Sunday, November 25, 2007

Nine simple words? Use them often!

At school we are consumed teaching basic skills - READIN, WRITIN' and Rithmatic. As we focus on test scores I sometimes think we have lost sight of the child and the relationships that alter life! In Alaska, a bold new initiative is taking root. Educating Hearts struggles to bring community and trust to a school environment that allows many negatives to go unchallenged.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a time when getting an "A" meant you passed the class, and affective education was so important that we even received grades based on our behavior.
I have been blessed as an adult as well. I worked for two people who continued shaping my affective education. Looking back, I realize that the most important parts of my life have always been grounded in the lives of others. I learned some of my most important lessons from these two remarkable individuals. They have changed how I try to live in my library and at school everyday.

Dr. Kenneth Erickson, a professor of education and a K-12 administrator lead by example. When I met Dr. Erickson, he hired me to be a secretary at the University of Oregon. Like many women of my generation I believed that my career aspirations were secondary to my husband’s, and I found myself doing whatever I could to support his educational goals.

Dr. Erickson seemed to good to be true. He was always cheery, and his office staff adored him. I must admit to being a little skeptical. He seemed to place people at the head of the line, but still held them at bay for two hours every morning when his office door was closed. He also taught me everything I know about time management. He managed time like others manage their weight!

When he hired me to be secretary for the Oregon School Study Council, an organization he headed, I had very little experience at typing or managing anything! I was responsible for preparing camera-ready copy for the Quarterly Report and for the monthly monograph series dedicated to issues of concern to school administrators. The person who held the position before me was an architecture student with fine art skills and a good eye for layout. My minimal skills were pitifully evident as I produced my first quarterly. Shortly afterward I had my evaluation. I steeled myself for the worst, but Dr. Erickson quickly put me at ease. He gave me a very positive review and recommended me for a raise!

"I don't want you to change this evaluation, but I know it was not deserved on the merits of what I have done. Why did you give me such a good evaluation?" I asked. I will never forget what he said. He explained that his judgment was not based on what I just produced, but rather on what I would produce in the future! My desire to improve, my willingess to work beyond my 8 hours to try to secure greater quality had impressed him. Dr. Erickson never hired skills, he hired people!

Each year, Dr. Erickson wrote thank you notes at Thanksgiving to the MANY people who had blessed his life. What an example!

The second person was the head librarian for whom I worked in Clovis, New Mexico, Erna Wentland who is pictured above in the library she helped to create! Erna dreamed big dreams for the little library that was housed in an old WPA postoffice. The dreams were not about her, they were about what a library can do for people. Educated at U.C. Berkley, Erna found herself in the dusty New Mexico town, far from the ocean she loved, so she turned her energy to creating a sanctuary of learning and recreation for the community.

The children's room was in the basement near an ancient boiler with only one exit and bars on the windows that were in basement wells. At a time when libraries were largely ignoring children and family services Erna envisioned a library so busy that there could be no question of the need for a new safe and inviting library for children and families!

With no budget, her creativity and commitment began to turn things around. We did crazy things like cutting greens at a local park and spending a Sunday afternoon wiring them together, making bows and creating the first Holiday Happening at the Library. She engaged the local extension agent, school choirs, crafters, church groups, anyone and everyone. Working with her was the joy of my days. She taught me tenacity, but more than that she taught me how much it meant to appreciate people. Her favorite saying was, “has anyone told you today how wonderful you are.”

I would watch with amazement as people visibly changed under the influence of those words, and it was such a small investment. Nine simple words with such amazing returns! If I could live up to the example of these two dear ones--my life would shine.

This Thanksgiving weekend I give thanks for Dr. Kenneth Erickson and Erna Wentland, as I ask you, Has anyone told you how wonderful you are? No? Well, let me be the first!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

There are more things in heaven and earth

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

How ironic to use a quote from Hamlet a play that is 400 years old as a springboard to think about technology! Even more amazing is the link to a high school Thinkquest entry that used technology to explore and teach about the play!

As I take these days off from school to clean and prepare for the winter, I am using small chunks of time to explore some of the amazing changes since last I was looking for ways to use technology in my library. Signing up for RSS feeds of some of the blogs I like has been liberating. Using a wiki is fabulous, but seeing some of the games and other applications has made me cautious!

My first-blush innocence is gone and I have some deep concerns for some of the things I have seen this time around. Remember when I began this journey the Internet was primarily the purview of higher education institutions and was text dense! At that time the NSF oversaw the dazzling array of technological wonders which offered so much access to information. At that time the following things promised almost utopian change.

  • The Gutenberg project would soon digitize all the world's great public domain literature --available and keyword searchable anywhere on earth!
  • Email and listservs put us all in touch with the best minds in our profession. LM_NET was small enough to make it possible for Peter Milbury to answer personal email when I was working on a grant. Collaboration was the highest good!
  • Initiatives allowed students from all the four corners of the world to communicate with one another making geography and history come to life!
  • Students work would be authentic as they collaborated and published their own findings to be shared and thought about with many other students!
  • Technology was going to make it possible for authentic learning to take place driven by the students curiosity and guided by an educator consultant (teacher/librarian)

That vision has not materialized. What concerns me this time round.....

  • While the previous Internet was text dense this new landscape is filled with text messaging and images which do not increase the ability to think deeply or communicate more clearly and precisely. The net is moving away from READING based to graphic and auditory based information. We may be moving back toward something akin to preliterate society!
  • People are targeted with subtle advertising based on their search histories.
  • Rather than a diversity we seem to be moving inexorably toward a singularity.
  • Real relationships seem to suffer in the flood of wired - virtual ones.
  • Virtual environments may be replacing reality -- amusement replacing deep meaningful thought which traditionally led youth to challenge the status quo.

A recently published study suggests that adults are choosing to read less. It is just one in a growing chrous of warnings about the decline of reading in our cutlure. Publishers and book sellers echo the concern. Much of this is due to the impact of technology. Lest you dismiss this as just a natural progression of change please explore the impact of reading on the mind of humankind. A quick read of the Gutenberg Elegies helps us see how hypertext alters the making of meaning (of course reading is about the contstruction of meaning both by the author and by the reader). Marshall McLuhen , Havelock, Ong and others who have considered the impact of literacy on culture need to be attended and explored. What would a postliterate society be like?

I've just ordered Niel Postman's books from our public library. So I will be getting some of the musings from the dark side. My impression of Postman from the media is one of a crumudgeon so why am I reading him now?

I still believe in the value of technology and its marvelous opportunities. I know that it is a whelming flood that we face. We need to be vigilant and careful not to be subsumed by a culture of consumerism and control. We need those who are the interpreters and supporters of technology to be wise and fully understand the impact of their actions on our world.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Learning from other's mistakes

The first blush of technology gave me a rush of hope. Now, nearly twenty years later, I am more realistic about school change. Human nature does not change with the introduction of new technology or information. We laugh when someone says, "Don't confuse me with the facts!" We laugh because it is true! And since it is ultimately the humans who make or break technology implementation, there are critical issues to be dealt with over and above the complexities of equipment and curriculum.

We are receiving equipment in my current school, a school in which teachers are eager, fearful, overwhelmed and resistent to technology all at the same time. We are poised on this side of all the mistakes facing a nearly blank slate.

How do we keep from messing it up? To answer that question I did the first thing that any good librarian would do, RESEARCH. Curiosity, that ineffable quality that made me a librarian, drove me to ask; What have those districts that have had longitudinal experience learned about technology implementation?

I found great sites and great thoughts. WestEd (originally one of the regional Educational Laboratories funded in the 60s-70s by the Federal Government, and consequently dismantled by the Republican Reformers from 1980 on) is a grant funded non-profit entity serving colleges and K-12 institutions. The list that follows is theirs, but includes my commentary..If you want the unexpurgated version click on the link above.

  • a rationale for the technology and related resources --

This is desperately needed. Teachers do not see how technology should change teaching. We need to help understanding that we are not to be dispensers of knowledge, but guides and enccouragers along the path. The very concept of a GURU of technology is antethetical to the model we want to achieve!

  • the stakeholders get involved in the decision making process

We are probably a little late for this to happen. So these decisions have already been made and we are receiving equipment. How we can use these tools and add software to grasp the goals of those who made the decisions is really where we are at present.

  • a way to promote thinking about the most cost-effective uses of technology

One of the problems in our recent past is that we have had technology but have not used what we had. There are currently computers lying fallow, a bit out of date -- but still able to be upgraded and used in many applications. Is it wasteful to just slough these off?

  • assurance that technology applications are aligned with the curriculum

This has been done, but the side that makes it useful -- creating easily accessed applications needs to be addressed. For example in the library we need to have people working on joint lesson plans that can be utilized by any librarian to collaborate with classroom teachers with the help of technology coaches in our district. The concept of everyone inventing the wheel is time consuming and wasteful. We have been shown the technology (wiki) where this collaboration can take place. Now we need coaching to make that happen and time off from our other tasks to give it a chance to happen. I am writing this under the covers as I blow my nose and cough instead of attending church Sunday morning! But there is no time in the school day to make this happen.

We need lots of 45 minute-long lessons using technology that a librarian can grab and download and implement in a small lab setting with the teachers operating alongside. These need to be created by librarians and tech coaches working together. It increases the likelihood that the librarian's AND tech coaches can collaborate and increase the chance that teachers will experience technology is a more positive way.

  • help in determining the specific training and assistance needs

Our district is on the right track here....with tech coaches who are available at the point of need! Now we need to put the Librarians in this mix with training and encouraging their teachers to use those applications we identify as useful in helping them get the understanding of themselves as guides. Even though this idea has been taught in colleges of education for a long time (When I got my MA it was taught -- but not modelled by professors 1990) it is not easy to do. Just as our children learn by our example we have learned by the example of all our teachers - who used large group instruction and taught people who wanted to learn what was in the curriculum.

  • assurance that existing resources are used in the plan

This is something I don't think we are attempting to do in large part because it is seen as a huge expense. But if we utilize the people that are in place it might be cost effective. I see two parts to this -- a software and a hardware part. In my school I have cultivated AR in the library. Teachers who learn to manage AR for their classes (which has mostly been my job) learn a great many technology skills-- therefore we should consider AR as a part of our technology education plan. On the hardware side -- we have many IMAC computers which our district no longer supports that could be utilized if we added memory (canabalized from dying machines) and updated the system or OS X -- but because they are no longer supported they are simply sitting unused. During most of their lives they were only used to access AR or for CDROM programs --- since they were the only technology that teachers could see much value in)

  • a method for determining how to evaluate the impact and progress of the technology

This needs to be done -- and we need some less quantifiable measures --included in the measurement.

  • a vehicle for communicating steps for others to follow adapting the plan

This could happen as a part of the collaborative planning that librarians do with grade levels and if it were part of a regularly planned monthly intervention with our technology coaches.

  • a process for coordination with other programs and projects

Perhaps planning with PE, Art, Music could happen at regular intervals to involve them in wholistic ways with what is happening in the classrooms. Perhaps each grade level could do a focus like this in nine week segments. That way no one would feel overwhelmed with the way that this kind of learning seems to take away from their direct instruction aimed at testing. Just the planning is bothersome to the teachers who are not really used to doing collaborative planning...

  • that the teaching addresses the needs of all learners

It is important to create examples of how technology can be used to help rather than hinder in the classroom - specific plans for various learners would be helpful.

  • guidelines and a context for the insertion of new technologies

Seems logical, but need to see examples of this.

I will blog each day this week about an aspect of implementation that might help us -- IF we talk about it ahead of the implementation...We are currently in the beginning of a pilot project, so we are poised to make mistakes, but we should also be poised to learn from those who have already made mistakes.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Training is not Understanding & Knowledge is not Wisdom

Our district is finally making strides with technolgy. For six years I have languished falling behind the times in geometric progression. Now, we are playing catch-up, and I feel like a dinosaur. Last week I was part of a technology “training.” I don’t think it was training in the traditional sense – because I have not gained an understanding of what I am expected to do as a librarian in an elementary school. What it was - seemed to be a group of people who could potentially become a community of learners and sharers who saw how little they know! It was wonderful to be called together in an exploratory manner.

Like the little girl in the Hobyah story, I was wishing I could call in Little Dog Turpy to go and seek out the Hobyahs and eat them up so that I would not have to live in a world with Hobyahs! Technology feels like a Hobyah, even to someone who welcomes it and has been an advocate for many years. Here is why--

1. It would be less so if the world were full of people who were not afraid that their part of it were disappearing and they had to have something to cling to in order to remain viable. (that includes me---)

Because there are no clearly defined roles in the landscape—I find myself constantly tugged in many directions, and without knowing where I am going, I feel that all of them are equal! One of the things I was hoping for at this training was a bit clearer and more easily expressed understanding of where librarians fit in. I need to grasp more of the whole. What do we want to accomplish with the technology and how do librarians play a helpful role?

2. We are putting powerful tools in hands that may have less conceptual understanding of what is expected than I do. Our district has invested millions of dollars in Safari Montage. AND it will look like we are using technology when in reality we may only be showing video clips.

The heady idea, 15 years ago, that technology would lead to a natural evolution in teaching has not materialized. Until the old model of Sage on the Stage is replaced with the Guide on the Side we will continue to reap few benefits from the technologies we install. Teachers showing clips and projecting onto a screen is not substantially different from projecting on an overhead. It looks different, but it isn’t.

Librarians fit naturally into the guide on the side model, because at least at secondary levels that is pretty much what they do. “Send me your tired frustrated searchers yearning to be free of limited sources....we lift our lamps beside the golden door!" (apologies to Lazarus) We traditionally not only helped people locate information, but help them think about the information they find.” As Sven Birkets pointed out in his Gutenberg Elegies, much of the new technology works well with researching information.

Birkerts helps us see the problems and potentials of technology as if we were standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and looking at the millennia of collected history. He makes the big picture in clear relief against my frenzied and frustrated view in the trenches! He was the first person who gave me the understanding of how different the linear approach of a book is compared to hypertext in which it is easy to follow our own curiosity down the rabbit warren.

Birkerts asks philosophical questions about the means and ends of this new technology. He distinguishes between different kinds of knowledge and learning, and even in the best of hyperworlds where all the documentation is accurate and not driven by its design to sell the user some commodity, there are some important questions to answer. The following quote from Chapter 8 illustrate what I am feeling.

Pertinent here is German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey's distinction between the natural sciences (Naturwissenschaften), which seek to explain physical events by subsuming them under causal laws, and the so-called sciences of culture (Geisteswissenschaften), which can only understand events in terms of the intentions and meanings that individuals attach to them.
To the former, it would seem, belong the areas of study more hospitable to the new video and computer procedures. Expanded databases and interactive programs can be viewed as tools, pure and simple. They give access to more information, foster cross-referentiality, and by reducing time and labor allow for greater focus on the essentials of a problem. Indeed, any discipline where knowledge is sought for its application rather than for itself could only profit from the implementation of these technologies. To the natural sciences one might add the fields of language study and law.
But there is a danger with these sexy new options–and the rapture with which believers speak warrants the adjective–that we will simply assume that their uses and potentials extend across the educational spectrum into realms where different kinds of knowledge, and hence learning, are at issue. The realms, that is, of Geisteswissenschaften, which have at their center the humanities.

I am reminded of an essay I read in high school, by Aldous Huxley which changed the way I thought about language. Huxley made the point that embedded in the very language was a cultural understanding. He used the difference between alphabetic languages and languages that incorporate pictographs. In Chinese the word for good uses a pictograph which is a mother cradling her child. There is nuanced meaning there. But in a phonetic language, like English, the letters produce the sounds for 'good’ devoid of any nuance.

As we rush headlong into web 2.0. I need to be thinking deeply about the impact of what we are ALL doing. I need time to learn and process and to reflect. I need to be clear about what it is I want to accomplish and what that accomplishment might look like while I am walking on that path. I need a community to surround me in love and work with me as we struggle together.