Month: September 2010

LibGuides Magic: Copying Content from One Guide to Another

One of my favorite features of LibGuides is the ease of copying over one piece of content you’ve created for a guide into another guide.   If you are constantly creating research guides/subject guides/research pathfinders like I am, this feature is a dealmaker.  See how it works in this video:

New Media Literacies Webinar on Multitasking Tonight

Come join us for a free webinar tonight on the new media literacy of multitasking hosted by the amazing people at the New Media Literacies Project.    Project NML defines the literacy of multitasking as:

the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details. Being a good multitasker is required in our new media landscape – and that includes learning when it isn’t good to multitask.

Here is a description of tonight’s webinar from Vanessa Vartabedian, New Media Literacies Community Manager:

Please join us this Thursday, September 23rd from 7-8:30 PM EST for this month’s webinar on the new media literacy multitasking. This session is centered around the debate of multitasking as a skill vs. distraction in relation to learning. It will provide an opportunity for participants to discuss the differences between multitasking, continuous partial attention, task-switching and the various other definitions that have come about to describe the ways in which we switch our attention from one thing to another faster and more frequently than ever. Whether you believe this can be a valuable skill in learning environments, or consider it a deterrent, one thing we know for sure is it’s not going away. Come contribute your experience, reflections and tips about this controversial skill in our 21st century classrooms, and explore how we might move beyond the debate and into useful practices.

This is the last in our series of webinars centered on specific NML skills. Next month on October 14th from 7-8:30 PM EST we will see each of the new media literacies in action as our Early Adopter Working Group of educators from the state of New Hampshire wrap-up a year-long professional development and share their reflections and expertise.  See the full schedule here.

Meet us in Elluminate:

Follow-up chat – Tuesday, Sept. 28th from 4-5 PM EST, also in Elluminate.

Learn more about new media literacies and why they are important in this terrific video overview:

Inviting Participation with Illegal Art

Many thanks to colleague and fellow librarian Brian Mathews for pointing me to a super cool project, To Do, at his library, the University of California at Santa Barbara Library.  This project, a creation as a result of the collaboration between library staff, students, and Illegal Art, will be on display from September 20 until October 31.  What is the To Do project about?  The UCSB Library blog describes To Do :

Come see an interactive art installation that invites you to write down your own “to-do” lists and add to the collective consciousness of personal promises, social commitments and the yet to be done. The mural made entirely out of post-it notes will be on display on the first floor of the Davidson Library at UC Santa Barbara, across from the main elevators.

Illegal Art ( is a New York City based public art collective, whose goal is to create interactive public art to inspire self reflection, thought and human connection. Each piece is then presented or distributed in a manner in which participation is simple and
encouraged. For more information, on Illegal Art, visit,

I think this is an original and unique way to invite patron participation and to create content that captures an aspect or snapshot of patron life and culture.  Kudos to librarian Lisa Koch who organized the installation of this project.  After viewing the photos from this library project as well as other projects facilitated by Illegal Art, I’m contemplating the possibilities for creating this type of participatory, cultural, and artistic project with my students at The Unquiet Library!  See other projects from Illegal Art by clicking here.

Free eBook and Lesson Plans: From the Creative Minds of 21st Century Librarians

Center for Digital Literacy via kwout

I’m very proud to have been one of the contributors to the Syracuse University Center for Digital Literacy e-book project, From the Creative Minds of 21st Century Librarians. Check out this free e-book that is available to everyone!  Here is a brief overview of the text:

From the Creative Minds of 21st Century Librarians is CDL’s first e-book project made possible in part through an IMLS grant awarded to CDL in 2008 to update the AASL standards in the S.O.S. for Information Literacy database. This 275-page free downloadable resource contains dozens of lesson plans that implement AASL’s Standards for the 21st-Century Learner in the context of the curriculum. Contributing authors include more than 30 teacher-librarians. The book, edited by Marilyn P. Arnone, Ruth V. Small, and Barbara K. Stripling, was more than a year in the making and features a foreword by Barbara Stripling and graphic design by Marguerite Chadwick-Juner. If you are looking for creative ideas that target the standards to implement in your school library, this book will help you jumpstart the process. Download the publication and please pass on this link to your colleagues in the school library field.

Moving from Spectators to Participants

You may have noticed I have not blogged much in the last two months; you may also have noticed virtually no posts on Media 21 compared to what you were seeing this time a year ago.   The sporadic postings have primarily been due to the increase in my teaching load so far this year, a happy challenge to enjoy; the absence of posts about Media 21 have been somewhat related to the more intense demand for my instructional services, but the lack of posts have also been impacted by several factors that I will outline below.   Media 21 has presented two primary challenges so far this school year:

1.  Helping students move from passive(and in some cases, large pockets of outright resistant) learners who consume to learners who contribute, create, and participate

2.  Balancing my own participation as a teacher and learner with these students with the other responsibilities and demands on my time as the lead librarian in my program.

These challenges have weighed heavily enough on my mind to find their way into my dreams the last seven weeks.  One particularly vivid dream involved Susan and I being at some kind of learning event , perhaps a conference, at a beach on top of mountain.  While at this “summit”, there was a feeling of happiness and joy.  However, as we started to leave the beach/mountaintop in a 1980s style vehicle,  I felt a tremendous sense of worry as our car was skidding on ice on the numerous curves we encountered on our descent.  At one point, I nearly fell out of the passenger side window and realized I was not buckled in with a seatbelt.  Once I snapped my seatbelt, I relaxed and wasn’t so nervous as we slipped and slid on the ice and snow that covered the curves.  Eventually, we made it to the bottom and ended our trip with a gentle landing.  When I woke up from this dream, I realized this dream represented the worry that things were not starting off as smoothly as we’d hoped but that somehow, things were going to be alright in spite of the rough start and uncertainty.

Because this initiative is one I care so deeply about it, I’ve found it difficult to honestly and thoughtfully articulate what I’ve been seeing, thinking, and feeling the last seven or so weeks.  However, I think now I am ready to share some reflections as it is extremely important to me to be honest and reflective in sharing my practice with others.

Sequencing of Learning Activities and Units of Study

Last year, we spent the first six weeks exploring uses of social media in education as well as for “social good” and introducing a number of cloud computing tools for learning; consequently, I was much more involved in the day to day instruction of the two sections of classes (10th Honors World Literature/Composition).   This year, Susan Lester (my co-teacher) and I decided to start with a novel study of Cry, The Beloved Country because we thought it might help lay the groundwork for our upcoming inquiry into “Issues in Africa” (October, November) and provide some scaffolding for inquiry/literature circles.    While I’ve been involved in instruction and working with both Susan and the students, my involvement has not been on a daily basis like it was last year although that is about to change as of September 27 as we begin our “Issues in Africa” unit of inquiry.

Right now, the jury is still out for us as to whether or not we would choose this unit as a starter for 2011-12 as we saw pros and cons to beginning with this novel study.  Whether we begin with a novel or some other medium next August, I think perhaps next year I want to adapt more of Jim Burke’s ideas from What’s The Big Idea; I definitely need more time to dwell in this book and to have time to better design learning activities that reflect the principles of inquiry (and subsequent scaffolding).  In addition, Susan and I both feel we need more help in adapting the ideas from Inquiry Circles in Action as we encountered challenges in all students acting as contributing participants in their August inquiry circles even though we tried to involve them in establishing inquiry circle protocols.

Getting to Know You

One of my primary frustrations this academic year is not knowing the students as well as I’d like at this point in the year.  I usually know names within a week of working with a group on a daily basis, and if I’m working with students regularly, I feel I am on my way in getting to know them as learners and individuals within the first month based on their writing, face to face conversations, and observation.    Because my contact with the students through face to face and virtual means has not been as great and because the class sizes are decidedly larger (on average, by 10 students or so in each section), I have found it difficult to know them beyond what I see in a 50 minute period.

However, I was actually able to facilitate a class conversation and then have one on one conversations with students in both classes for an entire period yesterday; the energy and interactions were incredibly positive and reflected my belief that what I’ve seen from their writing, there is great potential for thoughtful and significant work from these students.  I am hopeful that as I get to spend more time with them in the physical classroom (our library) and virtual spaces that I can better cultivate the kinds rapport and relationships I did with last year’s students (which have carried over into this school year) to better support and understand their strengths and needs as students and learners.  At the heart of any successful learning environment are meaningful relationships and a building a sense of community and connectedness.

Devoting More Time for Reflection, Deeper Study, Research, and Conversation

Susan and I both are struggling with finding a chunk of time in the day to reflect, talk, and share our ideas and reflections as she is dealing with new and more demanding course preps as well as an increase of overall students in her courses; I’m juggling more hours of delivering instruction and then spending even more time with instructional prep and program administration duties after hours as well.    We talk via email, in person, via phone whenever we can, but as many of you can relate, balancing the demands of professional life with personal life (plus the need for sleep!) is often a slippery slope.

Things I really want to somehow carve out more time to do this school year, not just in relation to Media 21, but in all aspects of library life:

  • More bursts of collaborative planning time with all my teachers (not just Susan!)
  • More one on one time with individual instruction with students and not feeling “rushed” or pulled in 10 directions during a given class period by other needs/interruptions in the library; for now, I may aim for 3-5 meaningful conversations with students per class period and try to build upon that.
  • Launching an ethnographic research project (this seriously could be a full time endeavor for what I have in mind)
  • Creating a small study group with both immediate faculty members as well as members of my PLN to explore challenges, common readings, and sharing of work on a regular basis to expand and better inform my theory and practice
  • Setting a regular block of time for deep reading, whether it be online articles, ebooks, or print materials
  • More regular reflection on this blog or perhaps a blog devoted to Media 21 and other similar efforts much like Karl Fisch with Transparent Algebra; I genuinely admire his commitment to blogging classroom life and his thinking about those transactions with students on a near daily basis.

It  is easy to dismiss such a list and say, “You make time for the things that are important to you.”  Sometimes this is the case, but for me, it has been more a matter of prioritizing the most immediate and pressing demands on my time as an instructional leader and individual.

Respecting Difference While Nudging

In spite of the fact I’ve been teaching for eighteen years,  I still am sometimes astonished at how very different groups of students can be from one year to another even though common sense dictates this should be an obvious fact!   Last year’s cohort was generally more of a risk-taking group with learning strategies as well as new technologies.  While we did encounter some resistance to an inquiry based, participatory learning environment from some students last year, most students eventually embraced that model and enjoyed opportunities to think for themselves, ask questions, create content, and collaborate.    For the first month or so, this year’s cohort has struggled in these areas.  How so?

  • Some have had negative previous experiences with technology; others have had limited or not so positive experiences working with small groups.
  • Some students in this year’s cohort were initially concerned that we were not starting with classical ancient literature (The Iliad) like other sections of 10th Honors World Literature.  I think this perception that there are “correct” texts to study and that “Literature/Composition” is mostly classical texts (and not study of other genres, research, and multiple forms of writing) is one that tends to crop up more with students taking Honors/AP courses.    These concerns speak to larger issues of what the NCLB climate of testing and “schooliness” are doing to “learning” versus “achieving.”
  • Other students found it uncomfortable that their traditional mode of learning, in which they were consumers of information rather than creators and collaborators, was not the model of learning we practice.
  • Our text and our efforts to look at other world views also disrupted some students’ assumptions and beliefs.

I have to remind myself that inquiry often does disrupt our comfort zones, and that the process of working through that discomfort, whatever it may be, is unique for each person.  I’m trying to balance my expectations of these students as learners ( because I DO believe they will rise to whatever expectations you set forth) and my desire to help them find ways to tap into their “cognitive surplus” with the fact that they come with unique previous experiences and temperament that may impact how they work through the assorted disruptions and where they are as learners.   While the idea of incorporating transliterate practices and privileging many forms of literacy into the act of creating a personal learning environment is familiar to me, it is not to these students, and I need to do a better job of respecting  the process of making the unfamiliar familiar.   Ultimately, the process of moving from a spectator to a participant in a learning community is a unique journey for each person.

My Thinking Right Now

After the initial experience of Media 21 and seeing how those learning experiences have carried over into students’ lives this year as juniors, I realize it is easy to forget that helping scaffold the foundation for this type of learning environment is often messy and involves varying degrees of pushback (more so this year, though, for sure); however, I am more committed than ever to having faith in the inquiry and participatory centered learning model while being more responsive to student needs and concerns as Susan and I do our very best to scaffold their efforts.

Two important footnotes:

  • Susan and I have decided to refer to our work with students this year as Learning 21″ to better reflect what we are actually doing with students and the focus of our work.   Technology provides us the tools to facilitate participation, content creation, collaboration, and inquiry.
  • I will be taking advantage of our week-long fall break next week to consider ways to make my  list of reflecting/reading/writing/library life “wishes” a reality and regular part of my work as a researcher and practitioner.

Your Thoughts and Insights

Many of you are encountering similar challenges (which I discussed to some extent this past summer) on this scale.  What strategies have you found effective in nudging students of this test driven era from spectators to participants in your learning communities?