Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Now that the semester is coming to a close I'll just do a bit of free writing about how I see the librarian's role in the tech revolution.  Let's see where this goes.

What will become of our career as librarians as tech advances and our responsibilities shift.  I spend hours a day working on a computer.  I am updating patron info, producing and posting podcasts, writing blogs, finding digital materials for teachers and students, guiding students through the process of researching online, putting purchase orders together, et cetera.  Research, a central use of a school library is becoming more and more about online research.  The online materials are updated regularly and easily searchable.  The physical library feels at times a bit outdated--limited in both scope and relevance.  Online feels occasionally too large and occasionally unprofessional if you don't know what you are doing?  Is this the future of my career?  To help people understand how to wade through the crowded waters of online research?  Teaching students how to go beyond the first page of results from a Google search?  To constantly slash through the garbage to collect relevant info for all units in a curriculum?  Am I a curator of information, or am I a guide?  Am I both?

Even the fiction section is in danger.  With libraries like the one at the private school in Massachusetts who eliminated all books in favor of Kindles everything could change.  I know that school had a special arrangement with Amazon, and I myself have thought about contacting Amazon about how such a program would work.  However, I also found myself afraid of the can of worm that might open up.  What happens to the library when the books are gone?  The school in Massachusetts has purchased a coffee bar and new computers for a lab.  Ok, so now it is a hang-out space and computer lab.  What happens as access to information becomes even more ubiquitous and even more portable?  What happens when you no longer need a dedicated physical space for machines to access information?  What happens when a library no longer needs a physical space?  Is there still a library?  Is there still a need for a librarian, or will we simply be information specialists solving problems remotely?  This may seem far off, but I think it is closer than we all think.

The only kind of library I see surviving for some time more are libraries for children.  They need the physicalness of a book.  No device out right now can replicate the color and feel and durability of a real childrens book.  And as of right now, the younger students I see still react more positively to doing research and learning from a real book.  They seem to remember the information more as I think it seems more tangible and real when learned from a book.  However, in time these things could change too.

It is an exciting time to be a librarian.  I wonder how this will all play out over my career.

At times I am reminded of my grandfather who went to a trade school to learn how to repair radios.  The radios back then were using tubes and had very complicated designs.   Shortly after he finished school, transistors became the norm and radios and other electronics became cheaper, more durable and easier to repair.  He had a long career as a butcher at a deli.

Barriers and Reasons to Just Go for It

I wrote this bit after reading Chapter 4 in Supporting New Models of Teaching and Learning Through Technology by Johnston and Cooley:

Below are some of the barriers I come across regularly when trying to use technology in school:

1. Budget (It costs money)
2. training teachers (This also costs money)
3. Reluctant teachers (The why change what I am doing if it works argument)
4. Effectiveness (Ongoing arguments over the effectiveness of technology in the classroom)
5. Fear (The kids these days will only know how to type in IM lingo) also (the internet is a dangerous place)
6. Luddites (Some people will just always see tech as inferior to standard methods.  These people also see the internet as almost entirely unreliable)

Can you think of more?  How do these problems manifest themselves in your school?

Concerning reason number 4 from above:  I think that the Johnston/Cooley text is still relevant even though it is a bit dated in ways.  In fact, it feels as though it is just turning the corner of getting a bit too old.  This chapter dealt with whether or not there is real evidence concerning whether or not integrating technology increases student learning.  This is still an idea which has been thrown around, but the argument itself is becoming irrelevant as integrating technology becomes less about how it can help learning and more about integrating tech for the sake of keeping students up to date with how to use technology.  (Wow, that is one poorly worded and structured sentence.  Let's see if I can break that down.)  It's no longer entirely about how integrating tech can increase test scores or student learning in some measurable way.  Now, tech has reached a point where it would be almost criminal not to teach it to our students because it is how they are alredy interacting, and it is the way that the whole world is adapting.  It's important to integrate technology or else we may not be preparing our students for the real world. 

So, my personal opinion?  Go for it.  It's a time of experimentation and excitement, and I hope that all teachers will take the time to teach themselves so that they may better reach their students and prepare them for the world.  There is no longer an excuse.  Jump on board the tech wave or get left behind along with your students.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Taking it to the Masses

So, you hear an awful lot about folksonomy and how it could be revolutionary.  But what does this mean?  Well, folksonomy is the act of the general public tagging items with keywords.  It is in a sense a form of cataloging done by the average person.  Tags can be anything.  People can tag items with useful words, or not-so-useful words.  For example, a person may tag Slaughter-house five with "aliens" or "human zoo" which are two fairly useful keywords because these words could apply to other texts as well.  However, it might also be tagged with "so it goes" which is a phrase unique to this text.  People also use tags on blog sites to keep track of ideas presented by bloggers.  Occasionally tags are used even for humorous effect.  An article written today about the new Boeing 787 plane having its first flight was tagged with "aboutdamntime" because the flight had been delayed many times.  Now, this tag is most likely not very useful, but it adds humor.  Sometimes tagging is about the interaction between the patrons and the data.  Folksonomy is social, and creates a stronger connection between the public and a database or catalog/OPAC.  One could even subscribe to a tag.  Say you are a big fan of alien literature.  You could subscribe to an RSS of all books that are tagged with "alien" or "flying saucer" and each time something is tagged with those words you are automatically informed about it through your RSS reader. 

Are libraries really using Folksonomy?  Well, there is a product called Library Thing for Libraries which offers this ability along with a connection to many thousands of book reviews from real patron for almost any library.  Simply add this service to your already existing OPAC and you have social tagging as well as access to all of those reviews (Your own patrons can add reviews as well and people in other libraries using the service will see their review).  This is a really cool service, but there is a problem with my library adapting this technology.

I just can't do it.  I want to.  I just can't.  The problem is with our OPAC.  I, along with many schools use Follett's Destiny.  This allows for a really streamlined experience with ordering books, processing, and our catalog.  We order mostly from Follett, so our records are automatically updated so there is less work on our part.  Also, the software is maintained and updated regularly by the Follett company.  It's really nice software, except that it is a very closed platform.  What is a closed platform?  It means that the databse and software is not set up to allow third party additions to the OPAC.  There are big movements in libraries using open-source OPAC software so that anybody can develop add-ons and whatnot for the OPAC, but that generally means having some very tech savvy librarians employed that can maintain an OPAC on their own.  Since Destiny is a closed platform I am unable to add all of these new cool programs being developed. 

At times I wonder if the convenience offered by Follett is worth the inability to make any changes to the OPAC.  If I want a new feature in the OPAC I write the company and just hope beyond hope that they take my suggestions seriously.  Right now I am trying to convince them to add browser recognition to the OPAC site and a mobile version, so that if someonbe visits our site from an iPhone, iPod touch, or other smart phone that they will be able to see a specially formatted site made for those smaller screens.  Until I start a new library from scratch, I guess I will be sticking with Follet and just keeping my fingers crossed.


Monday, December 14, 2009

bringing it all together

A lot of educators are trying to create an online presence, but it can seem overwhelming.  How many started and then abandoned blogs are there in the world?  How many forgotten Twitter accounts?  It's outrageously difficult to stay on top of all of the various ways one can interact with their students and school community.

As a librarian I feel it is my duty to stay connected with the school community.  The library is a hub of information, and I should do my best to make this hub as accessible as possible.  However, I do not want to constantly update a bajillion things. 

Currently, I am working on a:

1. blog
2. Youtube channel
3. Podcast
4. Library site
5. Twitter account

Now, this may seem overwhelming.  That's because it kind of is.  However, there are ways to turn these different services into a single online ecosystem where each service feeds off of the others--in a good way. 

I'll start with Twitter.  I never directly update my Twitter feed.  It is simply a way to announce updates to any of the other services.  I simply add rss feeds to the twitter account, and each time something gets updated, a tweet gets sent out. 

Next there is the blog.  The blog is a place where I make announcements and maybe post about books and other fun ideas for the students.  Not only does it automatically tweet each time it is updated, but I embedded my blog into the library page so that a full-text rss feed is displayed.  It actually looks like a normal blog, and not an RSS widget. 

Finally, I have my youtube channel, which is really quite magical.  each time I post a new video it is automatically added as a video file to my podcast as well.  On top of that, and RSS feed with the video embedded is connected to my blog, so that each time I post a video on youtube, it shows up on youtube, my podcast, and my blog.  On top of that it is tweeted so that people following me are alerted to the newest activity. 

With this setup, all I ever update is my Youtube channel and my blog.  Everything is connected, so that my patrons can follow what is happening at the library in whatever way they find most enjoyable. 

The goal of a blog

This blog, which was initially started to complete a requirement for a previous class, forgotten, and then reborn for another class has me thinking about what blogs are for, and how they can be used in a class.  You see, there is a word requirement for the entries in the blog aspect of this class.  It is not huge mind you, but I think it detracts from the blogginess of the blog.  A blog is for ideas and thoughts whether they are big or small.  Having a word count has actually stopped me or made me hesitate to post a blog entry on an idea I have.  I think to myself "why write something if it will not count?  Can I fluff up my idea into something longer?"

The problem with these thoughts is thus:  The value of a blog entry should not be measured by the length or even possibly depth of an entry.  What makes a compelling entry (and having a compelling blog is the goal because blogs are all about audience) is something that engages the reader.  Sometimes a simple question is enough to create a conversation in your comments section.  Sometimes a post briefly sharing a recent discovery is enough to make a reader think and check back later.  So a person should never hesitate as to whether or not they should post something if they think it is of value.  And if one were to bloat an entry to meet a word count they might run the risk of turning an engaging idea or question into something boring and unnecessarily long.  Brevity is the friend of both the blogger and the blog reader. 

Maybe there is an answer to how to work with blog requirements in classes.  I'm sure there are some people who are better at periodic longer entries, and I am sure there are some people who would do better with posting more frequently but with shorter entries.  I have new ideas that I like to run by my colleagues every day.  They may not be huge topics, but some people would find them interesting.  Maybe a class could have two models of a blog.  Maybe the requirement has multiple choices.  Maybe you must post ten 500 word entries OR post at least every other day with at least a paragraph in each entry (You don't want tweets).  How does this sound?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Improving your Destiny

OK, so I have had some ideas brewing in my head, and they are all coming out at once.

I decided to update our school's library website because it was crazy ugly, and not very useful. The problem was that we use Destiny for our main page. If you are familiar with Destiny, you will know that the site only allows you to barely edit the home page. You can write html into the introductory paragraph of the home page, and it will be displayed, but everytime I tried something even remotely interesting, Destiny would tell me that it could not display the page.

However, I solved the problem.

Before we go any further I'll show you what the site looked like before and what it looks like now.

Here is a link to our Elementary school library website. This is similar to what our site looked like before:

Here is a link to the updated MS/HS Library page.

To do this I created a frame and told the frame to display a different page. So, in other words, instead of trying to make the page on our Destiny homepage, I just told our Destiny home page to display a website with a different URL inside a window. I just adjusted the window to the proper size, so that it displays just as if it was part of the original Destiny page.

Here is the basic HTML code that you can throw in your own Destiny Home page introductory text:

OK, I just realized that if you post html code in the body of a blogger post it interprets the code and runs it. I will have to figure out how to show you the code without it interpreting the code.
All you would have to do is adjust the height and width to your liking and you are set to go.

I created my new site using iWeb, and published the site on the local school servers, so if you are in America, and the page loads a tad slowly, you know why.

Let me know what you think.

This was my way of getting around the extreme limitations of the Destiny Home Page.


Just a short post so I can share these two tools:

They are both great sites which have the ability to capture video of your computer screen and record your voice through a built in microphone at the same time. I have begun doing screencasts of how to use the various library resources and tools. Both of the websites then allow you to host your video there, as well as host it on youtube, or download the video, so it can be added to a podcast or shared locally.

I have one posted on my youtube channel already. Just visit and check it out.

These are great tools.

Youtube Channel

A class I am taking is making me consider all of the various technologies that I could possibly be using for the library. I have been a big user of podcasts over the last few years, but I have stumbled across some limitations. The greatest limitation is that many people don't know how to use podcasts. I have created online lessons, I have sent out sheets, I have given small lessons, and I have even done full presentations, but many people still refuse to allow it into their classrooms. It is seen as something new (even though it is pretty old at this point) and additional to their workload. This is why i have been experimenting with Youtube. I created a channel ( and have been posting booktalks there in addition to posting them through my podcast, which I do through our school's blackboard account. Even though I host it on Blackboard, it is public and if you search for Doha in the iTunes store, you will find my podcast. The response I have recieved from the youtube channel has been overwhelmingly positive. I have recieved many more views, and it is easier to share the videos with students and parents.

As of right now, I am wondering what the benefit of even keeping the podcast when the Youtube Channel seems so much easier for the teachers, students, and parents. I would just have to create one last podcast telling my loyal subscribers to visit the youtube channel. Should I do this, or should I just keep posting the videos in both places?

Lack of competition a good thing?

It's been a while since I have posted to the blog, and I had not noticed that when blogger stopped working over here for a day or so, it copied a post 4 times. so, ignore the last three posts.

Anyway, I was working on some thoughts for my educational tech class, and my brain happened across this idea which I posted in a discussion board there.

One of the most valuable features of the internet is the fact that new technologies can be implemented and spread so rapidly. Also, it is set up in such a way that a small company can become huge if they develop the proper tool at the right time. However, this quickness in change and development is one of the greatest weaknesses in the design--you always have to learn something new and abandon your old tools to stay up to date. Now that there are a few larger comanies such as Google, we see certain tools being adopted more universally. Not just because the tech is stable, but because since they are already huge, you can be somewhat certain that people from other companies and schools are using the same tech. We can teach Google Docs and other Google apps because it is actually being used in the real world. But as more and more people adopt these tools, the more difficult it will be for new tech and new tools to become popular. It's not just one or two people that have to change or adopt a new technology, it is the whole world at this point. Think of the evolution of social network websites. The first popular one was Friendster. It was usd mostly by college and high school kids. Then people moved to Myspace. The same kind of people used Myspace that used friendster, but it was easier to use and had many more features. But then came Facebook, and there is now almost universal adoption of this technology/website. Each social network improved on the last, but there was not a huge adoption of the tech until Facebook came. Now, can you imagine how hard it would be for a new social network to become as popular. I can't think of a new social network replacing Facebook. Facebook will just have to change and adapt over time. It's become its own upgradeable platform. The only thing I see overthrowing it would be a new kind of technology that replaces social networks entirely.

Now, as Google Apps and Google docs become more widely used, the more difficult it will be for a new competing website or tool to become popular. There is less and less competition, and in ways that is bad for technology and its advancement as a whole, but it is kind of good for schools that need stable tools that they can count on being used for more than 2 years.

What do you think? Is a lack of competition actually a good thing for schools? Is it good in the short term, but bad in the long term future?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Swine Flu!

Here is a great opportunity:

All of the schools in Qatar, including The American School of Doha where I work, have been closed for a minimum of one week because of the swine flu. Other nations in the area such as Bahrain have closed all schools until November. There is no certainty when we will start up again.

So, this means our school has become a great experiment in integrating technology. We have our own Blackboard system. Teachers are required normally to always post homework and other such announcements on the site, and students are required to check it regularly. This is occuring when school is going on normally. The real reason for having the system is for this type of emergency. As we are in an area of the world prone to war and other such emergencies our school needs a backup so we can continue teaching while our students are at home. We are now officially a pre-k through 12th grade school that is entirely online until we are allowed to reopen our schools. Our teachers and faculty are the most professional educators I have known, so it will be interesting to see how well they work in an exclusively online environment. Many of us did not know that students were at home until this morning when we arrived for work, so there is a ton of work that is being done to set up full instruction through Blackboard. I am instructing many people on how to best use podcasts, some other teachers are teaching others about Google Docs and various teachers are offering instruction in whatever technology they happen to be proficient in. It's all incredibly inconvenient, but exciting at the same time. There will be a lot of fun experimentation this week.

What is my job now that the facility where I work is no longer available for students to use? Where should I be focusing my efforts?

Please comment below to help me answer this question.

I'm going to post regularly this week on this topic so that I have a place where my experiences and thoughts are recorded. This is not a common situation, so I sould take advantage of it.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

simply a label

Robeert Bain, in the 5th chapter of Meaningful Learning Using Technology discusses the problem with big professional development terms such as "deep understanding" and meaningful Learning." He says that "These ideas run the risk of becoming mere expressions that stand for much, but provide little substance for the practitioners who must figure out how to achieve such lofty goals. Ironically, schools might be adopting "meaningful understanding" and "deep understanding" without engaging in the substantive conversations and investigations that promote deep meaning and understanding about these ideas themselves."

I have sen this happen in multiple schools. But I don't think this concept ends just with ideas and catchy terms. Schools might say that their students participate in meaningful learning without all of the teachers having a shared understanding of what meaningful learning is. In the same way, schools almost all claim they are regularly incorporating technology in to the classroom. But what does this mean? In my first school where I taught it seriously meant using power points to teach the students. That is all the admin was looking for in the way of tech integration. But what does it mean in different schools and what does it mean to different teachers in a single school?

As my school seems to be moving in the direction of a one-to-one laptop situation I ask myself what does each teacher think about tech integration. Some see simple powerpoints as engaging projects while others see classes creating podcasts as something worthwhile. Should all work be done on a cloud computing service like Google docs? Should the school have a shared platform like Blackboard that all teachers use? Is Blackboard effective enough to do everything? The questions could go on forever, and schools have to ask themselves these kinds of questions every few months. If they fail to do this, they will be teaching their students using methods that are no longer applicable to the use of technology in the real world. Not only do they have to evaluate where they stand on what technology to use and how to use it, but they must be communicating this information to all teachers and observing that all teachers are following the current and best agreed-upon practices. Yikes.

It's easy for a school to throw a sticker on their curriculum that says "with integrated technology"
but it is hard to make sure that it is more than just a label which means nothing.

Alexander, E., & Floden, R. (2006). Meaningful Learning Using Technology. New York: Teachers College Press.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Why not Orkut?

A question for everybody out there. Is it strange that everybody is pushing for the use of Google apps such as Docs and Sites in the workplace and in school (Both where I work and go to school are asking me to use it) but to bind us socially online everybody chooses Facebook? If we are using all of these Google products wouldn't it make sense to use Orkut (Google's social networking site) which probably has better integration of these other Google apps? It feels like I am forced to live in two online neighborhoods.

Does anybody out there have exprience with Orkut? Is it badly designed, or was it just too late to the social networking party and lost early battles to Facebook? Will Orkut become the next big thing turning Facebook into the next Myspace or (gasp) Friendster?

I think I will experiment with Orkut and post my findings back here. Let me know any thoughts you have about Facebook vs. Orkut in the comments of this blog entry.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

It's alive!

Ok, it has been for too long since this has been updated. Let's bring this thing back to life!