Reflections on the ECIS Conference

Since I accepted the position of 21st Century Literacy Specialist at ISB just over a year ago, I’ve been thinking about how natural the connection is between the library and technology. Granted, I had never worked in a library before I set foot in our fabulous Learning Hub this past August, but having been a technology facilitator for seven years, I knew how much more I could accomplish when working in collaboration with the librarian. And, now, after attending the excellent ECIS Librarians Conference in Berlin last week, I can see an even stronger connection between these two essential resource teams.

As an outsider roaming incognito amongst the librarians of European international schools, I have to admit I felt a little bit of an impostor, but I am definitely glad I went! Not only did I have a chance to connect with lots of interesting people and get the inside scoop on the shape of international school libraries around the world, but I was also able to get a more in-depth (and research-based) understanding of how librarians and tech facilitators are such a natural fit. It is clear to me that we have much to learn from each other – where one department is strong, the other may be weak, and what a perfect partnership that makes!

After attending this conference, I am even more convinced that librarians and technology facilitators are an excellent team, much like the American standard, peanut butter and jelly. I like the idea of PB & J because:

  • both peanut butter and jelly are fabulous on their own, but wow, when you put the two together, you get something extra special.
  • peanut butter and jelly both have distinct qualities – they are definitely different, and both are definitely valuable outside of the time they spend together (jelly on toast, peanut butter with chocolate, etc).
  • a pb&j sandwich is really at is best when enveloped by some exceptionally good bread, in this case, I’m thinking the bread is the curriculum – the foundation of the sandwich.

What really stood out for me at the conference, especially during Ross Todd‘s pre-conference session and Toni Buzzeo’s presentation on collaboration, is that there are two main areas where the PB and the J can really support one another: staying current with technology tools and successful collaboration.

Big Idea Number One: How Technology Facilitators Can Help Librarians

Technology facilitators can work in partnership with libraries to embrace and utilize new and emerging communication and collaboration technologies.

The first session that really got me thinking was the pre-conference presentation by librarian and researcher Ross Todd. Many of the ideas Ross presented to the group have been frequent topics of discussion, both with my colleagues here at ISB and with the amazing librarians in my personal learning network. Hearing some of these familiar ideas presented as something new, and perhaps controversial, in this session was, to be honest, a little surprising. It was, I suppose, a reminder that not everyone is as attuned to the latest developments as some of the people I’m lucky enough to be in contact with every day.

Some of Ross’ key points were:

Libraries need to embrace the power of web 2.0.

Ross was very diplomatic, yet bracingly honest, about the need for libraries to adopt and adapt to the changing nature of information and communication in our web 2.0 world. Again, what was especially surprising to me was the way Ross presented these ideas. His tone, phrasing, and specific language was clearly coming from the perspective that not only would this be, perhaps, one of the first times his audience was hearing about these tools, but that getting them excited about using them in their schools would be something of a challenge.

Librarians need to let go of pre-determined scope and sequence models, and to learn, as an educator, to work diagnostically and “just in time.”

One of my first tasks as a technology facilitator at Munich International School about six years ago was to use Rubicon Atlas to look through our curricular units to find projects that would naturally lend themselves towards the use of technology – based on the desired learning outcomes – and then propose those units to the core subject teachers as integrated units of study. Although it ended up being an extensive amount of work for me, it was so much more practical, productive, and successful than trying to fit any technology standards or outcomes into a random unit. Spending the time getting to know the curriculum, and finding obvious connections to technology not only made the units we actually planned and taught more relevant, it actually made it easier for me to “sell” the idea to the teachers. I love Ross’ vision of “carefully planned, closely supervised, targeted intervention(s) of an instructional team of teacher-librarians and teachers to guide students through curriculum based inquiry units that gradually lead towards deep knowledge and understanding.”

Librarians need to embed themselves within the core curriculum, through the backwards design process.

I thought Ross’s assertion here was especially interesting because I got the impression that this concept probably isn’t taken for granted among librarians, and might even be new to some of them. Libraries have such a clear historical significance and a defined role in our school culture that we all instinctively know what librarians do and why – or at least we think we do. Because of this long-established background, I can imagine that many librarians might not ever feel pushed to ponder and reevaluate the exact nature of their relationship to the core curriculum.

For me, however, the emphasis on embedding through backwards design resonated right away. As a technology facilitator I’m always conscious of the need not to be an “add on,” to naturally embed technology tools within the core curriculum – basically, to “make myself useful.” Maybe it’s because technology as an integrated discipline is new, or because people have such widely varying technology conceptions and comfort levels, but I’ve never expected teachers or administrators to automatically know what I do. In that sense, I am always working towards demonstrating what my role is, through my actions, and making my job relevant to the teacher’s job – which is to teach the curriculum.

One fundamental aspect of that is, as Ross also describes, using “the language of the curriculum, rather than the language of information literacy when working in collaboration with classroom teachers.” I appreciated this reminder to avoid technology or information literacy jargon and focus on our shared vocabulary of approaches and outcomes when working with teachers.

Librarians need to “let go of some shackles of information literacy. Information literacy is not the driving force of what we do – it’s about kids developing deep understanding.”

Instead of trying to develop mini-librarians that practice perfect citation and know the Dewey decimal system inside and out, Ross talked about librarians helping guide students “on a sustained journey to[ward] develop[ing] deep knowledge.” This sounds so similar to what we are developing at ISB – a 21st century literacy curriculum focused around questions, rather than standards.

Big Idea Number Two: How Librarians Can Help Technology Facilitators

Librarians can support technology facilitators in their efforts to be productive and successful collaborative partners in the delivery of core-curriculum content embedded with 21st century literacy tools.

The following day I attended Toni Buzzeo’s session on collaboration. I was amazed at how much thorough research there is on libraries and collaboration. I am always working in collaboration with another teacher, so working together well as a partnership or team is absolutely my first priority. Given the fact that the position of a school librarian has been around far longer than technology facilitator, it stands to reason that they would have much more experience at successful collaboration. Toni shared so many important, research-based, aspects of building a successful collaborative relationship that I know most technology facilitators (including myself) would benefit from hearing.

Some of Toni’s key points were:

Collaboration is “2 (or more) equal partners who create a project or unit of study based on content standards in one or more content areas, a unit that will be team-designed, team-taught, and team-evaluated.”

This has been more or less my underlying understanding of collaboration the whole time that I’ve been a technology facilitator, but listening to Toni talk about collaboration made me realize that I’ve never really sat down and thought about it in a formalized way, and I’ve never specifically stated my understanding of collaboration with any of my colleagues. Listening to this definition of collaboration made me realize how important it is to be clear about the process and goals of collaboration whenever I’m working with another teacher.

In an effort to help teachers get excited about technology integration in the classroom, I realize that at times I’ve been willing to sacrifice the quality of collaboration in order to get teachers and students working on something engaging and exciting. After hearing this definition, it’s become apparent to me that it’s critical that, as a school, we have an understanding of what collaboration means. If we are going to have 21st century literacy embedded throughout the curriculum, it’s necessary to develop a common understanding of what collaboration really means – not a situation where one or the other member takes on the bulk of responsibility, or where the teacher’s role is limited to sending the kids off to the “computer lab” from time to time, but really working together, as equal partners. Having that common understanding of what it means to collaborate, especially when grounded in solid and thorough library research, will be critical as we move forward with our literacy curriculum.

Steps to instructional partnership: Cooperation –>> Coordination –>> Collaboration –>> Data driven collaboration

I’ve never had this hierarchy explained to me so clearly and succinctly, or in such a research-based way. There is a vast difference between cooperation, coordination and collaboration, although I think many times we view all three as the same. Toni described cooperation as simply helping when a question is asked – like finding a website or a book for a teacher upon request; coordination as planning when a lesson or an activity happens which supports core curriculum; and collaboration as “a prolonged and interdependent relationship,” sharing goals, with carefully defined roles in the process and comprehensive co-planning. It seems easy for a technology facilitator to fall into the trap of simply offering cooperation or coordination services as these seem like a huge help to the classroom teacher. While these levels of interaction can be incredibly helpful to a teacher, they really aren’t collaboration. Interestingly, in the second session I attended with Ross Todd, where he described the outcome of his Ohio research in depth, and the results indicated that collaboration (not cooperation or coordination) had a higher impact on student learning, so that should always be our goal. It’s not enough to stop at the coordination level.

It was also reassuring to understand that these separate levels of working together are very distinct from each other and must be progressed through in sequence in every professional relationship. It was good to be reminded that steps can’t be skipped in this process, and that it’s not realistic to jump immediately into a perfect cooperative relationship with a coworker.

Along the same lines, Toni shared David Loertscher’s Taxonomies of the School Library Media Program. Although the taxonomy refers specifically to school libraries, it is equally applicable to technology programs. In either case, there are clearly similar steps to all tools used in schools. I found this all especially interesting because Loertscher’s taxonomy was heavily research-based. School library media programs have been around for a long time, so there is extensive research and experience about what is effective and how best to organize successful library media programs. Much of this refined body of research and experience can be transferred or adapted to shed light on emerging technology programs. Tech programs are in most cases still going through “growing pains” and finding where they fit within schools, and it was fascinating to realize that these pains may be extremely similar to problems which librarians have been dealing with for decades.

Work with the willing

Toni shared with us her idea of “Organizational Philosophy 101”: In every group of people, there are 3 constituents: the “oh yeahs” (the risk takers), the “yeah, buts” (not reluctant, just cautious – watch and wait and see), the “no way’s” (will never change). She laid out a steady plan for improvement, again based on extensive research: in the first year, work with “oh yeahs”, prove it, test it, work out the kinks. In the second year the “yeah buts” will come along. Finally in the third year, it falls to the administrators to bring the “no ways” on board. Again, something similar to this has been my underlying approach all along, but it was empowering and encouraging to hear concepts I’ve been thinking about, but have no formal proof for, explained in such a concise and sensible way.

I’m sure there are so many more opportunities for us to learn from each other; it was just particularly exciting for me personally to learn so much at this conference about the contexts and perspectives of librarianship, and to move from that to the realization of how well librarians and technology facilitators can fit together.

Tags: 21stcentury, 21st century literacy, collaboration, learning, embed, technology, curriculum, professional development, library, library2.0, education, research, Ross Todd, Toni Buzzeo