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Leaders in technology: role of teacher librarians

In May 2004, Jamie McKenzie delivered an all-day workshop on leadership at the new Centre for Teaching and Learning in Canberra. He has been involved with teaching and technology for several years.

Teacher librarians have a global perspective of their school. The principal and the deputy principal also have this global perspective. The teacher librarian resources the whole school and has an overview of the whole school curriculum. The teacher librarian also has the potential to liaise with every student and every staff member in the school.

At the workshop, Jamie McKenzie discussed how the 'change agent' has now been discredited as the 'churn-and-turn agent'. The change agent turns everything upside down and leaves no benefit for anyone. Constant change only throws people off balance. Therefore, school leaders (such as teacher librarians) need to develop key elements of planning that pay attention to the total, or true, cost of ownership.

After visiting schools in several countries, Jamie McKenzie has come to the conclusion that the rhetoric about change and the introduction of technology into schools does not match the reality. He states that technology alone is not enough. Many times he has seen classrooms with the latest equipment, the latest technology, and no-one using it. What has happened? Why doesn't the rhetoric match the reality in the classroom? He estimates that 20 per cent of educators (the early adopters) have led the change in their teaching practices but 80 per cent (late adopters) of educators have not changed.

PD and technical support

Leaders must introduce a plan to develop the technology skills of the late adopters who have not taken up the new technology. The crucial elements missing, according to Jamie McKenzie, are professional development (PD) and technical support. Schools have spent huge amounts of money acquiring the latest technology, but they have not invested in teaching the teachers how to incorporate this new technology into their daily teaching practice. Nor have they delivered on the technical support to ensure that teachers can teach. A five-year plan is recommended and 25 per cent of the educational budget needs to be spent on PD. The purpose of PD is to teach teachers how to incorporate the new learning technologies and to teach students how to learn with the new technology.

The first wave of PD has been developed by the early adopters. This does not work for the late adopters. To have any meaning and impact, the PD for the late adopters must be devised by the late adopters. It must be part of the five-year plan. It must also acknowledge the fact that teachers use a variety of techniques to teach. Teachers need to lecture, have group discussions, use pen and paper: technology alone will not deliver the desired outcome of a 'critical thinker'. Jamie McKenzie asks, 'Why are students given pen and paper to complete an external exam when their daily tool has been a laptop? If you were their teacher, which technology would you use?'

Knowing how to think

When adapting learning technologies, Jamie McKenzie believes that a balance needs to be found between the new and the old. Smart users of the new technologies know when to go unplugged. The sum of teaching today is knowing how to think, how to ask questions, and learning how to deal with difficult truths. Today we suffer from the poverty of abundance: 'Hits' are not the truth.

How [do we] teach students to cope with infoglut, info-glitz, and info-garbage? We live in a world where there is more information and less meaning. We need to move beyond the level of thinking Jamie McKenzie refers to as 'mental softness'.

Prime indicators of mental softness are:

  • the fondness for cliches
  • a reliance upon maxims
  • an appetite for bromides
  • a preference for platitudes
  • a vulnerability to propaganda
  • fascination for the story
  • pulp fiction
  • hunger for vivid and dramatic packaging
  • and an impatience with thorough and dispassionate analysis.

Jamie McKenzie points out that information delivered as 'first hits' on the Internet is there often because money has been paid to put it up as first hits. How can students find the truth when people pay for the hits?
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Students as serial questioners

Students need to move past the ritual of 'gathering and slabbing' to higher levels of thinking. Jamie McKenzie asserts that the new plagiarism or 'slabbing' can be addressed by involving the students when developing rubrics and by developing students into 'serial questioners'.

The serial questioner possesses the following attributes:

  • a sharp humour
  • a vivid imagination
  • an edgy wit
  • cussedness
  • is relentless
  • has curiosity
  • is indefatigable
  • is persistent
  • has a dogged determination
  • has a thirst for the missing
  • is open minded
  • is positively sceptic
  • and has humility.

How does a student acquire these skills? The role of the teacher librarian has, for too long, been underestimated in the development of questioning skills. Teacher librarians teach students to ask questions. Teacher librarians make a difference. The difference means that students develop critical information literacy skills.

For more information about Jamie McKenzie and his work, visit his website http://www.fno.org

Michele McLoughlin
Executive Teacher Library/Information
Technology/SOSE
Telopea Park School, ACT

This article was first published in Access, September 2004. Reprinted with permission of author and Australian School Library Association (ASLA).