Sunday, March 2, 2008

virtual libraries

I’ve worked with half a dozen or so student teachers throughout my teaching career. During the final week of their time with me, I always offered them the option of visiting other classes – as many as possible – to observe and “steal” best practises ideas about classroom management, bulletin board/art ideas, lesson delivery, etc. They had a chance to see both what they would and would not want to incorporate into their teaching platforms. The student teachers always appreciated what would likely be their only opportunity to go “shopping” for a pedagogical war chest in this manner; we more than once fantasized about a university class that would require you to roam from school to school, in city after town, harvesting ideas and cataloguing expertise. Of course, the cost of all this travel would be prohibitive……

….unless you were required to do this from the comfort of your own home, using your personal computer….for EDES 545! Exploring virtual school libraries and the qualities of great virtual school libraries is a nice obligation to undertake. It was kind of like a demonstration of Glazer and Page’s collaborative apprenticeship – without notifying the mentors!

I began compiling a list of great virtual library qualities by peeking into the virtual libraries listed on our EDES 545 Weblinks.

From the M.E.LaZerte High School Library, I liked:
Internet research links to resources
Online databases/ search tools and strategies
Citing sources advice
Links to the Public Library and the U of A – providing extensions for the present and planting seeds for the future
Diploma Exam/Learn Alberta links – good opportunities for extending learning and test preparation
I found the layout of the site unappealing and thought the “study skills” portion may not be too popular with the students, although I like the homework help I found in there. I liked the tutorial on word play and jotted down examples of chiasmus: parallel pieces of writing with word, letter or phrase reversal, like “It’s not the men in my life, it’s the life in my men” or “A magician pulls rabbits out of hats; an experimental psychologist pulls habits out of rats” or “Lust is what makes you want to keep wanting to do it even when you have no desire to be with each other. Love is what makes you want to be with each other even though you have no desire to do it.” But when I returned to the site to link the homework tutorials, I couldn’t find them…..frustrating.

From the Prince of Wales VL, I liked:
The updates – keeps the VL current, in agreement with Minkel’s “cat box” rule: changing some things regularly keeps them fresh
Subject categories – this could speed up searches for specific information
Young Canada Reader’s Choice Awards listed – celebrating our heritage is a good way to instill pride and citizenship; parents would appreciate it when gift shopping, too
New Fiction booklist – generates continued interest in the library

From the fabulous Springfield Township High School VL:
The tour option – made a good overview
Appealing graphics (I noticed the artist shared Valenza’s last name – it had to be her daughter)
Information about the staff, including a photo – this put a human touch on the VL
Upcoming wikis and their potential for collaboration
Information on copyright – a good reminder about ethical work
Online lessons – keeps parents, absent students, beginning teachers, etc. in the loop; cool platform/review for evaluations, encourages teacher sharing and collaboration
General information – hours of operation, contact info including email, fax, phone, physical address
Statement of library policies

From Latimer Road VL
The EDES 545 link! It was nice to see the collaboration extending across different school terms!
The silent reading pass idea – what a great way to add prestige to reading – by making it a special reward
Teacher friendly edublogs, including 10 ways to use blogs with your students – great!
Study skills – How to smarter than a fifth grader is a great title

From Birch Lane Elementary School VL
Student reviews – builds clientele “buy in” – for students and parents
Magazine rack – extends audience appeal, adds contemporary touch

From Belmont VL
Clear, concise, uncluttered format
Current events – great way for cross-curricular discussion, great application to the “real world”
Site Map – gave a great overview

From Highlands School VL
Parent page – good PR
School information page – including student handbooks: saving the environment and streamlining the delivery of information at the same time
Tips on writing and creating good presentations

From Catskill Elementary VL
Online newspapers
Yahooligans link

From my own imagination, I’d add:
A wish list for the library
A celebrations section – showcasing support given to the library
FAQ’s with “help” features or an email avenue for questions
Of course, the VL must be tailored appropriately to suit the needs of its clientele, it must be organized in a clear manner and easy to navigate, it should be appealing visually and the quality of writing within it should be high.

Fusing all the bulleted ingredients together would make, in my opinion, a wonderful VL.

Using a virtual library has many advantages:
- the material that is “borrowed” virtually cannot be overdue
- materials cannot acquire torn pages or coffee stains or be transported through a dog’s intestinal tract
- it’s the poster child for portability – it can be taken anywhere a laptop can travel
- it can accommodate multiple users simultaneously
- it can increase access to material as it’s open 24/7

My VL investigation led me to digital libraries, which store materials in digital formats and showcased even more advantages of “hooked-up, tuned-in” on-line library connections. As a case in point, the World Digital Library afforded accessibility to rare collections – ones that you might never get to see otherwise. Examples? You can view original handwritten lyrics for the Beatles “Yesterday”, you can pour over old maps written in Latin, you can turn the pages of a book about ancient Egyptian treasures….. You can “interact” with books as well – rotate them, move them around, turn pages, magnify, translate text, listen and contribute to comments….incredible stuff. Advantages? In addition to universal accessibility of its collection, this library promotes international/inter-cultural awareness and understanding, provides resources to educators, expands the amount of non-English and non-Western material on the internet, and will do this all free of charge. Exact copies of materials can be made any number of times without loss of quality. Money is saved on storage space, book upkeep,and staff ,but the process of converting print to digital format and for the tech skills to maintain them and to maintain online access [for example, the material in a digital library must be “migrated” every few years to the latest digital media] can be pricey itself….. And, many who could – and should – benefit most from the global reach of the World Digital Library lack the infrastructure to access it – it’s hard to use such a wonderful resource if you don’t have a computer or a socket to plug it into.

Another great digital library I stumbled upon was the Perseus Project, which focuses on materials from ancient Greece. With the Olympics coming up, I’d use this site to springboard Olympic historical research, to create some “information gladiators”. There were some wonderful stories, including one about Milo, an Olympian who was so strong he reputedly challenged all comers to take away a pomegranate he held in his hand. Even though he held the pomegranate so tightly that no one could get it from him, the pomegranate was never damaged. (This would be a good segue to or from the story of Persephone and Demeter and how they- and pomegranate seeds - are connected to the seasons. I read the myth to my class every fall and we follow up with discussion, sampling pomegranates, and student-written retellings of the story.)

We also read and discuss a child’s version of Hercules, then follow up by writing the 12 labours of ___________(a modern day “hero”) – for example, the 12 labours of Ted the Baker. Project Perseus has great information both for Hercules’ biography and for his labours – wonderful resources for student research. A caution about the information on the site – because it has pictures from ancient Greece, some of the drawings of people are featured in full glory nudity. Some parents may object; some students may sensationalize it or become goofy. Teachers will have to use discretion and set an age-appropriate, educated tone for the class. Doug Johnson writes that he tries to remember and apply the Latin phrase “Ex abusu non arguitur in usum”, translated as “The abuse of a thing is no argument against its use.” Johnson advises anticipating the problem, then using the technology anyway. I concur.

I concur as well with Valenza’s statement that today’s libraries should have 2 front doors and that one of them should be virtual. The construction of great virtual libraries can facilitate great teaching…..and great learning opportunities.


Arlene said...

Hi Linda,
Your section on the World Digital Library reminded me of something else I found that sounds similar. The International Children's Digital Library scans books from different languages and reading levels and puts them online, with permission of course. They use child friendly search strategies - like cover color, animals or people, short or long...

I read the first bit of a description of how they got set up in Mongolia It was interesting to read since I have travelled there. The round tents that they live in, called a ger (pronounced gear) or a yurt, can be very remote yet have a generator for a TV! Because Mongolia was under communist rule until 1989, they have very few physical books. Any books that they can put online assist in developing the literacy skills of the children. Perhaps one day the gers will have a simple laptop (is that an oxymoron?) from which they can view and read books online from the ICDL!

I see the ICDL also being helpful in reaching our students who are new to Canada who are English Language Learners. They can continue to read books in their first language while learning a new language.


Katie said...

This is a bit off topic, but what a good idea to allow (and encourage) your student-teachers to go to other classrooms. I had a great co-op teacher when I was interning, but I would have liked the opportunity to go and visit other classrooms in action.
I think that even "grown-up" teachers should have the opportunity to do this from time to time. What a great way to collaborate and have PD at the same time!

Linda Morgan said...

I agree that classroom visitations are a great PD our division, we're allowed to do this once a year. I'd love to take a whole semester off to do it, though!


Val said...

Linda: You are a great sponsor teacher, giving student teachers the opportunity to explore. I remember one prof. telling us to beg, borrow and steal all great ideas when subbing, so that when we set up our own classroom we would have ideas of what we liked and what we didn't. We too get one day a year to mentor another teacher. I chose a veteran TL who graduated from U of A TL program with her Masters a few years ago. It was a great learning day and now keep in touch regularily.

Great analysis of virtual libraries. Thanks for the links to Latimer RD and Birch Lane VL's. I like the reading pass idea as well.

Cheers Val

PS I love your comments on others blogs and in our discussion. Your thougths are so insightful, often funny and very informative. I always look forward to hearing from you.

Jennifer said...

I love the list that you gathered. If you are interested (and have the time), I think this would make a really good article for Teacher-Librarian Today. Nothing fancy but very practical and just a couple of pages of what things you loved and why and links. This would be so useful.

Also we are doing a VSL workshop for GERSLC coming up in April and it would be great if you could come and share what you found with others.

If you agree, can you email me, and I will put you in touch with Jill Usher and Lois Barranoik who organize these things.

Jennifer said...

Another option is to do a meeting by VC, do you have access to video conferencing in Jasper? I know that Suzanna Wong has access in Hinton and wonder if you could join us by VC. We have several schools and also the University where we can meet and do a meeting like that.