Sunday, 18 January 2009

A Shining Ray of Hope

I have to admit I don’t even know where to begin for this week’s synthesis. There’s just *so much* to talk about (uhh? I mean blog about. Sorry I’m rusty!). Actually, I think I could blog about this week’s readings for months! This week’s themes included what a 21st century school library (and by extension school, teachers and curriculum) should look like. We also learned how our students have evolved as learners and the new literacies they need to know to be successful. We briefly discussed the many issues relating to this new 21st century mentality that we need to adopt. To be honest, it was a lot of information to read in a short amount of time! But I don’t feel overwhelmed, no exactly the opposite in fact. I want to meet with the “powers that be” in my division and show them all these articles and then challenge them to change their backwards ways! Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I feel confined: confined by slow to adopt upper administrators, confined by small bandwidth, confined by old outdated and biased (ageist?) attitudes by colleagues, confined by the hierarchical structure of my division’s separate library and technology departments and confined by arbitrary policies and filters. But these articles did provide me with a shining ray of hope.

The article Towards a Transformative Pedagogy for School Libraries 2.0 (Asselin & Doiron, 2008) described a situation that I’ve been thinking about for some time: the fact that my students are “different” and learn differently. What I had been doing in the classroom (actually what I had been *taught* to do in the classroom) just wasn’t giving them the skills I believed they would need in the great big world outside of school. It came as an epiphany one day as I was struggling to figure out how on earth I would fit the rest of the curriculum into the rest of the school year. I was actually counting days and eliminating “extraneous” outcomes to “get it all in” and in fact was not planning to cover anything in any great depth! It was then that I said to myself, does it really matter that my students learn *all* this stuff? What’s really important is the skills they need to find answers when they need them. Huh! That simple revelation caused me to change not only *how I teach*, but *how I assess* as well, and it eventually led me down the path to this course and my pursuit of the elusive teacher-librarian position.

I actually laughed out loud when the article referred to students using Google as their one-stop shop for searching and researching. I recently told my students that if their idea of researching is going to Google and choosing the site that pops up at the top of the search, then they don’t really know how to research and they need to learn some better strategies. *ALL* my students (even the high achievers) were confused by this statement, as it was the way they had been researching in school until this point in their lives! From that one paragraph I gleaned 10 separate items I could cover in a unit on research skills at the beginning of the year, not to mention some great questions to use in a lesson on evaluating websites. Shaping Global Criticality with School Libraries by Keith McPherson (2008) provided me with even more fantastic resources to add to my repertoire of digital literacy/media literacy lessons. This article also boosted that ray of hope I felt by arguing that the new learners and new literacies make for a generation who have the potential to transform the world in a social, economic and political way. Asselin and Doiron describe the new learners as “passionately tolerant” and “a force for social transformation” which adds credence to McPherson’s argument.

When one looks at the new literacies that Asselin and Doiron refer to and then at the section “How Do We Teach the New Learners??” again that ray of hope gets brighter, as I see my colleagues doing many of these things already. Now we just need to embrace the idea that the New Learner needs to be engaged in their learning through new strategies and technologies that they use on a regular basis. Towards School Library 2.0: An Introduction to Social Software for Teacher Librarians by Naslund and Giustini (2008) mentions that “compared to their technology infused lives at home . . . middle- and high-school students state that activities at school are ‘boring’ between 50-70% of the time.” Yet most teachers (and administrators and school boards) are still reluctant to integrate the use of Web 2.0 social software into their classrooms! This article basically reviewed what we learned in EDES 501 and so I will not dwell on it long, but I believe it is a great article for all teachers (not just teacher-librarians) to read because it provides a quick introduction to most of the Web 2.0 tools currently available. (Although the author does refer to blogging as a form of journaling which I strongly contest, as we learned last term from Will Richardson that journaling is only low level blogging and that blogging is so much more and involves connective writing . . . but I digress!)

Of all the readings, I enjoyed Joyce Valenza’s Manifesto for the 21st Century Librarian the most. I found it quite life affirming (ok maybe that’s over the top, but I really did find it affirming read on . . .). Like many of my classmates I used the manifesto as a checklist for myself to see if I was in fact a 21st century teacher-librarian. (Technically I fail in that regard as I’m just a lowly classroom teacher, but . . .) I decided to put check marks beside both the items I was doing already as a classroom teacher and the items I agreed with and therefore would like to think that if I was a teacher-librarian I would be doing. I’m proud to say that I put a check beside almost all of the items. I am not yet using RSS feeds with my students (I honestly don’t think they’re ready for that yet) or Skype to bring in experts (but now I’m thinking about it) or Social networking (or bookmarking, but I have ideas, so maybe next year). So all in all I feel that I AM a 21st century educator. (Whew! That’s good, wouldn’t want to be stuck in the 20th century!)

After reading all these articles (including some I didn’t actually reference here like Videogames in the Library? What is the World Coming to? By Kathy Sanford which gives me approximately 30 reasons to say “I told you those games were educational” to my mother, and Immersive Learning Environments in Parallel Universes: Learning in Second Life by Ken Haycock and Jeremy W. Kemp which reveals the interesting and innovative world of virtual reality educational environments. Here are some videos that also explore the idea of using Second Life as an educational tool just in case you're interested: Educational Uses of Second Life, Science Learning Opportunities in Second Life, and Education in Second Life: Explore the Possibilities) I had one question that was still nagging at me though: are students really as tech savvy as we think they are? After doing a survey of my 75 students, I learned that they are not. Many of them had not heard of a wiki and most of them had never blogged before. None of them knew what Web 2.0 meant. They are, however, heavily invested in Facebook, file sharing, and online gaming. McPherson mentions this “stereotype” of students “being more “tech savvy” than most educators and parents” (2008) in his article while referring to a survey conducted by Media Awareness Network in which “70% of the students surveyed still desired assistance from others in determining the authenticity of online information” (2008). I think this gives us all the more reason to become better 21st century educators. Students are either using these technologies already or will be using them soon, and I for one would rather them learn good strategies and approaches to problem solving in a safe and nurturing environment (i.e. at school) than have them learn on their own, but not fully understand what it is they are doing and thus leaving themselves open to victimization or misuse and abuse of a technology.

Our students are changing (or already have changed?) whether we like it or not. They are becoming disengaged in a time when learning is the “it” thing to do in our knowledge-based society. The only way to re-engage them is to embrace the 21st century and move forward. Soon the students and their parents will start demanding that we accommodate their new learning modalities, and where will we be left if we don’t already have a strategy as to how we’re going to do that? By the roadside of the 20th, 19th and 18th centuries, trying to convince ourselves that we are the professionals and we know what’s best. That’s only true if we continue to learn and grow as educators, and if we shake off the inhibitions and bureaucracy that has been confining us and follow that ray of hope.

Christine :)

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