Partnering for Possibilities: NHS Media Center, Gwinnett County Public Library, 3D Printing, and More

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The grand finale to Teen Tech Week 2014 was the first step in a partnership (more details later in this post!) between our media center and our friends from the Gwinnett County Public Library.  Training Manager Christopher Baker, Information Technology Director Michael Casey, and Grayson Assistant Branch Manager Steve Thomas joined us for three lunch/guided study periods to introduce 3D printing to our teens.   Christina Gangwisch, Public Services Librarian from our neighboring Peachtree Corners branch, was also part of the festivities and provided students information on getting a public library card as well as details about the library’s eBook collection and activities for teens.   Armed with the library 3D Makerbot Replicator 2 printer, enthusiasm, and lots of 3D artifacts created on the printer to share with students, the three facilitated small group, 1:1, and large group conversations with 59 of our NHS teens!  Steve joined my colleague Jennifer Lund and I as co-learners with the teens (we’re all newbies to 3D printing)  while Michael and Chris wowed all of us with their artful expertise and interaction with our students.   It was a day marked by joy, curiosity, wonder, and excitement as nearly every teen who attended saw the 3D printer in action for the first time.  The conversations were organic, and we appreciate how responsive Michael and Chris were to the learning needs and interests of our students.

We were especially excited that most of our core group who attended our other Teen Tech Week sessions earlier in the week not only attended the 3D session, but several of them invited friends—the result was a vibrant cross-section of students who got to see the possibilities for both the public library as well as our own.   One of the participants, Brianna, shared this reflection:

The 3D printer was really cool.  When I first saw it, it was making a small robot.  There were other things like a small owl which was really cool because it looked like an actual owl.  Watching the 3D printer make stuff was an amazing experience.  I hope to see it make stuff again in the future at the public library because I really liked watching designs people created get made.  I also hope to come up with with a design of my own to be with the 3D printer.”

Another student, Nanier, offered these reactions to the day:

The 3D printing machine was an awesome thing to see at work.  I think that if the school had one, it would be really cool because we could use it to do prototypes for a project.  So I would really like for there to be one, or for us to do or help to get one.

In addition to getting student responses to our day of collaborative learning, I also asked our GCPL colleagues to share their reflections.  Michael Casey wrote:

As this was the first time that we’ve taken the printer anywhere, I was surprised by almost everything. I liked that we attracted what appeared to be lots of different types of students. There were some real science/tech kids there but there appeared to also be some students who never really heard of 3D printing but were curious. It was fun, in talking with them, to see and hear their thought processes regarding the possibilities of 3D printing. Many immediately jumped to far larger projects — biological matter, complex part production, etc. I’m hoping that a few kids went home and went online to learn a bit more about the possibilities.  It’s always great to be able to connect the theoretical with the practical and, in this case, the tactile. We were able to talk about very complex printing uses (human organs, etc) and also hand out small items that were made with a real 3D printer — a pedestrian version of the more complex printers, true, but still an actual 3D printer that has a cousin out there who may eventually save lives.

Chris Baker also found the student’s excitement energizing for him:

I had an awesome time demoing the MakerBot and talking with everyone who stopped by to watch the MakerBot do its thing! As Michael mentioned in his message, it was great to have such a diversity of students involved and interested in the session! My favorite takeaway from the session revolves around the reception the MakerBot received from the students vs. the reception it often receives from adults; there was a total lack of cynicism regarding the MakerBot with the teens on Friday! I’m defining cynicism very softly here because the MakerBot always receives a warm reception, but often with adult audiences, it comes with a few leading questions that belie underlying feelings of cynicism and/or fear, i.e. “Aren’t people using 3D printers to make weapons?” or in a smaller way, “I wouldn’t even know where to start with this thing”. Not only did the students seem amazed by the technology, they also seemed amazed by the possibility! Thanks again for this opportunity for feedback; Friday’s session was one of the most inspiring and encouraging sessions I’ve been a part of in some time!

Steve Thomas’s reflections very much echo the participatory practices from our colleagues in museums as he views the opportunity to be a co-learner and to take the students’ learning experiences as “grist” for next steps in designing learning experiences:

As I’m still in the early stages of learning about 3D printing myself, I was delighted to see how the students’ eyes lit up with the potential for the technology; it will be fun learning with them at this summer’s MakerCamp. Even the quietest students had good questions about how the MakerBot worked, wanting to learn more about its potential applications but also about how the underlying technology worked. The future is coming fast and I’m excited to be part of the effort to collaborate with our public schools to usher in this new service. The lessons we are learning from this initial partnership will help shape how we use the 3D printer and other new technologies with the rest of our community.

We all feel confident that this three hour investment in our students has ignited interest for many of our teens in 3D printing and design and will be a bridge to additional learning opportunities co-fostered by NHS and GCPL.  So what are our next steps from this initial day of ideation and immersion? What might those opportunities be?


The Partnership

The partnership between NHS and GCPL was born out of an initial conversation between Michael and me when we realized very quickly that we have a shared interest in participatory learning and services.  Together we spearheaded an initial core team that includes ourselves, Chris, Steve, Events and Outreach Manager Amy Billings, my fellow NHS librarian Jen Lund, Robotics Team sponsor Joe Floyd, NHS LSTC (Local School Technology Coordinator) Victoria Dodd, and science teacher Alix Hardy. We’ve had a series of three meetings and numerous conversations since early December that have culminated in these first steps that we hope will lead to additional and organic work as we learn together and from our students.

Pilot 1: Beginning Small:

The first is a small -scale program between the public library and our Norcross HS Robotics Club. This will be a series of four visits to the club after school this spring with both staff from the public library and NHS Media Center participating/facilitating an hour or ninety-minute session of ideating, designing, doing, and learning.  The club will  use various software like Tinkercad to create objects on the 3D printer and participating club members will share their knowledge (existing and growing) with the library staff so we can together learn various software applications beyond the basic two we currently understand. This series is designed to be a learning opportunity for us as the librarians as much as the students.

Pilot 2:  Summer Maker Camp at the Public Library

Final details are still being fine tuned, but here is an overview of how we will scale the first pilot into a larger participatory experience:

  • Norcross HS Media Center will host  A “Tech Petting Zoo”  celebration and sharing day in the library with the 3D printer and Makey Makey kits to encourage students to participate in the upcoming Maker Camp. This event will be co-facilitated by NHS MC staff and GCPL staff; students who participated in the Robotics Club may also help facilitate during the day.
  • A four session Summer Maker Camp at the Peachtree Corners branch (Monday to Thursday) will take place in early June. Over these four days,  a mix of high school and library staff will introduce camp makers to the various software applications, offer training, and offer library resources (PCs, Chromebooks, etc) for the students to use, in-branch, in designing their objects. We would begin printing the objects in the final session.  Robotics Club members interesting in serving as co-mentors may also help facilitate during these four days.
  • The closing community event for participants, family, and friends, probably the following Monday or Tuesday, will be a celebration of learning and students will be recognized for their work and unique talents they’ve demonstrated.  
  • We hope to broadcast (via a live video feed) the actual printing of the objects and learning activities to share our learning with the larger community and perhaps even invite vetted experts to participate in the conversations for learning as we create and make.   Students will also help staff capture the experience through other forms of multimedia such as Instagram and Vine.

We are all excited by these seed ideas and cannot wait to see what grows from these collaborative learning opportunities.  While we see eBook creation/publishing, web design, and composing practices as future potential areas of partnership, we also are eager to see how student interests may inspire additional sustained projects.  We hope to work together as a team so that the learning spaces between the school library, classroom, and public library are seamless spheres of learning that overlap and inform each other in rich, robust, and equitable ways.  I think there is much potential for us to explore how we can frame our collaborative work through a lens of connected learning, and we all look forward to forging these pathways to many kinds of learning!

New DMLcentral Post: Writing as “The Mass Literate Experience” of Our Age and What It Might Mean for Libraries

 “For perhaps the first time in the history of mass literacy, writing seems to be eclipsing reading as the literate experience of consequence. What happens when writing (and not just reading) becomes the grounds of mass literate experience, when more and more people ‘think about audiences’ as part of their daily routine engagement with literacy? How does a social shift in that and energy toward writing affect the ways that people develop their literacy and understand its worth?  And finally, how does the ascendant of a writing-based literacy create tension in a society where institutions organized a reading literacy, around a presumption that readers would be many and writers would be few?
Dr. Deborah Brandt, “How Writing Is Remaking Reading.” Literacy and Learning: Reflections on Writing, Reading, and Society.

I encourage you to read my latest post in a series exploring the ways libraries function as sponsors of literacies and learning for DMLcentral.  In this new post, I outline Dr. Deborah Brandt’s arguments for writing, not reading, as the primary literacy of time, and what that might mean for libraries and how we function in a larger ecosystem of learning.  If we accept Brandt’s assertions, what kinds of profound shifts might take place in libraries and how would that accelerate the movement for library as a space for multiple literacies, creating, and making through multiple mediums? How do we help all members of our communities engage in lifelong learning through writing, and how might that impact the ways literacy impacts communities at an individual and collective point of need?   Where and how might this paradigm shift fit with the model of connected learning? I invite you to think aloud and inquire with us at DMLcentral.

“Teens and the Future of Libraries: Sharing Best Practices” Webinar Archives and My Questions for Thinking


Today I was part of the panel for the final webinar, “Teens and the Future of Libraries:  Sharing Best Practices,” in the collaborative month long series of conversations about  Teens and the Future of Libraries facilitated by YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) and Connected Learning TV, an initiative of the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.

A Google Document with highlights from today’s conversation as well as a PDF of the Livestream Chat transcript will be available soon on the webinar page.  You can also watch the video archive of today’s panel discussion by clicking here.  I’m including below some of my talking points I included at the beginning of the conversation as well as a few that didn’t make the panel discussion but that relate to the larger conversation.

Many thanks to Jon Barilone, the “glue” who brings everything together, all the panelists and our host Jack Martin, and everyone who participated in the chat and/or Twitter conversation.

My Thinking and Wondering Aloud

I’d like to begin framing my thoughts and questions with a short story about something I observed last week.  Last week marked the beginning of the filming of Captain America 2 here in downtown Cleveland.  While I had heard a good bit of buzz and excitement about the filming and knew they would be shooting right behind our library, I was not particularly pumped up since I’m not into action/adventure movies.  However, I found myself more than fascinated and intrigued by what I saw once the filming began.  I was amazed at the army of people it took to make just one small filming sequence happen as well as the diversity of their talents.  I also noted they would shoot the same film sequence over and over–sometimes from the seemingly exact same angle, but at other times, from a completely different vantage point.  Assorted cameras and equipment were used to capture the shots from as many perspectives as possible.  By the end of the week, I found myself wanting to be an embedded librarian on a movie set!

You might be wondering what the filming of Captain America 2 has to do with libraries.  Much like our work as a profession at large–a bigger team of different members (as librarians, mentors, teens/patrons/communities we serve, our teens) all inform the bigger conversation with multiple perspectives as we explore questions/themes and add to this story of learning and libraries.  As I think about what practices of impact look like in libraries trying to embrace a model of connected learning, I find it helpful to take an inquiry stance on digital literacy and to look at our work through a lens of participatory learning and culture.  As I look back over the conversations from the webinars over the last month and my own thinking about my work as a librarian, four sets of emerging questions emerge for me:

1.  What theoretical frameworks/lenses are we using to contextualize our work to inform our understanding of connected learning model and to go deeper with our conceptualization?   A lens of critical literacy (Freire, Bakhtin, bell hooks/ work of people like Lisa Delpit, Deborah Brandt, Shirley Brice Heath)  can help us think more about alternative interpretations what we see in our libraries.   When we think about teens leveraging social media for learning, civic engagement, building online identity/digital footprint, cultural capital—-how do we do so in a way that is reflective and looks at our work from multiple angles?  What are the social/cultural/dialogic threads to explore, and how do we identify them and pull those for closer examination?  What blind spots might we have as public youth librarians and school librarians?  What trends/patterns do we see in our learning communities that inform the ways digital literacy is accessed and leveraged across multiple boundaries/spaces of learning/work/play for teens?  What is visible?  What is not?  What are the gaps?  How do we make the invisible more visible?  Who is absent and why?  How do we better engage our communities at large as what Chris Brogan calls “trust agents”?  Who else can help us?  I worry that certain forms of discourse in the narrative of libraries and learning may get privileged and that others may be excluded if we don’t utilize a lens of critical literacy to help interpret the practices and structures of power.

I’m also wondering how we might engage a little more intentionally about the skills and processes we cultivate related to academic interests/needs.  The work of academic and school library colleagues inform my thinking about this piece of the puzzle as well as work by people like Wendy Drexler and her researched on networked students as learners.  I’d like for our conversations to move toward more specific processes such as appropriation, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment and evaluation, negotiation, and transmedia navigation and how we help learners leverage those processes in other contexts to sustain and grow their capacity to cultivate “playful” practices of creation, circulation, collaboration, and connecting and what those processes look like in participatory learning enviornements.

2.  What are our guiding pedagogical frameworks?  Learning outcomes?  Tools/strategies for assessing impact?  Qualitative/quantitative data? How do we keep learning (formal, informal) and people/human interaction/relationships at the center of what we do rather than becoming fixated on social media tools themselves; how do we better explore the ways they can either amplify learning opportunities OR how they may limit learning opportunities for others? What is empowering for one may not be for another–choices are important.

3.  Access is a starting point on a continuum but we must go beyond this starting point.  Issues of access may include:  A.  equity issues to content and learning opps as Mimi Ito has documented  as well as access to mentors/librarians/learning opportunities to grow capacity to utilize social media in ways that can help them (geographic barrier, funding issues for staffing and infrastructure, lack of innovative culture)  B.  filtered material, particularly in schools and the resistance teachers and librarians often get from IT directors who have more conservative interpretations of what CIPA and similar mandates require C.  access to a culture of learning that values and invites participation/provides opps for participation, collaborative knowledge building, multiple ways of knowing and participating.  These issues are happening against a backdrop of thinking about digital literacy in the context of Shirley Brice Heath’s work and that of others whose work reflects themes of critical literacy that showed how literacy is acquired, utilized, leveraged–how does the culture of the community impact opportunities for digital literacy?  How are those opportunities informed by economic, geographic factors AND community cultural discourse?  What gets valued? What gets discounted?

4.  Networking:  when we talk about cultviating networked learners (of any age), I think it’s hard to model that authentically if we don’t hone that capacity within ourselves.  I’m thinking about networking in three primary ways right now:

  • With our immediate communities (our colleagues, our community, our patrons)
  • As a profession, how might we think of ourselves as a larger learning community that is less siloed, and how might we cultivate more awareness of services/programming/educational opportunities  offered by our colleagues across different kinds of library spaces/types?   Who else has expertise we should tune into  and how are enlisting their help in this work we are doing?  How do we as professionals grow our own participatory literacy to be lifelong AND networked learners and more effective (and reflective) practitioners as well as leaders/ contributors to a culture of innovation in our library community?  How do position ourselves as co-learners with our teens, faculty, community mentors?    How do we nurture our colleagues at all points on the learning continuum? 
  • Partnerships between public and school librarians–how do we get beyond low hanging fruit (library cards, collection related aspects) to more fundamental partnerships to support common learning outcomes?  How are we supporting classroom teachers?  We both bring different kinds of expertise about learning and pedagogy to table–how do we harness and co-locate our expertise, translate that into action for our teens?  How do we acknowledge and honor differences in learning spaces without creating a binary or dichotomy that can be counterproductive to our collective work?

The roles of librarians are being remixed and re-interpreted by these challenges, issues, and lines of questions; in addition, the work we do will be more organic and strategic if we have the humility to truly listen to those we serve and engage in conversations.   Consequently, I think it is important that we acknowledge and honor the discomfort that often comes with the messiness of change.   As we forge forward (wherever we may be on the continuum) and think about innovation, I think adopting a discursive cycle of ideation, building and implementation, ongoing assessment, and reflection dovetails with the idea that theory informs practice and practice informs theory.   Looking at our work through these lenses and seeing ourselves as co-learners can help us be more inclusive in interpreting what we see (or don’t see) in our work and to better embrace these challenges as points of possibility.

Connected Learning and Implications for Libraries as Spaces and Mentors for Learning

“Connected learning is realized when a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success, or civic engagement.”
from Connected Learning:  An Agenda for Research and Design

For the last month or so, I’ve been dwelling in Connected Learning:  An Agenda for Research and Design, a research synthesis report that outlines the research and findings of the Connected Learning Research Network, a group chaired by Dr. Mimi Ito.  In addition to the report, I’ve enjoyed the series of recent webinars centered around the report:

Supplementary readings have also informed my understanding of this report:

Additional definitions and explanations can be found here; the infographic embedded here is also a helpful visualization.

In “Connected Learning:  An Agenda for Social Change”, Dr. Ito asserts that connected learning:

“…is not about any particular platform, technology, or teaching technique, like blended learning or the flipped classroom or Khan Academy or massive open online courses. It’s agnostic about the method and content area. Instead, it’s about asking what is the optimal experience for each learner and for a high-functioning learning community?”

In the Connected Learning:  An Agenda for Research and Design report, the authors describe connected learning as a design model:

“Our approach draws on sociocultural learning theory in valuing learning that is embedded within meaningful practices and supportive relationships, and that recognizes diverse pathways and forms of knowledge and expertise. Our design model builds on this approach by focusing on supports and mechanisms for building environments that connect learning across the spheres of interests, peer culture, and academic life. We propose a set of design features that help build shared purpose, opportunities for production, and openly networked resources and infrastructure” (5).

I’ve recreated this visualization embedded in the report to provide another way of looking at connected learning and thinking about how this model seeks to “knit” together the contexts of peer-supported, interest powered, and academically oriented for learning (12):


I’m still coding and organizing my notes from the report as I try to pull out the big takeaways for me, but as I review these notes and the ones I took from the webinar on assessing connected learning outcomes last week, I’m thinking about this first wave of big ideas and questions:

  • How do libraries develop learning agendas that are aligned with agendas for social change in their community?  How do the two inform each other?
  • How can libraries embrace this approach to designing learning environments to help us move from “nice to necessary?”, a question that was posed at ALA Midwinter in 2013, and that I’m attempting to flesh out in my work here as a Learning Strategist at Cleveland Public Library (and that I hope to share with you later this year).
  • How do we create learning environments and experiences as well as relationships with those we serve to move beyond the initial “sweet spot” of attachment to building a deeper level of engagement?  How do we as librarians (with the help of our community) design learning environments that provide diverse entry points and access for people to form communities of learning where they can create more nuanced narratives of learning as they create, share, and connect with others?  How do we design learning spaces and experiences that create more “pathways to opportunity” and participation?
  • How might libraries of all kinds serve as an “open network” that is a medium and a mentor to helping people connect and move more meaningfully across multiple learning spaces and spheres within their local community as well as a larger and more global community of learners?  Kris Gutierrez’s metaphor of “learning as movement” across many kinds of contexts has spurred this thinking.
  • Kris Gutierrez and Bill Penuel discussed concepts of horizontal learning and boundary crossing in their webinar and explored the question of how do we help people leverage the practices, disposition, and expertises honed in one learning space to another to go deeper with that learning and expand the possibilities for action and participation.  How do libraries support communities of learning in engaging in this boundary crossing and engaging in horizontal learning to build greater personal as well as civic capacity?
  • Both Gutierrez and Penuel emphasized the need to further contemplate and explore individual and collective assessment of these practices.  In the words of Dr. Gutierrez, “What tools, dispositions, practices, forms of expertises TRAVEL and how do we know it when we see it?”  I’m also thinking about how we frame formative and summative assessments as touchpoints for learning.
  • How can librarians help people take deep “vertical knowledge” in a specific content area and apply it across multiple learning contexts and spaces?  This question relates to horizontal learning and boundary crossing.  I like to think of these concepts as cross-pollination of ideas and learning.
  • How do more effectively build vocabulary for this kind of learning in our learning communities?
  • How do we more effectively thread and address issues of equity across our instructional design and assessment processes?
  • How do libraries cultivate deeper and more meaningful partnerships and connections with other institutions of learning in their communities for more strategic impact?
  • How do we as librarians facilitate the creation of sustained networks to help people make connections between social, academic, and interest driven learning? ( see page pp.46-47 in the report for more on this question)

As you can see, these learning and design principles as well as the findings and concerns shared in the report have saturated my thinking.  As I make additional readings and passes through my notes from the report, I will continue to take an inquiry stance to further unpack the concepts and language embedded in this work.  I’ll also revisit the case studies included in the report to further develop ideas on what this work could look like in practice in different library settings.  In addition, I will carve out more time to listen as well as contribute to conversations about connected learning in the NWP study group as well as the Connected Learning Google Plus group.