Prior to my engagement with the course materials for my current subject I had not considered databases more deeply than a repository of data. From my point of view a database was what it said on the label – a place to store data. Not an elegant definition by any means and one that belittles their complexity. To date in this course however I have encountered the idea that moves databases from the passive – a place for merely storing data, to the active – a tool for solving problems. As Vines (2010) states “[t]he chief job of a database is to provide answers to questions.”

This fundamental shift in thinking has lead me to reconceptualize my past experiences with databases. In my past academic studies spanning a number of degrees I always saw the data from my database queries as a result of expert searching skills rather than my interaction with well thought out database query tools. It was these well thought out query tools that allowed me to “formulate questions that will elicit useful data” (Vine 2010). The database creators anticipated what the data would be needed for and how I, the user, would go about searching for it. The better the database was planned out the more successful my searches were. In some cases the query tools were fixed allowing for little variability in the manner in which I searched thus frustrating me. However the better database access tools in fact taught me how to ask better search questions and/or adapted the query tools in order to better meet my needs. For one such example, I have included a link to a vblog I created for a previous course that details ERIC’s visual search tool.

So, how does this impact on my approach to the second and third assignment of this course? Well, for the second assignment, when looking through the my selected data repository I will be specifically looking at how well the repository works to do its chief job – answer my question. The starting point then should be the question I need to answer. This is rather tricky as the repository I have selected is one that I am very familiar with so I will have to approach it from the perspective of someone trying to get their answer for the first time. I think I will need to construct a question that a new employee in my organisation might have and have a ‘lab mouse’ try it out. For the third assignment, based on my experiences with databases as well as my new perspective I need to take Vine’s (2010) advice and plan ahead as “a little forethought can make a huge difference.” With that in mind I completely agree with Vine (2010) who states that I will have to “do some hard thinking about what [I] want to achieve.”

Databases in general: Vines, R. (2010, February 28). Databasics I: Records and queries and keys, oh my! [Web log post] Retrieved from Geekgirls.com.

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As a linguist and a language educator I can’t help but view Phillip’s comment “that information needs context so that it can be re-used properly” in light of the prescriptive vs. descriptive view of language teaching. Do we as language teachers teach a particular language as it is or as it should be? If we teach it as it should be, who is to determine what it should be? Even those who, in the language community, held up the traditional bastions of such language features that have long be essential ‘shoulds’ in the ‘correct’ teaching of writing – such as the use of the Oxford comma – are now recanting. To extend this to the theme of Phillip’s blog, who is to determine what ‘properly’ in fact means – the information owners, the information professional, the user? In the online lecture for INN533 last week,  guest speaker Harriet Wakelam made the comment to the class regarding the backwards approach made by some to the field of information organisation and user experience, and I paraphrase, that the owners of information often believe that they know the best ways to consume it.  This on face value seems to be implication made by Phillip’s comment – that it is up to the information professional to not only add context to information to increase its utility but then to determine how it should be employed. Phillip’s makes the further point that it isn’t sufficient that information professionals “help people find information” but also help the user “understand the constraints under which [that information] was written.” This is tantamount to requiring information professionals to be subject specialists – something that does not seem practical nor reasonable.

It is from this perspective that I approach this week’s topic for journal discussion. What role do you think information organisation has for the contemporary information professional? Organising information, like teaching, is a political act and as teachers and information professionals it is important to be aware of our tendencies towards bias thinking. As stated by Stucker, “… the subject alone isn’t enough information to determine how your data should be organized [sic]. You have to know who your readers are, and how they will use the information” and that presupposition of the readers wants as well as needs is a political act. An information professional, regardless of situation/location, should endeavour to enable service users to develop their own strategies to location the information they require without bias. This may be through the creation of databases and catalogues that better suit their particular user profile or it could also entail the creation and maintenance of education programs. Help the user narrow his/her understanding of what exactly they are looking for but ultimately let the user make their own meaning.

 

Phillips, J. (2007, August 21). Organizing information [Web log post]. Retrieved from:  http://workingsmarter.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/08/organizing-info.html

Stucker, C. (2005, December 14). Organizing information the way people use it [Web log post]. Retrieved from  http://ezinearticles.com/?Organizing-Information-the-Way-People-Use-It&id=113311

“As a profession that mediates information from source to user – not unlike newspapers and travel agents – our future challenge [as librarians] is avoiding marginalization. We must determine how we fit into a world that defines an exceptional user experience as memorable, unique and exquisitely simple.” (Bell, 2008, p. 45)

Week 2 of INN533 Information Management is clearly focusing in on the user. The reading that I have selected to focus on is centred on the interaction between the user and their environment through which a framework of design thinking (Bell, 2008) can be applied to further enhance the user’s experience. While I am not currently working in field of librarianship, as a classroom teacher I too face the possibility of being marginalised. Like a librarian I am a middleman in the information wheeling and dealing stakes.  I am all too aware that as a History teacher the facts, figures and dates to plug any info gaps the students have is a Google search away. As Andrew Norton mentions in his article “When course are free online, what’s left for universities to sell” with a large number of university (and high schools for that matter) using the same text course book from the same publishers to meet the same standards for professional and academic accreditation where does the value come in?  My value as an educator is in what I do with the information and how I help students develop their own filters to combat information overload. To find ways to optimise this experience for my students is my challenge and is what makes me different to the other history teachers in the school down the road.

This week I have had the chance to approach the Director of Digital Learning and Library Services in addition to the Director of ICT Curriculum Support to investigate the their perspective on the average user in my educational location as well as probe their thoughts on the challenge in catering to their users. It is by sheer coincidence that both of the directors were grappling with the issue optimising user experience. Through online polling and informal interviews a picture of the average user had been created. What has been discovered echoes my observations earlier – that any gaps in info are only a Google search away. That is to say that the library’s ability to meet the user’s expectations as a primary source of information is in decline in this educational location.

As our discussion continued the Directors saw this decline in patronage coming from their understanding of the user’s requirements for  a ‘just in time’ ‘one stop shop’ approach to information retrieval which is not meet by the current system. The barrier to increase patronage was seen as the inability of the system to deal with the different kinds of information that  that the collection housed. Simply stated that while the collection might hold the resources that a user needed, the user needed to do the leg work to get it. One search process to find one type of resource then another search process to find another type of resource. Even though the material in collection is more suited to the needs of the users (as it is primarily acquired to meet certain requirement in curriculum) and would require less of a filter to weed out undesirable content it is no wonder that a quick and simple Google search wins out in the users eyes.

Current Structure

Document                                                     Location/Search Method

Archived photos                                                                   Stored locally in various drives on the school network

Archived electronic documents                                        Stored locally in various drives on the school network

Hardcopy Books                                                                   Stored on shelves in school library/ Use Oliver (school’s chosen organisational tool)

e-books                                                                                   Resourced from Overdrive (Online ebook library provider)/ Use Overdrive website app

ClickView Video                                                                  Resourced form Clickview service with some content stored locally/Use clickview app

DVD Collection                                                                    Stored on shelves in school library/Use Oliver to locate

 

As can be seen that as a history teacher about to deal with the Vietnam War I would need to search a number of different locations to find all the information that the school may have to help me resource my unit. The problem in consolidating these dissimilar document types is that the different media types are better stored in different ways and each of these ways has its own retrieval method. It is easy to see a quick search on Google wins out over an extensive search of the school’s own resources.

 

References

Bell, S. (2008). Design Thinking. American Libraries. Retrieved from Queensland University Blackboard Course Materials for INN533.

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Mindomo is a graphic organiser that allows users to not only visually represent ideas but also collaborate live while making changes to visuals, then share them either by a simple auto generated HTML embed code, direct email link or through a number of social media/networking platforms.

This web 2.0 app will easily slip into the DoL [Dimensions of Learning]  framework that we are currently developing in our educational location. In the English classroom I have used to this app to trace relationship between character in a novel and events in a plot to aid in the organisation of declarative knowledge (Dimension 2). I have used it in History classes to brainstorm criteria for characteristics of leadership to apply in a decision making activity (Dimension 4) – see worked example below the tutorial video.

Positive

  • Visually appealing with multiple themes
  • Maps can be shared via email links or embedded with HTML code in wikis or blogs
  • Easy learning curve for users and viewers
  • Mindomo maps allow for viewers to interact with the mind map allowing for interaction rather than a static/passive experience with the information.

Minus

  • Account required and on Free plan only 3 maps can be saved

Interesting

  • Highlighting the movement to anywhere, anytime learning there is an iPad app for this Web 2.0 app.

 

Mindomo Example: Treaty of Versailles

The worked example (link above)  details how Mindomo can be employed by students in the first part of a DoL decision making process based on the question of whether the Treaty of Versailles was fair. During this first part students are asked to use their understanding of the topic to create and support categories which could be used as criteria to aid in the decision making process.

 

 

 

readwritethink.gif

The readwritethinkwebsite is designed to offer a number of resources for teachers to enhance the teaching of literacy. readwrite think is partnered with the International Reading Association, the American based National Council of Teachers of English, and the Verizon Foundation (which focuses on improving literacy and learning relations between teachers, students and parents through online teaching resources).

While readwritethink has a plethora of materials I have found that the KWL worksheet creator fits nicely into the second dimension of the Dimensions of Learning framework. In fact, during the PD I was part of the trainer, Lisa, provided a paper example of this type of activity.  This activity is designed to activate the students’ prior knowledge on the topic while working to generate inquiry questions to guide their reading of the stimulus material. The worksheet creator allows student to respond to the key prompts of What do I know about this topic ? What do I want to know about this topic ? and following the reading/stimulus material for this activity students then can complete the worksheet question prompt What did I learnabout this topic ?

 

Positive about READWRITETHINK:

  • There is a wealth of online worksheets that can be saved and printed up or used in an electronic format.
  • There are a number of online lesson plans to help supplement or provide examples for activities

Negative about READWRITETHINK:

  • While some worksheets are interactive, not all are, thus a need to print may still be needed
  • The worksheets are often of an individual nature and thus activities that may be better completed in groups might have to be done individually.
  • This is not strictly a Web 2.0 app but a database of activities – some of which are Web 2.0 some are not.
  • It can be difficult to find what you are looking for on the site.
Interesting about READWRITETHINK:
  • This is a site created in cooperation with teachers in the US and is used in North American Schools – it is interesting to see how they approach literacy.
  • The resources here are generally free with no login or sign up requirements making them easily accessible.

A week prior to the submission of the online resource (for the course of study in Cyberlearning) I was involved in a Technology Twilight Professional Development [PD] Session at my school where I was to conduct two 45 minute sessions on how to use interactive whiteboards. As a member of my school’s ICT committee, and one of the keynote presenters on this evening I was often queried during the PD as to why teachers should engage in the use of digital technology in class – particularly when for most it seems extremely laborious. My standard answer here would have been along the lines of that when riding a bike it takes a while to get the hang of it but once you’ve got it, it is just so much more efficient. However, on this occasion I had to pause for thought – was the IWB so much more efficient than the whiteboard? What about all the Web 2.0 ‘solutions’ I had been providing my History department? Were they efficient? What about this online resource for CLN601? Was I ultimately doing the same thing as I had already been doing but in a digital format? If so what is the point of making the transition to a digital presence? Didn’t using these tools imply that I was offering the students a learning experience that was much more enriching that what I had been providing before? Or, was all this simply as Lankshear and Knobel posited, “old wine in a new bottle” (in Davies & Merchant, 2009, p. 2)?

This direction in thinking was new for me. I did not consider myself ignorant, but to be a realist in that technology in the classrooms will never be a substitute for a quality teacher. “Bad” teaching and teachers will not instantly become revolutionary educational practitioners and the question posed by Ian Gilbert (2010) – “Why do I need a teacher when I’ve got Google?” is not the rhetorical question I personally take it to mean for some.  Yet, until this course of study (that being this CLN601 unit) I had not called into question my association of progressive teaching pedagogy with advancement in technology in just such a way. I had so long been espousing as the great advantages that technology affords the learner and teacher in terms of efficiency and productivity that I hadn’t considered all the facets of the issue. For me, technology as an integral part of pedagogy was a fait d’acompli.

Upon reflection, and through additional reading on the theme of this critical incident I am working towards the conclusion that it is possibly not efficiency and productivity that are the selling points of the integration of technology and the classroom. Is there really any difference in being able to create a KWL worksheet on a piece of paper versus creating that same worksheet through the use of a Web 2.0 app? In terms of efficiency and productivity – no there isn’t. In fact, it could easily be argued that the time required for the creation of certain online resources far outstrips the convention tools for accomplishing the same physical task. For example, the time it took me to create my own VoiceThread for the online learning activity for this course took me considerable longer than creating a paper based worksheet of questions based on those almost identical resources gathered on my behalf by the school’s teacher librarian.

As I had never really taken the time to articulate what it was that made teaching with Web 2.0 a truly worthwhile experience for both teachers and learners, I grasped at what I though would be the easiest outcome to sell. Thus, improved productivity and efficiency became my standard answer as to why we should be moving in the direction of technology rich classrooms. What is clear from this reflection is that I had been trying to convince others of the ease of transitioning to a digital presence while trying to convince myself that the effort would be worth it in the end. I instinctively knew that technology offers the possibility for deeper learning but was consciously or subconsciously trying to avoid mention of the work that might be involved in getting to that point. Also, I was cognisant of the feeling that “the use of technologies that displace, interrupt, or minimize that relationship [the interpersonal relationship between the student and the teacher] is viewed in a negative light” (Cuban in Sturm, Kennell, McBride, & Kelly, 2009, p. 368). That is to say, it is my perception that technology, more specifically the time it take to successfully employ it in the classroom, is felt by most teachers to be time that is taken away from teaching of the content and interactions that stem from that.

So, if it’s not efficiency and productivity that are the ultimate payoffs what is? In a moment of clarity and in reflection, based on a number of pertinent readings, what became clear to me is that what makes Web 2.0 more than a digital representation of the traditional paper and pen approach to learning is that of communication as well as collaboration. Davies and Merchant (2009) point to the findings of a number of research papers that identify three important points that more than justify the role of Web 2.0 technologies in the classroom:

  1. A significant amount of learning takes place in out-of-school contexts…
  2. Informal learning is both important and worthwhile for children and young people.
  3. …peer interaction can play a very important part in learning

(Davies & Merchant, 2009, p. 2)

On that night when of my critical incident occurred, when those numerous questions were working their way in and out of my conscious thought processes, I could not answer in the manner I had previously. My course of study and my experiences in my involvement in the creation of the online digital resource for this course had caused me a moment of self-doubt in the message I was trying to sell. What this reflection on that critical incident has provided me with is the space to logically think about and articulate why what I am trying to do with Web 2.0 technologies is more than “old wine in a new bottle”.

My new approach to the question that caused my initial moment of doubt has now evolved (and I would expect it would not cease to evolve) into the following three-pronged approach:

  1. The movement from pen and paper to a digital presence is not easy
    1. It involves research
    2. It involves trial and error
    3. Above all it requires time, patience and the will to succeed.
    4. The movement from pen and paper to a digital presence is not a one stop fix
      1. It won’t solve all the problems in the class such as behaviour
      2. It won’t make what is an intrinsically bad lesson good.
    5. The movement from pen and paper to a digital presence, however is worth it because:
      1. Students are afforded more opportunity for instant feedback
      2. Students are afforded more opportunity to collaborate outside of the traditional boundaries of school.
      3. Students are afforded more opportunities to experience information in wider range of forms and they in turn can respond to that information in a wider range of ways.

While moving to a digital presence that makes full use of technology and Web 2.0 opportunities is not easy nor is it a one stop fix, it is worthwhile for the experiences students will be able to have greater opportunity to interact with each other, us the teachers, and the content.

I have been working as part of a team to produce an online learning resource. The learning resource is targeting the use of Web 2.0 Technology to achieve enriched student outcomes in History classes employing the Australian National Curriculum.

http://guidedinquiryhistory.wikispaces.com/

I am happy with the results and feel they provide a model on which teachers could approach the teaching of the required depth studies in a way that actually makes them deep learning opportunities.

It’s not Powerpoint that sucks, it’s you!

You Suck

A very true look at design.

In reading Gordon’s article Inquiry in the School Library: A 21st Century Solution?  she references Birkerts’ book The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. Birkerts makes the distinction between printed text and electronic text very clear and one of the first comments that is made is the notion that printed text is linear. This reminded me of a very informative youtube video that I had seen on exactly the same subject and makes many of the same points.

 

 

One of Birkerts’s distinctions is that electronic text can be passive or active. As a cynic might say, the opportunity to be passive is more of a temptation to those students who struggle with reading to allow the text to control and guide their thinking without any critical reflection. As the youtube video makes clear to me is that it is still up to the audience to make meaning of the electronic text through the way in which we organise it not only on our websites and hard drives but also in our minds.

Gordon, Carol. (2010). Inquiry in the school library: a 21st century solution? School Libraries Worldwide, 16(1).

What has been clear in the results in my first and to an extent my second questionnaire (sorry, I have not coded my third yet) is that the learners in this activity have, as Rowlands et al (in Gordon, 2010) have observed in their study, attempted to engage with the core business of this competition by “get[ting] by with Google” (p. iv). This is evidenced through statements in Questionnaire 1 that report  that when using Google “[s]ometimes i [sic] find it difficult [sic] to find exactly what im [sic] looking for and it doesnt [sic] matter what i [sic] type in, but sometimes it just works” (Alison, Questionnaire 1). Rowlands et al (in Gordon, 2008) have linked this deeply embedded, knee jerk response of making Google the first and only stop for conducting searches to low academic performance/outcomes. This correlates to my observations of student learning behaviour and work product so far in this learning activity. The students, in particular Alison, struggled with the demands of this task when resorting purely to simple search engine queries using Google. My subjective opinion is the breadth and quality of their research queries improved just on introducing the students to the use of the advanced search function in Google as well as the use of Google Scholar. In addition the students’ research was further advanced by exposure to meta search engines (such as Yippy, and Dogpile) and invisible web (aka the deep web) search engines (INCYWINCY and Completeplanet). Searching with anything other than Google was completely alien to them prior to this task.

This leads me to my next observation which is in line with further findings in Rowlands et. al. (in Gordon 2008) who point to the glaring fact that most students start research projects by accessing online information before engaging in alternative forms (what once was considered primary forms) of searching such as accessing a library or librarian. Each of the students participating started researching the topic by looking online rather than accessing the resources that had been compiled in the library for them. The librarians were made aware of this project and took the time to put together a resource section in the library to aid the students in locating physical resources – to date the librarians have told me that none of the resources has been checked out and that not one of the students has approached them for assistance.

As part of this competition the students are asked to follow correct APA referencing conventions. As such, to help them avoid the trap that we all fall into at some point or another, I asked them to record each and every site that they visited, and if possible save a copy of it (I introduced them to Read it later as a solution to limited internet access and to make saving the pages less painful). What I observed as we had lunch time tutorial session was that the students, using some new and refined search techniques that I demonstrated to them, were finding gold. Site after site, online journal after online journal of what appeared to be highly relevant information on the topic. The trouble is, as I saw it anyway, was not the finding of information, it was the reading of the information – reading that just never happened. Again, going back to Rowlands et. al. (in Gordon 2008), there is empirical evidence to support this trend in the “Google Generation” information users – finding and storing every available text of evidence but not being able or willing to wade through the almost overwhelming mountain to get to the core of the search.

In my reading for this course, as well as for Learning Hubs, I have encountered a number of articles that detail, more or less, how the current generation of students are adapting their learning and reading to the presence of the internet and the availability of information. It goes as said that the way these students read, access texts, has changed.  Is it for the better or for the worse. It is too early to tell. In an interesting argument by Wolf (2010), it is pointed out that Socrates once put up the argument that the finality of the printed word would lead to intellectual ruin – no longer would students be able to recall and examine their choice of words – they would be able to go back and look at them again and tricking them into thinking they understand rather than just read what was said – a key difference to Socrates. In any case an extended metaphor that I came across, and one that appeals to me in light of the nature of this course is presented as follows:

GEORGE DYSON
Science Historian; Author, Darwin Among the Machines

KAYAKS vs CANOES

In the North Pacific ocean, there were two approaches to boatbuilding. The Aleuts (and their kayak-building relatives) lived on barren, treeless islands and built their vessels by piecing together skeletal frameworks from fragments of beach-combed wood. The Tlingit (and their dugout canoe-building relatives) built their vessels by selecting entire trees out of the rainforest and removing wood until there was nothing left but a canoe.

The Aleut and the Tlingit achieved similar results — maximum boat / minimum material — by opposite means. The flood of information unleashed by the Internet has produced a similar cultural split. We used to be kayak builders, collecting all available fragments of information to assemble the framework that kept us afloat. Now, we have to learn to become dugout-canoe builders, discarding unnecessary [sic] information to reveal the shape of knowledge hidden within.

I was a hardened kayak builder, trained to collect every available stick. I resent having to learn the new skills. But those who don’t will be left paddling logs, not canoes.

http://www.edge.org/q2010/q10_2.html#dysong

Gordon, Carol. (2010). Inquiry in the school library: a 21st century solution? School Libraries Worldwide, 16(1). Retrieved from:
http://gateway.library.qut.edu.au/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/docview/217752171?accountid=13380

Wolf, Maryanne. (2010). Our “deep reading” brain: its digital evolution poses questions. Retrieved from http://nieman.harvard.edu/reports/article/102396/Our-Deep-Reading-Brain-Its-Digital-Evolution–Poses-Questions.aspx

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