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THE PIPELINE: Low-Hanging Fruit--Key Components of Learning-Focused Web Presences

By Stephen Abram - Posted Sep 1, 2013
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There's a lot of rethinking going on in library land about what comprises a great library web presence. Sadly, what was great 5 years ago is merely adequate now. This is the nature of the web and digital content. Opportunities progress at such a rate that standing still or implementing simple annual and 5-year plans stale very quickly as new methods and user, board, and teacher expectations inexorably change. This is frustrating on one level, but it serves as good job security for those librarians who are in tune with the digital alignment strategies of their institutions.

Indeed, this is my major takeaway from trend-watching throughout the past few years. It’s not just the fact that new technologies evolve or appear on our radars and create new opportunities. The other side of the coin is that user expectations are being driven by a plethora of their own insights and behavioral changes. User experiences with the consumer web (largely driven by their personal, partial teaching and learning-oriented activities) on such services as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and YouTube have fired up their imaginations about how such services and environments might apply to their work needs. Users often have very low understanding of the quality, licensing, security, and privacy issues associated with applying these services without professional advice in corporate and institutional environments. And, somewhat unfortunately, our end-user professionals and learners often have little understanding of what the consequences of “free” are. This is where professional librarians allied with information technology professionals fit in.

We can provide the cautions and insight to make sure that teachers and learners are protected from a plethora of disruptions to the learning goals—disruptions such as these, for example:

SEO (search engine optimization) driven and geotagged search that focuses on the needs of advertisers, commercial entities, etc., that manipulate the search engine rankings based on their own agenda

Privacy, security, and confidentiality issues associated with registration on websites, especially with minors

Security issues around plug-ins, add-ons, viruses, phishing, and more

Filtering—both the good and bad consequences of filtering for minors—and applying these same rules holistically to adults, librarians, and teachers

Ensuring age and stage content appropriateness as well as ensuring tools for search and level are secure

Test and trial new resources and tools and lead teams of evaluators who seek diverse but targeted input

Foundations

So, what is the basic web presence today for schools? In my mind, it is ideally managed by school library staff, but it is also led by a team who involves and seeks input from IT, curriculum leaders, teachers, and students. We have moved past the stage where merely putting resources on a page is sufficient. That said, I don’t mean that isn’t a good thing. 24/7 websites that are simple, single, one-stop shops for access to resources that support teaching, homework, classroom, and library activities are a great thing. And this is the foundation for current and future success.

Below is a list of what’s needed to not be inherently behind, but it is also a list that shows the foundation for a good web presence for school libraries. I always use the metaphor of a foundation for a building. The same building foundation can support a house or a home, but there’s a difference. That difference is the same when we talk about a library’s collections of books and databases in our web presence and when we seek to enable learning and experiences through our web presence. The basics of a web presence remain fairly consistent, and they include the following:

Access to the library’s OPAC

Licensed resources (organized logically and not merely alphabetically)

Free resources (aligned with learner needs and projects)

Links to resources such as the local public library, museums, science centers, cultural centers, and zoos

Webliographies, pathfinders, libguides, teacher, or course website indexing

Intelligent aggregation of licensed local, board, state, provincial, and national resources

Simple authentication

Upping the Game: Advanced Placement

A number of opportunities are being tested and implemented in many schools. Some of these have been started in other sectors of librarianship; these sectors are places that our students will encounter in their lives—academia, community colleges, public libraries, and special libraries. What I’m talking about are some of the emerging short-term trends in educational web presence and learning experience development. These are less onerous than the big picture long-term trends of integrating fully with elearning strategies, multiple device alignment, e-textbook and library resources integration, providing online 24/7 teacher-librarian assistance and serving statewide curriculum needs, as well as developing full-scale, lesson-level library integration with classroom learning while serving the needs of special needs students, homeschooled students, and all types of schools.

So, here are some of my thoughts on things that need to be addressed. At first glance, they would appear to be out of reach of the average school library due to resource, budget, and staffing limitations. That speaks to the clear need for more district- and state-level leadership on these issues, if our learners are to be prepared for the digitally enabled world that is clearly their future. I suppose the first strategy is to ruggedize the consortia we participate in and move beyond buying clubs for discounts on books and databases, evolving to one where cross-functional, expert teams collaborate on content, experience, and elearning creation, delivering value and improved learner performance and teacher support.

OpenURL

OpenURL is an international standard widely adopted by academic libraries; it allows for the instant identification of full-text articles from such embedded clues and bibliographic citations and footnotes and indexes. It gets the searcher to the resource faster.

Broadcast Search and Discovery

Discovery systems are quite different than search engines, but there is often confusion about what they do. Libraries have been teaching native search skills by licensed database and consumer search engines for a long time. As the resources have multiplied beyond feasible human memory, the discovery of where to search became a problem. Discovery services show the searcher where to search—simple as that. It rises above trying to remember the name of “that database” and removes the issue of being just single-supplier-dependent, replacing it with a best database decision.

Recommendations and Public Library Integration

The BiblioCommons initiative that seeks to integrate online public access catalog (OPAC) search at The New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, Queens Public Library, and local New York school libraries (overlaid on several different integrated library systems) promises to be transformational in providing local access to students in that region. Combined with the ability to see reviews, provide reviews, and make recommendations to peers, this serves as a potential platform for the transformation of reading discovery and usage of local book and ebook assets.

Streaming Media

Streaming media is, in the short term, a licensing and rights challenge. However, it is unlikely to remain a long-term issue given the money chasing various niche markets such as education in this space. Simply, it’s one thing to have electronic scripts for Shakespeare in the library, but it’s quite another thing to see the play performed. Nonfiction video and audio, such as that from National Geographic, are already part of the curriculum as physical DVDs, but the ability to assign these as homework resources represents a clear and present opportunity.

Learning Objects: ?Learning Management Systems

This is the mountain! It seems so steep and overwhelming. However, school libraries must start now to better position themselves in this space. The risk of being pushed aside by commercial entities or having elearning courses that neglect to integrate with library services is too high not to increase the ability of school library professionals to develop and contribute in the learning management system space.

Etextbooks

The etextbook will ultimately not be merely a digitally wrapped version of the old printed textbook. The common etextbooks are currently mere seeds compared to what they will ultimately be. They will include embedded links to further resources, video, assessments, dynamic exercises, and more. Developing a foundation to integrate and contribute to these initiatives is a key to longer term success. With time, managing textbook “learning objects” will move from the school and classroom environment to the district and state level.

Curriculum-Based Alignment

Is your web presence primarily organized by resources? Is there a parallel alternative organization that puts resources in a plan that aligns with the learner’s needs? By this I mean that appropriate grade, course, stream, age, and unit level alignment of resources, which can be advantageous to reducing the threatening feel of too-much-information for that grade 9 science student who flips to Google just to feel less overwhelmed.

Create Your Own

This is for extra marks—creating templates and resources for both students and teachers to succeed can position the library well. Do you have blog, wiki, essay templates, bibliography samples, and PowerPoint styles and templates available to show them what success looks like? For teachers, is there an offering to demonstrate best practices in classroom websites, blogs, private social networks, homework support sites, and so on?

Teacher Resources and Curriculum Standards

Many school systems and libraries already link to or provide these resources. It is wise to ensure that the library services are conceptually tied together. Libraries and librarians are not add-ons; they are critical to the success of learning.

Conclusion

So, there are some quick thoughts based on what I am seeing in the world of web presence for learning and teacher support. Some of you are well along the path, and we can learn from your experience. Many of you have a great foundation to proceed. Learning by doing pilots and experiments will surely allow you to prosper.

 

Contact Stephen at stephen.abram@gmail.com.


 
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