Accessibility: Simple Things

In one of my courses, I stress accessibility with my students concerning school library web sites. Since they build mock sites, one of the things they must do before building their sites is to refresh their knowledge on accessibility issues. Some of the sources that we use are:

In addition, as they build their sites using a site builder, such as Google Sites, Weebly, or Webs.com, they should take advantage of the tools that are offered to them. Alternative text and annotations for links and images is one such help. Another is to use the built in headers and formatting features.

Alternative Text:

Each builder offers a similar way to include alternative text with images. When adding or inserting an image, pay attention to the information requested. Many times you will find place holders or areas to enter in text that are called “captions” or “alt text.” When you include text that describes the images in these place holders, you will notice, after saving, that text will appear when you scroll over or hover over the image. Including alternative text is a simple way of making your school library web site more accessible to diverse populations.

Vaporware

I was made aware of this term (vaporware) last night when I was having a discussion with my husband about software that is sold as a product but is not built out.

If this is happening in the business world, will it come to education?

All the talk and some major responses to the proposed cuts in the budget for education leads me to wonder what costs education will incur should it follow a true business model in the future. The nudge to move towards a business model is stronger than ever in some areas.

e-Learning & Instructional Design

I teach most of my courses online right now. In an effort to meet each learner’s needs, I constantly seek ways to improve my courses. Yet, it seems as though I am unable to satisfy everyone. It would be easy to say, “Such is life.” However, I am unwilling to accept it.

I recently learned about the term ADDIE: Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate. Of course, this is what online facilitators do. It is a perpetual cycle. However, I have noticed that as the online learning community develops and grows, so has the process for delivering instruction and content. It has become more sophisticated and fast-paced. Just as the growth of the use of technology in learning has exploded, so is the way we develop and deliver instruction. Yet, we are doing it (supposedly) better, faster, and cheaper. 

Does that mean we are becoming better at it, thus we are able to respond more quickly and thus incurring less costs, or are we just doing more online because of the perceived need to do so? Why I ask is because I have heard online instructors openly complain that their approval ratings go down when they teach online compared with face-to-face.

Some of the comments made by online students at the beginning of the semester are that they desire the online course. By the end of the semester, some of these same students are commenting that they prefer face-to-face. Which is it? What is/are the missing element(s)? Or, could we be in a transition phase?

Obviously, there are easy answers to the above questions, but I am not looking for those. Assume they have been met. I am looking for the answers that are alluding us.

IMLS, WebWise 2011 & STEM

Last week, I attended WebWise 2011 in Baltimore. The theme was STEM. Although the conference did not focus solely on school libraries and PK-12 students, there were many opportunities to gain insight into advancing STEM in the school setting.

Thank you IMLS for hosting this event. Soon, IMLS will post the video from the conference on its site.

Shift Happens…Again

Note to self: I have been waiting for this time to come along. It has been a dry dessert in which I have wandered as I waited about while I searched for the way that technology would finally set a clearer path ahead of me.

It was all good to learn new tools and promote them. It was all good to read research on populations and their use of technology. What has made the shift for me is understanding disruptive innovation theory. This understanding comes thanks to reading Disrupting Class.

The push-me, pull-you circus that has been orchestrated around integrating technology has not revolutionized education for PK-12 students, or even higher ed students for that matter, in many places around where I go. This does not mean that we are not doing great things! What I am talking about here is that the use of technology in schools has not been like the introduction of the iPod compared to the use of a Sony Walkman, or take it back even further, a transistor radio.

In schools we try to utilize technology, but boundaries are encountered. It is how we get around these boundaries that will revolutionize learning for our students. Innovation is key and most likely will not take place in the current educational design that we institute.

And the most interesting thing that I am discovering about this theory is that the costs will be less if we stop cramming the new into the old. Something to think about.

A Juggling Act with Distance Learning

As I move forward to increasing the number of courses that I teach through distance learning, I am finding that there are more considerations to take into account. The one I confronted today was time.  For instance, scheduling becomes a nightmare when you want to meet everyone one-on-one to answer their questions and give that personal touch.

When do you meet? There is no set schedule. All class members are running on different schedules and have signed up for the course knowing that it is online without set times for physical meetings. And if you, as an instructor, desire to add that personal touch or bring students into the online environment for participating through social connections in online meetings or office hours, you must decide how to best schedule the time so as to meet everyone’s needs without creating obstacles or additional stress for the students.

In addition, once you schedule times to meet, you must make sure that you do not leave anyone out or that they do not escape you (or dodge you). Plus, when you have large numbers of students, figuring out how to meet all of them individually may be a scheduling nightmare! Just how many time slots do you have in a day? It is quite interesting to lay this out and realize that time is very valuable and limited, indeed!

The juggling act that occurs with distance learning is setting time to meet with students and not duplicating those same time frames across classes. It may not always be as easy as sitting in your office and leaving your door open for students to drop by during scheduled office hours. Ugh!

Leadership & Business: How Much Is In Common With Education?

Many times I have sat in school faculty meetings that usually come at the end of the school day and wondered how teachers are able to sit somewhat quietly and follow directions. Every one of those teachers operated in a classroom where he or she led students throughout the day. Sitting quietly and waiting for someone to tell them what to do and how to do it without requesting their input and expertise must have been challenging, unless, of course, the information offered was outside of their daily operations.

So, today, when I came across Hall’s blog post on leadership, I thought to myself that if you replace the word “leader” with “teacher,” “meeting” with “classroom,” and “team” with “students” the message still makes sense. Take a look for yourself: http://4thgearconsulting.com/blog/?p=820 The blog is “It’s Time to Lead: Change Is Optional, Success Is Not Mandatory” by Randy Hall. In this entry, “Leadership Lessons From a Five Year Old,” Hall talks about how successful leaders focus on how to best help others improve. He finds that in his own daily activities with his son that he should utilize this same focus.

Is this not what successful teachers do daily?  They focus on how to help every student improve in their learning, behavior, attitudes, or any area that might hold the student back from making progress for that particular student’s academic achievement. That is a tall order. Yet, teachers do this everyday for every student that they are able to reach. This does not mean that every student is a willing participant in the endeavor, which makes the leadership role of the teacher more challenging. However, successful teachers look for ways to continue growth and improvement for their students.

By reading Hall’s blog entry, he provides one sure way in how teachers may say that they perform in the classroom like successful business leaders do when they enter a meeting. The main difference is that business leaders most likely do not have the mandatory number of student groupings, schedules, and budgets that classroom teachers work with to meet the requirements set forth by the local, state, and federal levels. Such oversight will never allow schools to operate as businesses. We should be careful when we try to apply business principles or models to schools. Of course, we are able to find common ground as I have here. Yet, the manner in which the two operate as a whole are entirely different.

Is it the difference in how schools and businesses operate where some of the problems lie in preparing and educating students to function in the business world?

Teaching/Librarianship Portfolios May Be More Important Now

With the rumblings about change in education and some districts eliminating positions like school librarians to cut costs, it might be time for updating the portfolio. Building a stronger representation of  what we do with students and sharing it with those who hold the keys to our positions and paychecks is vital. We know the strides we make with each student. We see progress on a daily basis and over time. Those who are outside of our environments and who must balance budgets do the best they can with the knowledge they have. The information we provide them might help us continue our work as we support student learning.

When I created my first constructive portfolio that served me well, I referred to How to Develop a Professional Portfolio: A Manual for Teachers, 3rd ed. by Campbell, Cignetti, Melenyzer, Nettles, and Wyman, Jr. (2004). Prior to that, I followed what our school had developed for evaluation purposes. With the manual, I found a more comprehensive, professional, and reflective way to represent myself and my repertoire as a teacher and a school librarian. The portfolio I developed served me well.

Now, I am going to revisit my portfolio with an eye on the future. What will be most important for evaluation? What skills should I focus on or seek professional development so I may add them to my knowledge base? Will I include items that I have on the Web? How will I address electronic applications that do not translate well to paper? Should I develop two separate portfolios: one paper and one electronic? Should I add to those a portfolio that has elements of both?

When I make these decisions, I will want to make them with the knowledge that the formats that I select will be accessible in the future. Why? Last week I cleaned out a drawer that had floppy discs in it. They are useless now. Whatever portfolio information that I might have had on them and did not have in a different format is not accessible to me at the moment. I will want to be sure to choose formats that I can keep for a long time. This will offer me opportunities for reflection and evidence of growth.

To get started on my new portfolio, I need to plan. Decisions must be made on what to collect, where to store what I collect, and how to organize it all. I have options. I would like to use what I have rather than make a side trip to the Container Store or my local office supply store. This might take some thinking time and creativity, but I am sure it will be worth it. A good start will help set a solid foundation for developing a portfolio that will provide evidence of what I do well.

Collaborating: Museums & Libraries

Libraries and museums will prove to be valuable resources in the future as they continue to collaborate.

This week I am attending the WebWise 2010 conference where discussion takes place around projects that have been success (or not) with the IMLS grant monies.

The collaborations seem to be successful when the leading institution (library or museum) addresses problems or seeks new ways to deal with outmoded responses to problems. Bringing in stakeholders is a strong component when they support and contribute to the process. Collaborating with other institutions also requires support, both through temporary funding (such as grants) as well as continuous funding. Everyone must buy-in to the project in the beginning with a commitment for it to be successful in the end.

I am adding this content while the presentations begin…. 🙂


Searching for Online Books

I love my Kindle, just as I love my paper-bound books. Now, I am beginning to find a great deal of usefulness for the wealth of online books that are available. They come in various categories.

  1. Books in the public domain, published prior to 1924.
  2. Books that carry a Creative Commons license and are usually created in open document format (ODF) and/or converted to PDF.

Books in the public domain may be scanned by volunteers or paid workers who contribute a library’s collections to the online environment. These books with the older publication date provide a rich view of what has gone before. Some might even be required reading for assignments, and they are available for free for everyone in the class at the same time of access!

Books that carry a Creative Commons license are added to the online environment so that their contents reach many more readers than a print copy would. Much of the time, readers may print the entire book or only portions for their personal use. As long as a reader has a computer and Internet access, these books are available for learning.

Various ways to access both types of books are available. Probably the most well-known is Google Books. At Google Books, one may read reviews, view content (sometimes limited), view sellers of the book, and more. Using the Overview link, a reader is able to see what is available online concerning that particular book. Professional reviews as well as contributing reviews are helpful in the decision for reading the book. Common terms and phrases are included in a text cloud that helps to define the material contained within its contents. Surprisingly, a map is included to label the places that are mentioned in the book.

Personally, I am considering all of the possibilities for use when students read a book.

For Microsoft users, the Live Book Search has been canceled. An explanation may be found here.

Online services that require a fee are available for online books that may not fit into either of the categories I listed. The text of these e-books may indeed be under copyright at the time of access.

Some of the providers of e-books include:

SkillSoft’s Books24x7 – one of the more expensive services where you are able to download chapters (if  you are a corporate customer) in PDF. Most of the books are business, authoritative titles.

Questia – a much more affordable subscription-based service with e-books that cover a wide range of topics. I was an early adopter of Questia and found it a wonderful way to read and take notes on my reading. By clicking on the Education link, you are able to view all of the books included in the e-library on that topic.

ebrary – a service that requests a small registration fee to get you started. Then, when you find something you want to print/download, you pay per page.

Open Content Alliance (OCA) at the Internet Archives – this is the jackpot of e-books! Many contributed collections may be accessed from here.

Open Library – an online catalog for accessing all types of books, where you may select to buy, borrow, or browse.

The Global Text Project – provides you with three types of content: e-content, books that have been scanned, and links to online books that may be of interest.