Preventing cyberbullying: a librarian’s role

We began this week’s focus on cyberbullying with a video of Jamey Rodemeyer. Listening to the voice of this young man, who later killed himself due to the pressures of cyberbullying, put this issue into perspective. Unlike many of the issues we will deal with as school librarians, cyberbullying can indeed be a matter of life and death. There is no doubt that this is an issue we must address as educators. Just how to address it, however, is a matter of some debate.

Danah Boyd, in a series of articles on this topic, makes a convincing case that many efforts to educate young people about the dangers of cyberbullying fall on deaf ears. This is true for the simple reason that many educators speak about this issue using language that fails to connect with young peoples’ reality. The simple use of the words “bully” and “victim” is problematic, since most students would be unwilling or unable to see themselves in either of these roles. Instead, many young people experience a gray area of online teasing among peers. When exactly this crosses the line into harassment may not be easy to identify. To address cyberbullying effectively, I’m convinced we should abandon the black and white labeling of bully and victim and focus instead on helping students to analyze the gray area and determine for themselves what words and actions cross the line.

So what would this look like as part of the school library curriculum? I would begin by addressing this issue each year, K-12, spiraling upwards in complexity over time. That may sound like overkill, and it would be if the same lecture-based “don’t be a bully” message were drilled into students each year. But if this issue is addressed creatively, with a careful focus on making it relevant to students’ own experience, then reinforcing it each year helps to build a positive school culture around this issue. Specifically, I would teach about positive and negative online interactions through specific scenarios and examples, gathered whenever possible from the students themselves. I would bring in guest speakers, authors, (thanks for the idea, Erin Bennet!) and older students to share their experiences. Finally, I would help students to recognize the potential for positive online interactions to provide a counterbalance to the teasing and harassment they might see. The story of Daniel Cui, and how his teammates and classmates supported him when he was targeted, provides an inspiring model for how students can take direct positive action online against bullying. This example highlights how the fight against cyberbullying may best be fought by students themselves (with the support or educators, of course) through the very same social media channels and with the very same tools (profile pictures, status updates in facebook, etc.) that are misused when online bullying occurs.

There is so much more to say on this issue. I haven’t even begun to address how educators can support students like Jamey Rodemeyer who have been the targets of online harassment. My hope is that through creative education on this issue, with a particular focus on relevance, and with the fostering of a school culture in which all community members vow to take direct action against online cruelty when they encounter it, there will be fewer Jamey Rodemeyers and more Daniel Cuis.

AASL Standard addressed: 4.3.4 Practice safe and ethical behaviors in personal electronic communication and interaction.

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Internet filtering in schools

This week, I’m responding to a series of questions on the filtering of “inappropriate” internet sites by schools and public libraries. For the sake of this discussion, I’m going to assume that some filtering is inevitable. CIPA and the ERate program (look here for details) require that schools take measures to keep young people safe online, and filters will almost certainly remain a part of that effort. A philosophical discussion about filtering vs. freedom may show up here another day, but for now I’ll be practical and focus on how librarians can best teach in a filtered atmosphere. And now on to the questions…

Should filters be the final authority? I think most of us would agree that the answer to this question is a resounding NO. Assuming that filters are necessary, they should be minimal and flexible. Teachers within the district, rather than IT or administration, should take the lead on what internet content is appropriate for their students. Web 2.0 applications and social networking sites have powerful educational potential, and should never be blocked to begin with. When teachers or students discover educational sites that are blocked or inappropriate sites that sneak through the filters, there should be a quick and seamless process for blocking and unblocking sites. This interview with Michael Gras and Scott Floyd about their Texas school district provides a powerful model for how this minimal and flexible filtering can work.

Who should be responsible for the safety of children online? The answer to this question is simple: PEOPLE. No filter works perfectly, so there will always be a danger of students encountering suggestive, hateful, or violent material online. Watchful librarians and teachers offer much better protection. They should work proactively to prepare students for how to handle inappropriate material, and be quick to react when this occurs. Even the most attentive educator cannot be there to look over every student’s shoulder, however, so the key is to create a community in which students have the skills to assess a situation for themselves and ask for support as needed.

What measures can we take to protect them beyond filters? Schools should incorporate an internet safety curriculum beginning in early elementary school. This should not be a separate series of lessons taught only in the library, but rather should be integrated into classroom projects for “just in time” learning. As students learn to use the internet for gathering information, sharing their work, and communicating with others around the globe, they should simultaneously be introduced to the dangers they might encounter. Librarians and teachers can work together to teach these skills, and in doing so, they can accomplish more than the best filter ever could. They can teach students to be not just “internet-safe” but “internet-smart”.

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QR Codes in the elementary library? A few thoughts.

I’ll confess that my first impressions of QR codes have not been particularly positive. Until I began this week’s exploration of QR codes in education, they seemed to be a gimmick borrowed from the world of marketing… something to catch the eye, but without a great deal of substance. It was because of this initial reaction, and because I didn’t see myself using QR codes as a school librarian, that I decided to push myself to investigate further.

This week, my first impression has been challenged both by our readings about QR codes (Tania Coutts makes a particularly strong argument about the motivational benefits of using QR codes with children) but especially by the ideas presented by my classmates. There are many ideas for using QR codes that I would borrow from these creative educators. I especially like the notion of using QR codes to stimulate student curiosity… whether it’s through a scavenger hunt, student book reviews scattered through the library, or sharing exemplars of student work.

However, I still have some concerns and questions, the greatest of these being QR codes and equity. To anyone without a smart phone, a QR code is sending one message only: “Not for you.” Until schools work out the equity issues involved in BYOD policies, the use of QR codes seems problematic. It’s essentially creating a club of those “in the know” and leaving others out. Although QR codes present many opportunities for independent exploration by older students, these equity issues would need to thoughtfully addressed.

QR codes in elementary schools present a different range of challenges. To state the obvious, very few elementary age students carry smart phones or tablets of their own. (This may be changing, but that’s another blog post…) Therefore, the use of QR codes in elementary school would automatically involve the use of school devices. (Tania Coutts, mentioned above, used a set of i-pads in her QR code activity.) To me, this removes some of the benefit of QR codes. I think QR codes work best in a spot where there is no easy computer access (a nature trail, for example), where passersby are likely to have a smart phone in their pockets. In a case like that, A QR code linked to enriching information adds measurable benefits. But in a school library, with easy access to internet links without QR codes, and in which a student would need to borrow a device to read the QR code anyway, it’s adding a layer of complexity but the benefits are less clear. Which leads me back to my initial impression. Are QR codes in some cases just a gimmick?

For me, the jury is still out on this one. Will I use QR codes in my library someday? The answer is yes, I’ll give them a try. But am I convinced of their educational value across age levels and locations? Not yet.

In any case, just for practice, here is a QR code I created. It will take you to a presentation I prepared for IST 633. You don’t have to watch it. I just want to see if it works.

http://chart.googleapis.com/chart?cht=qr&chs=150x150&choe=UTF-8&chld=H&chl=http://goo.gl/FzXfS

 

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Content Collaboration in the elementary classroom

This semester I am in the midst of my secondary fieldwork at Ithaca High School. Nearly every day that I have been there, the librarians have been engaged in teaching content collaboration tools to students. I have been a part of multiple lessons using wikis and student blogs for classroom projects. Students use google drive for nearly everything, both to organize their own learning and to collaborate on projects. This is not to imply that every high school teacher is taking advantage of these tools. But content collaboration tools are so much a part of the school culture, and how students work and think, that it is impossible to envision the school without them.

When I compare the high school scene to my experience with elementary fieldwork, the contrast is stark. At the particular K-5 school where I spent my hours, I did not witness a single classroom, teacher, or project making use of these tools. To a certain extent, it makes sense that these tools would be used more extensively by older students. However, I’m very interested in how wikis, student blogs, group space, Skype, etc. can be introduced at the elementary level. Although elementary students would need more scaffolding in order to use these tools appropriately, they stand to benefit immensely in terms of motivation, peer connections, and authentic writing practice through their increased exposure. If I become a librarian at the elementary level, I will make it one of my goals to increase teacher, administrative, and student comfort level with content collaboration tools.

Here are just a few ideas that jump to mind:

  • Skype an author, Skype an expert, Skype a classroom across the globe: this idea has come up in earlier class discussions, but I mention it again because it’s such a stellar way to enlarge the horizons of the educational setting.
  • Blog those reading journals: many elementary classrooms require a reading response journal for reflections on independent reading. The same assignment in blog form, with peer interaction, would add new life to this somewhat deadly old standard.
  • Google docs for playwriting (and everything else…): The 4th graders in the district work in groups to compose original plays. This has been done somewhat painfully with pen and paper. A collaborative composition space would add convenience and motivation to the process.
  • Library wiki with book reviews: having students share their opinions and suggestions for pleasure reading is something I hope every librarian will take on. A wiki could be a perfect way to organize this process.

Obviously, this is just the tip of the iceberg. By working closely with willing teachers, I hope to find a thousand other ways to incorporate content collaboration tools into the elementary classroom. If you are looking for more details on this topic, I found this to be a helpful starting point: http://wikibin.org/articles/online-collaboration-tools-in-elementary-education.html

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Library Promo Practice

For this assignment, I made up a school library program (a twist on the new trend of blind dates with books…) and made a short video to publicize it. Once I was able to get over how odd my face looks on the screen, I actually managed to enjoy the process. Forgive the complete lack of editing. That will be the next trick for me to learn…

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February 20, 2013 · 3:12 pm

Blogging About Blogging

Note: with this post, I am bringing back to life a blog that has been dormant for a while. I began this blog in my very first class of library school, so my earliest posts will show my starting point as a library student. Hopefully, my blog entries over the years of the program will show my progress as I learn more about what this profession means to me.

Today, in a very circular kind of way, I am blogging about blogging, particularly how I might use a professional blog in my role as a school librarian. My reading and experience with blogs has convinced me that a library blog as part of the school library website can play an important role in communication with students, parents, and the entire school community. If regularly updated, a library blog can publicize special events in the library, as well as documenting the great learning that happens from day to day. An informative, librarian-written blog such as this is a great start, but what I have learned this week is that blogs can do much more.

I was particularly inspired to expand my thoughts on blogging by two exemplary educators. The first is Janie Cowan, who described her blogging experience in her article: “Diary of a Blog: Listening to Kids in an Elementary School Library.” Ms. Cowan went beyond simply using a blog as a one-way communication tool. Instead, she used her library blog to engage the entire school community. Ms. Cowan’s blog entries took the form of open-ended questions (for example: if you could be any character in any book, who would you choose?) addressed to the school community as a whole. Teachers and students all replied enthusiastically, and a school-wide dialogue was begun. This example helped me to think of blogging in a new way, and see its potential as a tool for engagement.

Another inspiration came from Kim Sivick, whose video about student blogs was eye-opening. (You can watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRvAGN7h-a0 ) In it, Ms. Sivick describes a 4th grade project in which students used blogs as a way to connect with the world community. The addition of blogging to an existing research project added an authentic worldwide audience that proved to be incredibly motivating to the students involved.

So how do these inspirations affect my plan for my own future use of blogging? First, my future library blog will be multi-faceted. I will use it to communicate regularly about library news, but also incorporate Cowan-style questioning to engage the school community. I would like my blog to foster two-way communication in which the dialogue through comments becomes as important (or even more-so) than the initial post. Second, I will encourage teachers to use blogging as part of student projects, so students too can experience this motivational connection with a larger audience. Now I just need a school library of my own so I can get started!

In case you are still unconvinced, using blogs in these expanded ways would connect with many of the Common Core and ASSL Standards, particularly the following:

  • CC.5.W.6: Production and Distribution of Writing: With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others;
  • AASL: 3.3.5 Contribute to the exchange of ideas within and beyond the learning community.

Works Cited:

Cowan, J. (2008). Diary of a blog: listening to kids in an elementary school library.
Teacher Librarian, 35 (5), p. 20.

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February 13, 2013 · 3:28 pm

Reflections on Atlas Threads: Librarians

This thread was so packed with essential concepts to consider, I hardly know where to begin. So when in doubt, begin at the beginning. From the very first page of the thread, I appreciated the distinction between competencies, skills, and technologies and techniques. As a new new librarian, it is easy for me to focus on all the technologies and techniques I don’t know (it’s worse than that: many of them I’ve never even heard of.) Add to that the speed with which these techniques are changing, and it all becomes overwhelming. Therefore, it helped me to step back and think in terms of broad competencies. There’s still a lot to learn, but these are concepts I feel I could reasonably learn in my time in the program, and then apply to real situations in both internship and future career.

There were several competencies/skills discussed that jumped out at me as ones that deserve my immediate attention. One of these is technology. First, I have to confess that the description of bibliofundamentalists hit home with me. I come from a family of bibliofundamentalists (my father is an antiquarian book dealer… I can’t help it!) and I think I probably fit into this category as I applied to the program. I was open to new technologies right up to the point where they threaten to replace books, and then suddenly they became my enemy. The reading for this class has helped me to rethink this stance. I’m now becoming convinced that this dichotomy (book vs. tech) is a false one, and that the real importance lies in the knowledge creation, not the tools used to get there. Do I still think books are great tools for sharing knowledge? Indeed. But I’m also now excited rather than grudgingly willing to explore they ways in which technology can enhance connections and communication in my work. Getting up to speed on these technologies is not effortless for me (Lewin’s change model: I’m uncomfortable!) but I’m game. 

Another skill that jumps out at me is in the area of management/administration. This is another area where I lack formal training, and I can see how important it will be to develop this skill set. Even in my dream job as a school librarian, where I won’t exactly manage a staff, I will need to work closely with a paraprofessional library clerk. I appreciated the section in the thread that addresses collaboration with paraprofessionals. As a teacher, I was often troubled by the tiered system between teachers and paraprofessionals in schools. I entirely agree that these skilled workers deserve more respect and opportunity for advancement. In my future job, I would want to tie together this sense of collegiality with some successful management strategies in order to make the most of that relationship.

I’m running out of time and space, so I’ll try to make a few more quick points about other bits of the thread that stayed with me. The section on collaboration with other fields took on new meaning for me while working on 601 projects this weekend. The experience of working in a mixed LIS/IT group made real for me both the challenges of finding common language and the benefits of sharing brain power in this way. I look forward to more collaborations like these through my career. Which brings me to my final point: the idea of formalized continuing education in LIS. Yes, please! It’s already so clear to me that I’m going to finish this program with so much still to learn. I would love to have access to something other than occasional conferences to continue to hone my skills and think in new ways about the profession.

 

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