Now is the Time: Librarians as Technology Leaders
Department of Libraries, Chicago Public Schools
Are you considered a technology leader in your school? School librarianship is undergoing seismic changes with the continued shift of reference resources to online formats, the emergences of eBooks as popular platforms for reading, the increasing use of mobile devices, and intense budgetary challenges. A school librarian who is well-versed on a wide array of technological resources and how to connect them to student learning is an indispensable member of the staff. A school library program led by such a librarian is a great bargain in the use of educational dollars and a vital piece of the total school program to address student achievement.
Why become a technology leader?
A librarian who is comfortable in using various technologies with students and who can recommend just the right technology at the right time is a skilled educator. Technologies provide us with the ability to teach in ways that are student-centered. Are your teacher colleagues using a flipped classroom approach to provide a more constructivist method of teaching? Are they using a flat classroom approach to connect with other schools internationally? Is your school’s educational philosophy based on a learning commons concept?
Regardless of your answers to these questions, gone are the days when effective instruction means a teacher who lectures to students who are sitting passively in rows “soaking up the knowledge”. Now, learning is defined as students engaged in inquiry-based learning by researching information from a variety of resources and sharing it with others in multiple platforms, some technology-based. Freda Brown, a librarian at Kenwood Academy High School in the Chicago Public Schools, shared, “A senior student asked me how I learned how to do so many things using the Internet! I told him about Project Elite (one of our district’s technology training programs), and the student said it sounded cool!” Students who leverage technologies to acquire and share knowledge are often more engaged and learning more deeply. While many of our students are technologically adept in many ways, they often lack technological skills needed to succeed in higher education and the work place. Librarians play an important role in helping students to build on their existing skills while assisting them to develop new, more critically-relevant skills.
A library program that does not reflect and support a constructivist, technology-infused approach is no longer relevant. It is important for librarians to be technology leaders to teach effectively across grade levels and the curriculum. This library program must also reflect Common Core Standards whether or not they have been adopted in every state.
Supporting Common Core Standards
A majority of states have now adopted the Common Core State Standards. Most school librarians must directly support implementation of these standards and ensure that it is evident in all lesson planning and collaboration. Fortunately, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) has created an excellent crosswalk between AASL standards and Common Core standards to help us readily see our role in its execution. (See http://goo.gl/IlzN3) Here are just a few examples of where the integration of educational technologies is readily apparent in meeting these standards. Each of these AASL standards is aligned to multiple Common Core standards.
1.3.5 Use information technology responsibly.
3.1.4 Use technology and other information tools to organize and display knowledge and understanding in ways that others can view, use, and assess.
3.1.6 Use information and technology ethically and responsibly.
Here are a few examples of Common Core standards that obviously are addressed by technology integration and crosswalk to AASL standards:
CC.3.W.6 Production and Distribution of Writing: With guidance and support from adults, use technology to produce and publish writing (using keyboarding skills) as well as to interact and collaborate with others.
CC.9-10.W.6 Production and Distribution of Writing: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.
CC.9-10.SL.5 Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas: Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
Implementing the common core standards and their relationship to AASL standards offers the path to follow to become a technology leader. While the way is created, the desire to do this is up to each individual.
Who can become a technology leader?
It is often thought that only some librarians can become technology leaders in their schools. However, the truth is that whether you are a librarian with one computer on a totally fixed schedule or a librarian with a lab of computers on a flex schedule, you can be a model for integrating technology into your teaching. In the Chicago Public Schools, one of our previously mentioned technology training programs, Project ELITE (projectelite.wikispaces.com), introduces librarians to various technologies with the goal of preparing them to assume roles as technology leaders. One program graduate, Janice Wellborn, has worked in the challenging situation of serving half-time as the librarian at two schools, Hurley Elementary School and Edwards Elementary School. Once she became “armed” with a menu of great technology tools that she could use with her students, she commented
“I now feel much more confident in using technology in the classroom. I have already taught several other teachers how to use what I am learning. Knowing that I have this technology at my fingertips and that I no longer have to wait for a technology coordinator to let me try something with the students is very, very empowering. I now think of when I want to use technology with students, not IF I want to use it.”
It can be quite daunting to take on the task of doing a “librarian skills makeover”. For some of us, technology skills training was not a big focus of our graduate training. For others, a lack of support and/or access to adequate technology has prevented them from keeping up with changes. Some may feel astute in the use of technologies for personal purposes, but feel that they fall short in identifying technologies that can engage students while working with limited, existing hardware in a filtered environment. The good news is that all of us can develop these skills and successfully utilize them with our students!
Remember this one simple concept: “start at where you are now”. If you have one computer in your library, use it for full-group instruction or to produce a product together. Collaborate with the classroom teacher to the point that is possible, even on a fixed schedule. For example, if a primary class is studying various types of transportation, during library class you may choose read aloud books related to the theme and reserve books on the topic. Why not take it a step further and have a small group of students locate pictures of various modes of transportation? Then, create a VoiceThread in which each student shares, in a few sentences, information about that type of transportation.
Perhaps you are in a library that only has four to six computers. Think about what you CAN do, not your limitations. GoAnimate is another free, safe, and easily-mastered tool in which students can create short animated videos to demonstrate their learning. Students can do their preliminary research in the library and classroom. They can write their scripts in their reading class or in the library. Then, they can use the library computers in small groups over several class periods to actually create their videos. In the Chicago Public Schools, librarians are trained in a variety of safe, engaging technologies as part of our modular Project UPLIFT training. (See cpsproflib.wikispaces.com/uplift) Librarians who completed GoAnimate training stated in an exit survey that they would use the technology to help students learn how to create dialogue, to develop storytelling skills, as a different type of book report format, to practice writing in a foreign language, and to share research about topics such as ancient civilizations, health topics, and the studying of Shakespeare.
You may not have access to technology training for librarians in your area, but there are many places that you can go to get the training you need. Look for training at your local public library, your regional library system, your state library system, your state’s professional technology organization, or your state professional library organization. Take time to attend local and state technology conferences.
Go online to learn about how to use discreet technologies. Many websites have FAQs and short, online tutorials. Many generous persons have created screen casts to quickly teach you how to use various technologies. (See http://cpsproflib.wikispaces.com/training for some the author has created.) Attend free and low-cost webinars targeted for school librarians, such as those provided by the TL Virtual Café (http://tlvirtualcafe.wikispaces.com), the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Media Specialists SIG or SIGMS (http://sigms.iste.wikispaces.net/Webinars), and the One Tool at a Time Webinars (http://1toolatatime.wikispaces.com), a series provided by SIGMS in collaboration with ISTE’s Innovative Learning Technologies SIG (SIGILT). Many vendors and technology providers, also, periodically provide useful webinars. If you can’t attend the live webinar, most are recorded for later viewing. Also, there are is wealth of information in YouTube, other video hosting sites, and at the websites of educational bloggers.
Many of us like to learn while in the company of others. Consider creating a small learning cohort with several of your colleagues. While it may be daunting to learn about 6 or 8 new technologies by yourself, it is not so difficult to become an expert on several of them. Set times to meet with your cohort on a regular basis and take turns being the expert who teaches the others. Keep in mind, however, that most good learning takes some practice before you “go live” with students. Don’t try to learn a new technology while in the midst of your work day. Carve out a little quiet time for yourself at home, with your feet propped up and a mug of coffee by your side, to practice a technology by yourself.
Improve your technology infrastructure
It is highly unlikely that most of us will start with every technology tool that we need. Start with what you have, support your students in creating great digital artifacts to show their learning, and share these examples broadly with your administration, collaborating teachers, other students, and parents. Fran Feeley, a graduate of the Chicago Public Schools Project ELITE program and the librarian at Inter-American Magnet School, recently shared, “The best new innovation in my program this year is the website hosted by Wikispaces. It has vastly improved the flow of information to parents. It is very easy to make changes, so updates are easy and quick.” (See http://iamslibrary.wikispaces.com/home) Wikis are great tools to use to showcase student learning, as you can easily update information on the fly and embed student-made Glogster glogs, Animoto videos, VoiceThreads, GoAnimate videos, Prezis, PowerPoints, videos and other items.
Fran’s administration was so impressed with the projects that his students produced that they provided an impetus to redesign the schedule of special classes to provide larger blocks of time for this type of technology-infused research. The bottom line is to DO SOMETHING with what you have, so you have a foundation to ask for more connectivity, more computers, and more peripherals, such as headsets, speakers, microphones, cameras, whiteboards, and other devices, in the future.
Expand your Professional Learning Network
Technology is an ever-changing landscape. To keep current, create a professional learning network (PLN) to help inform your work more easily. Since no one can be an expert in every aspect of technology, build a network of professionals to assist you. One powerful tool to help with the networking is to regularly pick up the latest tidbits of information on Twitter. Follow library and technology leaders who tweet. By using a tool, such as Tweetdeck on your computer or smartphone, you can easily follow important hashtags, such as #tlchat, #edchat, #ISTE, and #SIGMS.
Don’t relegate Facebook to just keeping up with friends and family. Many technology leaders use Facebook to communicate with their PLNs. Join groups such as ALA, AASL, ISTE, and SIGMS to keep current.
No one has time to go to many technology-related blogs each day to get the latest news. Instead, use a really simple syndication (RSS) feed aggregator, such Google Reader via your browser or smartphone, to see the latest posts. To avoid getting overwhelmed, prune out contacts that do not meet your needs. Don’t try to read everything. We can all devote ten minutes a day to scanning one or more of these great tools to keep us informed technology leaders. Mary Beth Corbin, Chicago Public Schools librarian at Byrne Elementary School, after reflecting on her experiences after completing the Project ELITE program stated that she continued to use her PLN tools, as they made her “…determined to be updated with technology and its uses.” She shares, “I am more confident to use technology in my teaching.”
Giving back to others
When you first delve more deeply into the world of educational technologies, it is common to lurk quietly; however, none of us advances by working in a silo. Once you and your students experience some successes, take time to encourage your colleagues. Present training sessions at your school, at your district, and at state or national conferences. Write about your experiences in school newsletters and other outlets. Inform others in your PLN. By setting an example of collaboration, you will improve your own professional practices while helping many others. Now, all you have to do is select one new thing to learn and get started!