On Dec. 13, 2006, TIME named us all Person of the Year. The cover read, "You Control the Information Age. Welcome to Your World." It should come as no surprise that this declaration set the Web atwitter. Some people saw TIME’s choice as a validating instance of mainstream media recognizing the shift occurring in the production of information and online content. For younger people, the people we’re teaching in our school libraries, there was no shift to recognize. Many of them have never known an information landscape without things such as blogs, YouTube, MySpace, and instant messaging. They’ve always known the Web to be not just for reading content but for writing content as well.
Let’s not mistake their acquaintance with Web 2.0 for expertise. While our students might be able to click through Web sites with ease and change the layouts of their MySpace profiles in the blink of an eye, there are still many things we can teach them about the read/write Web. There are also many ways we can teach our students using the read/write Web. Underlying these opportunities is the possibility to use the read/write Web to discuss the issues of authorship, authenticity, and the production of information—all topics for rich discussions of information literacy.
This article will provide a cursory review of some of the best online tools you can use to excite teachers and to prepare students to be active agents in today’s participatory culture.
Start a Conversation
Don’t think of Weblogs as a certain type of Web site. Certainly there are plenty of blogs that fill the "online diary" stereotype, but we’re not necessarily concerned with these here. Think of Weblogs from the back end. Blog systems are powerful pieces of software that allow nontechies to publish things on the Web. That highlights their potential a bit more, doesn’t it?
Ease of use isn’t the only reason you should employ blogs. An important reason is the availability of interactivity. Usually blog posts are enabled to receive responses through comments. Blog posts and comments are a great way to get students talking about books online, and this is already taking place in commercial venues. See the Readz section of the tween blogs site AllyKatzz (www.allykatzz.com/page/clubs/readz), for example. The blog Student Reflections on Night by Elie Wiesel (http://nightwiesel.blogspot.com) is an example of students responding to posts about a book through comments. Students can also use blogs for creative writing purposes. They might really enjoy writing a blog from the perspective of a book’s character or historical figure. Whatever content they are putting online, they are sure to be engaged with the process of blogging more than the process of turning in a document to a teacher.
Google’s Web-based Weblog system, Blogger (www.blogger.com), is a good place to start because you can have a free blog up and running in less than 10 minutes. If you’re at a loss for what to put online, use content that you’re already preparing for use on paper. Better yet, put your book talks into text and post them online. Like most online tools, there are a variety of privacy settings you can explore to best suit your needs. If you want to go beyond blogger, check out Edublogs (http://edublogs.org), which is a free Weblog hosting service for educators and students. The software it uses is the current darling of the blog world: WordPress. If you get serious about integrating Weblogs into your curriculum, you (or your school’s IT department) can download your own version of WordPress (www.wordpress.org) and host it on your school’s server. This is the most technically difficult solution, but it will afford you the most control over your blogs.
No More FrontPage!
School librarians often make Web pages for teachers who want some of their units to be online. Skill and time restraints have often forced school librarians to use the now-discontinued Microsoft FrontPage to accomplish this task. The increased usability of wikis—Web pages that can be quickly and easily edited—have pushed FrontPage further into obsolescence.
Wikis are one of the best tools to increase collaboration among school librarians, teachers, and students. School librarians can hold instructional sessions and show teachers and students how to edit wikis. Thus, the task of making a Web page for a teacher’s project becomes an opportunity to empower teachers and provides an information literacy lesson for students. Other uses for wikis include using them as a Web notebook with which to collect links and information, as a brainstorming space, and as a way to make easy to update pathfinders.
There are different levels of protection and security you can give your new wiki. The popular and free wiki site PBwiki.com allows users make their wikis private by password protecting them. Only people with the wiki’s password can see and make changes to the wiki.
Pretty as a Picture
At first glance, Flickr (www.flickr.com) is a photo-sharing Web site through which people can easily upload photos to the Web. Looking further, you’ll notice that Flickr is a large pool of user-generated content and an interesting example of everyday people cataloging information and working with metadata … for fun! Users can tag the photos they upload, creating a searchable keyword index to the photos on the site. Flickr aggregates all of these tags and assembles them into a tag cloud, which is a visual representation of the tags used on the site. While students might be bored to tears if you lecture them about formal taxonomies versus folksonomies, there are still a number of ways you can use Flickr in the LMC. Flickr can be searched by tags, or full text, including photo titles and annotations. A Flickr scavenger hunt might be a good way to talk about search strategies and the reliability of user-generated content. Photos can be organized into sets on Flickr. Having students upload images to Flickr, group them into sets, and provide text annotation is a way to get them more interested in presenting their book reports. Use Pictobrowser (http://pictobrowser.com) and your Flickr account to easily create an online slide show of photos. There are many tools available at fd’s Flickr toys (http://bighugelabs.com/flickr) that you and students can use to make magazine covers, motivational posters, and more out of Flickr photos.
Buddying Up to IMers
In schools, instant messaging (IM) is often maligned as a social distraction. It is indeed a channel for powerful social interaction, a fact that has secured a place for IM in young people’s life toolkit. For many of them, IM is the preferred mode of communication; it is as important as—or even more important than—phone and email correspondence. Some libraries are responding to this by being available to communicate with their users via IM. This meets IMers where they are and removes a barrier to service.
People who IM the library often add the library’s screen name to their buddy lists, which are lists of online contacts. Libraries become the "buddies" of IMers. What a great relationship to cultivate! When libraries are on a student’s buddy list, the library has a near-permanent presence in his or her online experience. Along with friends and family, the library is there as a trusted source of information.
One of the best things about starting IM in your library is that the software is free. AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) is the most popular IM service for young people, so be sure to register for an account on their Web site (www.aim.com). You can download the AIM software, but if you don’t want to bother (or it isn’t allowed in your institution!), try using a no-download Web-based service such as meebo (www.meebo.com). If all forms of IM are blocked in your school, you’ll have to have a conversation with the IT department and school administration.
Be the Change
School librarians wanting to start new, interactive Web projects often face resistance from school administration. Is there an effective way to convince risk-averse administration to green light your project? Tim Lauer, principal of Lewis Elementary in Portland, Ore., highlights the fact that "school librarians are in a unique position to help students, teachers, and administrators understand the challenges and opportunities that present themselves as technology and communication tools change and take on a more social nature. Ignoring these changes will not make them go away, so it is imperative that we help our students learn the responsible use of these technologies." It is this urgency that needs to be expressed to resistant colleagues. If we continue to let other librarians, teachers, and administrators stick their heads in the sand, we’re not successfully filling our roles of information professionals.
Aaron Schmidt is director of the North Plains Public Library in Oregon. He also maintains the Weblog http://walkingpaper.org and is a frequent presenter at library conferences. Contact him at email@example.com.
Choices, Choices! Do I Wiki or Blog?
Blogs and wikis are both tools that enable people to get content online. Once you play with both tools, you’ll soon discover that blogs are good for displaying content in order and archiving that content. Wikis don’t automatically archive content like blogs, and it is easier to keep certain content
in one place. When using blogs, new content pushes older content off the page into the archives. Generally speaking, blogs are good for always having current, different information on a page. Wikis are more Web-like and are good for having multiple, linked pages that hold specific content. Looking at the Wikipedia page for a certain topic and then a blog that covers the same topic will highlight the differences.
Resources for Keeping Up With Teen and Tech Trends
"2007 Horizon Report" by The New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE
"Highlights six technologies that the underlying research suggests will become very important to higher education over the next one to five years." Includes discussions of social software, virtual worlds, and user-created content.
"Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century," by Henry Jenkins
"Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants," by Marc Prensky
A classic essay on the learning habits of young people.
Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens Are Really Doing Online, by Anastasia Goodstein
This book cuts through hype and details how young people are using the Web.
Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture, by Henry Jenkins
Not only valuable for its content about the tech side of participatory culture, this book examines fandom, a realm in which many teens enter.
Ypulse: Media for the Next Generation
News and information about teens and tweens geared toward "media and marketing professionals" is very useful for librarians wanting to gain insight into the preferences of people that age.
Pew Internet Studies
These reports are useful for gauging what teens are doing online. The statistics provided can help you make the case for interactive and engaging Web projects.
Social Networking Websites and Teens
Teen Content Creators and Consumers
Teens and Technology: Youth are Leading the Transition to a Fully Wired and Mobile Nation