Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Why My Library Just Cancelled Its Subscription to Time Magazine

The New York Times published this interesting article today, unfortunately burying the lede in the third paragraph.  Money quote:
...Time Inc. will abandon the traditional separation between its newsroom and business sides, a move that has caused angst among its journalists. Now, the newsroom staffs at Time Inc.’s magazines will report to the business executives. Such a structure, once verboten at journalistic institutions, is seen as necessary to create revenue opportunities and stem the tide of declining subscription and advertising sales.  

Yep.  Time, Inc--no struggling online trade mag--now requires its journalists to report to the business execs, and editors now seek out "sponsored content" (aka "native advertising") as a large part of their professional duties.

Without getting too overtly political, I have long been concerned over the corporate buy-out of American public institutions, whether it's the money behind so-called education reform, a university selling its professorial hiring decisions to the highest bidder, or the Supreme Court (and presidential candidates) solemnly assuring us that corporations are people:

So what does all of this have to do with a library blog?

I just cancelled our library's subscription to Time Magazine, and am in the middle of an email to Time explaining why.

I work hard and spend considerable thought providing quality, authoritative resources for my students.  While we obviously have books or periodicals that promote a particular side or point of view, that bias is generally made clear through content or editorial policy. And, of course, my students and I talk about  using the databases first, evaluating sources, using the CRAAP test, etc.

Now, there is a long history of passing off advertising as editorial content; the public is increasingly sophisticated at recognizing and ignoring advertorials. Advertisers (and the publications) need to make it harder and harder to distinguish between journalistic and sponsored content; thus, it's not always clear which content is an advertisement.  Worse, the Online Publishers Association estimates that 90% of publications offered sponsored content by the end of 2013.

However, Time's decision is especially insidious, using their magazine's  integrity and  reputation as a reliable source of news in order to mask that commercial line. When reading  Seventeen or Sports Illustrated, there's a public understanding of the monetary bottom line, hence students have a certain amount of healthy skepticism when reading their articles. Time, as a straight news magazine, has traditionally drawn a firmer line between its sponsors and its articles, and students read it less critically.

As a librarian, I have a duty to provide my students with material that presents not an unbiased view, but one free of corporate interests--or at least material that makes clear distinctions between content and ads.  It may be a futile gesture, but I'll be cancelling our subscription once school starts again next week, and will definitely add this into my critical literacy curriculum.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The MakerSpace: Equipment and Programming

Exciting title, eh?

Once you have the space, you need to add the "Maker" element, which consists of both equipment and programming.

Now, personally, I think there are all kinds of Makerspaces.  The point is to lure the kids in to hands-on activities that get them creating and learning.  Whether that's video production, 3D printing, carpentry/mechanics...it's all good.  Having said that, I was at a Learning 2.013 conference a few weeks ago, and attended a Makerspace un-conference session.  After I showed the panorama of ours, the leader flat out told me: "That may be other things, and it fits your needs, but it's not a Makerspace," then went on to talk about carpentry and mechanics.  Sucks to him, I say.  This is a pilot program with plans to expand.  If you wait around until you have the ideal space and tools, it may never happen.

The school already has 3 Design Tech rooms,  two art rooms, and a film and recording studio.  These, however,  are located in a building separate from the high-school.  As an all Mac/iPad school, with a 1:1 laptop program in the high school, ours students do a LOT of video and digital media productions.  We were also starting a weekly TV program in the HS.  We needed a space to both facilitate student production and improve the quality of their work.

The Equipment

After discussion with the Film, Art and DT teachers, we either purchased or re-assigned the following equipment:

Most of it is self-explanatory.  The Legos are for stop-motion videos (or anything else the students think of!).  You might notice it totals far more than the $3,000 I had leftover in last year's budget; the extra comes from this year's budget.  Fortunately, I have a VERY generous budget!

We house the large items in the Makerspace, but keep the cameras, tripods and other portable items in the library for students to check out.

A word about the large-format printer:  We are working to improve the design of both student and teacher posters, banners, etc.  There is nothing more empowering for a student than seeing their work as a large banner in the school--but it has to be good!  In order for students to print their posters/banners on the (very expensive to print) large-format printer, it has to first be approved.  This means it is in it's final format and tested on the regular color printer before it is printed on the large format printer.

UPDATE: I just realized I forgot to include this tip:  We went with a green screen, rather than painting the whole room green, because the green paint reflects on the students when they video.  This not only gives them a rather sickly hue, when you attempt to remove the green while editing, part of the students disappear, too.

The Program

Teachers and students will need to be trained in appropriate use of the space/equipment before they can use it.  Fortunately, we have a strong student Geek Force, and I'm working with a core group of them (Maker Geeks!) to provide both training and workshops for students and faculty.

The "official" roll out happens in two weeks, when we have two PD days.  Faculty rotate through a mix of both obligatory and optional workshops.  The Makerspace workshop is obligatory, and will be run by the Maker Geeks.  They will attend a lighting tutorial run by our Film teacher next week, along with a session on the cameras and other equipment.  The Tech Integrator and I worked together to develop the faculty workshop (Brief intro to the equipment, followed by the time to create their own video, which we'll showcase at the end.  The group that uses the most Makerspace Equipment "wins").

We'll give students the workshop outline, along with two practice faculty groups to practice on before the PD days, then leave them to run it (though available if they need help, obviously!)

We're rolling out with the faculty first, using the theory that familiarizing teachers with the space will trickle down to the students.

The Geek Force will also offer regular tutorials in iBooks Author,  video editing (iMovie and Adobe Premiere),  green screen techniques,  stop-motion videos and more.

We'll populate the back walls with poster guidelines for various media:  e.g.  if you're filming an interview make sure you have x,y,z.  Putting together a documentary: these are the steps.   Basic reminders and quality-checks for students, in other words.

The library itself will sponsor various "challenges" or showcases  throughout the year, promoting student use of the space.

Finally (and I need to put these together next week) after each class or individual use of the space, students and teachers will fill out a brief questionnaire, that we'll use for documenting how the space is used, and what improvements would have most impact for next year.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The MakerSpace: If You Build It, Will They Come?

I'm about to find out.

Thanks to a dream, an under-utilized workspace, and a $3000 end-of-year surplus in my budget,  the library now has a MakerSpace!  It's on a different floor, the space isn't ideal, but hey!  It's there!

Ever since Buffy Hamilton first blogged about it a couple years ago or so, I've wanted a makerspace.  OK, sure, I'll admit it.  The geek in me waxed euphoric at the mere idea of more tech toys.  But I also firmly grounded my makerspace-lust in the belief that the library needs to support ALL literacies, not just reading and writing.  What better way to broaden our sphere and empower students than by giving them the tools, space and permission to go in and engage in meaningful play??

In my last school, money was the issue; in my current school, with its four different DT labs, film and recording studios, I figured we didn't need one.  I was so wrong.

When we were working on the WW II history project last spring, we set up the tech integrator's room as a mini-studio, with two soft box lights borrowed from the film studies teacher, using the whiteboard as a backdrop.  Next thing we knew, kids from all over the high-school were dropping in to use the lights.  This was my ah-ha moment:
  • Students recognized the need for better quality in their digital creations, and
  • We needed something local, as the DT laps and studios are in a separate building halfway across campus.

First Step: Collaborators
 I explained the vision to the tech integrator.  As one of the key-players for how technology is used in the high-school, she needed to play an integral role in promoting the space. Since she was part of the history project and saw first-hand the improved quality of students' work as well as the kids coming out of the woodwork to use the space, she was on board immediately--even though it meant giving up her work room. We moved her to the library's back-office instead, since I never use it; this has the added advantage of making it easier for us to collaborate.

More importantly even agreed when I insisted it be part of the library.  In fact, I was adamant.  If the space "ran" out of the tech department, teachers and students would connect it with them, and view it as just another tech lab.  Run as part of the library, it's a communal space for everyone to use.

We then got our curriculum coordinator on board, as the first person to present it to our principal.

Finally, we met with the all the film and DT teachers, had a good look at the space and asked for their recommendations. I've embedded a panorama of the room below. You can see it's quite long and narrow, which limits what we can do in there. We also wanted to  keep our goals attainable and achievable over the summer,  saving the dreaming for next year.  Thus, the current space is very oriented towards digital media production.

Step Two:  The Proposal
Now we needed a brief but powerful rationale for why we needed the space, and how we'd pay for it. Fortunately, this was going to be relatively low-cost as it mostly involved the re-purposing of an already existing space and buying equipment, all of which could come from the "leftovers" of last year's budget.

I focused on three areas:  An explanation of what it is and how it would be used, the impact on learning, and the benefits to the school.  You can see the document below.  Like most admin, mine are very short on time and don't want to read pages and pages of rationale; I didn't quite make my  two page goal, but almost (I've blacked out names for obvious reasons).

I have to say, there were no real road blocks to this, mostly because my school is very tech-forward and progressive, with challenging and inspiring students part of our mission statement. The principal read the proposal, loved it, and arranged a meeting with our director.

He asked me one question: How will you pay for it.  When I explained I had enough money from my budget, he exlaimed, "Fantastic! Get started!" and moved on to other business.  Shortest meeting I've ever had here!

And here's the space, though it's not the best panorama in the world!  Next post, I'll describe the equipment we purchased and how we're running the programming.

Monday, July 22, 2013

iBooks Coming to Your Mac: This is HUGE!

I have to say, I never thought it would happen.  Keeping iBooks off your Mac forced people to buy iPads in addition to their Macs, so why would Apple bring iBooks to their computer.  Or so I thought.

With their new OS X, Mavericks (glad we're out of the cat phase), which releases in Fall, Apple announced they will finally have iBooks on the Mac.

Why is this huge?  Think interactive learning!  I'm part way through writing my blog post on our iPad trial findings, but our big take away is that Macs are still the real workhorse, so this combines the power of your Mac with an interactive space.

Flipping your classroom (or library) just moved out of the "go home and watch this video" stage.  Using iBooks Author, teachers and create engaging,  interactive lessons that ALL students can access, not just those with an iPad or iPhone (this assumes you're a Mac school, of course!).

I also like that student notes appear in a sidebar beside the book, making them easy to review and use.

More importantly, students can now create and preview books all on the same device--you don't need computers AND iPads,  putting the power to create, edit and publish in one place.

So if you're a Mac school and haven't jumped on the iBooks Author bandwagon yet, this fall is definitely the time to start!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Is Your Library User-Focused, or Library Focused? (Part I)

I'm back!  I had visiting friends right after school let out, so I've been simultaneously acting as tour guide and fellow-tourist as I showed them around Beijing and then we visited other parts of China (Pingyao and Xi'An).  You can see my photos on Flickr if you're interested.  I try to keep only my good captures online, so don't worry you'll have to scroll through interminable photos of me standing in front of monuments in that "I need to prove I was here!" kind of shot.  It may be of interest that 1/3 of the photos I took with the iPhone, and all of them were edited on the iPad.  Mobile photo editing is my hot new thing, and I'm actually putting together a workshop on iPhoneography.  But I digress.

I have a couple large posts pending: action research, annual reports and Makerspaces.  This past year was one of those banner, "OMG, I can't believe what I learned" years that transforms your entire way of thinking about everything you do.  We get those far too infrequently--or maybe not, because it's going to entail a LOT of work next year.  It's also entirely possible we get those kinds of years only when we need them.

Needless to say,  I've been doing a lot of thinking about modern libraries and best practice (of course, though here's the English teacher in me asking "If it's needless to say, why did you say it?").

In my eagerness to provide students and teachers with a forward-thinking, 21st Century library,  we've spent a lot of time and money technology. We're a 1:1 laptop school, but I still have 3 iMacs for student use; we circulate 3 iPads that are strictly for the library, as well as 35 others on carts.  We have 20  digital cameras of various sorts, 3 document cameras, 15 snowball mics.  We subscribe, just in the HS, to fifteen different databases.  We have a blog. We have two wikis. We have untold accounts with various Web 2.0 tools.  Moreover, I hound our teachers to bring me into their classrooms more. "Use the library!" I implore.  "We can collaborate!"

Have you noticed, though,  how many times those sentences above start with "We" or "I"?  A lot of the above is about what I think a good library should be, and don't get me wrong. We do a lot of good things.  But it occurred to me this year how much I try to lock things down to the library and making use of me, bodily, in the flesh, mostly to prove the library's importance to the ongoing life of the school.

Let me back up a bit.  I'm also the schools' extended essay coordinator (the EE is a 4,000 word academic research paper 95% or our grade 11's have to write over the course of a year). As part of that this year, I insisted on teaching a series of workshops for the 90+ students, taking them through various aspects of the research process.  The heaviest attendance over the course of the 8 workshops (offered at various times to accommodate student schedules) was around 50%, but it petered off pretty drastically by the end of the year.

In addition,  as part of the science curriculum, grades 9/10 do a number of research projects.  While I finally got the teachers excited about pathfinders, they only brought me in to talk to the students a couple times, giving me 15-20 minutes max (and pretty grudgingly at that).  And if they were reluctant to bring me in to discuss information literacy, they SURE weren't going give up class time to have me talk to the kids about good presentation design!

Nor has this been a problem only at my current school.  I don't know if it's me or the nature of scientists or what, but  while the history department is always totally on board with anything I want to do, the science department is always a hard sell.

I can be a bit dense, but I finally realized, I was asking students and faculty to meet my needs and design, when what I really need to do is meet theirs.  I mean, I've always known that, and I thought that's what I was doing ("But they NEED these lessons on information literacy").  It finally occurred to me that, while they need the information, they don't really need to deliver it.  At least not in person.

I needed to flip the library.

Our Learning Support team (which includes me) met with the Science HOD at the end of May.  He's a good guy, and realizes we needed a better way of doing things. Here's the plan:

Instead of lengthy sessions, we're going to  plan a series of 10 minute participatory lessons.  I'll create a tutorials for students to complete on their own time, then our lessons will be guided practice on their own research.

I don't just want a series of videos, though.  I think the flipped classroom movement has been WAY too video heavy, and Khan Academy has come under some justified criticism for that.   Students need to be more involved/engaged.  Since we're a 1:1 MacBook school, and all students have Keynote, I'll create a series of interactive tutorials. Video will no doubt be part of that, but it won't be the sole component.  Here's a sample tutorial on slide design.  It loses the interactive bit on Slideshare, but if you email, I'll be happy to send the .key file.

The hope, of course, is that students can access this information 24/7.  So whether they come to my extended essay workshops or not, they still have the information if they need it.  Whether they'll actually use it or not is another issue.

On a related note, as part of our more user-focused approach, I want to create supply bins for the students to take back to their desks.  Right now, we offer staplers, etc., but they're actually TIED to the circ desk!  Mostly because we lose a lot of staplers.  I think if we create supply bins--stapler, scissors, glue sticks, markers, etc. and the students have to take the WHOLE kit, they can work at their desk, instead of standing around, AND it will be much more likely for things to come back.  Well see.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Rethinking the Library Annual Report, Part II

“Education: the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.”  (Mark Twain)

So I had a bit of a temper tantrum in my last post, and declared the Annual Report was a complete waste of time.  Of course, this was about 4 hours in to my 16 hour AR marathon.  If you have Keynote, you can download the final result here.  It's interactive and multimedia, and looks pretty cool, if I do say so myself; unfortunately,  most of the data is unimportant to anyone but me.

As I see it, there are three main problems with the annual report in its current form:
  • No one reads them
  • They're too long
  • They gather all the wrong data
You can see that the first problem probably stems from 2 and 3, so I'll ignore that for now.  Length is a problem, but it's secondary to my main point, so I'll save it for the next post.
So here's my big take-away from all that hard-thinking I've been doing:  Who, besides librarians, needs collection statistics?  If you look at any examplar, whatever else they include, a large portion of them relates statistical data: # of books circulated, # of database hits, # of lessons held.  That's certainly important information for a librarian, and we need to gather that data.  What we don't need to do is share it with our administrators.

The library's raison d'etre is to facilitate student learning.  Whatever else we do, whatever programs we run, if we don't  first and foremost help the little darlings learn, we are failing in our mission.  I think the rationale behind all those earlier statistics runs something like this: if they're checking out books, they're reading (and learning); if I'm teaching 30 lessons a week, they're learning.

Except, of course, those statistics prove nothing of the sort.  I have shelves of books at home that I've never even cracked open, and I suspect plenty of students check out books and never read them.  Moreover, ask any teacher if just saying "Hey, I showed up for class!" counts as evidence.

We've been sharing those statistics for decades, and it has done us no good, if thousands of lay-offs are anything to go by.

In a response to my earlier post, Doug Johnson says "The key to a successful report lies...in its direct correlation to district goals."  He's absolutely right, but for someone faced with putting that document together, it's not all that helpful.  How do you DO that?  What kind of data do you need to gather?

Just as importantly, what if the school's goals aren't yours?  I left a completely wonderful school, partly because my principal and I had completely different visions of what a library should be, and mine didn't involve green lampshades.

The answer, of course, goes back to every school's primary mission: student learning.  Of course if you are helping the school meet its goals, that needs to be an integral of your report.  Its driving focus, however, should be not just your impact on learning, but on hard evidence.

As I said, I've been thinking about this for a while, and as I was sitting having a pedicure the other night, I ran across an article in the December, 2012  teacher | librarian (I'm a little behind on my reading!) that reached out and smacked me in the face.

In it, Mark Ray, teacher librarian in Vancouver, Washington states,
"In an age dominated by assessment scores, benchmarks and data dashboards, it is essential to...present compelling data connected to your instruction and program. General circulation numbers are not enough. The data needs to be tied to learning outcomes and linked directly or indirectly to student achievement and growth." 

Of course, what that looks like is what all the education battles the last few years have been arguing about, but I have a few ideas.

Basically you will need three types of information: Data, examples and stories.  Here's how I plan to gather that.

DATA: Most of my library instruction sits in either the science or history departments.  I'm going to create a series of short, specific pre-post quizzes on various aspects of information literacy and collate the data.  I'll do exit surveys after the series of extended essay workshops.  I'm fortunate in that I have 100 or so grade 12s every year being externally assessed on a 4,000 word research paper, and the school can pay to get that data. We will.

EXAMPLES:  Display examplars of excellent student projects on your library blog or display, and either link to them. Or include them in your report in other ways. For example, in this year's report, I included photos of some of the better student infographics.

STORIES:  I've always include short quotations from students and teachers about the library program in my report.  It both promotes our services and adds visual appeal.  This year I took that a step further and embedded short  30-60 second interviews with students and teachers talking about the library's impact on their learning and curriculum.  One student shared how the infographic really made him think in different ways and to discriminate among his choices of data.  His teacher related that she'd come to me asking for help with a poster assignment, and it turned into something far more meaningful.

These are powerful testaments to the direct impact of the library program, and a meaningful complement to your data.

The key to all of this, of course, is that you must have it in place at the start of the year. It's not information you can gather retroactively, so you need to make it part of your strategic goals and plans.

And none of this is any guarantee it will be read if you turn in 15 typed, single-spaced pages.  Doug's post implied an underlying pooh-poohing of my concerns over design and medium.  I think he's dead wrong there.  Stay tuned for the final installment in the Annual Report Epic.