A Plan for Use of Space in the Middle School Library Learning Commons

Introduction

Engaging young minds during early adolescence is commonly a challenge for the adults that interact with them. Teachers and parents are competing with all the distractions that occupy young people in our technology laced culture combined with social and physical changes that take place during these years. Experimenting with new ways of teaching and learning is necessary in order to keep middle school students engaged and interested. Allowing them to participate in their own learning in an environment conducive to creativity makes the development of a learning commons something that could only help the students. The inclusion of teaching content in combination with information literacy skills in the learning commons will embed digital literacy and citizenship into everything taught in the learning commons and eventually in the classroom.

This plan identifies ways in which the middle school library can be a dynamic multi-use space where students and teachers can access, create and experiment with learning. By re configuring the space and adding furnishings and infrastructure that will enhance existing technology and support others, the library commons will invite more integration of information literacy curriculum into key subjects and professional development.  The creation of a library commons in a middle school library would offer students and teachers the ability to broaden teaching and learning experiences with 21st Century skills and technology in an environment that lends itself to creativity, design thinking and collaboration. It would offer teachers support for their efforts to integrate information literacy skills and technology into their lessons.  These skills will hyperlink to the classrooms and homes via the virtual learning commons space using single sign on where applications and online learning systems for teachers, students and their families can be accessed.

Goals/Objectives

The goal of this project is to offer individuals, classes, teachers and the community at-large an information and technology rich environment for:

  • Collaboration
  • Experimental Learning and Design
  • Digital experiences

The objectives of having a learning commons space is firstly, to make users comfortable in making decisions concerning their mode of learning. To offer spaces where different types of learning can take place. Quiet areas for those who learn better in low stimulus environments; active areas where collaboration can ensue with furniture that can be easily moved for to accommodate groups. All of this to build a community of learners and a body of knowledge where users can breach barriers to anything that holds them back from success.

Another objective of the learning commons space would be to showcase great teaching and learning through the use of technology to capture activity through digital media using tools like a Swivl robot and video equipment for further study of what works in the learning commons and what does not.

The Middle School Community

As stated, the physical, social, emotional and intellectual changes that take place for students during the middle school years make this community unique in many ways. These factors require accommodation when considering the way in which teaching and learning take place. According to the American Psychological Association, traditional methods of teaching applied in most middle schools fall short of providing their students with opportunities for decision making and lower levels of cognitive involvement, and place them in a complex social environment. In transitioning from elementary school to middle school, students undergo several layers of change. Physical changes combined with social and identity awareness creates a shift from to how they fit in it as individuals to how they conform to belong to the group. The emphasis in education shifts from task mastery to goals of attaining the highest grade.

Also included in this community are the teachers and parents that are involved with these students who believe that change is possible even with all the obstacles placed before these young people.

Action Brief Statement

In order to convince school administration that by purchasing new furnishings and technology infrastructure for the school library they will see greater results in innovative learning and teaching which will increase student participation because they will be active participants in their own education.

Evidence and Resources

What is a learning commons? (This video is an example of how the learning commons might be explained to staff)

What to expect from libraries in the 21st century (This video illustrates the mindset of change)

Loertscher, D. and Koechlin, C. “Climbing to Excellence: Defining characteristics of successful learning commons” Knowledge Quest, March/April 2014.

Holland, Beth. “21st-Century libraries: “The learning commons” Edutopia, January 2014. 

Mission

In the effort to elevate student success, the library commons will provide the school with a space that will offer opportunities for teachers and students to experience teaching and learning in a setting that is conducive to research and creativity.

Guidelines

The library commons is a flexible learning space within the library of approximately 3000 sq. ft. that will accommodate areas of quiet study, technology usage both for individual and group use, a presentation area equipped with technology, a makerspace, a computer lab, and an area with print information. It will be used by individuals, small groups, classes and possibly more than one class at a time. The scheduling for these spaces by teachers would be accessed by using online calendars and students could reserve spaces for groups by contacting the librarian via email or face to face.

Policy

The policies for the use of the learning commons will be developed through a committee including, the librarian, an administrator, teachers, parents and students. This committee would examine the existing school library policy and recreate it to include the library commons.

Funding

Initially, the virtual space of the learning commons will not require any outward funds except for manpower hours to design and implement a website that will complement the use of technology with single sign on feature and all school applications on one screen. This will save time for teaching and learning by minimizing time used for logging on to the network.  

The further development of the learning commons will surely depend on the amount of funding that this project can procure. The search for appropriate grants would begin as soon as possible so the project could commence as soon as it is approved. Fund raising efforts would begin with the formation of a committee that would brainstorm ideas and make contacts. The committee would present and organize the fundraising events through the protocol that the school recommends.

 Action Steps & Timeline: 

  • March
  • Committee will bring forth ideas for creating learning commons. Lists of supplies and actions will be made and the funds will be appropriated.
  • April
  • Committee will present ideas to administration for final approval and go ahead with purchases and work orders. If it is not approved, the learning commons will go ahead with cleaning and painting. The virtual learning commons will continue to be developed to inspire creative learning.
  • May
  • If the decision to begin work on the learning commons should be made by the end of the school year, the actual work can happen during the summer for implementation at the onset of the next school year.
  • Furniture ordered and space made clear and cleaned.
  • Mapping out of structure and furniture placement.
  • Jun-August
  • Painting and movement of large furniture to make room for movable furniture areas and any construction that needs to take place for technology infrastructure, i.e. power, network ports, etc.
  • Ongoing
  • The library commons will be prototyped upon the work of Loertscher and Koechlin in the article Climbing to Excellence: Defining Characteristics of Successful Learning Commons. Their concept of the library commons being a shift from the top down model to a more flat or “common” model where all users are able to participate in the building of both the physical and virtual environments using rich information and cutting edge technology. According to this model the learning commons would embody the following characteristics:
  • Collaborative physical and virtual environment that invites and ignites participatory learning.
  • Investment in school-wide improvement through an evidence-based process of design, modify, rethink, redesign and rework.
  • Leadership team consists of those who can lead out front, from the middle or push from behind.

 Staffing

Staffing for most public schools only includes the professional librarian and possibly a paraprofessional library aide depending on the number of students enrolled in the school. However, to make a learning commons successful, a full-time library aide would be ideal so as the librarian would be free to participate in co teaching and management of the learning commons. If funding for a full-time aide is not feasible, responsible student aides may be able to perform the circulation and clerical duties needed to keep the librarian flexible.

During school hours the librarian, aide and teaching staff would be on hand to staff the learning commons. If the space is being used after hours, responsible adults will be on hand.

 Training

Training for using the space in the learning commons will take place during scheduled professional development days with all teaching staff present. The training will be designed to show the teaching staff what the space has to offer, how to sign up for time, how to contact the librarian for co teaching opportunities or one on one training.

Training for use of the website portal to the learning commons, the virtual space, will take place on the individual staff’s own time through learning modules offered through the school district’s learning management system.

Promotion

A page on the school website will be dedicated to the learning commons and the activities that take place there will be showcased in slide shows, videos  and blog posts. Student work will be displayed in the learning commons for further study and commentary by other students. Special events in the learning commons will be promoted to students via flyers and announcements.

 Evaluation

A continual process of evaluation will take place as described in Loertscher and Koechlin to rethink, redesign and rework teaching and learning. The process would entail a transparency that would encourage input from all stakeholders to include teachers, students and administrators. Just as the activities that happen in the learning commons will be available to all students and teachers likewise, the sharing of information between teachers, students, and administrators will take place out in the open and this transparency will provide genuine input into where changes need to occur and provide for ongoing innovation.

References:

Green, Lucy Santos. “Through the looking glass: Examining technology integration in school librarianship”. Knowledge Quest 43 (1) (09/01): 36-43, 2014.

Loertscher, David, and Koechlin, Carol. “Coteaching and the learning commons.” Teacher Librarian 43 (2) 2015.

Mueller, L. “From library to learning commons.” Teacher Librarian, 43(1),  2015.

Sykes, Judith Anne. 2016. The whole school library learning commons: An educator’s guide. Libraries Unlimited: Santa Barbara, CA.

Reflection Blog #3- The Learning Zone

The pressing reality of how we educate K-12 students has taken the forefront of conversations held within educational institutions. Older methods of teaching and  learning have given way to more active methods that emphasize collaboration, exploration and discovery. The digital age offers students exposure to a world of ideas and information that is unprecedented and as technology seeps into many aspects of everyday life, most of today’s students are accustomed to using technology in and out of the classroom. However, there has always been a place where K-12 students have always been challenged to use systems of learning and discovery, in their school library. For this reason many school librarians have been instrumental in the successful integration of technology into their school’s repertoire of learning tools. This creates the potential for school libraries to innovate hyperlinked environments within their schools that encourage creative thinking and dynamic learning for tomorrow’s citizens.

David Loertscher’s body of work structuring innovative change in school library programs inspires school librarians to think beyond the old paradigm of the library as a place to store books and keep everyone quiet.  He states that “The main objective of the open commons is to showcase the school’s best teaching and learning practices.” (Loertscher, 2008) The idea of the library commons produces a blue print for a physical, virtual, intellectual and pedagogical environment that meets the needs of the 21st Century Learner. It is an environment of learning and it is hyperlinked to the requisite skills of digital citizenship. Within the learning zone, students have the opportunity to practice soft skills like development of identity, communication skills and talents combined with a technology and content rich environment. The showcasing of great teaching places the librarian’s unique role in the center of any subject, project  or lesson that takes place. It’s time to get in the zone.

References:

Loertscher, David. “Flip this library: School libraries need a revolution”. School Library Journal, November 2008.

Park, Yuhyun. “8 Digital skills we must teach our children”, World Economic Forum, June 2016.

 

 

 

Reflection Blog #2- Transparency and Participatory Services

Concerning participatory services, I was struck by the words of Karen Schneider in her 2006 blog post entitled “The User Is Not Broken: A Meme Masquerading as a Manifesto.” The thought provoking statements of the changed mindset in today’s library invites the reader to “challenge,change, add to, subtract from, edit, tussle with, and share these thoughts.” This is a turnabout from when library policy is written without input from anyone except the library board, putting it in a binder and never considering how it affects the patrons. Schneider calls this type of librarianship, gate keeping, in which the library is held in a static holding pattern of “unchange”. She notes that the old mindset fears loss of control, whereas the reality is that libraries exist to serve their users as many different ways as possible or necessary. The advancement of literacy and knowledge in any format makes a library ever relevant to the people it serves. As the hyperlinked library model is user centered, the concept of evolving services through continual evaluation can promote a new mindset for libraries to be more inclusive of their users; it can break the static model of “unchange.” Examples of libraries becoming a hub for public services in a crisis, as in Stolls article, “The Healing Power of Libraries,”  fits with the model as well by being flexible and taking action to provide for users needs at that time.

In an article that revisits “The User Is Not Broken,” appropriately titled, “The User Is (Still) Not Broken” Brian Kenney explains how libraries have invested themselves in formats instead of services. The section of his article, “The OPAC Is Not the Sun” is a perfect example of how the old mindset of librarians needs to change; it needs to stop being obsessed with having a perfect database of library records, but rather to incorporate online reading sites that are inclusive of the user in allowing them to review, comment, and tag items.

Concerning transparency, it seems that the prevalence of digital communication brings public attention to transparency in many ways, especially where public service entities are concerned. The clandestine motives of those in power make common folk uncomfortable and wary of institutions. The same goes for libraries, people want to know that their library has their best interest at heart and offer what they need in this modern world. In Denning’s article, “Do We Need Libraries?’, he relates that we (librarians) need new eyes to see the future that has already unfolded. By building change into the library plan and including users in the conversations about change and improvement libraries can move toward greater transparency. The readings for this module have offered me valuable information about how to proceed as a librarian in the 21st Century with the responsibility of creating users and learners for the future.

Casey, M., &  Stephens, M. (2007). “A Road Map to Transparency.

Denning, Steve. (2015) “Do We Need Libraries?” Forbes.

Kenney, Bryan.(2014) “The User Is (Still) Not Broken”, Publisher’s Weekly.

Schneider, K.G. “The User Is Not Broken” retrieved, February 2017.

Stolls, Amy. (2015) “The Healing Power of Libraries” National Endowment for the Arts.

 

 

 

 

Self-Tracking: A Context Book Report

 

The concept of self-tracking is interesting and not really  born of the digital age. The Virtual Self: How Our Virtual Lives Are Altering the World Around Us, by Nora Young shows that the  idea of self-tracking is not new, but can be seen in activities like, keeping a diary or daily journal. The author relates that Benjamin Franklin left evidence of tracking his sleep and virtue. Whereas self-tracking in the past was more of a private activity, in today’s digital world it becomes more widely shared and public. The information generated through self-tracking abounds and makes the Web alive with activity that brings into focus the matter and minutiae of everyday life.

There are many reasons to engage in self-tracking; to improve one self, to increase productivity or to show social solidarity. There are also numerous implications of self-tracking for consumer analysis and sustainability. Tracking can also demonstrate trends and provide data for the future. Tracking for self-improvement has a long-standing history of being a successful way of changing behaviors when the data generated is used as a motivator and evidence of change. Young relates that when this happens, it is more about the focus of the data being turned inward by the individual tracking. However, when it is turned outward, the success for the individual becomes less attainable because of the random nature of this data. When we are “liking” something on the Web or Facebook, what other purpose does this tracking do but show opinion…and you know what they say about opinions. This type of information can be useful to consumer tracking endeavors as rating products can provide businesses with ways of providing suggestions for similar purchases. She states that outward tracking is like a perpetual survey.

The implications of self-tracking for the hyperlinked library can be very positive. If libraries allow users to express opinions and act on the consensus, the library can use this data to better serve the needs of their patrons. By collaborating with other online data collections and user-generated preferences, a library can potentially add choices and more access to information for their users. The use of technology and especially mobile devices make connecting with people where they’re at an important part of keeping libraries relevant. We live in a data driven culture and who better to harness relevant data and interpret it for positive results than today’s librarians. See my presentation below:

Reflection Blog #1: The Hyperlinked Library

The future of library services necessitates a continual evolution in how librarians think and see their role in relation to the technological and social changes that have occurred in the past several decades and into the future. This requires that those who wish to succeed in the field must endeavor to be forward thinking individuals who are willing to work with others to keep library services relevant.

In The Hyperlinked Library, Stephens relates many challenges that libraries have to overcome in order to meet the needs of their patrons, these include financial, technological, political and social. As libraries continues to morph and advance, so do the behaviors and needs of users. The two must necessarily affect the other by the very nature of their interaction. The needs of users should dictate the services that libraries provide rather than hold onto old models of service that no longer work.

I was privileged to witness the beginning of the digital age in a small town public library in the early 1990s and recall when the first Internet connected computer was put in place for reference services. At the time, it seemed like searching on the Web was like taking all the books in the library, dumping  them on the floor and then attempting to find the facts you needed; it was that disconnected. I realized at that time that it would take a librarian to tame that environment. Twenty some years later, Google makes those long ago searches seem very primitive. In Denning’s article, Do We Need Libraries? he states that “computer age is not fundamentally about computerization. The computer age is about the change in management mindset enabled by computerization.” This resonates with the role of librarians responsibility to incorporate technology in their plans and also to master it and enfold it into the way that they serve. Stephen’s mentions techno-shame and techno-phobia, which happens when entities are not willing to change with the needs of users and  stifle the intrepid nature of the hyperlinked library model.

However, this collision of technology and users does not account for all that Library 2.0 and the Hyperlinked Library can do to raise the quality of services in a library with regard to their patrons and it may not even include technology. In the article by Aaron Schmidt, Exploring Context: The User Experience, his realization of using a public library restroom as many do everyday, as a source for personal hygiene, illuminated that this is also a service that libraries offer, even if unknowingly or unwittingly.

References:

Denning, Steve. “Do We Need Libraries?” Forbes 2015.

Schmidt,Aaron. “Exploring Context: The User Experience.” lj.libraryjournal.com. 2014.

Stephens, Michael. “The Hyperlinked Library.” February 2011.

 

 

Some Thoughts…

I am excited about learning more about emerging trends in libraries. I have been a youth services and school librarian for the past twenty some years and have weathered the many changes in technology and digital information. I think it is an amazing time to be a librarian. Right now people need reliable sources of information and a librarian can stand firmly in the gap between fact and fiction. This is particularly important when awareness of false information appears to be subverting the public’s search for truth. In a blog on Adventures of Library Girl the author lays out the school librarian’s obligation to reiterate the evaluation of information as a 21st Century Skill. Again, in an editorial contained  in the current issue of School Library Journal, Rebecca Miller suggests “reinvesting energy and creativity” in teaching others to evaluate information in light of the recent developments in U.S. politics. The cover article of the same journal,  “The Smell Test: In the Era of Fake News, Librarians are Our Best Hope” Jacobson offers insight for jumping on the need for developing skills to help students fact check their information and offers amazing resources. This seems to illustrate trans formative thinking by looking forward and noticing what users of information need to counteract the onslaught of “alternative facts.”

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