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Posts Tagged ‘21st Century Learning’

Just last week a dinner guest asked me to elaborate on my occupation because today, he said with assured confidence, there’s no need for librarians, Google can provide all the answers!

With desperate determination to not let him see my eyes roll in despair, I launched into a defence of our profession explaining why Google wasn’t the panacea for all learning.  It’s a topic I blogged about more than five years ago: 10 reasons why Google can’t replace learning

Ho-hum …..  I guess the message just needs to be repeated and repeated and more – much more – needs to be said and done to continue impressing on the public the valuable role performed by those of us working in the field of librarianship.

Then I came across this fabulous post on the State Library of Victoria blog: So you want to be a librarian?  For those who have been in education for a while it serves as a lovely trip down memory lane.  For those of us who are newer to the field of librarianship however, it provides a chance to look back, contemplate and realize how vastly different the role of librarians are today in the 21st Century.

From my own vantage point, working as a teacher librarian in a senior school library, its comforting to know and see how much our image has changed.  I’m left questioning though whether we are doing enough to communicate how much we can teach, assist, mentor, guide and support our library patrons – both students and teachers.

Publicizing all that we can do and give needs to extend to the wider school community as well if we are to achieve that end goal of helping the general public understand why we cannot be replaced by Google!

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I very rarely look at the stats of my blog.  Quite honestly, I’ve better things to do.

But the other day, I was poking around on the NovaNews dashboard looking for something and came across an incredibly high number of hits for a post I wrote back in late 2012:  Learning to learn: 10 essential skills for teachers.

I was amazed to see that in just the first three months of this year – 2016 – there have been a total of 962 hits on this post, a figure which equates to 43% of the total number of hits on the same blog post last year.

Learning to learn - 10 essential skills for teachers!

So I’ve been sitting here for a while puzzling over why this post should be generating so much interest.

Perhaps my post may be garnering some attention via Twitter, but a check of recent stats on my WordPress analytics suggests not.  Most of the ‘referrers’ to this blog post are in fact coming from search engines which suggests

that many ‘out there’ must be searching for ways to improve their own teaching skills and that is the really interesting finding in all of this!

Inadvertently, it seems, I’ve discovered that my thoughts are being read far more widely than I’d previously thought.

Ah, I say with a smile on my face:  the power of blogging!

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Last week I focused on my own foray with online reading and reflected on the massive changes that have unconsciously and slowly crept into my online reading routines.  My reflection on this prompted the realization that we really need to tease out skills involved in online reading so that we can be sure we are helping our students master these necessary skills.

Debunking the assumption that students in our schools instinctively know how to successfully engage with online reading is essential at the outset.

Being tech savvy, which many of our students are, does not mean they know how to successfully extract information from the wide diversity of websites they are likely to encounter in our increasingly online world.  Like all aspects of education, skills need to be taught and learned.  Remember those left right eye coordination activities given to young pre-school aged children?  Perhaps it’s time to develop similar activities that incorporate skills pertinent to online reading and establish for this young age group a set of foundation skills which will see them better engage with our online world.

As students progress through our schools though, cross curricula kinds of activities should become part and parcel of various classroom experiences:

  • Exposure: Constant and regular exposure to a wide range of online reading sources is important to enable students to develop familiarity.  If online reading activities focus more on one kind at the expense of another, they will not develop necessary skills.  Expose students to online reading for pleasure, interest and information which can be found in short stories, newspaper articles and Wikipedia posts.  Ensure that online reading incorporates a range of media such as text, graphics, pictures, video and audio such as that found in blogs, magazines, encyclopaedias and newspapers.
  • Format: Rather than assuming students have an innate understanding of how to ‘read’ various online sources, discuss and highlight techniques which can be applied to different kinds of pages as well as aspects included wtihin them:
    • learn to see the gestalt of a webpage so as to instinctively know how to tackle reading it
    • explore what is incorporated in header and footers of webpages
    • size up a webpage so as to determine skills needed: one column requires top down scanning; many columns requires side to side scanning while moving from top to bottom;
    • scan web page headings and the first sentence of paragraphs to give an indication of content
    • focus on the entire website content before succumbing to the urge to check out embedded links
  • Expectation: Increased familiarity with a range of different online websites will enable students to predict what they may expect to find.  This expectation will, in turn, give them cues on how to approach reading the website.  In other words, the more we talk about what is being read, or having students discuss it with each other, the more ‘approach’ skills they will develop. By exploring embedded links in a structured way, students can develop a sense of when it may be of value to wander away from the reading at hand and what they can gain from this diversion.
  • Notetaking: Learning how to use various apps and programs to take notes while reading will enrich the online reading experience.  Along the way, valuable lessons can be learned in how to gather information, record sources and compile bibliographic information which may be needed if the information is to be shared.
  • Focus: Much as we encourage students to pick up a novel or magazine and read for an extended period of time, so too should we require them to read online for an extended period of time.   Those wonderful programs such as DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) can easily be moved to online reading.
  • Writing:  Today there are a plethora of online tools which allow the novice to write and create websites of their own.  Learning the ‘back end’ of how a website is created or a blog written is a very effective way of learning to read online!   The mantra I constantly tell my students rings very true:  “The more you read, the more you write.”  Flipping this mantra to say “The more you write, the more you read” also holds true!

Increased expectation and improved navigation will ensure improved engagement with text.  Enabling students to successfully engage with online reading is a path to increasing the amount of online reading they choose to do rather than being required to do.

Somewhere in this amazing process, a spark may well be lit that will encourage independent online learning that may inspire a voracious hunger and thirst to learn!

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Coming across a blog post a couple of weeks ago which said we’re not reading much online today, threw me a bit.  Why?

Because I’m a convert!

I knew that my habits had changed the day I searched for the online copy of an article from a hard copy magazine to which I subscribe.   I had the hard copy magazine article open on the side of my desk.  After locating the online copy, I realized just a few minutes later I was totally engrossed – online!  I actually recollect that moment, because I stopped reading and took notice of the shift that had overcome me.  That was over two years ago.

While I have no recollection of consciously or unconsciously acting on my preference for online reading, it is clear that I have indeed made the shift.  Somehow or other I have taken control of what was a shocking case of ‘wandering eyes syndrome’ in which I could feel my eyes darting around a web page having no structured approach and seeing no logical path to apply to my frequent foray into the world of online reading!

I recollect becoming exhausted and slightly frustrated trying to engage with online reading. So, what happened?  What changed?

I wish I’d taken more notice along the way, because now, when confronted with articles such as this one: How much are people reading online? which states quite emphatically that not many of us are reading online, I feel at a loss to proffer an alternate view.

What I do know though, is that now, I can, given the time, spend quite a few hours a day reading online and I do most certainly prefer reading magazines, which in their standard print version, can be several pages long.

But …..

….. my infatuation with online reading still does not encompass reading novels.   Nup.  I haven’t as yet given up on hard copy books.   While I have read a few eBooks – from proverbial cover to cover – my preference remains, as evidenced by the huge pile of books on numerous bookshelves and tables at both home and work, for the good old hard copy novel.

So what is it that has seen the transformation to my preference for online reading of magazine and newspaper articles along with various interest based articles?

  • Increased familiarity: As the years have tumbled by, I guess it is clear that my familiarity with the layout of online reading materials has increased.  While blogs differ dramatically from each other, the format of them are all quite similar.  The same goes for online magazines and newspapers where the format of many are quite similar.  The header and footer of most blogs, online magazines and newspapers seem to conform to similar ‘layout rules’.  Either that, or I have become conditioned to what they have to offer and how to search within for information.  The same applies to websites.  While there are huge differences between websites, I’ve learned, or become increasingly familiar, with their layout.
  • Ease of use: With familiarity, I’ve developed a set of expectations on how to use various formats that present themselves to me.  I’ve come to expect and appreciate the embedded definitions and explanations that regularly appear on websites. No longer do I feel that I’ve lost my train of concentration as I wander off on the random paths of discovery on which these embedded links lead me.  In fact, I’m often conscious of how incredibly engrossed I become as I traverse my journey of discovery – especially when I glance at the clock and realize that an hour or more has zipped past.
  • Interaction: Navigating online articles and posts provides a way of engaging with text which is unparalleled when reading hard copy text.  As one of those diehard ‘pencil in hand while reading’ people, I must say that online reading has liberated me quite dramatically!  Over the last ten plus years, I’ve become a paperless reader, who regularly notetakes digitally.  Online reading totally lends itself to this routine.
  • Engagement: Part of my increased familiarity and ease with online reading must be due to my increased habit of online writing.  As a blogger, I regularly engage with the kind of material I write.  Without realizing it, I’ve become living proof of the mantra I constantly share with my students:  “The more you read, the more you write”.
  • Purpose: Reading for interest or reading for information are two very different purposes of online reading.  Reading for interest implies an increased engagement with the text, whereas reading for information implies that a rigorous search in underway.  While I’m conscious that my eye movements for an information search differ to my regulated controlled reading of text, skimming is an integral part of the reading process.  Learning to skim in a methodical way when engaging with online material is as important as learning to skim hard copy material.   I’ve found that my skimming of online material has improved over time.  Rather than being aware of my eyes darting all over the website, nowadays I’m conscious of skimming from top to bottom over headings, first sentences of paragraphs, bolded words and links which break up the website as well as skimming in a more controlled way across columns and other varied, unordered features which present in many websites.

So ….. should we be teaching our students strategies to increase their ability to engage better with online reading?

Sure.

I’ll save my thoughts and suggestions for next week though!

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Picking up a Dorling Kindersley (DK) book is a bit like going down memory lane for me!

The look and feel of DK books reminds me of my earliest teaching days when I would grasp at anything that would bring language alive for the Deaf students with whom I was working.  The incredibly elegant illustrations and the detailed visual explanations of how things work and the beautifully illustrated intricate fold out pages on many of the DK books would engage and inspire learning in a magical and easy way.

So when a friend (thanks Mif!) shared a link to a beta version of the

DK findout!

website,, I felt like I’d found a friend and couldn’t wait to get reacquainted!

While DK tells parents having a look around that they are “building a safe place online to see, learn, and explore almost everything.” DK outlines its aims for educators as follows:

We’re creating the ultimate teaching tool for you and your students. DK Findout! will feature:

  • Easy-to-access, authoritative DK content
  • Subject-based, curriculum-linked articles to support classroom learning and teaching
  • Up-to-date resources and ideas for projects and homework

Check it out ….. it looks awesome!

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PhotoMathLaunched just a few days, PhotoMath is a revolutionary app that quite possibly will change the way Math is taught and learned by students in schools.

To use, simply point the app at a math problem so that the smartphone’s camera can instantly scan the problem and provide a solution.   The educational part of it is that it shows the solution – step by step – thereby letting the student learn how to solve the problem.

To quote one of the developers:

PhotoMath is a 21st century evolution of a calculator and it can enable every student to have a math teacher in their pocket.”

While Math education is not my specialty, this certainly does seem to be a groundbreaking development.   The first five minutes of this video shows the developers explaining and giving examples of how it can be used.  It sounds very impressive.

Needless to say I had to give it a go to see if and how it worked.  So I tried my luck with something fairly simple and then a calculation that was just a tad more complex.

Fraction PhotMath

Algebra PhotoMath

Pretty good!  It will be interesting to see if this takes off in schools.

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Unable to attend the 2013 EduTECH National Congress, I enjoyed reading a brief article by Chelsea Attard, which I’m unfortunately unable to find online:  Gadgets, gizmos and plenty of world-class speakers on show.  This article gave just a glimpse of some of the inspirational presentations given over the course of the conference.

Amongst a review of a number of different presentations, this quote piqued my interest:

“Education is an exciting place to work right now because technology is pushing us towards self-directed learning”

Quote of Kynan Robinson at EdTECH National Congress 2013 as reported in a review of this Congress
by Chelsea Attard in Technology in Education (Term 3, 2013)

With a passionate interest in teacher education and how educators today are able to benefit from the incredibly rich online learning environment which surrounds us all, I was hooked by this short quote.   Eager to put these words into context, I  was pleased to very quickly locate a video of Kynan Robinson’s presentation at the 2013 EduTECH National Congress.

As it turns out, this quote, which feeds into my own belief that technology is pushing all of us to self-directed learning, was really part of a talk which focused on how the playing field for students in our schools has and is dramatically changing.  The thoughts, experiences and examples shared were interesting.   Taking Robinson’s words a step further though, it is without a doubt that the altered learning environment being experienced by our students in our classes is also being experienced by educators across the entire education sector.

Many of the points Robinson made, can be applied to teacher education:

  • education today is an incredible place to work because it is empowering and inspiring;
  • the Internet is reshaping how educators learn;
  • technology is making learning and teaching better for both the educator and the student
  • modern technology is about communication and connectivity
  • communication is enhanced by social networking
  • adjuncts of social networking such as liking, rating, tagging and sharing diverse opinions facilitate shared knowledge
  • connectivity enables the sharing of ideas
  • ideas are being shared in online networks
  • active participation in online networks allows members to become co-creators of new knowledge
  • online networks are developing new knowledge
  • knowledge resides in online networks
  • network learning is becoming the norm

In short:

  • connectivity allows educators to take responsibility for their own learning
  • connectivity allows educators to determine their own learning paths
  • connectivity empowers educators
  • connectivity inspires learning

In other words, where the symbol –> means ‘leads to’ :

technology –> communication & connectivity = social networking –> networking –> network learning

For those of us who are already active online network learners regularly joining hands with those in our Personal Learning Network in the pursuit of new learning and new knowledge, this kind of thinking is not new.   So good is the experience, it is not surprising that we are keen to share with those who have not yet discovered this incredibly easy way to enrich our knowledge and our lives!

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