Uglies free online!


One of the most popular series for teens is a limited-time free download in .pdf format! Of course, they’re promoting Westerfeld’s newest book, Leviathan, but who can complain about that? As more and more publishers make their works available in online forms, I can see more and more ways that you could leverage this free/cheap material for classroom use. Of course, the best aspect of the online text is its infinity – instead of having to police limited numbers of physical copies and tell students to hustle and read so others can have access too, every student could log in and read online, or download to their personal device– no waiting.

On a related note, education stands to gain the most from asking publishers to give up on DRM and concentrate on better ways to maximize revenue.

Welcome to the 21st century library

I am a survivor of many a teen gaming tournament. I’ve organized and worked at both computer and console gaming events in several libraries, and I can say without a doubt that it’s plain hard work. And it’s worthwhile work – I’m just as likely to ask a reluctant reader what games they like to play in order to help them pick out a book as I am to ask them about their favorite movies and TV shows. If I was totally out of touch with gaming and other activities that teens love, I would not be able to effectively connect young people to all sorts of media – including books.

If librarians look like they’re having fun on the job, it’s because we love what we do, not because we get to sit around playing games all day. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Nebraska, where some are accusing the State Library Commission of being wasteful stewards of taxpayer money by purchasing and learning to use gaming equipment with the intent to train public librarians in their state.

This sort of training is needed – in my current library system, we had to hold trainings and create a usage manual for our gaming kits. Using gaming equipment is not exactly an intuitive process, and we need to be just as prepared for gaming programs as we do for any other programs. If librarians didn’t study up on games before presenting them to the public, it would be like not reading the book before showing up to facilitate a book group. Or not trying out a database before teaching a patron to use it.

Gaming in libraries is important for several reasons. Reluctant users can see that librarians are aware of and appreciate the activities that are important to them. The library can become less intimidating and comfort can be established for young patrons who are underserved or unserved. Gaming also creates community for patrons who are highly social, helping gamers connect with like-minded people. Libraries collect stories of all kinds, and they can be found in books, music, movies, and games!

But it’s not easy to do. There’s a lot of work involved. And while it may look like we’re just playing around, librarians are gaming with a purpose: to help young people through our doors and into the larger collection – for life-long learning and community building. It looks unorthodox, it may be noisy and boisterous, and it challenges long-held stereotypes about libraries and library atmosphere. Welcome to the 21st century library!

For more information about how our library has phased gaming into our regular services, check out my VOYA article: So You Wanna Play Games? A Start-up Guide for Gaming in the Library.

The year in ed

I wanted to cap off this year’s blogging with a good activity. So I decided to use Wesley Fryer’s prompt to read the posts nominated for Most Influential of 2008 in the EduBlog Awards.

Chris of BetchaBlog posted on the New Digital Divide. Just more anecdotal proof that the education field is suffering from the same (digital?) malaise as the library field:

I think what often shocks me the most about teachers who don’t take technology very seriously, is just how far behind they really are. They don’t have any idea just how out of touch they are with the kids they teach each day… kids who in most cases are far too polite to say anything about their teachers’ lack of technology understanding. But trust me, they know who you are…

Some of the classic excuses for why some teachers don’t integrate technology might include the following… how many have you heard before?

  • “Im retiring in a couple of years anyway” (yes, but your students are not)
  • “I’m too old to learn this stuff”
  • “I’m too busy, I don’t have the time”
  • “I have too much content to get through” (this one is usually followed by “you just don’t know what it’s like”… ah, yes, I do.)
  • “I don’t really like computers” (you don’t have to like them, you just have to use them)
  • “I just don’t understand technology” (as though they think no one has noticed that yet)

Chris goes on to say he’s most scared about the growing chasm between the “information-wills” and the “information-will-nots.” I hear that! Honestly, this has nothing to do with age – I meet just as many younger folks who use these excuses as older ones.

Reading all the nominated posts was a pleasure – it was great to hear diverse voices in the field from all around the world! The international nature of online education dialogue is really what will help change the nature of “doing school” in the 21st century. It’s not going to be just one school or one state/province/district or even one country – I now truly believe that the education revolution is going to be driven from a global perspective. Is there even any other? Thomas Friedman only said what was obvious: the world is flat, and we affect each other more than ever on a daily basis.

I can only hope that holds true and that this magnificent online educational community will grow, keep learning, and use their voice to speak for true change and authentic learning experiences for students the world over. This movement is more important than ever: if we’re all too busy and cannot make the time to do the important work of our day, what sort of example will we set for youth?

The New Ownership

Today I read two very interesting items:

1) CC Learn reports that

the University of Michigan Library has adopted CC licensing for all of its own content. Any work that is produced by the library itself, and to which the University of Michigan holds the copyrights, will be released under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial license (CC BY-NC).

2) Scott McLeod is blogging on his attempt to convince ISTE that they should ask their conference presenters to apply a CC license to their presentations for the benefit of the larger K-12 .edu community.

It really seems that a larger awareness of Creative Commons, at least among the .edu technorati, is brewing.  Instead of trying to protect and hide intellectual work behind the total wall of traditional copyright, the new conversation looks like it will revolve around how others should be permitted to use that intellectual work.  

This is a significant shift in the traditional ownership concept.  While U of M is purposefully moving forward in a unified direction with their CC licensing, the other side of the coin is seen in the vigorous discussion among the ISTE folks.  I also believe that this is shedding light on the changing nature of conferences in general.
While meeting in person is incredibly powerful and energizing, technology is making it more and more possible to participate in conferences (while not actually attending).  And the possibility of this is awesome, as it promises to break down distance and other barriers to learning.  However, not all conferences might be as open-minded as ISTE.  You want to get a good return on your investment when putting on a conference, and I can see other organizations afraid to even consider asking presenters to release their intellectual work freely.  To some, this may be seen as devaluing the conference experience and letting people “get all the benefits of attending for free!”  
Dedicated conference-goers know that’s not the case.  Attending in person has a power that few other experiences can match.  However, restricting ideas to small groups of only a few does nothing to encourage the free flow of innovation.  If we really want to effect change within our professions, we have to think about throwing the doors wide open to see what happens.  
…and, for a whole other spin on this same topic, check out Will Richardson’s post on Larry Lessig’s new book, Remix.  

she got her head in the clouds (sharada sharada)


Ok, so the song isn’t about cloud computing – but it’s close 🙂

I’m glad I waited to blog on this, because I bumped into a great new book on this very topic. The Big Switch : Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr is fascinating. Carr interweaves history with present-day computing by describing the first switch (from dynamos to electric utilities) alongside the second switch (from local hard drives to computing power in the cloud). Just as electric utilities proved to transform business and life in general, so will this trend towards large computing clusters accessible via the “cloud.”

For example, check out Amazon S3. This concept promises to unleash computing power to the masses previously only accessible to large corporations. By eliminating investment in hardware and turning storage and processing into a pay-to-play model, anyone with a good idea and a little code can make their digital dreams a reality.

But unlike the electric utility, we are now trading intellectual property. What will Google, or Amazon, or Apple, or MS DO with your data? Will it be protected? Is your data safe? Should a business, for example, risk exposing customer data to the cloud? The ethics of cloud computing are a compelling reason for people to tread this new water carefully. Electricity is value-neutral. Data is not.

So the price may be right, but the true cost of maintaining off-site machinery is (currently) muddled in this electronic age. This may well be the new frontier: web 3.0, where your storage choice can be a game-changer.

NEKLS Tech Day reflections

If a small business owner comes in the door needing resources, web 2.0 tools may very well be the information that makes the difference for them.
(attribution needed; comment if you can remember who said it!)

This was one of the great revelations of NEKLS Tech Day! I feel as though we are all talking about instinctively knowing that these wonderful webby tools and new technological abilities can help our patrons, but in many ways we have to be prepared to draw lines and make connections for them. We need a broad knowledge of different topics, but also of the tools that harness and enhance knowledge for users. Y’know, power to the patron and all 🙂

I don’t believe that we so-called “techie” librarians are really techie in the sense that we have some supernatural knowledge or abilities. I think you can consider yourself techie if you try to keep up with the flow of information evolution, if you try to tread water in this rapidly unfolding world of data storage, retrieval, and creation.

And that was the best part of tech day – getting to commune with other librarians who are trying to do this same thing. Sharon Moreland did a great job making the day possible, as did all the presenters 🙂 Oh, and if you happened to be in my presentation and still want to hear the audio from the videos I’ve linked to them here.

Happy tech, y’all. I hope we can keep up the good work treading water together 🙂

P.S. I nearly forgot! The other awesome topic we covered was cloud computing… it nearly needs a post of its own so I will save that for later this month.

Copyrights (& wrongs)


It’s been a busy two months since my last post… besides ALA and some much-enjoyed vacation time, everything seems to have piled up! Off to the right you will see myself and Cory Doctorow, happy to meet briefly at a Tor event in Anaheim. I told him how rad we all found his new YA novel, Little Brother, and he was glad to hear it.

When I got home, I got my new issue of Knowledge Quest in the mail and read with interest the article called “Copyright and Portfolios” by Rebecca Butler. I found the ethical questions of the subject fascinating. It concerns electronic portfolios of graduating seniors where the students have used copyrighted materials such as music and film clips: fair use or infringement? Butler concurs that yes, it’s fair use as long as the students were using said clips for public school curriculum and used them to “realize their specific learning objectives.” She cites some sources (this was the only online one, sorry) and goes on to say that such “class-generated portfolios” can be used to demonstrate expertise in applications for jobs or higher ed. Butler adds that you should inform students that the portfolios should not be used for profit (“[don’t] sell any of the pieces […] or use them in a paid presentation.”)

I was worried after reading this, because a quick scan of the article seems reassuring… if your students have “added entire popular songs to their projects, as well as large clips from movie CDs, DVDs, and videos” then maybe everything is just a-ok and kosher. It takes a close reading of this brief article and a little deep thought to conclude that A) you might need to do more research into fair use before you let students create portfolios with such egregious “sampling” (the last time I checked using a work in its entirety is not sampling) and B) you’ll need to figure out how to break it to your students that a more-than-passing understanding of copyright may be the most important “technological skill” thy could have in the 21st century.

While I think it’s imperative that students (and citizens) have the right to fair use of copyrighted intellectual work (especially in the cases of criticism and parody), I believe that it may be encouraging intellectual laziness to reach for the latest Coldplay song and pop it in as the musical backdrop to a PowerPoint report. Sure, it’s popular culture; sure, it’s handy; sure, it’s easier in the short run than searching for music where the creators have given explicit permission for its use. I maintain that in the long run, using apparatuses such as Creative Commons can serve to build students’ appreciation and understanding of copyright so that they may gradually build up to the use of commercially copyrighted works with full knowledge of the risks and benefits. By making the due consideration of copyright and fair use integral to the construction of such electronic portfolios, we can equip students with skills that they can put to good use in the workplace and/or academia.

Cited:

Rebecca P. Butler. (2008). Copyright and Portfolios. Knowledge Quest, 36(5), 74.

Sherpas Help Teachers

An article from the Christian Science Monitor points out the rewards that teens and teachers in rural Maine get when giving (and getting) tech assistance. I liked the multimedia feature that accompanied the article. But one thing nags at me– they talk about how relieved the teachers are to get tech help and how the students benefit from sharing their knowledge, but I sincerely hope that this program isn’t replacing adequate professional development and training that teachers need to effectively implement technology in the classroom.

When I think back to my high school days in the mid 1990s, the district was bragging about having a computer in every room (for the teacher’s use, of course). But who were the ones actually using it? In many cases, students. There were several teachers who didn’t know how to do something as fundamental as retrieving files… I vividly recall demonstrating how to save a file to one teacher, who was just baffled by the whole process. I guess we were sherpas, too, in our own way. (Ah, the heady days of Windows 95, so radically different from 3.1!)

I guess I hoped that in 10 years, things would have changed fundamentally in the edtech world. Am I being pessimistic? Should I look at these new tech sherpas as an advancement, the next iteration of the teen tech support desk? Or should I be more skeptical of these glossy stories about how “cutting edge” teens seem to perennially be beside us older folks? (and holy cow, am I older folks now?!?)

This time, it’s academic

Wright State University is now providing students with sound-proof spaces for podcasting. This is clearly a trend to watch!

Technically speaking


This week was pretty productive, technically speaking. I did a Cyber 6 Pack workshop with some school library media specialists, and made lots of notes about how I need to adjust the presentation as I forge ahead. But in other news, we discovered that we might have problems giving wireless access to a local school participating in a 1:1 laptop program (Macs!).

Our crack IT teams are exploring the issue and will try to isolate the problem. Even though this school isn’t in our service area, the kids with the laptops use our libraries. I think it’s vital to provide all users with a great experience to the best extent possible, so the outcome of this situation is important to me. Plus, when we have users bringing in their own laptops it greatly eases the demand for our desktops – resulting in more access for all patrons. It’s a win – win.

Another awesome thing I saw this week was a recording studio in a NZ library. I have agreed with colleagues for some time that what we need is a sort of library “gadget lab,” where users can come in and explore new technology and find out what it’s all about. If it doubled as a recording studio for video and audio, all the better! We are doing more and more podcasting and vidcasting so a room like this would help us as well as patrons. It’s called Beatbooth, and lots of users are flocking to its affordable hourly rates and cool library location. You couldn’t wedge a 5 piece band in there, but it’s got a keyboard, mic, and Mac. Awesome 🙂

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