Web 2.0 and School Library Programs

Are you connected? The RSS aggregator as a professional development tool for teacher-librarians.

Originally published in The Medium, Vol 45, No 3 Spring 2006, the Journal of the Saskatchewan School Library Association
*Italicized notes indicate changes since the article was written.

Web-based applications such as blogs, wikis, photosharing, RSS feeds and social bookmarking are revolutionizing the way we find, use and share information. My head has been spinning as I have delved into these heady offerings of Web 2.0 aware that the impact they will have on school library programs is enormous.

Michael Stephens (2005) who writes for the ALA TechSource Blog defines Web 2.0 as the next incarnation of the WWW, where digital tools allow users to create, change, and publish content of all kinds. Other Web 2.0 tools syndicate and aggregate this content. These tools have shifted the individual beyond that of a passive consumer of information to an active participant in its creation.

The immediacy and ease with which information can be placed on the Web necessitates a new way of looking at how school library programs are delivered and the information literacy skills our students need to become lifelong learners. In order to do this teacher-librarians must become knowledgeable about these tools; not only about how to use them but also about their impact on communication, learning and literacy.

The purpose of this column is to bring to the attention of teacher-librarians the importance of Web 2.0 applications and how they can be utilized as part of our management, teaching and instructional leadership roles. In this issue I address the use of RSS feeds and aggregators in the context of the instructional leadership role of the teacher-librarian. These are essential professional development tools for the teacher-librarian to become aware of the current research, literature and practice regarding Web 2.0 also known as the read/write web. Our student’s information needs are changing and we must be part of that change.

The Digital Shift
Each lunch hour I watch students hurry to claim a computer in the library lab to play games, listen to music, e-mail, msn, and log-on to Hi5. They want to be connected. They are connected - virtually and with the others in the room. The music becomes louder, the laughter becomes more raucous and a sense of camaraderie is evident when one enters the room.

These students and their comfortableness, confidence and matter-of-factness with the technology fascinate me. It isn’t technology, it isn’t a tool - it just is.

What impact does their participation within a virtual world have on schools, school libraries and learning? Can we continue to engage students who can find their own entertainment, connect to who they want, when they want and find answers to the questions that intrigue and interest them without ever relying on a teacher, a book or a library? (DesRoches, 2006)

Maybe we can do so if we learn how to use the tools, understand how they can be utilized in an instructional context and use them to challenge students to respond to real-life problems. Christopher Harris (2006) author of the Infomacy Blog warns, “if school libraries fail to make a digital re-shift, they are going to loose relevancy in the world of digital information”.

To make this digital shift we must first become knowledgeable about Web 2.0 tools, how they are being used, their value and their limitations. There are many teacher-librarians, classroom teachers and educational technologists who use blogs and other Web 2.0 applications to share their knowledge, their practice and their thoughts about the changing educational environment. While it is easy to find blogs that have interesting and useful content it can be very time consuming to bookmark and then check each blog on a daily basis for updates, especially when updates to most blogs are made irregularly (Johnson, 2006). By using RSS feeds and aggregators we can regularly receive updated information.

What is an RSS Aggregator?
The RSS feed aggregator is the most valuable Web 2.0 tool for teacher-librarians who wish to participate in the current dialogue about technology and education. RSS stands for real simple syndication or rich site summary. It is an application that allows you to ‘subscribe’ to a web site, and then notifies you when new information has been added to the site.

When you see these icons on a web page they indicate that the page has a feed to which you can subscribe.

An RSS aggregator collects new information from the different sources to which you subscribe and displays it in one place. It brings the information you want directly to your computer screen without you having to go look for it. An RSS aggregator gathers information while you sleep, maintains a virtual filing cabinet of your finds and allows you to share resources easily with your colleagues (Yucht). Once you have signed into your aggregator you can quickly glance through the list of sites to see if a blog has been updated.

The most well known online RSS aggregator is Bloglines.

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(Figure 1 - Donna's Bloglines Account)

Alice Yucht has written a comprehensive tutorial Getting Started with Bloglines

Since the article was written Google Reader appeared and has attracted a large following,

Personalized Web Pages
NetVibes (www.netvibes.com) is a new service that allows you to create a custom-made Web 2.0 personalized home page integrating your favorite search tools, your e-mail accounts and your RSS feeds.

These personalized home pages are often called start pages and now include ProtoPage, PageFlakes, and of course igoogle.

Recommended Blogs
The blogs below are the ones that have stimulated my interested in Web 2.0 and generated the most understanding of Web 2.0 applications and the new information literacy needs of our students. A useful way to find other blogs that meet your needs and interests is to explore the blogs that these individuals list on their sites.

Teacher-librarian Blogs
Updated September 2, 2007

Alice in Info Land
Joyce Valenza’s Never Ending Search
Thoughts about emerging technologies, searching, and information fluency
Infomacy
Christopher Harris is the leader of a School Library System in New York and provides great reflections on the role of the teacher-librarian with regards to new technologies.
Blue Skunk Blog
Doug Johnson's thoughts on libraries, technology and life.

For a more extensive list of teacher-librarian blogs go to the teacherlibrarianwiki

Teacher Blogs
Remote Access
Clarence Fisher is a teacher in northern Manitoba who is involved with efforts to redefine literacy and what it means to be literate in the twenty-first century
2 Cents Worth
David Warlick thoughts on teaching and learning in the 21st Century. He is the author of Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century.
Cool Cat Teacher
A technology teacher uses new tools to teach content
The Thinking Stick
Thoughts about technology and learning from a technology teacher at the Shanghai American School in China

Educational Technologist Blogs
Ideas and thoughts from an EdTech
Dean Shareski is a Curriculum Consultant with the Prairie South School Division in Moose Jaw. He focuses on the use of technology in the classroom.
Weblogg-ed
Will Richardson is the Supervisor of Instructional Technology and Communications at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, NJ. He is also the author of the recently released Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms.

Instructional Leadership


Using an RSS aggregator facilitates the instructional leadership role of the teacher-librarian by allowing current, immediate access to information that is essential to the development of school library programs. The way our students find, use and share information is changing. We must be prepared to let them tell their stories with the tools with which they are most comfortable. “If we're not showing students a variety of ways to tell their stories, we are marginalizing a certain group of people who will forever be left out of the mainstream of society because their stories will never be heard, and their stories will never be told” (Wall).

Understanding how these tools work and their importance in our student’s lives allows us to speak knowledgeable and eloquently when they are banned or disparaged. Many school divisions fear cyber-bullying and inappropriate use of social software tools and are therefore blocking their access. We, as teacher-librarians, have always spoken against censorship. If we want our students to have access to 21st Century tools we must be able to articulate the importance of these tools in our student’s education.

Len Proctor (March 31, 2006) of the Department of Educational Communication and Technology at the University of Saskatchewan recently said at a meeting of the Saskatchewan School Library Reference Committee, “First there was Gutenberg and then a few hundred years….then the internet…and now Web 2.0”, illustrating how communication has changed over time and the tremendous impact that Web 2.0 is having on how we connect and communicate.

In a subsequent e-mail (April 19, 2006) he explained, “Effectively, what has happened is that the role and the power relationships of the librarian/teacher librarian has changed significantly. Paper-based resources are of declining importance in many situations. To survive in the future, students will need information literacy skills, the ability to use mind tools effectively and at least a passing familiarity with how to ask the right questions. Teacher-librarians have a golden opportunity to help make it happen”.

But to make it happen, we must first understand how the new web-based applications are changing the way our students interact with and use information. An RSS aggregator is an invaluable professional development tool providing a connection to up-to-date research, literature and practice. Knowledge and an understanding of the evolving Web 2.0 tools will enable us to advocate for student access to these technologies and to ensure that the requisite skills become an integral part of our schools’ information literacy programs.

References

DesRoches, D (2006, February 9). [Weblog] The Social web. The Illuminated Dragon. Retrieved
April 23, 2006, from http://donnadesroches.ca/2006/02/09/the-social-web/

Johnson, Doug (2006). Blogging and the media specialist. Learning and Leading with
Technology. [33(6)], 24-25.

Stephens, M (05, September 29). [Weblog] Web 2.0 for librarians. ALA TechSource. Retrieved
April 23, 2006, from http://www.techsource.ala.org/blog/blog_detail.php?blog_id=64

Stephens, M (2006, February 6). [Weblog] The Digitally re-shifted school library: A
conversation with Christopher Harris. ALA TechSource. Retrieved April 23, 2006, from http://www.techsource.ala.org/blog/2006/02/the-digitally-re-shifted-school-library-a-conversation-with-christopher-harris.html

Wall, R (2006, April 20). [Podcast] EdTech Posse Podcast #13 - Why is this worth doing in
schools? The EdTech Posse. Retrieved April 23, 2006, from
http://edtechposse.ca/?q=edtech_posse_podcast_13_-_why_is_this_worth_doing_in_schools

Yucht, A (2006, April 15). [Weblog] Why bother. Webfeeds 101 workshop demo. Retrieved
April 23, 2006, from http://www.bloglines.com/blog/aliceinfoshow2rss?id=18

Donna DesRoches is the teacher-librarian at the North Battleford Comprehensive High School. She is currently exploring the use of Web 2.0 applications in all facets of the school library program. Donna is also a graduate student at the University of Saskatchewan in the Educational Communications and Technology Program. She can be contacted at donna.desroches@lskysd.ca.