AITSL research project – VicPLN reflection

Last year, some of you completed a survey for us exploring your experiences of the Victorian Personal Learning Network (VicPLN) courses. In this post, we’d like to share our findings.

The team at the State Library of Victoria applied to the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) to research the impact of our professional learning approaches, in particular the impact of networked learning in the VicPLN program.

We undertook surveys and case studies with questions based on Stephen Heppell’s framework for effective learning.

Our hypothesis:

That the online delivery of the Victorian Personal Learning Network course (VicPLN) through guided collaborative learning encourages sustained change in professional practice in schools and school libraries.

Despite considerable positive feedback over the years, we weren’t anticipating the profound impact the PLN had on many participants, their attitudes to learning and confidence with peers.

Truly it transformed me or maybe it turned me inside out […] – it allowed me to develop professionally with like-minded people. It allowed me to share with those people and beyond. It allowed me to find serendipitously things that I needed and that gave me more ideas.

[…it has changed the] way I think about trying to solve problems – so if I need something – I don’t know what I used to do, but now […] I’ll go on Twitter and I’ll ask or I’ll use a certain network of people […] you don’t Google it – you Twitter it.

Key trends – Case studies

Importance of sharing – Participants who took part with colleagues from their school or library found the shared experience made the learning more meaningful and immediately applicable in the workplace.

And in terms of the library I think it’s been profound as well, in the sense that we have restructured our library, we’re aware of the way libraries are changing and I think the PLN has given us confidence to move forward and I think, a little bit out of the box in terms of our approach.

Power of networks and the idea of an authentic audience for learning – For some participants networked learning was completely transformative, changing their entire approach to teaching and learning. It enabled them to become advocates for change in their schools and the broader professional community.

[…] what the PLN did for me was to see – was to give me a bridge to what I think all education should do […] almost a subversive bridge for the children, for the students out into the world […] – I was with true colleagues. […] It gave me and it affirmed that this is what a great teacher aims to be, out in the world, thinking, making connections, making possibilities, realising possibilities.

Key trends – Survey

The first place people share is with their colleagues, with 98.5% of participants indicating they shared their professional learning with colleagues and school staff.

It makes sense that educators, as part of deeply collegiate profession, look to peers before looking out to the broader online community. It also highlights the importance of PLNs in all their forms, be they local, international or something in between. The power is in connecting with others around a shared goal.

[The PLN is] probably the first time I’ve shared my professional thinking with anybody […] in schools, you might at a staff meeting or something, but that’s probably the biggest change in my mindset, the kind of thing that I try and get other people to do now is to realise that when you’re sharing you’re not showing off, you’re … trying to get reactions to help you learn more.

72% of participants surveyed indicated that the course gave them the confidence to share with peers. Developing the confidence and shared language to engage in professional discussions with peers is core to being an advocate for change in schools and libraries. Getting issues out in the open for debate supports organisational transparency and cultural change.

The PLN has given me a language to talk to other people […] although I tend to take ideas from it rather than give online, I do share those ideas with other staff. […] look it’s really worth everyone being encouraged to do it […] it is life-changing. In the sense that my teaching practice is different.

I feel as though I have the vocabulary now to ask the right questions, whereas before I did the PLN I didn’t even know what questions I should ask.

The PLN, for me, provided a space in which to explore possibilities […] it changed my relationship [with staff and students], it changed how I operate, that I became a more effective change agent.

The project was a wonderful opportunity for the PLN team and past participants to reflect on our practice and the impact the course has had on individuals and broader networks. One of the most interesting results for us was how sharing often begins with local PLNs including colleagues in schools and communities close by.

Our networks begin close to home and then with growing confidence and success, reach out into world.

 For information on our online courses, visit the State Library of Victoria website.

Image credit

eCOGSS – a collaborative ebook project

Rachel Fidock reports on an innovative ebook service developed by four secondary schools in the Goulburn Valley, Victoria.

Many school libraries across Australia are choosing to create ebook libraries – online libraries where students are able to borrow and read ebooks on their own devices. But how easy is it to create an ebook library, and would our students prefer physical books?

In the Goulburn Valley of Victoria, teacher librarian Helen Taylor, formerly of Shepparton High School, took up the challenge of creating an ebook library with a difference. The result is eCOGSS (eBooks City Of Greater Shepparton Schools) ebook lending facility, an online service that caters to not one, but four secondary schools in the region. Of the six secondary schools approached to be involved, Goulburn Valley Grammar SchoolMooroopna Secondary College, Shepparton High School and Wanganui Park Secondary College chose to take part (one non-government and three government schools).

Accommodating the needs of four schools in one service may seem like a daunting task, but as a consortium, the combined experience and ideas of the group proved to be a great advantage.

In the development stage, according to Helen Taylor, Library Managers from each school took the idea back to their administrators and IT departments as the project’s success depended on these groups. The project group chose Wheelers to provide the ebook lending platform due to their competitive pricing and willingness to accommodate their needs. Meetings on Skype with representatives from Wheelers, Library Managers and school administrators gave everyone the chance to discuss ideas and refine the group’s requirements.

Taylor believes that the model they developed – where each school has their own account, chooses their own books and pays for them – made the process of sharing a common elibrary highly successful. And by sharing resources, the schools were able to create a service where all ebooks are now available to all students, regardless of the school that paid for them – improving access and value for money. In March 2013, the eCOGSS ebook lending facility opened for business, with 8% of enrolled patrons borrowing more then one ebook.

Given the success of the project in terms of the schools involved, what do the students think of eCOGSS?

In early December 2013, Bright Ideas conducted a survey of 24 students ranging from years seven to nine, from Shepparton High and Mooroopna Secondary College, to determine if the students were using eCOGSS, if they preferred ebooks to physical books and what they thought the future of school libraries might be.

The survey results show that 54% of the students borrow from the eCOGSS ebook lending facility, while 13% prefer to get their ebooks elsewhere (Wattpad is a popular choice, especially given the amount of self-publishing which occurs on this platform).

54% of students preferred not to get their books online (17% were undecided). Some of their comments included:

  • I like paper books because you can find more out about them before you borrow.
  • I prefer books to technology.
  • The books in the library I can take home but the books online I can’t access at home.
  •  I find it really annoying having to set up your laptop and etc. just to read a book. I hate reading off a computer. It can’t be good for your eyes. And I like reading a paper book that you can take anywhere and is easy.

For those students who did prefer getting books online in the form of ebooks, some reasons were:

  • There is a wider range of books
  • It’s easier than going to a public library
  • It’s easier then carrying [books] around the school
  • You don’t have to carry them around and there are books here that are not in the library

Students were asked what they thought about the future of libraries and school libraries. Some of their comments are featured below:

  • There will be fancy scrolls that when you open them you can flick through pages like an ipad and everything will be stored on them (every thing!!!). [Student doesn’t use eCOGSS but reads Google Books]
  • I think libraries will be using technology and ebooks more than they do now. [Student doesn’t use eCOGSS but prefers to get books online
  • I think libraries will die out because of the internet and online reading. [Student doesn’t borrow from eCOGSS. Reads ebooks from Wattpad]
  • In all honesty I don’t think that libraries will change that much because there will always be people who like paper books.
  • I think they should stay the same. Maybe you can put in an order on-line to borrow it but then go pick it up and read a book not a text on a screen.
  • They won’t have libraries if people always use online.
  • Please continue helping us, finding books. Thank you. [Student doesn’t borrow ebooks]
  • I think it’s a great opportunities for readers to get a chance to do what they like. [Student doesn’t borrow ebooks]
  • Have a library and ebooks. [Student borrows ebooks from eCOGSS]
  • While it’s a good idea that books are easily obtained and read, nothing really beats a good old book. Though I do enjoy ebooks very much. [Student borrows ebooks from eCOGSS]

While it’s interesting to see the opinions of this group of students, only a small number were surveyed, so it would be interesting to see whether students in the broader community use their school elibraries in the same way. It’s also important to note that students’ like or dislike of elibraries ebooks often depends on their exposure to and abililty to access them. The evidence from this survey suggests that there are students using eCOGSS and some students prefer reading ebooks. However, the results also suggest many students prefer to read physical books.

It’s clear to see that eCOGSS ebook lending facility is a great example of how collaboration and partnership between schools and teacher librarians can lead to better library services across school communities and large geographical areas.

Terms of Service; Didn’t Read

The most time-consuming part of evaluating web tools for educational use has got to be looking at the Terms of Service (also know as Terms of Use or Terms and Conditions). They can go on for pages, and are so often wrapped up in so much legalese that even if you manage to read to the end, there is no guarantee you will be any wiser. And yet we can’t just ignore them; it is our duty as educators and as digital citizens to protect rights and understand responsibilities online.

Wouldn’t it be great if  Google Translate could do something to convert ToS into Plain English? Well, Terms of Service; Didn’t Read might be just the web project we’ve been waiting for. ToS:DR (for short) are a user rights group aiming to rate and label website terms & privacy policies from “very good Class A to very bad Class E.”  As well as rating them, they are also providing a “thumbs up/thumbs down” report card that helps users better understand individual aspects of a service agreement. The report card is written in bullet point fashion but it is possible to expand the points for more detailed explanations, access the full terms of the web tool and there are discussion pages available behind each of the points.

ToS;DR is still very new (started in mid-2012) so the number of sites that have report cards are limited, but it is an excellent example of the positive change that can occur through global connectivity and collaboration, and the project is actively growing.

This is a grassroots project, created by citizens and volunteers who take their responsibilities very seriously; they engage in a peer-reviewed process of rating and analysing to create each rating, and they are committed to Creative Commons and Free Software licensing.

While this site does not take the place of legal advice, it does help users make some sense of the pages and pages of fine print before we click, and ultimately that offers us the chance to make better online choices.

Interactive writing and note taking with Meeting Words

Recently I attended an online seminar with Howard Rheingold, an advocate of using technology mindfully. As the session began, Howard directed participants towards a shared note taking space set up using the Meeting Words site. As the session progressed participants added notes in the shared space. They pasted in links mentioned by Howard, made their own notes and shared ideas. It was an interesting addition to the session and means that there is now a lasting record of the seminar.

Meeting Words works in a similar fashion to the shared document editor in Google Drive. Most of the screen is taken up with a simple shared note taking space and a chat window appears on the right. Every participant’s entries  are colour coded, giving a visual representation of each contributor. Text can be overwritten or replaced by other participants and any changes appear in real time on screen.

Each participant’s contribution is colour coded.

As the name suggests, Meeting Words is perfect for taking notes collaboratively instead of relying on one person to  catch every piece of information. It would also be a great way to work on shared projects, such as group assignments or curriculum planning. But the site could also have more creative applications.

Meeting Words would be a great way to do interactive, shared or modelled writing with a group of students. Teachers could even assist by adding in comments, helping make revisions or using the chat window to suggest ways the story might progress. There is even a time slider function to see how the piece has progressed from start to finish.

Meeting Words is easy to set up, users can start contributing to the document without needing to login, and the colour coded text means that you can easily see what has been contributed. While the tool has some similarities to Google Drive’s document editor, these clever features make it well worth exploring.

 

Meeting of the Minds 2012

Meeting of the Minds 2012

The inaugural Meeting of the Minds Unconference (#MOTM12)  was held over the weekend of February 25-26 at the Quantum Victoria facility. Educators came together from all over Victoria and from interstate to discuss the role of technology in learning.

The guiding motto of #MOTM12 was  “The shortest distance between two people is a story.” Participants were invited to create their own digital story before the event and then to share them on the Meeting of the Minds website. This was just one of the interesting ways that participants were encouraged to share their thoughts and meet each other. Attendees were even tasked with making lunch for their partner!

The organisers of the event had obviously spent a great deal of time thinking about how to have attendees collaborate and guide the content of sessions. A shared display area and sticky notes were used to collect ideas and suggestions, which were then grouped into sessions that were then run by participants.  Shared notes were collected in Google Docs and sessions were streamed live with many people joining in the discussion on Twitter using the #MOTM12 hashtag.

There were lively discussions about using technology in the classroom and the importance of self directed learning, not just for students but also for educators. Many participants discussed the way professional learning might be improved and encouraged within their schools. One great idea was to gather for a coffee at the start of each day for a 5 minute sharing session.

Have a look at a Storify of the event, produced by online attendee Roland Gesthuizen, to see how it all unfolded. You can also visit the #MOTM12 website to find out more. Shared notes from each session can be found in the Spaces menu.

Congratulations to the event organisers Jess McCulloch, Tony Richards and Andrew Williamson for putting together an event that allowed educators to get together and collaborate in such an interesting way.

How connected are you?

Connected: the film

Hamish Curry, Education Manager at the State Library of Victoria, explores his feelings about the film Connected:

It was back in early September at a Gathering ‘11 event organised by David Hood that I first watched ‘Connected’, a film about “love, death and technology” by Tiffany Shlain. The film stimulated a whole bunch of complex thoughts and ideas I’d been having around the ways in which we relate to one another, and the tools of technology we’re using to help improve these relations. A tweet response from Tiffany afterwards, along with some email networking led me to organise the State Library’s own screening of the film on November 23. I’ve seen Connected four times since September, and each time something new resonates. I love the shock value of Albert Einstein who said that “if honeybees were to disappear, humankind would be gone in four years.”

Connected weaves a myriad of personal, historical, and global issues and challenges together, showing us that patterns are emerging amongst these random pieces. From the evolution of language, to our reliance on machines and the demands we’re placing on the hemispheres of the brain, humans are making more and more rapid decisions, connections, and discoveries. The film’s premise is that while technology is changing the way we communicate, relate, work and consume, it is having unintended impacts on our well-being and that of the planet around us.

I think all of us familiar with technology sense this, and no doubt all those who have been involved with the VicPLN program experienced various levels of anxiety and excitement around the tools of the web as well. Yet the film also highlights how technology is enabling us to make better and faster connections to issues confronting us and to the people who share our passions. Technology has helped us visualise data, trends, thoughts, and images in new ways. As such, the film promotes deeper thinking and reflection. There have been some great posts from people like Judith Way and Jenny Luca. Some see Tiffany’s story being quite self-indulgent, others see her experiences as being symptomatic of our struggle to connect.

For me it has stirred up a passion around a radical rethink of how we approach education. The traditional system broke learning down into disconnected but measurable chunks and pieces, which mirrored our thinking around literacy, numeracy, and sciences. Now more and more educators are realising that we’ve reached a point where we need to put these back together, creating an integrated, blended, and connected education system, where the school is simply a node in a much bigger community, both locally and internationally.

Another big node is libraries. They are at cross-roads too. Their ability to be hubs of information and community connections is beginning to be leveraged in new and exciting ways. It’s a nice time to be part of libraries and education; change is an expectation. So in closing, I’ll leave you with a Connected thought for 2012 from John Muir, who said “when you tug at a single thing in the universe, you find it’s attached to everything else.”

popplet

Although still in beta testing, popplet is well worth checking out.

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By applying for a tester code that will arrive in a day or two, users can take this site for sharing ideas visually for a test drive. This video explains more:

If you don’t want to try the test model, you can stay in touch with popplet news via email, Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo or Tumblr. As popplet lite is also available as a free iPad app, schools and teachers that have access to them might like to investigate further.

Manifesto for 21st Century School Librarians

School library guru Dr Joyce Valenza has written an inspiring post entitled A Manifesto for 21st Century School Librarians. Covering our responsibilities to students regarding:

  • reading
  • information landscape
  • communication and publishing and storytelling
  • collection development
  • facilities, your physical space
  • access, equity, advocacy
  • audience and collaboration
  • copyright, copyleft and information ethics
  • new technology tools
  • professional development and professionalism
  • teaching and learning and reference
  • into the future (acknowledging the best of the past)

this is a must read, must react, must reflect post. Thanks to Helen Boelens for directing me to this post.

DropBox

Earlier this year, The Nerdy Teacher mentioned the tool DropBox on his blog. It sounded so great that I had to try it myself.

Screen shot 2010-07-28 at 10.17.04 AM

DropBox is a free (2GB) download and enables you to share folders and/or documents with selected colleagues or friends. Rather than having to email often cumbersome files, the holder of the DropBox invites friends via email to a specific folder within the DropBox. Friends can then either add or access these files, but only within the specific folder they have been given access to. Large photo albums, powerpoint presentations or documents are quickly and easily transferred.

If you need more storage to meet your needs, there are premium accounts.

The addition of mobile DropBox apps for iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and Android (Blackberry coming soon) means that you can sync these with your computer. You can also add more than one computer to your account; so you could access DropBox on your home and work computers as well as a mobile device.

The video on the DropBox sites explains it all in two minutes.

I can say that DropBox has been an excellent addition to my toolbox and I have used it at least once a week since March. The DropBox website states that it works on PC, Mac and Linux.

A Prescription for Healthier School Librarianship: Transforming Our Practice for the 21st Century

The brilliant Buffy Hamilton has agreed to share her presentation on A Prescription for Healthier School Librarianship: Transforming Our Practice for the 21st Century with readers of Bright Ideas.

A Prescription for Healthier School Librarianship: Transforming Our Practice for the 21st Century

As Hamilton states, the challenges we all face such as:
  • budget contraints
  • filtering
  • fear of change

Can be overcome by:

  • seeing change as an opportunity, not a threat
  • creating a participatory culture and environment
  • multiple forms of literacy
  • multiple modes of learning
  • shared knowledge construction through collaboration
  • listening, sharing and risk-taking
  • Energise your mind by plugging into your PLN

This is a presentation that is thoughtful, creative, intelligent and timely. As Hamilton states, “Libraries are in the change business”. A visit to her website, The Unquiet Librarian is highly recommended.