Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dreaming Big - Completing the Transition to a Learning Commons

Three years ago we began the process of re-inventing ourselves. It was time to dream big. What would make us indispensable to our students and staff? What unique services could we provide that would increase student learning and develop their skills? In the quickly changing world of information and global communication, where would the library fit in this new terrain? And so began our transition to a learning commons. 

Libraries and books evoke strong, emotional responses. When people talk about reading, they often refer to the smell of the page or the weight of the book in their hand. Paper has served us well for a very long time, so these associations run deep.

Traditionally, librarians were there to protect the books and maintain a silent environment dedicated to extracting information from print materials. There were a lot of rules associated with organizing all that print, caring for it, and maintaining it for future generations. A librarian’s job was very well defined. We were archivists. We maintained order. We maintained silence so that rooms full of people could each research independently without distraction. 
And then, information changed.

The Internet became the world’s library. Publications and journals became available digitally in databases. Textbooks went online. Information, previously unavailable except to a select few, became available to millions of people.

Our world used to be definitive. We pointed students toward the card catalogue, the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, to encyclopedias, and to the Microfiche. When information was on paper, our world was well defined, and changes to that world were incremental. We had total, magnificent control. Not anymore! The information culture has changed, and we need to be responsive to that change.

So, what does this change look like in the learning commons? Here are a few examples from the past school year.

Students in a Chinese class come to the learning commons for guidance in developing strategies for creating a communication portal with students in China. They learn about wikis, translation tools, embedding files to share music and popular culture. They are pushing the platforms to facilitate communication, and learn how to behave as members of a production team, brainstorming solutions, sharing tasks and responsibilities. This is challenging, collaborative work, and it isn't silent or individual.

English classes crowd our schedule with teachers booking in for two weeks of extended research and support. In building context before reading The Kite Runner, students searched the photo sharing site Flickr Creative Commons and were able to pour through images uploaded from US troops stationed throughout Afghanistan. This is media rich exploration that helps students develop context and a global point of view. We also teach them how to search Afghani Internet servers for articles written in English for authentic perspectives that are very different from those found on US servers.

 Prior to reading the novel  Song of Solomon, students were assigned research topics pertinent to the era. Since Wikipedia invariably turns up first on Google results, students learn how to evaluate the description tab for debates, such as contentious items relating to the life of Malcolm X. They then mine the Wikipedia article for source information and evaluate it for bias and authority. This is engaging with content deeply and critically. Banning Wikipedia isn't the solution. Teaching how to use it responsibly is the solution. No longer is the librarian a gate-keeper, but rather a guide and counselor in helping students develop skills to search, evaluate and think critically.

After initial information lessons classes cycle back to learn how to synthesize their learning and share it with others via web platforms like Prezi, Glogster Stupeflix and Animoto, to name a few. Web literacies dealing with digital citizenship, social media, privacy, copyright and Fair Use Media are embedded into the course work. Students are creating content responsibly and being taught how to participate ethically in the digital world.

Change also includes diversifying information for all learners. The age of the paper reading packet is dead. Paper creates barriers and, as information specialists, librarians have the skills and resources to democratize educational information.
  • Digital content has text-to-speech functions for those with reading disabilities.
  • There are translation options for students who are not native English speakers.
  • MP3 and graphic novel versions exist for everything from Shakespeare to physics.
  • Technology to support new skills like digital cameras, laptops for check out, MP3 players, editing bays, external hard drives, audio kits and more.
Innovations in information technology and presentation tools means we have an amazing opportunity to educate students who have previously been disenfranchised because of special needs or because their learning style and talents weren't a perfect match for the traditional expectations of the classroom.

These are activities that go far beyond the old retrieval and citation skills that used to make up the bulk of the library curriculum. It isn't about finding information to regurgitate. It is about digging into information with both hands, manipulating and evaluating it to understand it deeply, and then creating new learning to responsibly share it with others through blogs, wikis, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and more. It is about partnering with teachers to develop learning opportunities for students to learn quickly evolving real-life skills that will be crucial in their future education and even more important, in their work environments.

Now our world is dynamic. Change is not yearly, or monthly, or weekly—the new digital world of information changes continuously. Students need new tools, new strategies, and new skills to navigate the digital world of abundant information, and librarians need to be there to help them. Our job is harder than ever, and it is more important than ever. As a learning commons we are ready to support our students and teachers in this new work, and in learning these new skills.

This ppt was delivered to the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee as part of our process in officially re-dedicating the CCHS Library as the CCHS Learning Commons. The presentation documents the changes, provides data on how we have improved student services and curriculum integration, advocates for additional funding to restore cuts, and most importantly, presents anticipated growth opportunities and challenges.

School Comm 3.23.10

We will be celebrating National School Library Week with our re-dedication as a Learning Commons. Scavenger Hunts, contests, balloons, music, board games and the launch of our new One School One Book title for next year will mark the end of our transition.

And now, some personal comments...

Reflection - Our transition to a learning commons from Robin Cicchetti on Vimeo.

Photo Credit:
Flickr Creative Commons
Gotta Dream
Uploaded on January 26, 2007
by mosippy
Used with permission under an attribution license

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