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.

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.

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.

Cultural Selection and Personal Geography

On April 18, 2009, Walter Dean Myers delivered the May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture, “The Geography of the Heart.” In his speech, which may be read in “Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children” Volume 7, Number 3, Myers walks back through the defining passages of his life. As he takes the reader back in time, Myers identifies various geographies that defined his life. These include the physical, cultural, societal, and personal geographies. When we take all of these into account, we are able to begin to view what shapes and defines us. Myers explains:

The new geography defines our positions in the world not by the usual topographical references, but rather, by the socioeconomic factors which allow us or prevent us from recreating our particular social segments in a positive manner. To say we live in New York or San Francisco is no longer significant because those geographical references fail utterly to describe where we are in relationship to American culture. It is far more accurate to say that I am in a position that I cannot perpetuate my family history because there are no jobs available for me to build an economic base or that my family has become so dysfunctional that recreation cannot be positive.

Think of the community in which you live. Now, move closer in and look at the families and the children. What are the means available to them? What are their daily experiences? What are the choices they are making? Are they true believers in the education that is offered them? Are you? What do we need to do to improve their education so that they are able to participate in the American economy?

Myers vividly points out:

The opportunities of economic globalization in a world that is divided into the G20 entities and nations approaching stark desperation, is changing the world. We ship those jobs abroad, jobs which at one time represented the ladder poor Americans climbed. Globalization is irreversible and results, considering the world’s economic demography, in the very simple idea that to imply or train the full range of our American population, is not a sound economic concept when cheaper labor can be found overseas. The poorest children, often African American and Latino but increasingly Caucasian as well, are simply not needed under this scheme. This damning reality is the beast lurking in our streets, capturing the hearts of our young.

What can we do? Do we dare sit idly by watching and waiting for another shift or change to happen to us and our children? Or do we become leaders who are willing to continue learning and putting that learning into action that supports and uplifts our community? Again, look around you. There are so many areas in the community and in our schools where we may be effective. We must decide how we will accomplish this, and we do not have to do it alone.

In the library and in classrooms, we have opportunities to select materials for our readers that may shape and define their lives. Many times we look to the make-up of our communities to fill in the gaps by providing reading materials that will enrich culture and being. For young readers and those who have difficulty reading, books or other materials that are related to their culture are important to give readers a boost. Yet, Myers believes that additional reading materials are necessary. He said:

But I’m adamant in believing that we can’t restrict reading only to books that share a congruency with the reader’s immediate life. We have to stretch the boundaries and increase the reader’s cultural awareness.

Taking personal geography into account, Myers recommends that children should be given the opportunity to stretch their boundaries through reading, and as he stated later in the lecture, that takes them to a universal understanding of love and meaning that all people experience. This is something he does with his books, as do many other authors. Yet, in his lecture, Myers provides an excellent explanation and identification of where we should be headed as a whole.

Like Myers, let’s love what we do. Let’s reach out and discover who the children are and travel with them through their experiences in our classrooms and libraries. Let’s help to build strong, capable children who will be able to survive and succeed in the American economy.

Responsible Storytelling

Storytelling is a powerful tool. Through stories, we are able to:

  • Identify patterns
  • Make connections
  • Become empowered
  • Learn ways to handle problems
  • Identify or eliminate suspects through who, what, and when
  • Experience satisfaction
  • Test ideas
  • Identify and understand the forces empacting us

Cognitive psychologists claim that stories are a fundamental part of intelligence and imagination.

Stories and storytelling are major tools for shaping thought. If we are going to use them as tools, we should do so responsibly. This requires consideration of our intended audience and a definition of our goal(s).

Think of how powerful video vignettes that include people’s stories are, especially if they are showcased with related memorabilia. These stories have the strength to wrestle with conflicting opinions or information. Politicians and advertisers have made great use of them. For example, what was your opinion of Tiger Wood’s lifestyle prior to the Thanksgiving weekend incident? Tiger Woods did not create that image because apparently he was living in a far different way than most people expected or imagined.

There are positive and educational ways to use storytelling. Stories are able to encourage problem solutions, best practices, and lessons learned. The best way for this to occur is through a storytelling session where someone shares one of their stories with the audience, then discussion and information sharing follows.

Educators are able to use storytelling for leaps of understanding. By sharing a story that enables listeners to grasp how something may change, storytelling adds knowledge gains. This builds credibility. Powerful emotions may be released leading to bonding among the audience. Not only this, story gives permission for the exploration of controversial or uncomfortable topics. Responsibility that recognizes the diversity of the population will tread cautiously here because point of view may be swayed and move some towards change. We would not want to be held accountable for creating conflict through the stories that are shared when it comes to the relationships of students and their parents.

On the upside, storytelling is able to create heroes. Sharing stories that provide examples of character-building behavior lifts the spirits. Again, think of your former knowledge concerning the story of Tiger Woods prior to the events that unfolded leading to the tarnishing of his image.

Case studies that are reviewed by students create opportunities for learning. Students are able to succeed by absorbing facts and theories as they review a real problem. The case study may be analyzed with the educator guiding the way. Synthesis of conflicting data may occur. Points of view may be examined. Whatever the case study places in front of the students gives time for seizing an opportunity.

Storytelling is a powerful tool that requires the educator to practice responsibility when using it. Goals should be set that recognize the diversity of students. When done appropriately, storytelling is able to offer an excellent vehicle through which learning may occur.