Saturday, February 9, 2008

Too much

This past week has been all about too much. Too much at Stelly's Secondary library, too much illness and foreign vistors at home, too much yet unknown in this course. Not an auspicious beginning, but that's life. And of course, things are always connected in my world. So hang on gentle reader, let's see if I can make the connections clear to you.

At Stelly's this week marked the beginning of semester 2. In the library that means that all the textbooks we attempted to collect the week before (approximately 6000), had to be checked out to new users this week. It is a physically rigorous process that 3 people undertake. I spent the first 3 days in what I call 'the bookhole' --a small airless, windowless room stacked to the rafters with textbooks. The students file in pick up the books they need for this particular class, proceed to my circulation station, and then we (hopefully) checkout their barcoded texts. Sometimes a student has not yet returned his or her texts from the previous semester so they are not allowed to take out their new books. The intent of this delay is to encourage students to return their books so the next student can receive a text. (Students who haven't returned their books are often extremely creative storytellers).

The best part of this process is that I get to connect with every student in the school( around 1100). I get to know their names, something about the courses they are taking, and establish a new relationship or build onto a relationship that is already begun. I love this part! When there isn't a student standing in front of me, I schlepp textbooks onto shelves. This is physical work, but with all the adrenaline of this chaotic time pumping, it too, is kind of fun.

Everything else that I usually do doesn't happen for the entire week.

This work is not really 'teaching' work, but it is one of the things the Teacher Librarian does to remain visibly essential in the school. Textbooks are still a mainstay of the educational experience in high school---but that is changing. More and more classes have online components. Along with up to the minute information, online databases and other sources mean no textbooks for students to lose or damage---and to have to pay for. Educator and Web guru, Will Richardson, author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms writes about the California Open Source Textbook Project " COSTP is projected to augment the current K-12 textbook supply chain, be self-supporting within 18 months of starting up and save the State of California upwards of $200M+ per year for K-12 textbook allocation within five years".(COSTP 2005)Wow!

So while I was in the bookhole enjoying the irony of my situation, I was mulling over the things I've been learning about in this class---new technologies that offer students so much more than just a text. In particular I was thinking about FURL and, the social bookmarking sites we are to explore this week. How amazing it is for students to access 'the collaborative construction of knowledge' referred to by Will Richardson in Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts.

Like the regulation 'digital immigrant' that educational theorist Marc Prensky describes, I spent most of my time reading about ways to use, Furl, etc. to help me manage my information overload. And the overload is very real. Perhaps because of the challenging life circumstances this past week I feel darn close to giving up. At this point, I try to reconnect with the kind of learner I want to become---an adventurer who is able to give this a whirl knowing that by continuing to play with this stuff I will figure it out, if not now, sometime soon. I don't want to be that digital immigrant who turns around and heads home. I want to model for my own kids that I can reclaim my playful attitude, live with being less than perfect,(far less), and carry on.

Actually, once I can incorporate the use of the social bookmarking technologies into my practice, I will have something even more valuable than the ability to manage information. These tools will give me the ability to connect with other learners who have similar interests, and to benefit from their explorations and discoveries. in particular, will help me make connections with what like-minded souls are reading.

At this point I've watched the recommended youtube video by Leelefever (Social bookmarking in Plain English) 3 times and read the whole of Richardson's book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts putting my highlighter into overdrive. I understand the process, though I'm still very clumsy at using it. I like the idea of becoming adept at using the folksonomy. The traditional taxonomies don't even seem to work that well for the trained professionals, I've noticed. Folksonomies will have their weaknesses, but the more people who contribute to them the more accurate they will become, (a la wikipedia).

Richardson describes using both FURL and Both are web-based, so they can be accessed from any computer. They are another development in cloud computing. I first heard about cloud computing while listening to Spark, a CBC show hosted by Norah Young. She interviewed Nicholas Carr about his new book, The Big Switch, "which is about the massive changes this move to what's called 'cloud computing' may have. For Carr, its effects go beyond the business of technology. Just as electrification changed North American life profoundly, the 'big switch' will change economics, culture, and society, raising questions about security, privacy and more."

I'm betting that the transformation of learning that will happen when we focus on connections between ideas, passions, and learners as opposed to the more traditional learning where a student works in isolation, is mind-boggling.

Alas, today I feel like a learner in isolation, banging my head against the digital wall.


Arlene said...

Hi Steph, Thank your introducting me to cloud computing. I've never heard of that phrase. I also plan to look up The Big Switch. Your discussion at the end of your blog post reminded me of where the public tags pieces of art online. I also visited Google Image Labeler where people are paid to tag images because computers can't. Some things computers just can't least not yet. Arlene

Linda Morgan said...

Great point about saving money -
2oo M + buckeroos boggles the mind - and, of course, simultaneously helping the environment. Wait 'til Greenpeace catches on to this (and I'm not being facetious!).

Val said...

Hi Steph: Hang in there, this crazy time too will pass. Wow the text book re-issuing doesn't sound fun at all.
Was visiting my sister-in-law last weekend and my nephew (Grade 6) is in 1 of 3 pilot classrooms in his district that has no texts. They all were given MAC computers. He showed me his assignments, related articles to read, how to gain points, homework and due dates, immediate marking as soon as it was submitted etc. It's so cool. Lot's of similiarities to our course. Now his MAC goes everywhere and his homework gets done. There are some filters on what he can and can't do on the internet.
Save money, save the environment, have the kids work in an atmosphere they are really comfortable with, give them skills that will really prepare them for tomorrow....sounds like a win-win to me.
Here's to sunny skies (not cramped small rooms) and weekend time with your family Steph.

elizabeth said...

Steph, this feeling of being an immigrant in a new land (the land of Web 2.0) reminds me of my first 4 weeks attending a University where courses (and life) were conducted entirely "en francais". I felt like I was only getting bits and pieces and didn't really understand most of the details. Like you have alluded to in your blog, perseverance is the key when we are in these learning situations and some sort of faith that it will all begin to come together is necessary, especially when it all seems so overwhelming. By the end of 6 weeks at that University, I had finally reached a point where it all started to come together. (I was glad I didn't follow my instinct to head home). So much of how we learn is dependent on how we react to our emotions attached to learning. It is a relief to know that research says it is typical to feel frustrated and confused at some point and that these feelings change as we begin to make connections in our learning.
Your story about textbooks really made me think...especially concerning both Linda and Val's comments about the environment and pilot classrooms w/o textbooks. Perhaps we are witnessing the end of an era. I know many of the teacher's guides I use are now on discs, so I wonder how long it will be until the "textbook shuffle" will be a thing of the past. (Not long enough for you, I am sure!)

Dawn B said...

"an adventurer who is able to give this a whirl...continuing to play... I will figure it out...I want to model for my own kids that I can reclaim my playful with being less than perfect" My favourite bits from this blog entry. Make me think of Mr. Rogers and his passion for demonstrating how important play is to learning and living and, of course, how we are loveable and perfect even with all of our imperfections: "People can love you just the way you are" I like your focus on the theme of being a connector in your role as librarian. It seems to me that the true test of any bit of new technology is whether it supports good and meaningful connection - to others, to ideas.... I think that the bulk of our good and meaningful connecting will involve holding a book in the hand, and sitting face to face with another. And, I am surprised at how much good connecting some of this new technology does facilitate. One example is how I find myself playing scrabble online with my teen's friends - this online connection, just between the two of us, adds a peer to peer layer to our usually, more peripheral relationship. That's cool. Dawn B.