Friday, September 28, 2012

Reference databases & action research, by Allyson Bogie

Burger, S. & McFarland, M. (2009). Action research and wikis: An effective collaboration. Library Media Connection, 28(2), 38-40. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier. Permalink:

Three library media specialists in a suburban school district outside of St. Louis used a wiki to collaborate on an action research project. They recognized that their school district's central library services office was spending a large percentage of their budget each year on electronic databases. The researchers were concerned that students and teachers were not using the databases enough to justify the expenditure, and so set out an action research project to investigate the usage at each of their schools. They used the action research process of developing a research question, conducting a literature review, collecting data with three tools (triangulating data), forming conclusions, and applying their conclusions and learnings to improve their practice. In some cases they conducted trainings for students on various underused databases, and in other cases made recommendations to teachers of which databases they should encourage their students to use.

This article caught my attention for two reasons:
1. it gives a great example of how teachers at school can use collaborative tools (in this case, a wiki on pbworks) to work together and improve practice; and
2. it addresses the realistic issue that some districts have underutilized electronic resources.

It also gives suggestions on how to investigate uses of these resources.

I am already training students on using our database plan to access BrainPop, and I plan to create several screencasts this year for the school library website that demonstrate how to use other electronic references resources such as the Khan Academy videos and Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Demonstrating Our Care
entry by Kathryn Whitehouse

Nesi, O.M. (May/June 2012). The transformative power of care. Knowledge Quest: Journal of the Association of School Librarians 40, 5. p. 8-15.

Is your current position merely a vehicle for paying the bills, or are you called to your current profession? If you feel genuinely called to school librarianship, then you understand what it means to care about school libraries. You will also deeply understand this article and perhaps be tempted, as I am, to tear it from the magazine, copy it, share it, save it in my journal, incorporate its major points in my SLIS e-portfolio, and use it to communicate passionately to school stakeholders why the school library is deserving of investment.
Some readers may feel this article shares significant conceptual overlaps with self help and business management guides. That is OK in my book. While librarianship has much to offer the world at large in terms of inquiry, the better run retail/service businesses have much to offer librarianship in the way of customer service and maintaining positive internal and external customer relationships. Nesi suggests communication and service based strategies librarians can use to increase the quality of their interactions with children, school colleagues, and administrators. She then relates how caring can be felt as librarians deliver instruction and coach children and colleagues to become more efficient learners. The suggestions for “reading guidance the caring way-with children” is especially impactful as it takes a respectful approach to students’ sometimes bumpy road to literacy. This article even touches upon collection development and care of the physical environment.
Nesi’s takeaway point is that care has the power to transform. School librarians can create significant impacts for students, colleagues, and school libraries by being “genuinely and consistently attentive, heedful, concerned, engaged, and interested” in their lifelong journey to reading and learning. I hope this inspiring article finds its way to your reading in-box.   

entry by Kathryn Whitehouse

Discussion - Learning Commons as Mall

Crompton, Marc

It struck me as I continue to read The New Learning Commons, Where Learners Win! that the learning commons could be likened to a mall and that that analogy might be useful to help me think through all of the implications to the school environment.  In my school, we have our traditional library that contains a number of computer work stations and table space for 70ish students.  In some respects, it is leaning toward a Learning Commons although the furniture is heavy and is not flexible and the shelving also restricts the use of space.  But surrounding the library is many of the other services discussed in the book as part of the learning commons: counselors, our Director of Learning (teacher development), our resource teachers, our school nurse, heads of each grade and our academic administration.  I thought that one of the simplest things to do would be to blow out all of the walls to the library and voila! - instant learning commons.  Sort of...

Of course there are implications: many of the shelves are against these walls, how secure is the collection once the learning commons is truly open, what about privacy in terms of those who need to see the nurse or counseling staff?  But this thought process got me thinking more about comparing a learning commons to a mall.  In a mall, you have all your services around a central common area.  Everything is open and exposed.  It can be noisy and it has a certain generic feel to it.  This would contrast with the more traditional street with store fronts.  These spaces are distinct.  They are more personal.  When you go to a mall you go for a product or a service.  When you go to a store on a street, you go to see someone about something.  Traditional stores often have that personal touch: the coffee pot at the back of the hardware store where "the guys" meet on a Saturday morning before heading off to do home renos.  Malls can be a gathering space, but you meet others in the space and might avail yourself of the services.

I'm not sure if this analogy is fair, but there seem to be enough parallels to make it useful.  I recognize that I'm probably biasing toward the more traditional store front (I'm not a huge fan of malls) but I do think that both concepts have something to offer.  Is a learning commons one or the other?  Is is something in between?  Or is it neither?  I would love some other thoughts...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Stanford library changes and UX

entry by Allyson Bogie

Dempsey, L. (2012). Two things prompted by a new website: Space as a service and full library discovery. Lorcan Dempsey's Weblog. Accessed from

Lorcan Dempsey writes here about the new Stanford University library website. He compliments two new features. First, the new homepage has a set of links along the top, including one that offers the actual space of the library as one of the library services. There is also a page with the library hours that will actually tell you what is open in that moment, not just a static list of branches/locations and times open. I would find this soooo helpful for my local public library systems!

Secondly, the new catalog produces results from the entire library, not just books or articles. You can enter any type of search term--author, keyword, subject, title, etc, OR something like worldcat or renew books. It's almost like Google for the library page, but the search results come up in a great "bento box" style format.

I just read about a class that will be offered in the spring by Aaron Schmidt, about User experience (UX). I am very interested in UX both in libraries and elsewhere, and I think that this article dovetails nicely with the upcoming class. Here's the link if you're interested:

What do you think about these new website features? And is anyone else excited about the field of UX? I am really fascinated by it!!

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Curley-Izzo, Donna

I am having trouble keeping track of my urls using just  Bookmarks and tagging from my toolbar.  I have so many different categories:  personal, financial, family, job related etc. Does anyone have recommendations for a tool/app that I can use to  manage and categorize my hundreds of urls?



Stephen Downes answers questions on Education and Technology

Crompton, Marc

Downes, S. (2012, September 16). : Questions from students at Vancouver Island University. Half an Hour. Retrieved September 16, 2012, from

I will admit that I'm getting easily distracted from the required reading for this course and apologize for posting so often on the blog, but it seems to be the best communication stream for this type of thing in our course.  Part of the reason I'm getting distracted is that I'm following up on interesting links in the text and then interacting with those leads in some way.  This is not one of those links...

I took a brief look at my Twitter feed this morning and stumbled upon the article cited above.  A number of students in an Educational Technology programme at a nearby university wrote to Stephen Downes on the opposite end of Canada and posed some interesting question that dovetail nicely with some of our discussions and readings.  Rather than responding individually to each student, he posted a broader response in his blog, Half an Hour.  The topics discussed include collaboration and competition in education, defining appropriate student behaviour online, impact of cloud computing on learning, equal access to technology and evaluation of web content.  In addition to being a great read on its own, he has provided links to so much other great material including a video keynote he did for a group of educators in Finland on PLEs. 

Be for-warned:
  • Downes values content over production value.  If your looking for slick and polished, you'll be disappointing.  If your looking for great ideas, you'll get them in spades.
  • His "Canadian" analogy of clearing an ice rink for skating would have been somewhat lost on his audience on Vancouver Island.  Unlike much of Canada, Canada's south-west coast has primarily indoor ice-rinks.  I've lived here all my life and have only seen one winter cold enough for the lakes to freeze enough to be safe to skate on.  Just a little geography/meteorology lesson for those who have never visited "God's country!"  :)

The argument against Educational Technology

Crompton, Marc

Richtel, M. (2011, September 04). Grading the digital school: In classroom of future, stagnant scores. The New York Times. Retrieved from

I just read an article published last September in the New York Times discussing an initiative in an Arizona school district to invest heavily in technology in the classrooms.  The district is faced with going back to the taxpayers to continue to support an increased tax rate to invest further in technology while standardized test scores have remained the same since the initiative began, even when scores in surrounding areas have risen.

While much of the article makes this connection between increased use of educational technology and little documentable effect on learning, Richtel, the article’s author, is careful to not take a clear stand on either side of the argument.  In my mind there are two important issues coming out of this article.

Probably the most obvious issue, at least to educators, relates to equating the benefits to the use of technology to what is tested in standardized tests.  Technology is about the process.  It can help make understanding deeper.  Standardized tests are about content.  Cramming for a test using rote memorization can, potentially, help a test score.  But as anyone knows who has taken this approach, the information memorized is often lost within a couple of days of the exam.  If students learn less content but understand, and thus remember, that material more deeply, the net effect is a better educated graduate, regardless of what the standardized test scores say.

Richter makes a point about the quality of teacher using the technology: “Good teachers, he said, can make good use of computers, while bad teachers won’t, and they and their students could wind up becoming distracted by the technology.”  I don’t think that this argument is quite so simple.  Different teachers have different skills, personalities and teaching styles.  The effective use of technology does not define a good teacher.  However, technology in the hands of a teacher who does not use it effectively has no benefit.  As is pointed out later in the article, technology can become a distraction and can make the learning environment less effective.  Technology, as with any educational tool, has to be used for the right reasons and in effective ways.  Technology, by itself, does nothing for education.

Educational technology is an important tool in this day and age.  We live in a world filled with technology and students need to develop the skills to use these tools effectively in a work environment.  They need to be comfortable with technology and need to learn how to learn so that they can keep on top of change.  They also need to know how to pick up a pencil and sketch or grab a shovel and dig.  High Tech devices are not the answer to every situation in the educational world or in the world at large.  We need to focus on what our goals are in education, measure our progress with appropriate instruments and use the best methods available to reach those goals.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Common Core State Standards - a video introduction

EngageNY (2011). The Common Core in ELA/literacy: Overview. [Weblog] Retrieved from

New York Education Commissioner John King, David Coleman (one of the authors and vocal proponents of the CCSS) and Kate Gerson (a Senior Fellow with the Regents Research Fund) explain the key aspects of the Common Core standards in depth. Here's the introduction to the English Language Arts series:
THE COMMON CORE IN LITERACY: Overview from EngageNY on Vimeo.

I am particularly interested in how our school library programs can support teachers as they engage in shifting their curriculum to meet these new standards and our administrators as they think about steering the whole school in these shifts. Here's a summary of the six main shifts that Coleman outlines:

  1. Reading more informational texts, of increasing complexity K-5 
  2. Building subject-specific knowledge through reading and writing 6-12 
  3. Staircase of complexity - increasing the level of text difficulty grade-to-grade 
  4. Focus on text-based answers - carefully reading the text and drawing on it to support answers 
  5. Writing from sources - increasing informational and persuasive writing 
  6. Academic vocabulary - not necessarily domain-specific terms, but academic words like subsequent or hypothesis 

Coleman sums them up as "reading like a detective, writing like an investigative reporter." I found his description of the balance and transitions between narrative and informational writing very interesting. He did not dismiss the importance of narrative writing for young children - it's crucial that they write about their own experiences. This teaches them to be able to write clearly, develop a strong voice, and understand sequencing of events. But we need to create opportunities for our elementary students to write more informational texts that are persuasive and based on their investigations.

Our library plays a key role in supporting teachers as they help create curriculum to address these new shifts. We are in a position to recommend and find compelling, accessible nonfiction text. One of my biggest concerns is how we help our students move from "browsing" nonfiction to reading longer, more complex narrative or descriptive nonfiction. How can we support our teachers as they explicitly focus on the text features of nonfiction? But more than that, how can we support students wanting to find engaging nonfiction.

I strongly believe that we need to encourage students to choose their own nonfiction to read. We will get more "buy in" if they are able to choose nonfiction on topics they've already developed an interest in. By reading in a comfort area, I hope that students will be able to develop more stamina for reading longer, more complex nonfiction.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Powering Down for School

Crompton, Marc

Prensky, M. (2008). Turning On the Lights. Educational Leadership, 65(6), 40-45.Retrieved from ERIC via EBSCOHost.

Prensky presents a straightforward argument where school used to be a place where students were enlightened with new knowledge of the world outside of their immediate experience and students today actually "power down" for their in-school time.  The school used to be the fountain of knowledge and the teacher was the one who introduced new ideas to students and explained how the world worked.  As the students are exposed to an ever increasing amount of information through TV and digital sources, the teacher is less needed to introduce those new ideas.  Unfortunately, the education system has remained stuck in the content delivery mode, giving students information that they already have or have no interest in.  The role of the education system needs to become more one of helping students build context and meaning around the information that they already have.

This article was published 4 years ago and while the basic idea that education needs to be process not content focused is no longer new to anyone who is paying attention, the idea of students actually "powering down" as Prensky calls it is a concept that is new to me.  I love the way he uses the light bulb analogy to bring a sense of urgency to the issue while explaining a component that is not necessarily evident to all.  The concept that the majority of students are shutting off for the school day simply because of a lack of relevance is scary.  His claim is that 50-70% of middle and high school students are bored.  It means that not only are schools not doing their job, they are actually harming students.  This is unforgivable. 

K-12 schools, especially those like the university-prep school that I teach in, hide behind the need for quantifiable measures to get our students into the competitive universities that they are applying to.  If student X needs to get into Ivy League University Y, they need to have a GPA of Z and have received a 5 on at least 4 AP exams.  Then we say that if they want to succeed at said university, they'd better be experienced at writing intense standardized tests.  My feeling is that this attitude is less and less true.  The universities aren't stupid.  They're dealing with the same issues that we are.  Students need to know how to build knowledge not regurgitate facts.  Their assessment and evaluation methods will have to shift just as ours do.  I'm sure in many instances, they are way ahead of us.  So let's encourage inquiring and help students to build their own knowledge.  Worry less about content and let's get the students powered back up!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Kathryn Whitehouse

Luhtala, M., Svec, D. (2012). A tale of two students. Why acceptable use policies make such a difference. American Libraries 41, ⅞. p.48.

     Luthala and Svec provide an A/B comparison of the high school experience for a student who benefits from a school with a progressive policy of open access to wifi and internet based content, and a school that bans devices and imposes significant firewalls that deprive students and educators of utilizing social media, blogging and micro blogging, video and photo uploading, and collaborative projects. Not only is there no investment in tools tailored for educational settings, even free tools such as Skype, Google+, Facebook, and Twitter are forbidden. So what is the result? The savvy student has received an education in digital citizenship, is practiced in information seeking and gathering tools utilized in the real world and at universities, and has created a responsible digital persona. The other student, deprived of all access, is at considerable disadvantage in the college admissions process, and is less equipped to be an effective and independent seeker of information in college and in the job market.

     The authors say “access to learning is an intellectual freedom issue, and many schools are denying students access to critical modern day learning tools.” I would clarify or even expand that point and say this lack of access represents inequitable access to basic information. To me, it is no different from offering library books that are useless, dirty, inaccurate, superseded, and irrelevant to the curriculum while not investing in new titles. 

     Sadly, both circumstances are chronically evident in my children's school district. If you have experience in successfully convincing your IT administrators that your post graduate degrees in information science does in fact qualify you to determine what level of internet access you can administer on behalf of your students, I would enjoy reading of your success could learn from you.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Discussion - Librarian/Library/Learning Commons Role in the 21st Century School

Marc Crompton

I hope that I'm not stepping on toes to be the first to chime in here, but one of our course readings has prompted a string of questions in my head that I would love to get some feedback on.  The reading that I'm talking about is:

American Association of School Librarians. (2009). Empowering learners : Guidelines for school library media programs. Chicago, Ill.: American Association of School Librarians. 

I've written two blog posts on Empowering Learners so I won't go into too much detail.  Please feel free to visit my blog to follow through more fully.  I will say that I found the book to be a great relief in that it lends much greater clarity to my current role heading up a 8-12 library in a private school in Vancouver.  The job description that I inherited was very vague.  Given the history of the particular job in the school, the circumstances of my hire and the rapidly changing role of school librarians in general, this is not overly surprising.  The detail that Empowering Learners goes into helped me to clarify what I am doing right and where my weaknesses might be.  This I truly appreciate.

The big questions that came up in my mind are addressed in my blog but I would love to address here as well.  The first question(s) revolve around the degree with which school librarians and schools in general adhere to the AASL guidelines.  I am probably safe in saying that I may be the only person in my school that has read the document.  I certainly am not held accountable to it in any way.  Are there schools, districts or states that have elevated the guidelines to policy?  I know that we don't have a parallel document in Canada (nor a parallel organization any more) so I am unaware of it being used as policy anywhere.

My second, and more interesting question is more about the role of the Library/Learning Commons in general.  Empowering Learners often speaks of the Librarian being on a school administrative level.  This makes me wonder where the line between the role of librarian and school administrator lies.  This relates the building itself.  I have been involved in a school building master plan committee that is working with an amazing education building design firm.  Many of their example buildings tend to focus around commons areas.  My question to them was where the library function fits when the entire school is based around commons spaces.  One of the concepts that we discussed was that the library becomes ubiquitous in the same that information is ubiquitous.  The concise version of the question becomes where are, or are there, walls in a Learning Commons/21st Century School Library?  While walls restrict, they also help to define.  The more a school librarian's role is everywhere in the school, the harder it becomes to define the role.  I'm very curious to hear other thoughts.