SCISConnections

Building a vibrant future for school library conversations

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'School libraries and teacher librarians can lead learning in today's interactive knowledge environments.'

A bold statement like this is easier to make than to put into action, so understanding the changing fabric of our learning environments is key to success.

The longitudinal research study of emerging technologies in K-12 education, The Horizon Report K-12 (Johnson et al, 2012) issued annually since 2009, has been charting ongoing technology changes and highlighting the impacts and evolving needs in the teaching, learning, and creative inquiry practices in education.

The evidence is that technologies and social media platforms are driving an unprecedented reorganisation of the learning environment in and beyond schools. These disruptive shifts are already reshaping the workforce landscape and the skills required (Davies et al, 2011), establishing lifelong and life-wide learning as the central paradigm for the future (Redecker et al, p.10).

Teacher librarians know only too well that to lead learning in these evolving environments is a leadership challenge that is both exciting and challenging, and encompasses many aspects of literacy, technology and professional development in collaboration with students and teachers. While some organisations continue to provide direction and support for school libraries and teacher librarians, the reality 'on the ground' is that teacher librarians in schools, often working as the sole information practitioner, are faced with many challenges in this changing media landscape.

It is because of this that it is important to support teacher librarians and school library staff in an ongoing professional conversation through a multiplicity of channels to support them in adapting to the digitally enhanced needs of their students. Teacher librarians need to help provide the divergence and convergence in media needed to provide the materials for motivation, differentiation, collaboration and connections essential for learning in today’s rich literacy and information literacy connected world.

This is why using digital mediums to connect, communicate and collaborate is an important means for teacher librarians to build collegiality beyond academic and professional development programs, professional networks and personal learning connections.

The Horizon Report regularly directs attention to both information use and learning and highlights the fact that 21st century technologies are unlikely to be empowering unless they are in the hands of an informed learner, led by an informed teacher.

This is the key - teacher librarians need to be visionary by taking the opportunity to make use of emerging devices, tools, media and virtual environments, as they offer opportunities for creating new types of learning communities for students and teachers in their schools.

The Australian Teacher Librarian Network (OZTL_NET) just might be a good way to help in this endeavour.

From listserv to social media

The School of Information Studies (www.csu.edu.au/faculty/educat/sis/) at Charles Sturt University (CSU) is a national and international provider in the design and delivery of a comprehensive suite of courses in library and information studies. We face many challenges, and among these the latest one has been to respond to new media environments by expanding the scope of our services to the vitally important information professionals we know as teacher librarians.

Teacher librarians represent an important sector in library and information education. Alongside its degree program for teacher librarians (www.csu.edu.au/courses/postgraduate/teacher_librarianship_education/course-overview), CSU has also been supporting the OZTL_NET listserv as a professional service to the school library sector. Now we also recognise the growing importance of utilising web-based and mobile-device-enabled tools for communication, interaction and information dissemination through text, images or sound. So it really was time to rework and expand the potential of OZTL_NET.

OZTL_NET was originally created as a discussion list for information professionals working in Australian schools, by the teacher librarianship academic staff at CSU. Since then it has grown to a community of more than 3,000 teacher librarians, information professionals, and those working or interested in school libraries.

This email-based service, run as a listserv using Mailman (www.gnu.org/software/mailman/index.html), though quite old in the style of service it represents, is still very much a current and useful tool for many, and sometimes a lifesaver in getting quick assistance with a problem.

This email service needed to stay for now – albeit at a new URL, and with some improved functionality. Included in the improvements has been the ability for all mail messages, including those in digest form (a way of receiving all the emails in one bundle), to be read via mobile devices such as the iPhone or iPad. This is a very handy improvement. To have this benefit, be sure to choose the plain text option to subscribe to the email service. The alternative ‘mime’ subscription takes advantage of all the html functionality, but changes the display options on mobile devices for the digest form.

In addition, we have added new html functionality and hidden scripts to make it possible for subscribers to use an email account that automatically adds an image in the signature file (eg school logo). Not only does this allow the service to better meet subscriber needs, but also removes the need for a voluntary administrator to have to make contact with a subscriber to remind them of the limitations imposed by the mailman software.

An added service is the option to subscribe to the updates via RSS, Really Simple Syndication. Visit the home page at http://oztlnet.com and use the RSS icon or add http://oztlnet.com/archives/feed to your favourite News Reader.

Another interesting feature is the use of tags at http://oztlnet.com/archives/. These tags are auto-generated and come from the subject line at the body of the text. It will be interesting to watch how these develop in the coming months. Well-chosen words in the subject line will always be of importance in a search of the archives at a later date.

Time for social networking to hit the scene!

But the obvious thing to do was to evolve the potential of this very stable discussion list in a number of social media ways. By casting a wide net into new areas of collaboration OZTL_NET wanted to ensure that a cross-section of information professionals in schools could be supported in their own learning journey, and through their own personal learning networks. Social media is a perfect way to allow synergy in discussion and sharing of resources. Social media also provides a strong platform for showcasing the conversation, activities and achievements in the day-to-day activities of a school library.

By developing a new OZTL_NET portal, CSU sought to establish a platform that could change, evolve and adapt to needs and social media developments.

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OZTL's new portal

So, Australian teacher librarians have a few new choices to suit their personal needs in addition to the regular email discussion list.

Here is what is currently on offer:

  • Share a link on the email discussion list (listserv) and take the option to store it for easy retrieval any time in the Diigo group! Anyone is free to join, but a contributor is approved at their first share.
  • Share library images in Flickr, because we need to collect the ideas from around Australia.
  • ‘Like’ us on Facebook and include us in your News Feed. Share things you find, and get into the conversation.
  • Perhaps 140 characters on Twitter will be just the thing for you: follow @OZTL_NET on Twitter and use the hashtag #oztlnet as just another way to stay in touch and build the TL community.

To make all this possible, and still provide access to the vital information for the OZTL_NET listserv, find our fantastic new web portal at http://oztlnet.com, where all the links to the social media sites, as well as access to the email discussion list, are provided.

The next step is for the school library community to jump in and begin to realise the power of the social media tools at their disposal for increasing the information flow between us all at a national level. Don't just share with people in your suburb, state or sector.

Share with us all!

It is early days yet, as the new services were launched only in September 2012. Many teacher librarians have yet to learn how to work with social media, and manage information flow and issues of privacy. Now there is a safe option to delve into these tools.

A good example of the decisions made to support the connection and privacy needs of all is in the specific choice of a Facebook page located at www.facebook.com/OztlNet. 'Liking' a Facebook page allows that information to go into a member's personal news stream, avoids the need to visit the Facebook page, and makes it possible for a person to 'share' a link or other information right back to the page at any time. The Facebook page is then a public showcase of who we are and what we stand for, without impinging on any Facebook member's personal profile! More information on Facebook is available at http://facebookforeducators.org.

Social media is here to stay and underpins 21st century learning environments. When the time is right, OZTL_NET can grow in new directions, but for now we have taken the first steps into the future.

Do join one of the services, and connect, communicate and collaborate with each other across Australia. Social media can provide new avenues for thoughtful leadership and innovation, providing a proactive and positive contribution to the strategic futures of school libraries.

Understanding the breadth of technology change, and its impact on school libraries, is an essential step in leading the way forward in unravelling the potential of school libraries to meet the challenges of 21st century learning. The Australian Teacher Librarian Network is helping to make this possible.

Bibliography

Davies, A., Fidler, D. & Gorbis. M, (2011), Future work skills 2020, Institute for the Future for the University of Phoenix Research Institute: California

Johnson, L., Adams, S., & Cummins, M, (2012), NMC Horizon Report > 2012 K-12 Edition, Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium

Redecker, C., Leis, M., Leendertse, M., Punie, Y., Gijsbers, G., Kirschner, P., Stoyanov, S. & Hoogerveld, B, (2011), The future of learning: preparing for change, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, JRC European Commission

Judy OConnell

Judy O'Connell

Course Director (Teacher Librarianship)
School of Information Studies
Faculty of Education
Charles Sturt University