develop individual skills in such spaces. By practising critical thinking in a more or less public forum, students can benefit from seeing what their peers have to say and from critiquing each other’s work. In a world where factual information exists side by side with incorrect or misleading statements and opinions stated as facts, students must learn to critically examine what they see and hear. Collaborative environments provide workspaces in which such activities may take place in an open, constructive way, linked to classroom content.

The Year 12 Literature ning, although in its early stages, provides evidence of such a collaborative environment which becomes the space where knowledge and understanding is constructed in an open, collaborative way. The students develop an understanding through the conversation which is supported by the teacher but which also takes off as a result of students’ own interaction.

Collaboration in an in-class setting presents teachers with the challenge of capturing and managing ideas that often come and go in student discussions at a very fast pace. Such dialog is beneficial to students and supports constructivist learning goals, but assessment can be difficult in real time. Collaborative environments can be used to record such conversations in various ways, so that both teachers and students can revisit and review discussions throughout the school year. Blogs and wikis are ideal means for this.

What better way to revise or collect material for an essay than referring to the conversation archived in the relevant space on the ning? And how much richer is this discussion if it includes people outside the walls of the classroom, even across the other side of the world?

Online collaborative environments invite global initiatives… Students working in collaborative environments also have opportunities to connect with experts, professionals, researchers, and others beyond their classroom walls.

It’s not just students but teachers who benefit from these new ways of learning. My own online experiences convince me of the unparalled advantages of collaborative environments.

The benefits of collaborative environments extend to professional interactions for teachers as well. Shared professional spaces create opportunities for teachers to dig deeper, ask questions of their colleagues, explore projects that others are doing, and engage in ongoing professional development wherever they happen to be. Classroom 2.0 is a community of nearly 20,000 teachers that is supported by the Ning environment; the teachers can join interest groups within the larger community, post and respond to questions, share links, and take part in deep discussions about integrating emerging web technologies into the practice of teaching.

And if you think that Facebook or similar social networks are just for superficial chat, then think again:

The value of online communication tools goes well beyond social interaction. Access to these tools gives students an opportunity to experience learning in multiple ways, to develop a public voice, to make connections with others around the world, and to compare their own ideas with those of their peers.

Having moved to Web 2.0 platforms such as Twitter, nings, Facebook, etc., for my own professional learning and networking, I realise that learning is not something that can be limited to a designated space or time; it often happens when you least expect it.

The best moment to teach a student something is the moment they are curious about it — but what about when that moment happens outside of classroom hours? Online communication tools create opportunities for “the teachable moment” even if students are at home, at the mall, on a field trip, or anywhere else.

Anytime communication also helps make students available to teachers when needed. Teachers can manage classroom activities even outside of classroom hours through synchronous, two-way online communication that can provide time-sensitive information about projects and assignments and reach multiple students at once.

The challenges which face schools today are not only relevant to teachers and principals, but also to those who support the IT infrastructure.

The technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based, and our notions of IT support are decentralized. The continuing acceptance and adoption of cloud-based applications and services is changing not only the ways we configure and use software and file storage, but even how we conceptualize those functions. It does not matter where our work is stored; what matters is that our information is accessible no matter where we are or what device we choose to use.

Just this weekend our school server has been down, and teachers have been unable to access resources on the school intranet. This is where cloud-based applications are advantageous.

I apologize for the lengthy post, but it’s difficult to be selective. I’ve written this out for my own benefit, to have a clearer and more comprehensive understanding of the value of Web 2.0 applications. Perhaps someone else will also find this useful.

The Horizon Report 2010 can be downloaded as a pdf here.

14 Comments

Filed under 21st century learning, Education, learning, networking, teaching, Web 2.0

TED Q & A with Ken Robinson

KenRobinsonTED-reddit

The TED blog describes an interesting Q&A session with creativity expert, Sir Ken Robinson, author of The element. Reddit gave TED fans the opportunity to submit questions for Ken, with the 10 most voted questions being answered.

Here are the 10 questions Ken answered. Many of these are long, and I’ve tried to select the main part of the question, but you’ll have to go to the post to read the rest:

1. What specific actions do you recommend taking to overhaul, say, public education to maximize how we identify and nurture creativity? And what place do you think things like critical thinking and logic (also noticeably absent) have in basic education?

2. …why do we make these distinctions between “math”, “biology”, “history”, and “art”, when they are all linked, and when the interconnections so often make them meaningful? Is it OK if children are not “well-rounded,” as long as they are following their curiosities, or does a lack of “well-roundedness” mean we are not exposing them to enough bridges to new interests?

3. What do you think is the correct way to grade/rank/assess an individual’s academic performance? And what do you think should & should not be included in standardized entrance exams like SAT?

4. … some would advocate that video games are in fact best preparing kids for 21st century life. What’s your opinion on this, and of the place of video games in education?

5. There are so many individual teachers and librarians out there who GET IT, who want to help their students stop “playing school” and start having authentic learning experiences. How do they build critical mass to change our bureaucratic, cookie-cutter approach to educating children?

6. How do I get involved to make this change happen?

7. … What are your thoughts on the future of distance learning, and have you seen any signs of a breakthrough that will replace the status quo, while delivering interactive, powerful, social and visually simulating learning?

8. What is your opinion of the Summerhill School?

9.  I’m a maths teacher, in England, in a forward-thinking school (the head showed your TED talk to the whole school a couple of years ago at a staff meeting) and I believe in what you say about creativity passionately. So what three things should I do in September to foster creativity? I’m talking about definite, in-the-one-hour-lesson things I can do to my classes to change their experience.

10. … We all know you can find your element at any time in life but what more can I do to find out what MY element is?

 It’s definitely worth reading in full. I won’t summarise but I’ll pull out sections which resonated with me.

 The basis of my argument is: creativity isn’t a specific activity; it’s a quality of things we do. You can be creative in anything — in math, science, engineering, philosophy — as much as you can in music or in painting or in dance. And you can certainly be involved in the arts in ways that are especially creative. And so it’s important to emphasize that it’s not about creating some small space in schools where people can be creative, and particularly not if that means just tacking on some art programs on a Friday afternoon. It’s about the way we do things.

Ken talks about a ‘grammar of creativity’:

You can help them think productively, generate ideas effectively, help them to think of alternative approaches to issues and questions.

It’s a series of processes, not an event. And helping people understand how that works is an important part of being creative. You wouldn’t expect people to become literate just by hoping it’d happen.

And I think subjects is a poor idea, really, for the kind of work I’m interested to promote, because it suggests that the world is definable into entirely different sorts of content or subject matter…. So now, we live in an age where there are multiple variations of different disciplines — the merging of physics and chemistry and of engineering and genetics. And the problem is that schools and institutions are often slow to keep up with these changes.

It’s not that I am against standardized testing. What I’ve personally got a rant about is the extent to which standardized testing, firstly, has become a massive commercial industry which is detached, in most cases, from the real purpose of education. And secondly, the extent to which we’ve come to associate standardizing with raising standards. Now, everybody agrees we should raise standards in schools. Of course you should. But, the primary instrument that’s being used is standardized testing. And the problem with it is that it fails to do the one thing we know works if we want to improve standards in schools, which is to address personal development… It’s not there to identify what individuals can do. It’s there to look at things to which they conform.

So, my argument is that instead of standardizing everything in schools we should be going in the opposite direction…. I think we should be personalizing everything in schools. We should be looking at ways of making education relevant to each individual child. And there’s no other way of improving standards. Actually, there’s no other way of doing it on the grand scale.

 On the whole, people in education get this as much as anyone else. And they don’t like it. They know there’s a big problem in the system, and they want to change it…. 

The real place to focus, initially, is on the work you do yourself. I’m always keen to say this: Education doesn’t happen in the committee rooms of Washington, or London, or Paris or Berlin. It doesn’t happen in government buildings. It happens in the minds of students and learners. It happens in the classroom… So what I would say to teachers is: Change your own practice, today. The education your children are getting is a result of what you’re doing with them.

Don’t wait for the government to change things; get on and do it yourself. But also, if you’re in a position to do it, you should try and influence policy. There’s an opportunity to do that in many countries. It depends on your position.

Just dumping stuff online isn’t the answer to it. But there’s a massive thirst for ideas, for this sort of content, as illustrated by the mushrooming of social networking and user-generated content… Because we now have the ability to put the best thinking, materials, pedagogy, resources in front of everybody. This should be seen by schools as a massive opportunity to — not to replace what they do, not to replace their own teachers and curriculum, but to enrich and enhance it.

But there are some characteristics of good teaching which are concerned with promoting creativity. One of them is to engage children’s curiosity to get their imaginations fired up. I was saying earlier that the fundamental capacity is imagination. Well, what I mean by that is you can’t be creative if your imagination is not engaged.

If you want to promote creativity, you need, firstly, to stimulate kids minds with puzzles and questions which will intrigue them. Often that’s best done by giving them problems, rather than just solutions. What often happens in classrooms is, kids sit there trying to learn in a drone-like way things of not much interest that have already been figured out.

I talked about, in the All Our Futures report, two things, one of which was “teaching creatively”: teachers finding interesting ways into material. Presenting unusual points of entry or interesting angles or perspectives, and enjoying the process of finding them. So, that’s important. Teachers themselves should try to evolve their own creative capacities and enjoy what they do, creatively. Standardized testing has taken the joy of teaching away from them.

The second big part of this is asking open questions as much as we ask closed questions. Giving people questions they can explore, rather than ones to which they have to find answers that have already been given. That, to me, is the fundamental piece of all creative processes. Giving area for exploration.

One thing I didn’t touch on earlier is, the creative process is a bit like a DNA strand. There are a lot of things weaving through it. One task being creative is to hypothesize and think of possibilities and look at alternatives ideas — to speculate. To be imaginative. But an equally important part for every creative process is to act critically on the ideas you’re coming up with. To evaluate them.

… group work. An awful lot of creative work doesn’t happen individually. It happens with people interacting with other people. The most powerful engines of creative thinking are groups. And the reason that’s true is because a great group models the human mind: it’s diverse, it’s dynamic, it’s distinctive. So, knowing how to form groups, how to get groups to work, how long to leave them doing it is a core skill of good teachers.

So I think its three things: it’s stimulating imagination, it’s telling them problems with open questions, and knowing how to organize groups. And I think in there are the answers to things we can all start doing tomorrow.

Fertile ground for personal and professional discussion, don’t you think?

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 21st century learning, creativity, Education, learning, teachers, teaching