Monday, January 12, 2015

Using video tutorials in formative assessment to promote information literacy and use of library resources

I decided to do my Staff Development project on formative assessment in information search after reading about Buffy Hamilton’s work on the subject. I was very impressed with the way she organized and structured the inquiry project to incorporate both written and in-person feedback and coaching to help to students grow as searchers while assisting them on the project they are currently working on.

After reaching out to faculty and seeking to identify an opportunity to do something similar, I found a team of 9th grade teachers of Talented and Gifted students doing Project Based Learning combining World Geography and English. However, since I was not involved in the PBL collaboration from the early planning stages, I didn't see a way of doing everything that Buffy did. The main obstacle would be time as the students had to finish and present their projects before the winter break. Additionally, the topics of the student groups would be largely decided before I would have a chance to intervene in their process.

I wanted to go beyond the usual presentation to class with me demonstrating databases and modeling search strategies, and provide a truly meaningful formative assessment to each member of the classes. The basic strategy comprised 4 parts:

  1. A presentation about preliminary research using library databases
  2. Group work on refining topic and dividing into specific information search role. 
  3. The actual formative assessment in which each group member selects the 2 most useful sources and describes the method of discovery and why the sources are useful.
  4.  Feedback on the formative assessment via video screen-cast
Student work on parts 2 and 3 was via a Google Doc Template.  I did the video tutorial screen-casts with SnagIt and uploaded and shared the video via Google Drive.

The main focus of the formative assessment was giving the students several days to search on their own using their usual methods and listing the sources that they felt were most valuable for their portion of the project.  On or before the deadline for the formative assessment, the students shared their Google Doc with me and I then downloaded all to an offline folder so that students could not modify them after the deadline. I actually printed out some of the docs and others I read on the screen. While I pondered writing comments on the Google Doc itself as the main form of feedback, I decided that a short video would be more powerful for modeling the search process. In the end, I decided to take some of the key points from the video and put them in writing, particularly to make some of the sources I found easier for the students to locate.

Of course, I wanted to know if the formative assessment and feedback provided helped the students on the project and/or helped make them better searchers. While I didn’t have a sound method of evaluating students’ search skills before and after the assessment, I did survey the students at the end-of-semester presentations. Here are the questions and results:

Q1. Was the video tutorial helpful in your information search?
Very helpful-29%
Somewhat helpful-50.5%
Little or no help-1.5%
Did not watch video tutorial-18.5%

Q2. Did you use the sources provided in the video tutorial and/or written comments?
Yes- 58.5%
No- 41.4%

Q3. Do you think the formative assessment and video helped you become a better searcher of information?
Yes- 55%
No- 4.5%
Not Sure- 40.5%

Overall, I was pleased with the project and the student feedback. Many thanked me in person and had genuinely positive feelings about the video tutorial. However, I don’t think the video tutorials are as impactful as a one-on-one or small group session.  I was not able to provide effective help 100% of the time, mainly because I didn't have an extended dialog with the students during the process.
The advantage of the video approach was my ability to reach a vast majority of student groups within a tight time-frame and without the complicated logistics of scheduling all the individual and small group sessions during times students were available. I was simply able to work on feedback when I had time and sent the video to the students via the Google domain when it was ready. Then the students in turn could watch the video when they had time. The feedback I did provide was individualized, but only as good as my understanding of the students work via the Google Doc. Dialog and group work allow for much greater insights, but this process is far better than trying to teach an entire class simultaneously.

I can’t say enough positive things about formative assessment in general. Students need opportunities to learn better search skills. They need time to practice, receive instruction and feedback, and it needs to happen numerous times during their academic careers. This method of video screen casting is one practical method for accomplishing this goal.

I welcome any comments or feedback. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Collaborating to Create an Open Badge Ecosystem for Information Literacy

Now that I have entered a new phase in my career, one that affords me much greater freedom to accomplish good work, I am ready to contribute to the library profession in a meaningful way. I began my latest semi-Quixotic quest at the 2014 Library Summit this past week in Dallas. I'm grateful for the 15 audience members that contributed their time and ideas when they could have been in some other amazing sessions. Here are the basic premises of this new idea.

  1. A Library entity, anything from a School library system in a school district to a State or National Library Association can create a system of badges that grants digital awards to students that have demonstrated competence in a specific area of Information Literacy as defined by AASL 21st Century Learner Standards and/or ISTE NETS.
  2. The Badge Ecosystem should after a diversity of badges that are attainable to all skill levels and allow for a progression to the ultimate endorsement of "Information Literate." This endorsement which is a strong indicator of college readiness, would be sought out by students seeking to demonstrate their suitability for admission to college or university.
  3. A Badge system is desirable for librarians because, if implemented and marketed successfully, would give them more power to promote information literacy skills, which are often not adequately taught in the test-driven environment of public education.
  4. The badges could be awarded via the following ways
    • Ordinary coursework
    • Capstone research projects,
    • Online simulations or games
    • Library based tasks independent of classes
Imagine a world in which school librarians could leverage actual power! Today few of us can issue credits and grades even if we teach frequently. Badges issued by librarians have the potential to transform our practice. It is up to a thoughtful and determined group of us to design a badge system that will motivate the millennial generation towards information literacy. Please see the slideshow below and contact me if you are interested in being a part of this project. Public comments are also welcome.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why I Became Librarian-For National Library Month

Back in High School, before I developed an attachment to the Jewish Religion, Frank Zappa was my rabbi. I searched his song lyrics, album liner notes and read his book looking for pearls of wisdom by which to live my life.  I even moved to Montana for a little while during my college years. One particular quote I repeated more than once was from the liner notes of Zappa’s record Freak Out! It read:
“Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget about the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you've got any guts.”
My parents wouldn’t let me drop out of course, so I did the next best thing and tuned out classes when I felt like it, went to the library as often as I could. School wasn’t challenging. I got tracked into non-honors classes and I liked to ask questions. My questions annoyed many teachers, who often could not answer them, but fortunately the school librarian, Mrs. Friedman, understood me.  I was the kind of crazy kid that checked out books that had sat for decades unread. That must have endeared me to her.

During my Senior year, I found Economics class especially stultifying. I slept during the endless documentary films. I actually found Economics the subject interesting, and important, just not the class.. I remember the thrill of finding books by John Kenneth Galbraith, Thorstein Veblen and other surprising wise and humorous econ authors in the library.  At some point I was probably failing the Econ class, I decided to show off my knowledge gained from my library escapades by asking the teacher questions. When I got an admission that he didn’t even know who these people were or even the first thing about their ideas, I realized that Frank Zappa was 100% right, that real education came from pursuing knowledge via books and libraries.

I found myself adrift in my career after graduating college, trying out numerous jobs, ranging from bicycle messenger, to environmental educator and customer service representative. In spite of my view of school, I decided to go back and earn a teaching credential. Of course I was determined not to become one of “those teachers” who were boring and uncreative. Rather, I was going to be a revolutionary teacher that helped kids to think for themselves. For 5 years I taught science, which was rewarding at times, but I eventually came to the conclusion that the role of classroom teacher wasn’t truly suitable for my personality.  I wanted to stay in education, but do something different, something that would make sense for me. After only a little deliberation I decided that a school library was the most logical place.

Now I have the privilege of paying forward what Mrs. Friedman did for me back in the 1980s. I’ve been in the library for 13 years now, and I have no regrets.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Mini-Lesson on Citing Images and Online Ethics

When I first started in this profession, I established several important rules for myself when presenting library lessons to high school students.

  • Rule #1-Never speak for more than 10 or 15 minutes
  • Rule #2-Always focus on a few useful ideas or tools for the assignment in front of students as opposed to general library skills
  • Rule #3-Start with the 'Why' before going on to the 'How

These rules have always served me well, as I generally see a minimum number of glazed eyes, and often get genuine applause or appreciation at the end of my short talks. 

The topic of this lesson is citing images. Following the above rules, I began this presentation with a story about a picture in National Geographic and showed a 2 minute video from YouTube about how the image was captured. In this case, the photographer spent over a year getting the pictures he wanted of a mountain lion in the vicinity of Los Angeles. The message is very easy to understand; if a photographer spend that much time, money and effort on capturing an image, it is only fair to give that person credit. 

The remainder of the presentation consists of:
  • Definite 'nos' of using images
  • Brief treatment of copyright and creative commons license
  • Practical methods for using Flikr and Google Image search to locate images that may be used in presentations
So here is the Slideshare. It may be downloaded and modified for re-use. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Response to Average is Over: Threats and Opportunities for School Librarians

After several months of number one on my To Read list, I finally finished Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of Great Stagnation by Tyler Cowan. It’s a fantastically thought-provoking and challenging read.  After speeding through many fiction books as part of my Lariat Committee duties, it was nice to ponder some well-written and lucid non-fiction. I found myself pausing and reflecting every few pages and had lots of thoughts worth sharing, about raising my own daughter and also regarding the library profession. Here I will concentrate on those related to the library profession.

The first fact worth mentioning is that Cowan doesn’t even mention libraries or librarians once in the entire book. However, he addresses many issues regarding the future of learning, education, and science that have deep implications for those of us that work in school or academic libraries.
Cowan describes himself as a libertarian and conservative and criticizes institutionalized education on grounds of ineffectiveness and inefficiency. At the same time he questions the value of formal education, he exalts individual learners that have discipline and passion for learning. These learners who capitalize on freely available education opportunities on the Internet and understand how to use powerful computing resources to amplify their power, will be the high earners of the future. 

High achievers will need to function in an environment that his fast evolving, where the speed of data gathering and analysis will outpace the rate at which findings can be published and disseminated. Conventional fields of knowledge will not have experts. Rather, there will be a need for those that understand how to interpret and explain findings of supercomputer data output.
Let’s dissect this from a library point of view from three angles: Resources/Access, Instruction and 

  • According to Cowan, Information and Knowledge will be mostly free. If he is correct, a traditional function of libraries, providing information resources would be not as important, certainly not important enough to provide justification for the existence of library. This means at least one of several things, namely:
  • ·         Libraries will need to add value and context to their electronic resources. This is not usually a function of school libraries. However, local communities desire information of value to the population and this is something a library provide. Subscription resources would not be important. Indeed the entire business model of subscription databases may become obsolete.
  • ·         Cowan’s vision of free and cheap entertainment for the 85 percent of the population suffering from lower incomes seems like an obvious opportunity for libraries. Viewing book as one of many entertainment options, and assuming that writers and publishers continue to hold to the pay per book model (as opposed to the free/donation model musicians are now experimenting with), providing books online and in print will continue to be a vital function for libraries. There is no guarantee that is the case however.
  • ·         Mobile internet access will be available to nearly the entire population via low cost devices and telecommunications. The library won’t be able to justify itself on grounds of equitable access to Internet resources.

So, with little to cling to on access to information issues, libraries will need to evolve and focus on an Instructional role.

  • ·       Cowan believes that some of the best quality education resources will soon be available for free on the Internet. The non-elite colleges and expensive for profit online universities are under threat from this trend toward free education.
  • ·       With the proliferation of free education options, the public will need help figuring out the best options for them. Young people will need plenty of guidance and coaching to take full advantage of online options and librarians can play a vital function in matching students to learning opportunities. This is a function librarians can play today. It’s a simple matter of participating in the free online education revolution, developing an expertise and sharing with others.
  • ·         Skills such as discipline, focus and discerning good information from bad will be even more critical now and in the future and it is obvious we must explicitly teach and promote these skills in novel ways including….
  • ·         Gamification. Cowan is a proponent of learning via games and libraries simply must get into the game by hosting and promoting games that develop vital skills


Since the future of school libraries is presently under threat, and many trends are not in our favor, advocacy is super-critical. Advocacy at State Legislatures is not as important as at the local level and national level.  Advocacy within our schools and Districts is most important, but becoming more involved in Education Reform efforts at the National level is also very important, but that’s a whole other discussion!

Local level advocacy must be connected to our instructional efforts or educational programs. Our advocacy must address the challenges of “Average is Over” by simply being part of the discussion. Even though we are not mentioned in the first Edition of Cowan’s book, librarians can be a part of the national discussion of this book and make it into the 2nd edition or sequel!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Lariat Adult Fiction-YA Recommendations

This year I began a two-year appointment on the Lariat Adult Fiction Committee of the Texas Library Association. It's a great, albeit challenging assignment. While the free books (much needed for my library) are an incentive, it's also intellectually rewarding to read and process so many diverse literary works. While not all my votes for selections, positive or negative were on the winning side, I nevertheless believe that the book list we generated is very good.

Since I serve a Young Adult population, I thought it would be helpful to create a list of Lariat books from this year's list that would also be suitable and interesting for teen readers. The full Lariat Fiction list for the Winter 2013 will soon be published on the TLA Website.

My list of recommendation for teens appears below:

Blood Song by Anthony Ryan
This coming-of-age Fantasy saga has enough action to engage fans of the Hunger Games. Sure to appeal to fans of Tamora Pierce and other YA fantasy writers.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Based on a true story of a condemned woman, Agnes, sentence to death and sent to live her last days on an isolated farm. Young readers will be moved by the plight of Agnes who must pay the ultimate price for a youthful mistake.

Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
This madcap detective caper written by J K Rowling under a male pen name has the same playful prose that made Harry Potter a smashing success. Set in present-day London with host of colorful and dysfunctional celebrity characters, savvy teens are sure to recognize parallels to our own media-saturated reality.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Also a TAYSHAS selection for teen readers, this story of a first-year college student is guaranteed to appeal to teens who read and write fan fiction.  It’s also a story full of warmth and humor with enough wisdom to recommend it to any college-bound high school girl.

Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh
An epic historical romance set in early colonial South Africa. Ambitious female readers will find the adventures of main character Frances compelling. The gritty and morally complicated landscape of the S. African Diamond mines provides a vivid backdrop for the story.

House Girl by Tara Conklin
A dual-period story set in the present day and Antebellum Virginia. It’s a story of slavery and prospects for intergenerational justice. Idealistic teens that are interested in legal careers will find this story especially compelling and those interested in African-American history via stories such as The Help and The Butler will surely enjoy this one.

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neal Gaiman
Neal Gaiaman’s work is popular with teens and this fantastic fable will not disappoint his fans.

Murder as Fine Art by David Morrell
Reminiscent of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, this book has many shocking and sensational plot elements that will appeal to teens. Thomas De Qunicey, author of Confessions of an Opium Eater appears as a compelling drug-addicted anti-hero and the plot is sufficiently fast-paced and suspenseful to keep even reluctant teen readers turning the pages.

Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
An unreliable narrator working as a typist for the interrogation unit of the New York Police Department of the prohibition era provides a fascinating look at a time period of interest to many teens. The story is one of many plot twists and mystery to keep readers hooked.

Taken by Michael Totten
A slender volume with plenty of plot-twists and suspense, this story will appeal to even reluctant teen-readers. The scenario of the author imagining his own kidnapping and escape also explores historical topics that will interest teens, including the abduction of Patty Hearst and the September 11th attacks.

Me Before You by Jo Jo Moyes

Teen fans of Nicholas Sparks and Lurlene McDaniel and other stories of love laced with tragedy and loss ill enjoy this story of romance between Will, once a passionately athletic young man, but now severely paralyzed and his nurse Louisa.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Using character and acting to raise awareness of pretense and marketing on social media

I had the opportunity to co-teach a lesson on character in a Theater Arts class and it was a pretty interesting experience. The goals of the 90 minute session were:

  1. To have students explore their character by attempting to Tweet in character
  2. To raise awareness of nuance, marketing and manipulative behaviors that occur on Twitter and other social media
  3. To promote savvy social-media behaviors, even if that does mean 'acting'
The lesson structure was as follows:

  1. Begin with survey about social media use
  2. Presentation: Analysis of Taylor Swift's Twitter account
  3. Tweet-a-Character assignment: compose 10 Tweets using character (previous lesson was character analysis)
  4. Peer Analysis of Tweet-a-Character
  5. Closing reflection including short post-survey
In addition to fitting into the class, I used this lesson as a research study.  

The pre-activity survey revealed the following:

  • Of the 103 participants, 73% said that they do follow actors/actresses, politicians, musicians, and other celebrities on Twitter, Instagram or Social Media
  • Of those that follow musicians, actors, etc, students tended to agree that they were more likely to go to a movie or download a song if they followed an artist on Twitter or Instagram
After the presentation and role-playing activity, 37% of respondents were less likely to believe in celebrities online profiles, seeing them as more commercial in nature.  The vast majority of respondents, over 60%, continued to believe that some celebrities are more authentic than others, believing that others are genuine and not driven only for sales or fame.

I'm still processing the data and reflecting on the activity, but I do think it was a worthwhile exercise, one that is worth more time over and above the 90 minutes I gave it. Any interested reader may request the lesson. I will send all 4 files.