Our 21st Century Destiny

Maybe you have to be a librarian to get excited about the Library management system but I hope not! Especially when it comes to the Destiny Quest feature of Follett’s LMS that we  launched a couple of weeks ago at school. It’s so slick and user-friendly that I’m hoping the whole school will be kicking into high gear over it.

What does Destiny Quest do?

Well it will took our catalogue from this:

Regular Destiny page at log-in

To this!

 Destiny Quest Homepage

Destiny Quest Homepage

This is a little pet project I had at the end of last year that was on a back burner until our IT team had time to upgrade the system (sadly we were behind about 5 versions).

So now searching looks more appealing and much easier to read. But wait there’s more! You can also:

  • customize the look of your page
  • write reviews
  • friend people and recommend books/websites
  • place holds on books
  • check your overdues
  • make wishlists
  • make resource lists
  • check your reading history
  • see what’s new to the library collection

And to really pull the library into the 21st Century ….

  • a smart phone app that connects to your library (go to iTunes store or Android Marketplace)
  • an iPad app that connects to your library.

Our school is beginning a one-to-one iPad program next year (incoming Year 7s); this wonderful Library Management System will mean that we remain front and centre – students will be required to install the library app as part of their suite of apps and we’ll be showing them how to use it as part of their Library orientation.

What more can I say except …
SQUEEEE!

 

FYI: on Growing Personal Learning Environments

Photo courtesy Balanced Crafts on Flickr

The latest issue of FYI recently arrived in the post.  Yay! FYI is the quarterly journal of SLAV (School Library Association of Victoria). This is the issue that focussed on Learning Communities and featured the article I wrote last year about Personal Learning Environments for students. We concentrated on Year 9’s last year as part of their Pathways and Careers program but the groups delegated to me were so large (75-90 students) it was difficult to assist everyone properly and caused some lag issues with the site and our internet system at school.

I’ll be focussing this year on helping the Learning Enhancement students set up their PLEs. I think teaching one class at a time will mean that I can give much better support. PLE’s are really a two-part job: 1) Get the site set up; 2) develop the learning environment. Nothing new there – its alway learn the tool then use the tool.

Here’s the article below for those who can’t access the journal —

Growing Personal Learning Environments

At the end of 2010, I reached a cherished goal; the completion of my Masters degree in Teacher Librarianship. In 2011, I changed schools and what a change it was! After 10 years, I moved from a very small, independent primary school to a 1200+ government secondary college – all part of a plan to stretch my professional wings.

Sound scary?

It could have been but it wasn’t really. That’s because I didn’t do it alone; I had my ‘net’ with me. Or should I say my Personal Learning Network. The resources (human and literature-based) I’d been cultivating to support my learning helped me to swiftly engage with my new school community. As I found myself drawing on my PLN to help me in my new role, it set me to wondering about the students’ networks. How well do they use theirs? Are they even aware they have one? What can I do to help them make better use of their learning community and grow their learning networks? One day (via a blog I subscribe to) I came across a video of a Year 7 student in America demonstrating how her PLE works. After researching to learn more, I knew I’d found an avenue.

What is a PLE?

We all have favourite tools, websites, and people we trust to help us learn. We may access videos and podcasts as we carry out research; write blogs or reply to posts as we get involved in pursuing our passions. But bookmarking everything can become unruly and jumping from Facebook to forums to keep up with topics and groups can result in ‘info-whelm’. A Personal Learning Environment or PLE is a way for students to grow, curate and organize their learning. PLEs are online environments; they are individualised, learner-created and learner-directed. The platforms most widely used to create PLEs are social dashboard sites such as iGoogle, Netvibes and Symbaloo.

How are we using PLEs?

After reading more about PLEs, I evaluated a few dashboard sites. I chose Netvibes based on user-friendliness, visual appeal, physical layout, flexibility of features, and the fact that it has an active help forum. When I approached our Head of Library about introducing PLEs to students, I’d already set up a sample PLE to demonstrate (http://www.netvibes.com/bottomdrawer/). She saw the value in it and took the idea to the school administration. The idea was approved and time provided in the schedule to introduce PLEs to the students and teachers. We originally envisaged working with students at the end of Year 10 so they would have a PLE for their VCE studies, but the school’s Pathways & Transitions team became interested in the project. We now introduce PLEs to the Year 9’s at the end of Term 4 and help them incorporate their Pathways Planning into the PLE as well as their regular learning areas and subjects. We built a Wikispaces site (http://vsc-ple.wikispaces.com/) to introduce learners to the concept and purpose of a PLE and to guide them through the set-up process on Netvibes. We were given a session with each of the Year 9 groups so students had time to work through the wiki, ask questions and receive guidance from the TLs. Teachers contributed website suggestions for different subjects to get the PLEs started and we demonstrated RSS feeds and Twitter #topic searches during the session. We encouraged teachers to set up Netvibe sites too so students could follow them (as well as each other) in order to connect, collaborate and share resources. We are looking forward to evaluating the success of the PLEs at the end of the year with a short user survey.

What are the benefits?

A PLE is not an assignment or something teachers need to check up on or assess. A PLE is a way of putting control, choice and responsibility back into the hands of the learner, helping them to become more independent. PLEs are set up according to each student’s learning needs, styles and preferences. The social aspect of PLEs can offer a way to create and/or strengthen connections within the school community. They offer a consistent connection to resources from home, from school and via mobile access. They encourage collaboration and sharing of resources as well as reaching out to the wider community with possibilities such as Twitter and Skype. Research is also suggesting that such learning environments encourage the integration of formal and informal learning (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009). This in turn promotes a positive attitude toward learning and develops lifelong skills.

Conclusion

I am excited with this new opportunity to support our learning community, but I’ve tried to imagine the pitfalls too. A student might set a PLE up then choose not to use it. However, they will have increased their awareness of new resources and possibilities available to help them learn in the future. I can also imagine students adding sites to their PLE that are not relevant to their studies: games, chat and other distractions. Filters will block most of them at school but stepping back, these are study skills topics ripe for discussion: myths of multi-tasking, effective time management strategies and goal setting. Problems can be opportunities! The giving and getting of support for everyone is the essence of learning communities. Demands on students and teachers are increasing so we all end up time-poor and overwhelmed by information possibilities. A PLE can offer students a Web 2.0 way to control and organize their learning lives just like they do their social lives. It can help build skills, connections and habits that will last a life-time. Win-win!

Reference Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2009). 21st Century learning environments. Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/tools-and-resources/publications/600

Get eSmart-vsc — 2011 in Review

One of the projects I initiated and worked on for the year was our school’s digital citizenship website. At the end of the year WordPress sent out a very neat stats review presented in a very user-friendly way. You can see the report by clicking on the image above or the link:     http://getesmart-vsc.com/2011/annual-report/

It was not only fun to watch and informative but got me thinking about ways to improve the readership in 2012.

During Term 4, I worked out that we could insert an RSS feed into the school’s Moodle site that would run in the sidebar and have clickable links to the posts. That made it more visible to the in-school community, but as we tweaked the feed on the Moodle site just before holidays I have yet to see if it will boost readership.

Our subscription rate is low and that is what I really hope to boost. Not only is the rate low but half of the subscribers are from outside the school community. So next year I plan to:

  • post a bulletin on our school eWorkspace each time a new post comes out, using a one sentence hook or question as well as inviting people to subscribe to it.
  • have the library team introduce the site to all the new year 7 groups and encourage them to subscribe during their orientation.
  • email the H of D’s and Principals each time a post comes out inviting them to read it and subscribe. They had been invited to subscribe last year but none took up the invite. Advertise, advertise!
  • use more tagging of keywords in my blog posts for better search results. I’ve been slack about doing this.
  • share the posts out to my PLN to increase interest in that area too.

Gee, these almost look like New Years resolutions, but we won’t call them that, we’ll call them goals.

 

 

 

Diving into Digital Fiction: The Year 8’s Try it On

As stated previously, thank goodness for school breaks, what would educational bloggers do without them?

Photo courtesy: t-dot-s-dot Flickr cc

After all my digital fiction groundwork, a couple of meetings with the collaborating teacher (Leanne) and a few emails, we introduced her Year 8 English students to digital fiction midway through Term 4. We decided to approach it from an exploration perspective rather than an in-depth assignment. I was especially glad we had when the intro session discussion revealed that almost none of them were even aware digital fiction existed (we thought this might be the case).  Two of the students read manga online and one student had heard of fan fiction. None of them had used an e-reader although many were aware of Kindles (none had seen one). They all knew you could ‘read books on an iPad’ but none had tried this.  I should also mention the level of interest in reading was average or below average for this group; this was one of the reasons the teacher initially approached me.

After a brief discussion about what they already knew, I showed them several examples on the IWB (interactive white board) and talked briefly about the differences and about the idea of linear and non-linear stories. The teacher allowed them to explore the different types of online fiction and the stories on offer for the rest of the session. During the second session they were to decide on one to read and review. Because the students would have only two weeks to do this, if a longer piece of fiction was chosen the student was only required to review the equivalent of one chapter (to be negotiated with the teacher).

The literature review questions posed to the students covered:

  • their thoughts on what digital fiction is and how it differs from traditional novels
  • title, brief summary and the other titles they looked at before settling on the one they reviewed
  • discussion of the digital/interactive techniques used by the author, why they may have been chosen and the effect on the story (eg. distraction, add-on, enhancement, essential).
  • students overall opinion of their chosen type of digital/interactive/online fiction and some discussion on their preference between it and traditional novels.
Results were interesting. The teacher reported that interest and engagement were high. Students’ responses confirmed  our perception of increased level of engagement; Leane thought the written opinions were more detailed than usual. Most students chose to review Inanimate Alice and Choose Your Own Adventure stories. Was this perhaps because they were the most familiar forms? We should include a question next time about why they chose the stories they did. We should also include some exploration questions about the author to help students better understand their motives for using certain devices and techniques in their works. The biggest surprise? Many of the students expressed a preference for the traditional delivery of a story via a book over the the digital method.
The good news was that word spread amongst the teachers about using the digital fiction. I also collaborated  to introduce this with one of the Year 9 classes. We modified some of the questions and the teacher reported high levels of engagement for this class too. I did not get to debrief with the teacher but she was keen to do this again next year. I look forward to further developing this look at new forms of fiction in 2012.

Diving into Digital Fiction: Book Camp pt. 2

Is there such a word as ‘backblog’? If there is I have a serious case of it. If there isn’t such a word, I claim it as my own.

This photo courtesy: kodomut via Flickr cc licence

Last post I started to unpack the many discussions that took place at BookCamp during the Melbourne Writers Festival. I was eager to attend BookCamp to hear Kate Pullinger talk about her journey as an author with digital (in particular, transmedia) fiction. I was not disappointed!

The topic under discussion for the session she led was:

Why do we read? What do the new technologies offer to stories?

We first tackled the question of why we read fiction.

  • to escape, to relax, for enjoyment
  • to discover (empathy, other ways of thinking)
  • to inform

Included in this was discussion on what we want as a reader from the experience.

  • good writing
  • a good story
  • experience of being taken away – a connection to the writing

We then turned to the big question. What does that mean in terms of digital transformation? We identified books as a form of content management/delivery. Their advantage is one of minimal technology – no computer, no electricity, no downloading etc.. One still has to learn how to use them.

What happens when you take the content beyond the book? How do you retain that ideal reading experience?

Kate gave us a walk-through of a chapter of her transmedia fiction, “Inanimate Alice“. She spoke of how the work took on a life of its own (unanticipated) in terms of pedagogy/education. Schools were using it as a gateway into digital literacy and multimedia. Fanfiction popped up then started flooding in. We watched an example of some authored by year 5’s at a local school.  Kate spoke of some of the decisions she made while writing IA that addressed the ‘why we read’ issues.

  • the story is told in first person narrative – for engagement purposes
  • no representation of faces in the illustration side of the work – they trialled that and the reader response was not as good. Readers wanted to imagine Alice for themselves.

We moved to discussing the evolution of story-telling. Stories in the 19th Century depended heavily on detail. Kate had a quote (must find out whose!) about literature from that time containing “a continual rain of detail’. With the advent of cinema there was a move toward economy of detail and a stronger emphasis on action/plot. Digital fiction removes the detail further by supplying the visual in a fashion not disimilar to picture books. Text and visual still need to work together. Visual literacy is necessary to understand the story.

We went on to explore the relationship between interactive/digital fiction and gaming. What gaming can bring to story-telling is the notion of play. Kate’s research found there is a divide between those who want to be told/given a story and those who want to have control and make choices over the story. Kate spoke of how they(creative team) worked hard on the design of Inanimate Alice so movem nt into more interactivity occurred pleasantly and inobrusively. They were aware of the importance of enhancement but not at the expense of the story.

The dicussion turned to the question of whether some genres or types of stories leant themselves to digitial/interactive story-telling better than others. The biggest barrier at this point it was agreed was the screen experience. As screen technology improves more people will be willing to experience stories from them.