from the Director's Desk

Musings about school library media and instructional technology programs from NCDPI's Instructional Technology Divison.  Subscribe to our RSS Feed.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Playing the Game

Last week was a fascinating week. I observed 9 IMPACT Model/Award schools' 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers as they learned to think inside a gaming environment. Through the generous support of Food Lion in North Carolina, we have been given the opportunity to participate in a unique research study out of the Indiana University's Center for Research on Teaching and Learning. They explain it best:

"Quest Atlantis is a National Science Foundation (NSF) -funded learning and teaching project that uses a 3D multi-user environment to immerse children, ages 9 to 12, in educational tasks. Currently over 4,500 registered users from five continents use Quest Atlantis in formal school environments as well as in after-school settings. Building on strategies from online role-playing games, Quest Atlantis combines features used in commercial gaming environments with lessons from educational research on learning and motivation. The core elements of Quest Atlantis are: 1) a 3-D multi-user virtual environment (MUVE); 2) learning Quests and unit plans; 3) a storyline presented through an introductory video as well as novellas and a comic book that involves a mythical Council and a set of social commitments; and 4) a globally-distributed community of participants."

Some of the questions we will be helping the Center answer are:
1. Will students learn through this gaming environment? We know they will play, but will they actually learn curriculum content while playing?
2. Can teachers become comfortable teaching in this environment? Do they feel--can they be--effective in this environment?

As I listened to the Quest Atlantis developer, Sasha Barab, describe the worlds he was imagining and putting into the 3D educational environment, I realized that I actually had comparable experiences as a child. As I was growing up, I loved to play with paper dolls. I would design clothes for them, build houses, towns, and experiences for them. I created another world for them--and for myself. This is not so different for our children today. It's just a different set of tools. Instead of paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, they have computers. And they are being challenged to solve real-world problems in this virtual environment, something I can't admit to in my paper doll world. What an incredible opportunity for these students! And if the pilot is successful, Food Lion is willing to help implement Quest Atlantis across the state.

Go take a look at the Quest Atlantis demo site and let us know what you think. How do you feel about moving into a gaming environment in education? Do you have reservations or are you--and your students--ready to move to a higher level of learning?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lucky? Maybe . . .

One of the saddest censorship stories that I can remember in many years is playing out on the national stage right now. Susan Patron's Newbury Award book for upper elementary school children, The Higher Power of Lucky, is being written about, removed from shelves, or not even ordered because of one very proper, anatomically correct word. The august New York Times added fuel to the fire on Sunday with a front-page article by Julie Bosman "With One Word Children's Book Sets Off Uproar.

Yes, it's a most unfortunate censorship case, but my colleague Acacia Dixon pointed out yesterday that it is a fine example of the new world many of us media and technology professionals are facing. She says it quite well:

"Many of the quotes lifted for the Times article come from postings to listservs or other communication venues like LM-NET. For years we have said that email is a postcard not an envelope, especially when items are archived online for the whole world to peruse. There is some interesting indignation that this information was used against librarians as a whole. I agree it was taken out of context and that the flip side of the conversation was not covered. This does however play right into the hands of stringent policy makers (think PA) who wish to limit professional expression via social networking avenues."

Very insightful, Acacia! Yes, how do we align school policy with our professional right to free speech--and even philosophical conversation? What are your thoughts on handling this difficult issue?

Thursday, February 15, 2007


And now a word to our sponsors! The state of North Carolina provides no direct dollars for Legislative School Technology Day, only our time. It is the vendor community that bears the weight of the expense, the tools, and the services to hold this event, and it is not small change! From the generators that bring in the electricity to the laptops the children use and the lunch and t-shirts for the kids--all this is provided through vendor contributions.

Wynn Smith said it best in her e-mail thank you yesterday:

"I would like to take a minute this morning to say a great big "Thank You." Legislative School Technology Day was a great success yesterday!
First, let me say that it would not have happened without your financial and technical support.
Second, let me also say:
  • "Thank you" to all of you who were able to attend, taking off your vendor hats and representing the state as a team.
  • "Thank you" to the technical team that was here all day Monday and Tuesday making sure the network was ready.
  • "Thank you" to those of you who could not attend for many reasons (prior commitments, sick children, etc.) but sent emails wishing us well yesterday morning.

We are proud to work with such a great group of people!"

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

LSTD 2007

Yesterday was the third Legislative School Technology Day in Raleigh. And what a success! Sixty-five schools from across North Carolina sent their students and teachers to demonstrate how they use technology for 21st Century teaching and learning. We saw such interesting things yesterday: hydrocell cars, podcasts (a middle school interviewed legislators about the technology used in their schools as they were growing up. What an eye-opener for them!), science experiments, a live exchange with a teacher's son in Thailand, even a video update of a book finished in class while part of them were in Raleigh at LSTD! A State Board member said that she truly understood now why funding technology was important--"You can do so many more interesting, compelling things with technology! Learning is just more exciting!" Well-said.

But amidst all our enthusiasm for the day, please allow me a moment to talk about the back-stage planning. Yes, I am going to tell you about the incredible teamwork necessary to put on Legislative School Technology Day. And I cannot, regardless of the length of this post, do justice to it. Every single person in the Division of Instructional Technology is responsible for a portion of LSTD's success, from the small things like making sure the names of the partners are spelled correctly on the t-shirts, to taping down power cords so no one will trip; from e-mailing every single legislator reminding them to come see their school(s), to staying in the office to answer phones while the rest of us basked the success of the moment; from providing the power generators and laptops that the schools used, to helping to pay for lunch and t-shirts. Technology businesses and services, every-day competitors, team with us at DPI to make this day a shining success. Even NCAECT gets into the act, with Jeff Tudor keeping our books!

But there are unsung leaders in this event and today I would like to highlight three: Wynn Smith, John Brim, and Dan Sparlin. Wynn has the organizational mind of a wizard! She is behind all the logistics of the schools' attendance, from original contact to t-shirts on the tables for students to don when they arrive. Nothing gets past her steel-trap mind--every school and their legislator is contacted and logged--over and over again. Every map indicates school placement, with each analyzed for visibility (younger ones in front, high schoolers behind if we must), every vendor contact and contribution tallied and accounted for.

Then there are John and Dan, the connectivity team. They have to organize generators to bring power into the building, the connectivity so necessary for technology, even the extension cords and power strips that connect each table's equipment! And all this within the parameters of the Legislature, an organization that must maintain at least a semblance of business-as-usual in spite of the intrusion and whose staff really does work with us far beyond the call of duty--all in the name of what's good for children! It's a logistical dance that's amazing to behold as it comes together--starting at 9am the day before.

So, three months of planning and a 40-hour blitz to pull this off. The Division of Instructional Technology is the most amazing team! I very publicly, and humbly, say Thank You!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Colliding Realities

My vision of a 21st Century school just collided with another reality, one that makes me empathize with those who are uncomfortable with and uncertain about my previously published entry. Yesterday Joe Poletti blogged that the New York Times editor had confessed recently that he wasn't sure they would be publishing the paper version of the newspaper in five years--and he really didn't care that they might not be publishing in hard copy. Wait a minute! I am so ill when my morning paper is not delivered in time to savor with my cup of coffee! I carve out time every morning, regardless of my schedule, to have that quiet moment to prepare myself mentally (the N&O writes at least one education-related story most days) and physically (that delightful easing into reality) for the day ahead. And reading it on the web is not the same!

Then Gerry Solomon sent me the link to a YouTube video that signals the same shift, a shift that on one level I not only accept but endorse. On another level, however, I quietly protest, "Please don't take away my book." Sure, make it electronic paper if you must--that might even be convenient. (My house is awash in books!) But make sure I can take it to bed at night, or to the beach on vacation, or tuck it into my pocketbook for cross-country entertainment.

Please, just let me keep my book, my newspaper, and my routine.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I have a vision of a school . . .

Some of us are in Facilitative Leadership training this week. Today our assignment is to promote a vision. I thought I'd share my vision with those of you who read this blog.

I have a vision of a school in which:
  • Learning takes place 24/7/7, with caring adults present who are passionate about their own learning and can convey that passion to their students;
  • High-speed ubiquitous connectivity gives students and teachers opportunities to collaborate with experts and each other from around the world--or in the next classroom;
  • Resources are available as needed regardless of format. Students and teachers know when and how to use the most appropriate tool for the assignment;
  • Teachers collaborate with the school library media coordinator and technology facilitator to create units of instruction that reflect and validate their students' knowledge and experiences, yet push them to stretch and grow to reach their highest potential;
  • Children are surrounded by a culture of reading and learning that assumes that everyone in the school will be successful, well-read, and a life-long learner;
  • Parents are educated side-by-side with their children regardless of education or income level, so that they too are successful life-long learners who stimulate and encourage their children's learning--and stick around;
  • A community reflects the values and success of its schools, attracting business and industry because of its educational priorities and vision, so that everyone in the community has the opportunity to care for their families and live out the American dream.
These are the schools of the 21st Century--education 24/7/7, life-long learning from cradle to grave, a piece of the American dream for all.

Monday, February 05, 2007

ECU Librarian-to-Librarian Networking Conference

Saturday I was at the East Carolina University Librarian to Librarian Networking Conference. It's a charming one-day conference held in Joyner Library's Teaching Resources Center (TRC), where the general session is held in the story area, break-out sessions in library conference rooms, and lunch served among the stacks. Actually, several of us from Instructional Technology were there facilitating sessions. You see, the format for this conference is different. We weren't presenters as such; we were facilitators who provided a few minutes of information and then opened the remainder of the session for discussion, allowing the conversation to range widely based on the needs and interests of the participants.

My two topics were IMPACT and a general session of Ask Frances. I think--I hope!--the discussions were valuable. What did we talk about? Well, in the IMPACT session, the focus was mainly on scheduling: how do you schedule collaborative planning without media assistants or when you are assumed to be part of the planning block. The Ask Frances session involved discussions about reading, particularly Accelerated Reader; the state of school library collections; whether to allow students to use Google; and the future of school libraries.

One of the most interesting pieces of information shared in that session was by Cheryl Reddish, a professor at NCCU Department of Library and Information Sciences. She said that one of her students was particularly distressed by the condition of her book collection; its average age was 1964! So she decided to issue the Yellow Dot Challenge. All the books that needed to be weeded from the collection were tagged with large yellow dots and the children, the PTO, and the community were challenged to buy a book to replace one of the yellow dotted ones. The media coordinator had a list of suitable books that could be ordered as replacements with its appropriate price, and contributors were encouraged to choose the book from the list that would replace its older counterpart. There was even a large thermometer (similar to the United Way gauges) on the front yard of the school! According to Cheryl, within three months the face of that collection had changed.

Just one of the many good ideas that came from that very special Librarian to Librarian Networking Conference!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Snow Day

A walk in the snowy woods this morning led to a fascinating philosophical conversation. It started with the state's drop-out rate, as announced by the State Board yesterday and, of course, gravitated to technology rather quickly. Would technology really change the educational landscape as we predict?

What struck me was my media specialist husband's comment. "I don't care whether teachers use technology or not. I just want them to be passionate about something. No one can be passionate about everything they teach; all I want is for them to be passionate about something." He went on to describe a biology teacher at his school who is passionate about nanotechnology. What's incredible is how many of his students are now absorbed in nanotechnology themselves--collaborating with NCSU professors, talking about nanotechnology at lunch, in the media center--you get the idea. The same with a History teacher who's in love with the period 1800-1840. Go figure! BUT the excitement she brings to her subject because of this passion creates real learners in her classroom.

My contention is that once you find your passion (after all, that's what a huge part of Kaleidoscope is all about), you can't avoid technology--and all kinds of resources. Those high school students are using technology to collaborate with the NCSU faculty; the History students use all kinds of primary documents including American Memory. But he's right. It's the passion that ignites.