School libraries leading learning: Day 1

Ian McLean by Carol Thomas

I set the alarm clock for 6.00 am this morning, fully intending to swing past the school, on my way to the railway station to attend the first day of School libraries leading learning, the NSW State Conference of ASLA and the Department of Education and Training. (To my horror, it was still pitch dark outside. My dog looked at me, quite bewildered, and wanted to refuse the only chance he’d have to relieve himself, and I eventually decided to phone in the last-minute instructions to my replacement in the school library. By sheer luck, it wasn’t a heavy teaching load day; much of her day was to be spent policing the preview browsing of the annual Book Fair, which starts in earnest next week.)

I’ve spent many snatches of time over the last month, tinkering with the text and images I intend to use for my talk on Saturday (“Working with wikis”), and I was a little daunted, judging by comments in the organisers’ emails that most of the other presenters were beavering away on PowerPoint presentations, but I had decided to upload my speech notes and dot point headlines to a page on the school library wiki instead. So, unless there’s a power glitch at the conference tomorrow, I can demonstrate the wiki – live – at the same time as I flash up my notes. That’s the idea, anyway. We’ll see. (In fact, I’m tempted to revamp them a little, to incorporate some of today’s ideas – see below; if the notes had been a physical handout I’d printed off during the week, I’d have been stuck!)

Today there were fascinating, insightful and encouraging speeches from Dr Ross J Todd (Keynote, plus “Guided Enquiry: from Information to Knowledge”) and John Callow (“Literacy & Diversity: from Shakespeare to Second Life”), both of whom took their areas of expertise to the next level, with the challenges of Web 2.0 high on the agenda. I know Ross as a lecturer and tutor from my UTS days (retraining as a teacher-librarian in 1990). and then as Scan‘s Research Columns touchstone. John, I’ve known since he visited my previous school as our then-DSP (Disadvantaged Schools Program) literacy advisor, and again through Scan when I commissioned him to write some articles about visual literacy and the then-“new learning environments”. I thoroughly enjoyed their sessions and I am glad that ASLA NSW’s website will have their PowerPoint presentations available to attendees. I did take notes as well, but on paper. With a pen. The old-fashioned way. 😉

I also attended a Judy O’Connell session on “Learning is a multi-modal conversation”, which opened up an enormous number of possibilities, although many of the Web 2.0 facilities Judy uses in her current school are blocked to NSW DET schools by our firewall. If teacher-librarians are yet to come to terms with blogs and wikis, then Facebook, My space, Twitter and Second life are going to be very daunting indeed! Judy also challenged the audience to consider why no one appeared to be: using their mobile phone (to send off live shots of the conference proceedings direct to their blogs); or tapping away on Twitter (on their laptops) while she spoke; or seeing the conference as a live feed to overseas locations. Interestingly, such phenomena has been slow to hit our shores – or at least this conference – and this is clearly the next wave of information-sharing habits which will become status quo for conference audiences verysoonnow.

In fact, a brochure I read a few weeks ago, about an upcoming Australian tour by Jamie McKenzie (of “From Now On” website), actually encourages attendees to bring their laptops to the interactive keynote sessions of that event. Well, I’ll have the school laptop with me tomorrow, for my session, but I’m afraid I hadn’t thought that having my head over its keyboard while Judy and the other speakers delivered their talks today. And I’d actually made an effort to turn off my mobile phone – as a courtesy, I’d thought, to the speakers.) I guess it was a reminder that today’s youth (seemingly) have no trouble doing two or three online tasks at the same time. Judy’s words were certainly food for thought.

What was even more daunting about today’s proceedings was the revelation that studies are showing that students are, in effect, “powering down” when they come to school – not only their Web 2.0 devices, but also their brains. Lots of today’s youth can’t wait till they get home from school so they can start being creative and networky on their Facebook, My space and other online social networking pages. Tapping that moth-to-flame attitude in schools seems to be one of our educators’ current challenges. I eagerly await the arrival of my school’s first interactive whiteboard.

I was part of an afternoon panel, with Ross and Judy and Jan Radford. Our topic was “How do you see Web 2.0 working in Australian schools?”. I was expecting a typical four-people-behind-a-desk arrangement, with general questions at the end. In fact, the four speakers were each given ten minutes at the microphone across the other end of the stage. We were going alphabetically and, with a name like “McLean”, I’m quite used to having a turn towards the middle – in fact, I was set to speak first! Mmmmm. Another challenge.

In my session, I aimed to give a pocket history of my own learning curve, and the recent steepness of that curve as I embraced Web 2.0 ideas – but I hope I was also successful in conveying the energy and excitement that the students’ learning had produced. Ross, by virtue of a surname ending in “T”, went last and he was able to give a wonderful, succinct summary of our reported achievements – and even mentioning a few of my points I’d managed to meander away from. He also offered three important culminating points (which I hastily scrawled down) because they’ll make my Saturday solo session so much stronger.

Essentially, Ross challenged us to:
* have a clear vision for the future of learning we wish to see in our schools, with the teacher-librarian in a leadership role
* build from our own experience, and learn by doing
* chart the learning – ie. demonstrate excellence through evidence-based practice.

Well, I’m off to make sure I have all the clear links I need in my speech for tomorrow – the syllabus outcomes, my pre- and post- mini-survey results, and the great student quotes about their emotional responses to the wiki tasks.

Tomorrow – Day 2! Wish me luck!

Blogging controversy Down Under

Support

Al Upton and the miniLegends 08, an inspirational education blog from a teacher and his Year 3 students in Glenelg, South Australia, has been “disabled in compliance with DECS wishes”, DECS being the Department of Education and Children’s Services of South Australia.

I would hope this is only a temporary closure, during which time the Department will be clarifying some clearer guidelines? I can’t see that sealing off blogs as an avenue for student publication can possibly be a successful longterm strategy.

When I designed a website for a NSW primary school way back in 1997, it was only after uploading it – and seeing exactly how much information about students could be scooped up by the always-improving search engines, even in 1997 – that we, as a group of teachers, began to realise we needed quite a few ground rules to ensure student safety (such as “no student surnames”) – and eventually there were official Departmental memos to follow. At the end of last year, I introduced wiki pages to my new school, and this year blogs as well. I’ve also been trying to ascertain what Web 2.0 style will best suit my Principal, who’d like an easy, efficient way to upload the weekly newsletter.

It’s almost been like the process of discovery has started all over again; only very early days yet, but I’ve worked hard to make sure we cover all our bases. In my research I did find examples of NSW schools which published surnames of students, floor plans, teacher details, etc, on their websites, which was of great concern. Al has hit a problem in South Australia, with a blog that encouraged the fostering of mentorships, and thus a concern, or a perception, that the students may have been (or would be?) revealing too much of themselves online.

Surely the best learning situation for the students, as I said last week, is to have modelled the essential self-regulation of what they upload to a blog: following examples which they can use as a set of strategies at home, when the educators aren’t around to support them. (We can’t assume their parents are aware of how Internet savvy their children are.) I’m constantly amazed with what students already know about the big wide world of the World Wide Web. I hope there is a satisfactory resolution for the miniLegends and their teacher.

As I’ve mentioned here before, we are having great success with our NSW Departmental-sponsored book rap – in blog and wiki form – this term, with an emphasis on jointly-constructed texts, and it’s upskilling lots of teachers, teacher-librarians and students, from NSW and beyond, in the ways of Web 2.0. There’s no stopping these newly-empowered bloggers now, I wouldn’t think!

The very best of luck to Al and his class in getting back online very soon!

Meanwhile, I’m thrilled to report that I received notification from the NSW DET’s Web Filtering Team that my “…reported Incident has been resolved…” My Flickr slideshows are once again available, even if only under a teacher username.

Blocked by a firewall!

“I hate Fridays!”

Wasn’t there a children’s book with that title?

Last Friday was particularly frustrating. I’ve boasted here about my excitement and successes using Flickr slideshows, but on Friday it all came tumbling down by the NSW Department of Education & Training’s “Blocked site” firewall thingie, which insisted that my site represented non-permitted “file sharing”. I tried several computers before giving up and telling two poor students who’d been away for the previous sessions, “I’ll have to find you a book with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in it.”

Sydney Harbour Bridge

The beauty of the slideshow was that my photo of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was (theoretically) on every monitor screen in the library, had my captions on it, plus room for the students’ new information, and was all totally copyright free! I set up the “slideshow” subsets from home, from my own Flickr account, so I could use it at school with groups of Stage 2 and Stage 3 students studying the Science and Technology unit, Buildings and Bridges, and the HSIE unit, Antarctica. The photos are copyright free (for our study purposes) because I created the bridges images myself, and the Antarctica shots are used with the permission of a teaching colleague’s brother, who actually went there. The whole raison d’etre was to avoid having to use my own username and password to let the students access Google images, which is normally blocked to student use by a Departmental firewall.

The slideshows – and the wonderful captioning feature – have worked perfectly for several weeks now, but not on Friday. However, after Stage 2’s lesson was over, I could still get into my general Flickr account and see all of the pics. Using the whole Flickr account is not desirable at all, because it opens up the whole account. Setting up the slideshow, and using only its unique URL, means that the students cannot view any photos outside my designated slideshow.

Doing a “Web filter check” via the NSW DET Portal this morning, my sites seemed to be designated as “Unblocked” for staff, so maybe the whole system was merely hating Fridays, too, last Friday? To make sure, I’ve submitted the slideshow’s unique URLs for wider unblocking. We’ll see what happens…

Meanwhile, I’ve also found a useful set of webpages via TaLe, called Infamous bridge disasters, the format of which might inspire our proposed wiki page about Sydney bridges, with researched captions written by the students. There is also Building big: all about bridges and West Point Bridge design contest. A wealth of online riches, especially useful when the library’s collection has only about four or five useful books on bridges and other structures – and they’ve been out on loan for several weeks now, even the two I was using to orientate students to the topic that first week.

Later the same day, I received two seemingly-unconnected emails, but both providing positive feedback on my recent Scan article (vol 27 no 1, February 2008, pp 7-9), in which mentioned how I’m beginning to embrace use Web 2.0. Neither person was having the same luck with wikis as I have had so far.

Our school library’s wiki pages are unblocked for staff (as far as I know, all PBwiki sites are), but so far my request for the students to view them (under their own usernames) has not been processed. (I just checked out the “Web filter check”, and its still only unblocked for staff, although I’ve requested unblocking for K-6 students as well.) The students use the wiki (with me and their class teachers) in the library under my close presence, but on a computer logged in under my username. We also have the URL listed on My library, the OASIS Web Enquiry facility, as discussed in Scan but, of course, going that route still meets with the text box requiring a username and password to be entered displaying the wiki pages.

However, at home the students and their parents know they can type in the URL (we promote it in the school newsletter) and see their work on their own computers. We haven’t given out the password for the wiki to the students, of course, so they can’t change anything unless I’m with them.

If a school is planning to have NSW DET students writing material on a school-created wiki, and to have them know the password for altering text, it opens up lots of problems. I guess that’s why the powers that be are overly-cautious. Perhaps we are meant to wait until NSW DET develops its own “safe” wiki facility?

Wikis permit students to communicate with each other in ways not too dissimilar to “chat” programs of several years ago. If a student wrote “School sux” (or worse) on the school wiki, they’d eventually be identifiable, but how do you prevent the incident from happening, or guaranteeing that no student would be exposed to inappropriate material?

One alternative would be to capture the HTML from blocked school wiki pages and upload them to the regular school website area. That won’t permit ease of interactivity, though, but school websites are not(?) blocked to students.

Blocked sites are a nuisance, but there are major problems for the NSW DET if it receives parental complaints when/if students stumble across inappropriate online material at school. But is it so different to a student hiding a pornographic magazine in their locker, a stray female breast in a newspaper clipping, a swear word in a novel in the school library, a tiny animated streaker running across a popular computer-based soccer game, or an underage student sneaking a puff on a cigarette behind the shelter shed?

I guess the problem is, how do you guarantee everything on wiki pages is always safe? You can’t, due to their inherent interactivity.

If anything, attempts at censorship at school always seems to shunt away opportunities for students to learn self-regulation. I’d much rather overhear one student telling another, “I decided not to play that game at school any more. It had guns in it”, and/or “Do you think the Kinders like hearing you use language like that?”, as were recently said in the library one lunchtime.

Speaking about wikis: unless your access is blocked by an annoyingly inconvenient firewall, check out the current NSW DET book rap, which has a fun wiki activity. The teachers and their classes are all at early points in their steep Web 2.0 learning curve, but surpassing all of my expectations, and even teaching me new skills.

Feedback: good. Regrets: bad

Today I received lots of encouraging feedback on yesterday afternoon’s staff meeting about blogs, wikis and OASIS Web enquiry, so I’m feeling a lot bouncier than last night.

I will be ensuring to revisit the wiki pages with each class group that comes into the library. The more often the teachers see their students reacting positively with wikis and blogs the more I hope they see the same potential in Web 2.0 as I do.

A few people from outside of the school asked me today what handout I used. It was one I conjured up myself yesterday. It’s expressed as layman-ish as possible – and I hope I didn’t send anyone off in a wrong tangent with incorrect descriptions. Please let me know if you find the glossary useful. (It’s not alphabetical; rather it’s more chronological. I hope. Going from “Most likely to be known about” to “Huh? What’s that?”)

Blogs & wikis vs websites

Email: electronic letter writing. Advanced users attach files and graphics. You can “cc” (carbon copy) to others of your choosing.

Listservs: one post of an email can be received by all people subscribing to the listserv, even though you’ve posted to the one address. Unable to change content of an email once people on the list have received it. Set up and administered by a “list owner”. Send automated commands to an email address to join or quit a listserv.

Electronic bulletin board services (BBS): Similar to a listserv, but you can see everyone’s responses on a web page (click heading to see contents of an entry). Can often edit your replies after the fact, or view them as threaded responses, following a discussion with many participants. An example of a mailing list archive is at: http://www.schools.nsw.edu.au/schoollibraries/listserv/possummagic07/maillist.html

Websites: text and images on a particular theme or topic, presented in “pages” with clickable links that lead to other pages in the site – but also other Internet sites, forming a “web” of interrelated information. Commercial or hobby-related. When used with students it’s important to use judgement re accuracy, editing, validity of site publisher, date of upload, frequency of revisions (“What’s new?”), etc. Requires knowledge of HTML or web design software, such as Dreamweaver, plus uploading software (eg. Fetch). Our school website (est. intranet 2002; Internet 2004) deliberately does not have too many bells and whistles and is at: http://www.penrith-p.schools.nsw.edu.au/

Web 2.0 is the next, new wave of interactive Internet services and web tools (all-inclusive when designing/uploading), including:

Blogs: similar to online diary entries, but ease of uploading, editing and dating of new text entries and images means blogs may replace many websites. Blog is short for Web Log. Can specify other individuals to contribute (can be moderated or not) plus encourages feedback comments from general public or nominated groups (can be moderated, edited, or not). Our school is currently participating in a book rap in blog form at: http://rapblog.edublogs.org/

RSS feed: Automated updates (eg. via email) of nominated blog contents, so you know immediately when new entries have been posted. RSS feed won’t show later corrections by the list owner though. For people who want info coming to them, not browsing the net at their leisure. The RSS acronym has multiple meanings including:

· Really Simple Syndication

· Rich Site Summary

· RDF (Resource Description Framework) Site Summary.

Wikis: scrapbook-style entries of text and images, but ease of uploading, editing and dating of new entries means wikis may replace many websites. Can specify other individuals to contribute (original versions can be restored if owner disagrees with changes) plus encourages feedback comments from general public or nominated groups (can be moderated, edited or not). “Wiki” comes from the Hawaiian word, “wiki wiki” meaning, “Quick!” Our school’s wiki (est. 2007) is at: http://penrithpslibrary.pbwiki.com

School libraries leading learning

I’ve been invited to speak at two sessions of the State Conference of ASLA (Australian School Library Association) NSW Inc, which is being coordinated in partnership with the School Libraries and Information Literacy Unit (NSW Department of Education & Training).

This is quite an honour, especially as I cast my eyes down the list of guests – what the ASLA website is calling an “exciting line up of challenging speakers”.

When one is deep into daily life at the so-called coalface of primary education, the many deadlines of every day go whizzing past at typical breakneck speed. It’s often a shock to pop one’s head up above ground, ever now and then, and realise one might actually know enough to start imparting some of that knowledge to one’s colleagues in other places of learning. You know, I didn’t know I knew about wikis and blogs until I started doing my own, and I certainly didn’t think I’d know enough to be using them with students in teaching and learning situations (so soon) – until those first few attempts bore sufficient fruit to make me want to gloat about it (just a little). It was almost: “Look, everyone, look what I did – and on purpose…!”

During the week, our school newsletter came out, reprinting one of the Kindergarten students’ jointly-constructed fables from last year, along with the URL for the School Library’s wiki. One of the Stage 1 teachers reported that her whole class were engaged as she read the fable to them aloud. As several of the Early Stage 1 graduates are in her new class, it was quite amusing when they proudly claimed ownership – in February 2008 – of certain phrases, words and punctuation devised last November.

‘Irritated’!”, says one student confidently (every time he hears someone reading the fable aloud). “That was my word in that sentence.”

A parent noted that her child is able to read back to her all four wiki fables, even though the texts are a higher lever, jointly-constructed, language that is of a more difficult standard.

These little anecdotes, so often forgotten a few minutes after they are told, are invaluable for spurring me on to bigger and more challenging projects. And note that I really don’t mean those infamous “projects on cardboard” that some of us know way too well.

The conference is themed: School Libraries Leading Learning, and will run from Friday 28th to Saturday 29th March, 2008. The three main strands will be Quality teaching, School libraries in a Web 2.0 world, and Literacies. On the Friday, I’m joining Dr Ross J Todd and Lyn Hay on the panel, “How do you see Library 2.0 working in Australian schools?” On the Saturday, I’m running a workshop, “Web 2.0: Working with wikis for K-6”.

I’m very glad I spent some of January getting my thoughts in order, and that I made many notes and recorded my observations last term. Just as I experimented with including elements of diverse, “new” strategies (such as Circle Time and Guided Inquiry), it is exciting to think that people may soon be utilising my ideas and experiences re wikis with Kindergarten, and creating something else quite unique with their students.