Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Future of Research

Last week a new pal and astute educator, Ed Chase, asked me if research was really a skill that “students of the future” would even need. Although, I was taken aback by the question at first, it’s continued to roll around in my mind ever since. Obviously, if you’re like me and are “of a certain age” then the skills, and certainly the tools, needed to conduct research have changed considerably since we were students.

But in a world where information is already being curated for us by complex algorithyms designed to a) figure out what we like and b) deliver search results that are tailored specifically to our desires…

...and in a world where soon we may no longer need a keyboard, or even a device in our hands, to access and interact with said information…’s hard NOT to wonder if research really is a life skill.

For me, the answer is yes, but only if we redefine research. Of course, there are already plenty of rock star educators out there who are rethinking and revamping the “research process” for their students. However, given the number of times I still see teachers/librarians requiring 3x5 note cards and banning Wikipedia as an acceptable source, the more I believe that this is something we need to talk about.

All of that said, I don’t pretend to know all of the answers here, but this is what I DO know:
  1. Using a web tool or app to take notes is still just taking notes. How we have students gather information cannot be the only thing that changes about the research process. Given how easy it is to locate information, we have to move our students from simply being hunter/gatherers to being evaluators/creators. Plus, let’s face it, finding the required number of sources is easy work and I’ve yet to meet a student who was motivated by tasks that require little or nothing of them. Even though kids claim to want easy assignments, they really hunger for meaningful work and finding 5 sources of information about your home state, favorite animal or 21st President is NOT meaningful work.
  2. It's okay to use Wikipedia as a source.  Wikis, blogs, tumblrs, you tube, and other crowdsourced resources are not only legitimate sources of information, sometimes they are the BEST sources of information. We’ve got to stop banning students from using these resources. Rather, we need to teach them HOW to use them.  What's more, if WE don’t know how to use them ourselves, it’s (long past) time to learn. 
  3. Requiring “at least one print resource” is stupid. Really. Unless you have a legitimate learning outcome that can only be achieved by requiring a print resource then, essentially, you are requiring students to use/cite at least one out of date source of information. Even the best funded, most thoroughly weeded and skillfully cultivated library collection is full of nonfiction resources that are, for the most part, out of date by the time they reach the shelves. We need to think about WHY we require print resources and then only require them if doing so enhances learning. Note: knowing how to cite a print resources does not enhance learning. Which brings me to… 
  4. Writing a citation is not a life skill. I really don’t care if today’s learners know how to write the perfect works cited page or artfully craft footnotes and endnotes in MLA style. There are countless tools out there that, with just a few clicks, can do that (non brain stimulating) work for them. What I do care about is creating a culture in which tomorrow’s leaders see sharing their work and giving credit to others who also share as an essential part of the creative process. We need to quit docking our students a letter grade for not including a bibliography and instead empower students to license their own creations and make attribution a natural and essential part of the creative process. 
  5. Our students need to know how to evaluate more than just the source itself. The “smarter” search engines become, the more “customized” their results – which means the fewer points of view we, as info consumers, are exposed to. Today’s learners need to understand how search engines work, how the results can be skewed and how our own biases have the potential to impact the results we’re given.   This is hugely important - not just for them, but for us.
In the end, skepticism may well be the most important research skill we can teach our students. Instead of practicing Boolean search techniques and learning how to copy/paste text, video and photos via Evernote (I love, Evernote, by the way), perhaps the most important thing we can do for our student researchers is to engage them in activities in which they a) they gather information ONLY to solve real and meaningful problems b) are motivated to question the validity of both the information they find AND the tools that helped them find it and c) use that information to create new resources of their own.  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

PLN Starter Kit

About a month ago I asked you to help me create a “PLN Starter Kit” – a resource for educators who are ready to start building a Personal Learning Network but who just don’t know where to start.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t decide to do this out of the goodness of my heart. Rather, this project is the answer to complaints concerns I hear all of the time. “Well, I know I should be reading some blogs, but I just don’t know who to follow.” Or “I just don’t get Twitter. I’ve tried it, but I just can’t seem to find the good information.” It’s not that I’m tired of comments like this, (ok, I am a little bit tired of them), it’s just that I never quite know how to answer them – which is really frustrating because I simply cannot say enough about how my PLN has shaped my thinking, helped me grow as an educator and, to be blunt, made me a happier person. It’s absolutely maddening to know that something has made an indelible, life changing and permanent impact on my life and not be able to say “here’s how you can have the same experience!”

But that’s the thing about Personal Learning Networks. They’re personal. There is no fool proof, step by step plan to building one.

What I do know for certain is that the desire to create a PLN has to be genuine. A lot of states are starting to include PLNs as part of their educator appraisal instruments, which I see as a double edged sword. While I’d love to see every teacher, librarian and administrator develop a network of professionals to support and inspire them, the minute we start mandating it, PLNs will become just one more box to check-off during a hurried post observation interview. Truly, you might as well mandate that all educators be happy. It’d be about as effective.

The other thing I know is that PLNs have to be passion driven. When I look at the networks some of my friends have created, I can see very clearly what motivates and inspires them. If you’re an avid reader/book reviewer, let that passion inform how you piece together your PLN. If you’re turned on by educational technology and free tech tools, make connections that lead you to those resources. If you’re fired up about educational reform, well… you get the picture. Following my network will only be effective if you are passionate about the exact same things I am. And I can’t imagine many people are. So, as you start this journey, be selfish. Think about your passions and let them be your guide.  We all know that are best lessons are the ones we love and feel most strongly about.  Follow your passions when developing your PLN and you won't go wrong.

That’s not to say, of course, that a few recommendations would hurt – which brings me back to the PLN Starter Kit. Back in June I asked you to share some of your “must follows," or the blogs and tweeters that you couldn’t live without – and boy did you deliver. In fact, I received over 400 responses!  A fact that was both amazing and daunting. So, over the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to compile them in a way that made sense and would be the most useful.

At first, I thought I’d just blog about your choices, the way Tamara Cox did recently when she wrote about cleaning out her RSS Feed so that the cream of the crop could rise to the top. I love her post, but I wanted this to be an evolving/growing resource, which made a single blog post impractical. Then, I thought about pinning your picks to a Pinterest board the way Nikki Roberston curates her amazing resources, because, let’s face it, Pinterest just looks good. But then I remembered that Pinterest is still blocked in a lot of school districts and I think you still need and invite to join, so I scrapped that idea too.

In the end, I decided to use Live Binders as the tool to create my PLN Starter Kit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as though Live Binders was my last choice – far from it. In fact, once I realized that I really wanted to sort the resources into different categories, LB was the obvious choice.

One thing I want to make clear is that this resource is far from finished.  It's in no way exhaustive.  My hope is that it will continue to evolve as our networks grow. That said, as you look through our kit I’d like you to do the following:
  1. Pat yourself on the back. YOU created this. 
  2. Keep in mind that the resources are listed in no particular order. In most cases I just copied and pasted directly from the google doc that was created from from your suggestions.  (Although, it is my party, so I took the liberty of adding some folks and moving things around when I wanted).
  3. Keep in mind that I don’t follow everyone listed in this resource. This is a crowdsourced product – and while lots of the blogs/twitter feeds listed fit in my network, some don’t. You’ll have to choose which ones fit in yours. 
  4. Finally, if I’ve missed folks – and, let’s be honest, how could I not – let me know! Resources you leave in the comments will be added to the binder.  And don't hesitate to add yourself - if you've got something to share, by all means, share it! 
Finally, I just want to say thank you to everyone who participated in this project. I wasn't exactly sure what this would turn into when I started, but I love where it's going and I'm hopeful it will be helpful to people.  And big, big thanks to John Schu who is continuing to help me curate the “author” tabs in this resource - a section I hadn't originally planned to include.  Boy, it’s great to have a reading rock star in your PLN!


PS:  I created the images in this post using an app called Type Drawing for iPad which I kind of love. :)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I Love My Librarian And So Can You!

Last year, a teacher at my school nominated me for the Carnegie Corporation of New York/New York Times "I Love My Librarian" Award.  If you have no idea what the "I Love My Librarian Award" is, don't worry, neither did I.  But let me just tell you, this award is special.

Essentially, this award invites library PATRONS to recognize the accomplishments of their librarians - be they public, academic or school, and to explain how their librarians make their community a better place.  It's  not an award by librarians for librarians, it's an award that begins in the hearts of the community we serve - it's sparked by the seeds we plant through our work and grows because we've touched someone's life.  I love that.  I really, really love it.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that only10 librarians (out of the thousands nominated) are selected.  AND that each winner receives a $5,000 cash award, a plaque and a $500 travel stipend to attend an award ceremony and reception in December in New York.

Trust me, I know this award is special because I was one of the 10 recipients last year and I can say, without question, that receiving it was one of the most magical experiences of my life.  Last year, once the dust had settled, I tried to write about the experience and how it felt to be a part of it.  Looking back at that post now, I can can't help but feel nostalgic and wish that I could relive that night again.  I told someone recently that it was like winning an oscar for being a librarian - nothing like that will EVER happen to me again. What's more, it all happened so fast, it was all so magical and wonderful, I just wish I'd been better at savoring and remembering each moment. AND I wish I'd taken a lot more pictures.

The good news is that nominations are now open for this year's award. And I know... I know... you can't nominate yourself or another librarian, but you CAN and SHOULD let your patrons know that this award exists.  I bet everyone reading this blog has at least one patron who would jump at the chance to acknowledge the difference a librarian has made in their lives. This is NOT about tooting your own horn.  This is about celebrating the good work we all do by giving our patrons a chance to share their stories.

I mean, c'mon... if one of your patrons said, "hey! did you know there's a way that you can share how awesome your patrons are by nominating one for this award?!" you'd jump at the chance to do it, right?  Right?  Of course you would.  So... give your patrons that same opportunity.  Believe me, if you do win, it's as much about them and your school and all the patrons and teachers you work with, as it is about you.

So, go on!  Get out there and spread the word.  And if you DO win AND  you need a traveling companion, hit me up! I'm totally available. :)