SIRS Researcher Goes 2.0!


After taking a look at the “teaser” video, I am extremely excited about major changes coming to SIRS Researcher, which we here access through GALILEO. The new version will be known as SIRS Issues Researcher, and highlights of the sleeker and more robust version include:

  • Essential research questions
  • A more comprehensive look at an issue, including its historical origins and impact on today’s society
  • More emphasis on the “whys” instead of the “whats” of an issue
  • More emphasis on the global impact of an issue
  • More international information sources
  • More multimedia, primary sources, and statistical data [charts, graphs]
  • More search enhancements
  • Topic/subject/keyword clouds and maps
  • Social bookmarking options (YES!)
  • Notetaking organizers
  • Citation generators
  • New critical thinking modules to help you as students better analyze the issue
  • More global and diverse perspectives
  • An audio read aloud option
  • Print and nonprint sources
  • Article translation into 10 languages
  • Correlation to state and national learning standards


These changes should be in place when we return to school in August!  In the meantime, check out these great “sneak peek” resources!

This Is How We Do It: The Model for My Media 21 Project

Dr. Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Digital Ethnography, is one of my teaching and information literacy heroes.   As most of you know, his model of seamlessly  integrating social scholarship into his classroom is what I hope to emulate in my Media 21 Capstone Project during 2009-10.

There is a new post on his blog which beautifully outlines his class structure and teaching paradigm. This approach to teaching, learning, and research will be my compass as I collaborate with Susan Lester, 10th English, and now Mary Panik, Geology and Environmental Science, during the 2009-10 school year.   I can’t tell you how excited I am about working with these teachers and having the opportunity to really embed the library and information literacy as essential elements of the high school learning experience!

Of course, I will be blogging the whole process, so please stay tuned in the upcoming months!  We will be doing intense planning and implementation of the course infrastructures during the summer, so blog posts will be coming regularly.  Stay tuned!

Yes, We CAN: Revving Up Learning With Inquiry and Collaboration


Without going into trivial details, the fallout of No Child Left Behind hit me right between the eyes today.   I know change comes slowly, and I try to be one who encourages and nurtures positive change, but I came home feeling a bit frustrated and slightly defeated today.

However, my spirits and determination have been revived after coming across this brilliant post in my Google Reader tonight from the incredibly insightful and innovative Dr. Michael Wesch.   In this post, Dr. Wesch describes how he has created a portal via Netvibes to incorporate course content and student driven research projects for his Digital Ethnography course.

One feature of this course I really love is that each student-researcher keeps his or her own blog to reflect his/her work as a researcher.  While I have not seen all the details of this blog, I can see how this blog could house many research elements (most seem to be starting with a proposal for a research project), including a research journal that students could use for frequent reflection or metacognition, something I believe is essential for engaged learning.  What if classroom teachers asked students to keep a blog in which students documented a journey of learning?  What if teachers kept a portal so that students could easily connect with their classmates and collaborate as student researchers?  I think that would speak louder than any standardized test!

The “information” or “class commons” also features a feed for bookmarks to the class Diigo account, a RSS feed for comments from blogs, the class YouTube Channel, and other related course media/resources.  Students can also easily see the class agenda/calendar with an embedded Google Calendar.

How could this translate to a high school classroom?  I can totally see how teachers could take a learning centered approach framed in connectivism to help students:

1.  Create their own personal learning networks that have relevance and meaning for their research projects.

2.  Collaborate and connect with fellow students through their journey as student researchers in a course.

3.  Give students responsibility for their learning.

No Child Left Behind may seem to promote achievement, but instead, it has created school environments that reduce learning to standards that will be on a standardized test, not learning that will carry over into all areas of life and beyond someone’s four years of high school.   Teachers feel compelled to hurry through units of study, and students have little ownership of what or how they learn.  The tunnel vision created by NCLB blinds us from seeing the possibilities for learning in our increasingly networked world increasingly influenced by social media.  Like Pavlov’s dogs, students are trained to look for THE answer, not a range of answers or to see that knowledge is really organic rather than the fixed target touted by NCLB.

In my seventeen years of teaching, I have found that students will pretty much do exactly what is expected of them.    Although they may kick and scream at first when the bar of expectations is raised, most students come to enjoy being challenged and develop confidence and pride at being able to do more than they ever dreamed possible.  If we as educators are forced to create a classroom environment that puts the teacher at the center of teaching and learning and the student as a passive recipient, then students will be just that—passive and definitely not engaged.

Imagine a classroom environment where you as the teacher facilitate learning and students take more responsibility (real, not token, responsibility) for research and project based learning in which students take the wheel—and inquiry is the vehicle they drive.  I am not talking about a one time major research project for the class; instead, research and inquiry are the modes of learning for the class.   Research and inquiry are a way of classroom life, not just a once a year or semester assignment.

I would like to work with a teacher at my school to create this kind of learning environment.   As part of my Media 21 Capstone Project for 2009-10 , I will be seeking a teacher who is willing to take risks and approach classroom instruction from an inquiry stance in which students learn through research projects and project based learning.   With the support of my administration, I envision the library as an essential partner and co-teacher in this process.  Not only do I want to help facilitate the research and learning activities in collaboration with a teacher, but I want to actively help create and facilitate the information and collaboration commons via Netvibes and/or our district’s eLocker platform.  This platform could house student blogs as well as the “commons” area much in the same mode as Netvibes and help us create a social learning network in which students can connect and collaborate to engage in meaningful and inquiry based research that incorporates the Georgia Performance Standards for that course.

Although much focus is still needed for this vision that places information literacy as an integral element of learning, I am energized and excited at the thought of the teacher-librarian and library as true partner with a teacher and classroom grounded in inquiry.

My next step is to find a teacher who is willing to take risks and step outside his/her comfort zone to partner with me in this grand adventure.   Once I find that teacher, we will sit down and start fleshing out how we can structure that course around inquiry-based learning and research as a primary mode for mastering course standards.  We will also need to determine the information literacy skills, including New Media literacies, that we want to incorporate into class as we tap into the power of social networking and Web 2.0 tools to help our students’ learning take flight.  Learning and research will be play, and the library will be the sandbox in which we play!

Many thanks to Dr. Wesch for sharing his insights and providing inspiration.  I believe his work is evidence that we as edcuators CAN be agents of change, and I hope to bring his model of learning to a classroom right inside my school and library!  Thank you for helping me keep my eyes on the bubbles.

Librarians and Libraries: It’s Time to Play


“How do you have time to do all of that?!” is a question people frequently ask me in reference to all the Library 2.0 toys I love to show and tell to anyone who will listen.   My sincere response is, “It’s easy because it feels like play, not work!”

I have been mulling the brilliant and inventive Helen Blowers’ December 2008 presentation on “Libraries, Learning, and Play” and her earlier call in 2007 to make “play” your New Year’s resolution.   When I think of the verb “play”, I associate that word with fun, creativity, and joy.  Blowers adeptly shows us to equate learning with play—for me, it is through play that I discover something new that energizes me as a librarian and as a human.  Play fuels my passion as a school librarian.   As David Lee King points out, play is the key to keeping up and staying ahead of the changes that are happening in the ever shifting information landscape.

When I first started my career as an educator, I encountered my own set of challenges and stresses, but most of the time, I felt as though I was having fun.  For many educators, the pressures and stresses associated with No Child Left Behind—the emphasis on quantitative evidence, standardized testing, and conformity–have stolen the joy and some of the freedom to play from our classrooms and yes, even our libraries at times.

How do we get that joy back?    I believe the answer lies in play.  The presentation, embedded below, speaks for itself, and it has me thinking about four major questions for myself and for you as my peers.  I encourage you to watch and reflect on Blowers’ presentation; then, please consider the questions below.

1.  What is my commitment to engaging in play and learning every day?  How can daily play make me a better librarian?  Are you willing to play?  Are we willing to be a lifelong learners, to let go of our fears and to just play independently and with others?

2.  How do I create playful (and by playful, I do not mean the dreaded “edu-tainment” term) authentic learning experiences, formal and informal, for the students and teachers in my media center?  How do I work and collaborate with teachers to create meaningful research projects that feel like joyful fun for students?  What do we need in our toy box to help our students engage in play and to seek knowledge with creativity and enthusiasm?  What solutions will I find and remix to create bubbles of learning?

3.  What does play look and feel like in your library right now?  What is your vision for play in your media center 3 months from now?  6 months from now?  A year from now?

4.  Blowers poses this important question:  Are we bursting bubbles of learning or blowing and creating bubbles of learning in our library programs?

If you are just starting your personal learning network or “playground”, consider the School Library Journal Learning 2.0 “All Together Now” self-paced program as a starting point for your play as a “NowGen” librarian. Use these tools to engage in independent exploratory play as well as collaborative networked play with others.  Our GLMA blog is another rich playground for inspiration and ideas as well.

Let us make 2009 the year of “Play” to help us be agents of change and innovation in our learning communities and create “play” opportunities for our students!

Buffy Hamilton, Ed.S.
Creekview High School