Digitally re-shifting your school library is about harnessing the power of new ideas like Web 2.0 to help fulfill the mission of school libraries. It does not necessarily mean discarding the old, but rather reconsidering what works best in meeting new challenges in a changing educational world. It's all a part of helping students become literate users of information in order for them to have successful careers in school and beyond. Remember that for some students, a rich school library experience may be their only library experience. Let's use every opportunity to help our students engage the joy of reading and the power of information.—Chris Harris, "School Library 2.0," School Library Journal
In the spring of 2004, I found myself accepted into the IMLS-funded interdisciplinary distance-independent information science PhD program at the University of North Texas. There were ten of us in the program, a cohort of practicing librarians, including Margaret Lincoln, the school-media specialist at Lakeview High School in Battle Creek, Michigan.
In the fall of 2004, in the class, I presented a literature review and proposal on library blogging. Margaret, and some of the other ladies in the cohort, were intrigued.
Later, she would go on to introduce blogging and a unique way to build collaboration and community among students. With the publication of Chris Harris's "School Library 2.0" article in School Library Journal (SLJ's May 1, 2006, piece is the first time any of the big library magazines has covered the 2.0 meme), I was pleased to note Margaret was included in the article. I also thought it might be a good idea to check in and see how things are going.
MS: Did you ever think you'd be blogging at school?
ML: When first contacted by SLJ contributing editor Eric Oatman for his August 2005 article "Blogomania!", I admitted to being among the majority of librarians who claimed lack of time for a reason not to become involved in this new technology. My excuse: "It's hard to find someone in a school library who can remain tethered to a computer. Many of us are chief cooks and bottle washers. We're doing it all."
This past fall, however, Lincoln not only made time for blogging, but she also helped to set up a communication tool that enabled students and teachers to engage in a meaningful educational project. Although more than 720 miles separated her from Long Island, N.Y.-based Cold Spring Harbor High School teacher Honey Kern, students at both schools were brought together—via a blog tool—through the reading of Elie Wiesel's powerful autobiographical novel Night.
MS: How did it all come about?
ML: Through my participation in the Teacher Fellowship Program of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), I worked with Cold Spring Harbor teacher Honey Kern to set up the Night Blog. My own colleague at Lakeview High School, Carol Terburg, also eagerly embraced the blog concept. The timing was right. The Battle Creek Art Center was hosting a traveling USHMM exhibition, and Battle Creek residents had the opportunity to hear Holocaust survivors speak in their community. For Carol, the blog would be a valuable supplemental resource for her students to extend their learning about the Holocaust.
In reflecting about the Night Blog, Mrs. Terburg comments that this was her first blog experience. In fact, she had never heard of blogs before I approached her about the project. We carried on a three-way dialogue of ideas before, during, and after the blog experience. Honey Kern has become a wonderful friend and deeply respected colleague to both Carol and myself. Carol realizes that being open to that type of relationship is essential for the success of the pedagogical and personal interactions that take place in a blog project.
MS: Has blogging continued at Lakeview High School?
ML: Carol has been committed to using the Night Blog again. She points out, however, "This semester we've blogged among ourselves because our Night unit couldn't coincide with our New York friends, but I think it has still been fun and a great learning experience. At first, it was difficult to get less adventurous students to participate in the blog, especially when the task of contributing posts was assigned as homework. When I gave them time from class, they became more than enthusiastic."
Mrs. Terburg used another tactic for the second semester; she encouraged students to do more interacting with one another rather than just responding to the topic. Thinking back to the fall experience, she challenged students to really learn from each other and not just revisit their own ideas.
MS: Right now some social-software tools, such as weblogs, are being criticized and blocked in some schools. How has it been at your school?
ML: The Lakeview High School administration and parents have been supportive with regard to the use of the blog. One student in Mrs. Terburg's class this past semester remarked that her father didn't want her to use her first name. Additionally, there were three "Jessicas" and two "Kens" in the class, so students were permitted to use "pen names" known only to Mrs. Terburg. A blog permission slip (in accordance with the Lakeview's AUP) was also signed by parents.
MS: What was your role as Media Specialist in the project?
ML: I am continuing to serve as moderator of the Night Blog, to participate in discussions, and regularly provide links to new informational resources related to the teaching of Night. For example, the Night Blog kept students updated on details for entering the Oprah Winfrey National High School Essay Contest on the topic of Wiesel's memoir, and information was posted about a USHMM podcast for an interview with Mr. Wiesel.
Having found time for blogs, Lincoln has also tried to introduce wikis to the staff of Lakeview High School (which moved into a brand new building in January). In support of mandated school-improvement work, she has set up a wiki to allow Lakeview High School staff members to share ideas and exchange files as they participate in the accreditation process of the North Central Association. Although the North Central wiki has just been launched, Lincoln feels it will be a way to acquaint staff with this collaborative technology for professional-development work so they will be encouraged to incorporate its use into their own teaching.
I urge school media specialists to share this story with their administrations, IT folks, and teachers as they work to develop their own blogging projects.
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