Dear FCC and ALA: Do You Really Not Get It?

So I get up this morning to find this story in my inbox courtesy of Bobbi Newman, a fellow member of the ALA/OITP Digital Task Force.  My initial reaction to the content of the article isn’t fit to print here, but I have a few thoughts I’d like to share:

  • This is the year 2012.  Digital literacy should be an essential literacy integrated into inquiry and content area study in grades K-12 by school librarians as well as classroom teachers. School librarians do more than check out books; we do our very best to collaborate with classroom teachers and students.  At a time in which school librarians are being cut from public schools, does it not make more sense to use the funding to  increase and grow a digital literacy corps of school librarians to meet children at their point of need where they already are?
  • The economic crisis of public schools combined with existing misperceptions of what contemporary school librarians should be doing to contribute to their learning communities has resulted in unprecedented erosion of the profession of school librarianship.  For ALA to not advocate with FCC to utilize and grow our ranks as people who already have this expertise is incomprehensible.
  • The concerns raised by school librarians was never about thinking our jobs were being “usurped.” Instead, we questioned why the FCC would not utilize an existing corps (school librarians) and expand it at a time in which we are being hacked down left and right as public schools grapple with budget cuts.   Why should children be asked to stay after school to learn an essential literacy in isolation?
  • Our public librarians are also an existing corp of digital literacy experts.  Again, why not provide funding to grow their staff and services to build upon their existing efforts to work with learners of ALL ages?  Or to help public and school libraries develop partnerships to do community outreach to parents?
  • It’s insulting for the FCC to say that they don’t need the services of librarians, but they’d love to hire someone else to utilize our learning spaces for this endeavor.  Do you think we only check out books?  That we’re not already teaching digital literacy?  That librarians aren’t qualified to be your digital literacy corps?   Why not use this funding to elevate and grow libraries and schools as partners in cultivating digital literacy for their communities?
  • Digital literacy is more than computer literacy—see Project New Media Literacies.
  • While these are dated from 2009, perhaps the FCC and ALA should reread Recommendation 6 and Recommendation 7 from the Knight Foundation.
  • Josh Gottheimer, FCC’s senior counselor to the chairman, is quoted in the article as saying the effort is to close the participation gap and that ““It’s their choice [schools], if they so desire, to be part of this process.”  Do you not get the public school system can be the conduit of closing all kinds of participation gaps for many kinds of literacy?  Isn’t the public school system supposed to be a cornerstone of democracy and point of access for everyone?  At a time in which public school funding is being cut and districts are in budget crisis nationwide, it seems it would be more prudent to fully fund public schools rather than forcing schools to spend money on unfunded mandates and to waste millions of dollars on standardized testing.

I rarely write blog posts in the heat of emotion, but the blatant disconnect in the statements in this article absolutely astonish and infuriate me.  Not only is this disconnect between what the FCC perceives as a need and solution and what public schools and public libraries can offer a disturbing red flag, but I’m also deeply troubled by these statements in the article:

School librarians reacted so strongly to the story that representatives of the American Library Association (ALA) reached out to some bloggers to help clarify the role the ALA has had with the FCC over the proposal to help quell concerns.

I read these words and wonder if  my service on the ALA/OITP Digital Literacy Task Force has been in vain and why I’m paying hundreds of dollars of years to belong to an organization, ALA, that felt compelled to “quell” concerns.  Clearly, ALA does not see that the arguments we’ve outlined as ones to take up with the FCC or to understand digital literacy is a component of libraries’ (school and public) to provide lifelong learning for our communities at their points of need.  And what exactly WAS ALA’s role with the proposal if it wasn’t to encourage the FCC to do more than merely use libraries as physical space to provide training? Did ALA not speak up for its members and tout our expertise and the work we’re already doing that could be expanded with this funding?

The thousands of librarians who are the frontline at ground zero of efforts to provide services and instruction in many kinds of literacies to our communities are acutely aware of what the needs are in our communities and the possibilities for meeting those needs if given appropriate staffing to expand and exceed a vision for learning.   To read these kinds of statements is to feel that yet another government agency, the FCC, fails to understand what we do in spite of our efforts to share our work.  In spite of the spin to put a positive bent to this issue, I feel cannibalized and betrayed by our very own flagship professional organization, ALA ; I am rethinking if I want to continue to pay to belong to an organization that doesn’t seem to really understand the work we do or the intensity and complexity of issues those of us in the trenches of librarianship deal with on a daily basis and that are undermining the potential and promise of the profession.

Post Semester 1: Media 21 Students Reflect on Digital Composition and Participatory Learning

In November and December, I wrote two rather lengthy reflective posts about efforts to help students take a more explicit inquiry driven, participatory stance on literacy and learning as well as digital composition; these were preceded by an October post about the use of the Fishbowl approach to giving students more ownership of class conversation and for developing their own lines of questions/inquiries/points for exploration with peers.

This unit of study, which began with our book tasting in September 2011, was an extended inquiry into student selected issues that included child soldiers, treatment of women in the Middle East, immigration laws,  the impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa, racial profiling, fear and prejudice in a post 9/11 world, and genocide.  At the end of the semester, Susan Lester and I asked our students to reflect on their learning experiences with a series of questions and class time to compose their responses.  Embedded below is a summary of student responses and some additional questions (that piggyback on those from the December blog post) for next semester.    Susan and I are meeting this week together to brainstorm and explore the implications of this feedback as well as new strategies for learning and how to tweak some existing learning strategies; we’ll also meet  with our students in class this week to discuss the feedback and to invite student opinion on their ideas for addressing some of the challenges as well as celebrate the progress and accomplishments of first semester.  I’m excited to see how we can work together as a community of learners to build on our successes and find ways together to address some of the student identified challenges of these approaches to learning.

I’m interested in any thoughts or patterns you may notice, or if you are doing similar work, any ideas or insights you might have to share that will help all of us expand our thinking and improve the learning experiences we’re trying to create with our students.

Henry Jenkins and Liz Losh Discuss Participatory Learning and Public Education

from the blogs of Henry Jenkins and Liz Losh:

At Mobility Shifts: An International Future of Learning Summit Henry Jenkins (Team Cultural Studies) and Elizabeth Losh (Team Critical Theory) offer a progress report on whether and in what ways the public schools and universities are going to be able to absorb or meaningfully deploy what Jenkins calls “participatory culture.” Rather than an abstract discussion of a theoretical construct drawn from their supposedly opposite positions studying fan culture and institutional rhetoric respectively, the two will discuss concrete experiences of young people acting appropriately or not, inside or outside the classroom. What might a participatory learning culture look like? What policies make it hard for even supportive teachers to achieve in their classrooms? What stakeholders would need to be engaged in order to change the current cultures of our school? How might participatory learning take place beyond the schoolhouse gates? What is everyone afraid of?

I desperately wanted to go to this conference in October but could not get travel time or scrape up the personal funds to go although I hope to attend in 2012 if the conference is held again.  This video is timely as I’m drafting blog posts this weeks reflecting on the pushback I’ve encountered from students and faculty this semester on participatory learning.   I’ll be writing more about this video and my own experiences as a teacher and librarian over the last semester a little later this week; I’ll also be discussing the library’s efforts to nudge toward more inquiry based research as well as efforts to scaffold digital composition and the questions I’m left with midyear.

Hechinger Institute Digital Media, Teaching, Children and Schools Conference Reflections

I had the pleasure of being invited to attend and participate in the Hechinger Institute’s  Digital Media, Teaching, Children and Schools conference in Chicago at the beginning of November.  I was also thrilled to present and tell the story of how digital media is helping our students to write the story of learning and libraries at The Unquiet Library (see above presentation slidedeck).  Over the course of two days, we explored the implications of digital media for teaching and learning as well exploring the possibilities of narratives and stories happening in education for journalists to explore and tell.   Key themes, questions, and ideas that resonated with me included:

  • How do we use digital media to enable transformative learning experiences?
  • How does digital media learner participation and production of content?
  • How does digital media impact the distribution and sharing of information and ideas, and how does digital media shape the role of learning networks?
  • How are the roles of teachers changing in this educational landscape (for better or worse)?
  • What evidence do we have of learning and how do we stop being “data poor” in education? (standardized testing is not quality data)
  • How do we help create a mindset and culture that sees education not as the end but as the beginning of a productive life?
  • Are educational administrators and policy makers aware that skills needed for the work world are antithetical to the ones that are being privileged in our test-driven school culture?
  • How do we create a common language of teaching and learning in learning communities?  How do we as schools–faculty, students, parents, admin–build a language of learning so that we are not wasting time and energy?
  • How are we addressing the school policies and practices that privilege narrow perspectives?
  • How do we shift conversations about learning away from training to enabling participation?

I relished the opportunity to interact with journalists from across the country and to listen and learn from a diverse group of amazing thinkers, scholars, and practitioners.  Speakers who especially pushed my thinking included Cathy Davidson of Duke University, Katie Salen from the Institute of Play, James Gee of Arizona State University, Akili Lee of the Digital Youth Network, and James Tracy of the Cushing Academy.

The conference ended with a trip to the critically acclaimed YOUMedia Lab I enjoyed seeing teens enjoying the learning space and love their concept of “mentors” who help cultivate student passions and expertise (think Henry Jenkins and his conceptualization of sites of participatory culture).   Whether students are coming to the library to play games, check out a book (they have a great contemporary collection of YA lit) or magazine, gather for a formal or informal learning activity, create multimedia products, or just hang out with peers, YOUMedia Lab struck me as being passion driven.   I felt right at home in this library that was teeming with conversation, laughter, and learning.

Thank you to the entire staff at the Hechinger Institute who made this rich learning experience possible and for helping me to further dwell in questions already weighing on my mind and finding new ones to explore that are relevant to learning and libraries.

The Possibilities and Challenges of a Participatory Learning Environment: Students and Teachers Speak

I’d like to share with you a conversation for learning I had this morning with fellow teacher Lisa Kennedy and two of her students.   Lisa and I have been contemplating the aspects of the inquiry driven, participatory learning classroom that students embrace as well as the pushback we’re seeing from students (which includes some Media 21 alum).   The backdrop of prior student learning experiences, extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation, pressures of standardized testing and choices students make about using class time are layers of this learning ecology that we’re trying to negotiate as Lisa and fellow 1:1 netbook pilot program teacher Cleve Ard work through the tensions of shifting from a teacher centered classroom to a student centered focus.   The range of reactions to this model of learning from Lisa’s students mirror what Susan Lester and I have observed for the last two years:  a continuum of responses ranging from pure jubilation and a sense of feeling empowered and liberated to intense resistance.  In terms of student responses that are a pushback to this model of learning,  Lisa sees similar themes or motifs of student response that Susan and I witnessed, particularly during the 2010-11 academic year:

  • some students desire to be “spoon fed” knowledge rather than actively constructing it
  • some students expect  the classroom is the only site of learning and do not desire to engage in learning outside of the school day
  • some students privilege  classic literature over nonfiction texts (online and in print—memoirs, biography, journals, magazines, newspapers) as what counts as “real” reading and are concerned they aren’t reading “what we’re supposed to be reading” in an Honors or AP course.

For the last two years in my work with teachers like Lisa Kennedy and Susan Lester (Media21), I’ve been immersing myself in the discourse of a participatory learning ecology (and by default, the library as a site of participatory culture). In the last year or so, I’ve really started thinking critically about some of the pushback we’ve seen from students who are struggling with this model of learning and the reasons for that pushback—what are the stories behind this and what do they tell us about the bigger picture of the dynamics of education and learning in an educational culture driven by standardized testing and standards? Consequently, I’m wondering how do we effectively think about the challenges inherent in these narratives and the complexity of the layers we’re trying to peel back.  In the next couple of months, I’m hoping to look more closely at this challenges through the theoretical lens of scholars like Bakhtin as well as other critical theorists to hopefully have a better understanding of what I’m observing and to be a better teacher and practitioner; I also hope to draw on this to more thoughtfully contemplate how a model of participatory learning informs my conceptualization of “library.”  All of these wonderings reflect how I’ve become increasingly immersed in my role as learning specialist at my school.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll take time to watch this 18 minute video and listen closely to the ideas, concerns, and reflections, especially as they relate to matching learning tasks and assessments, the importance of failure, trust (or lack thereof) in a learning community, social/collaborative building of knowledge and meaning, ownership of learning, and inquiry.  A heartfelt thank you to Ms. Lisa Kennedy and her students for their honesty, constructive feedback, and willingness to share their thinking in such a public way and to help push our thinking.

References:

Fontichiaro, K. (2009). Nudging toward Inquiry: Re-envisioning Existing Research Projects. School Library     Monthly26(1), 17-19.