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IDEA WATCH: Embracing Mobile Learning--Think "Flexibility" and "Adaptability"

By Carolyn Foote - Posted Nov 6, 2013
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As more and more mobile devices enter our schools, libraries have to be responsive, not only in the tools we use, but also in the design and functionality of our physical spaces. We need to look at the design of our environment but also examine how our policies support what students need, rather than act as obstacles. As our schools embrace 1:1 or BYOD, it becomes increasingly important for libraries to adapt accordingly.

The Space

It’s important not to get trapped in our concept of what a library looks like from a traditional standpoint. As lines increasingly blur between “technology” and “library,” we need to adapt. First, we need to reassess our environment in anticipation of a mobile workplace and ask ourselves challenging design questions. How do our students learn? How do our spaces fit their learning styles? How does their use of mobile devices affect that? What is comfortable, inspiring, or flexible?

We can become anthropologists of sorts, watching how students work with their mobile devices. Is the library designed comfortably for students to use tablets? When we watch a student or adult using a tablet in a group setting, there is usually a lot of sharing that goes on. In our library, for example, we noticed that our individual armchairs weren’t as well-suited to that sort of sharing, so we replaced them with seating cubes that students could sit on together. The cubes are portable, because portability is also important to spontaneous sharing.

On the other hand, we noticed that some students preferred nesting in their own space—leading us to create spots tucked away in the library. Interestingly, we also noticed that the tablet use didn’t replace our desktop computers but became an adjunct to them. Students might actually spread out two or three devices on the computer desk (thus surface space is important). We also observed that students with mobile devices in our library seem to work standing more often than before, leading us to look at adding some standing desk surfaces, bar-height tables with chargers, and more.

With the flexibility that a mobile device affords, there’s a significant trend in the school furniture marketplace toward more flexible furniture, with many players jumping into the market, such as Steelcase and VS. New classroom furniture focuses on flexible furniture configurations such as desks on wheels, portable small whiteboards (Huddleboards), rolling whiteboards, and more. Malleable and moveable furnishings such as tables on wheels, flip tables, rolling desks, and whiteboards all have effective functionality in a more device-based library because they allow for more flexibility and on-the-fly grouping and learning. An excellent example of a flexible lab type space is Hillbrook School’s iLab (hillbrook.org/ilab), which classes can customize as needed.

How can we create spaces like that in our libraries or computer labs? Flexible walls or rolling marker boards allow us to create temporary learning nooks or gaming areas. Projection tools such as Apple TV or others allow more spontaneous sharing from iPads and can be used in the library for workshops, student art displays, or spontaneous sharing.

Getting Technical

Other issues in a mobile environment are more related to technical needs. If you are in a BYOD or 1:1 environment, perhaps the library needs to have support for charging stations. A charging area can be designated, or chargers can be “checked out” for the day. Some would argue it isn’t the library’s responsibility, but as a library is a natural student union of sorts, I would argue that it is a way the library can provide a needed student service. At our 1:1 school, we have identified other helpful add-ons, such as mobile keyboards that can be checked out in sets for a class, for example. Styluses, battery chargers, dongles—all are tools that can be helpful to students and staff.

Another issue that arises in a mobile library is technical support. Can or should the library offer to be the hub for that? Our high school and middle schools have located help desks within the library. These desks are staffed some time during the day with district tech staff or student trainers. As a centralized location, and a place already abounding with technology, this seemed a natural fit. Again, this means giving up what we might have, in the past, considered library “turf,” but it’s time to leave those sorts of sacred cows behind and do what is best for students.

Policies and Strategies

Lastly, we need to examine whether or not our existing policies and strategies really support the ways students learn. Do we need to create Help materials such as tutorials and pathfinders? And if so, what tools meet the students where they are? There are myriad tools from LibGuides to Symbaloo to LiveBinders or tools popular with students such as Tumblr and Goodreads. We use an embedded poll (using Polldaddy) on our webpage to assess what ways students would like learning delivered. The library can offer technology “lunch n learns” or set up a mentor system for help with devices. We can create Google spreadsheet lists of apps, invite students to review apps, create a LibGuides page, and offer many more supports for students. If we have a technology coordinator, we can work in tandem with him or her—again, perhaps giving up our own sacred cows in the best interest of students.

Being in a 1:1 school alters our connection with teachers as well. They may now be doing much more “research” within the confines of the classroom. So not only is it important for us to develop support pages for students, we also need to build them for teachers. Excellent articles abound on the sorts of changes teachers will have to make in classrooms in a mobile environment that can help us refine our messages. For example, consider “Teaching In the Age of Mobile Learning Devices,” by Harry G. Tuttle (www.techlearning.com/Default.aspx?tabid=67&EntryId=4358) and “The iPad as a Tool for Creation to Strengthen Learning,” from Justin Reich (http//:blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/07/potential-and-reality-the-ipad-as-a-tool-for-creation/). We also need to reach out to classrooms more—leaving the library if we can, or drawing on tools such as Google Hangout or Skype to talk to students elsewhere in our buildings. If we can’t be there in person, virtual is the next best thing!

In addition to programming and technical support, we also have to examine if our policies align with our beliefs. If we believe in accessibility, do our policies support that? If we believe in letting students govern their own devices, do our policies support that? If we want to empower students, are we creating policies in the library or school that support that? It’s time to move away from the perception of librarian/technologist as watchdog toward one that is of an educator, a supporter of students’ right to access, etc. We have to give up a little control and allow students to rearrange the flexible furniture to suit their needs. We have to sort out how to allow devices that play video and music and are mobile with the needs of some students for quiet. (Our solution was creating a quiet study room.) One helpful exercise our librarians went through was to spend an hour brainstorming our core values and then charting them in a Wordle (www.wordle.net/). By doing so, we could easily see what our core values were, and then start looking at how our policies aligned with those values.

As our schools change and adapt, libraries must adapt also. We exist for the purpose of serving our students and their learning. As the ways students learn change, so must we. And as we reinvent ourselves, we need to communicate that with our staff, students, and administrators so that they see the library as a strong partner in a mobile environment. 

 

Contact Carolyn at technolibrary@gmail.com.


 
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