Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Should we abandon reference material? (ETL 501)

The leather bound, gold plated Encyclopædia Britannica’s that graced the shelves in our family living room were a treasured item. An expensive acquisition, bought by parents who felt it important to have good quality reference materials on hand at home to support the years of homework and projects faced when raising four children. Nestled next to them, were the 6 volumes of an Australia specific encyclopedia set, several dictionaries and a thesaurus, several atlases and other reference materials. We used theses volumes with reverence, searching out information we needed for school, and occasionally reading them out of pleasure and a quest for personal knowledge.

Then the internet arrived, and with it the demise of status of those beloved tomes of knowledge and fact. The immediacy of the internet meant that when facts were changed, those facts could be changed instantaneously on the internet. So when Pluto officially lost its planetary standing, its change in status could be and was in many places online, changed with some immediacy - unlike the encyclopedias on our shelves, gathering dust and still championing Pluto as the 9th planet in our solar system. 

The idea of traditional reference materials gracing the shelves of our studies and libraries has been undergoing significant change over the past decade. Traditional definitions of what constitutes reference materials include texts such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, bibliographies, biographies, directories, indexes etc. I would argue that there does remain a place for materials of this sort in our libraries. What should be considered is what form those reference materials take and how library users are able to access those materials. The immediacy in be able to update information rapidly, has quickly led to the poor old printed encyclopedia becoming defunct – but not the premise behind it’s original use.

The definition of reference materials could be stated as:
Reference(noun) : the act of referring or consulting

Reference(noun) : a book to which you can refer to for authoritative facts

Reference (verb) : to refer to

As seekers of information, we still need information sources from which we refer to. Traditionally, reference materials were not able to be borrowed and were housed on shelves in the library. Now, much of the information contained within reference texts is freely available online. So it could be fair to say that reference materials have not been abandoned so much as having shifted format.

I think that the more significant issues facing the use of online reference materials versus traditional reference texts, is that of authority, accuracy and currency. Traditional reference materials were produced through qualified / experienced authors / editors. They contained reputable sources of information, guaranteed to have accurate information and published by a recognized publisher.
n some ways, it could be considered that much information online is referred to, and therefore reference material. Yet it is often not easy to determine the qualifications of the authors / editors and whether the information is reputable and accurate.

Wikipedia is an example of this. While it can be considered to be reference material, being an online encyclopedia, the fact that anyone can input fact and influence the information found within its pages makes it an unreliable source for reference. It cannot be guaranteed that all information is accurate and one does not need to be qualified or experienced within a particular field to publish on its site.

Wikipedia is written collaboratively by largely anonymous Internet volunteers. Anyone with Internet access can write and make changes to Wikipedia articles, People of all ages, cultures and backgrounds can add or edit article prose, references, images and other media here. What is contributed is more important than the expertise or qualifications of the contributor’ (Wikimedia, 2014).

Encyclopædia Britannica, another example of online reference material, has successfully taken its print reference materials and moved them online. However unlike Wikipedia, Encyclopædia Britannica does not allow anyone to publish information on their site, continuing to value the provision of information that has accuracy, authority and currency. Encyclopædia Britannica do not consider that reference materials such as encyclopedias are no longer useful and should be abandoned. Instead they state:

The encyclopedia is very much alive—more than ever, in fact, in many digital forms, online and on mobile devices. It’s bigger, better, and richer than it was in print, easier to use, and, just as important, online we can nurture an entire community of learners and researchers around the Britannica and all of our content, a community where people share their knowledge with others at the same time they’re learning new things themselves. The Internet and mobile interaction create a host of new possibilities, and we’re making the most of them.

We’ve gone way beyond traditional “reference.” In today’s networked world the scholarly and intellectual work we do serves learning in many new ways. As just one example, we now create high-quality instructional products for K-12 classrooms—products like Pathways: Science, which helps teachers correct common misconceptions about science among middle-school students.
Besides great editors and scholars, our teams include instructional designers, user-experience specialists, teachers, school administrators, and others—all the people you need to make great educational products. It’s fun, and it keeps us on our toes because the markets we serve are always hungry for new and better products, and we intend to give them what they need ‘(Encyclopædia Britannica, 2014).

So no, I don’t think we are a point of abandoning reference materials at all. I think we are in a time when we have a much greater choice of reference materials that ever before, and that as teachers and teacher librarians, we need to make informed choices about what online reference materials we share, use and teach our students with, always espousing the importance of authority, accuracy and currency.

Encyclopædia Britannica (2014). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com

Wikimedia Foundation (2014). Wikipedia:About in Wikipedia the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:About

Monday, 28 July 2014

Rainforest task using boolean strategies (ETL 501)

"A new and inexperienced geography teacher has arrived in your school and has been given the task of teaching a year 7 class on rainforests as part of the Global Environments Focus Area. List 3 key types of information this teacher might need and suggest a source of information – this does not need to be exact, such as a URL, but more general such as ‘an article on’ or ‘a website about". 

'Young people rely heavily on search engines to access information' (Coombes, 2008, p.33) with their 'information seeking behaviour based on simple keyword searches' (p.37), trusting search engine results and believing those results to be the most relevant and authoritative (p. 37). With a limited exposure to explicit teaching of information seeking skills, students are often 'being left to learn their informatoion-seeking skills on their own through experimentation' (p. 38). 

If we imagine that both the teacher's and students skills fall into the above category, then what can we expect from the above task?

Initially, we could expect that both students and teacher would begin their information search of rainforests with a google search, beginning initially with the simple term 'rainforest'  which brings up this first page of results.  

This first page of results firstly brings ups advertisements, a side panel of images and the top search result is wikipedia. It does bring up a couple of useful and student friendly websites that would be helpful with a generic overview of rainforests and do provide information about the accuracy / authenticity of the information provided. Wikipedia as the top link lends itself to class discussion about it's prominent position versus its accuracy and reliability. 

Teaching both staff and students to use boolean search terms, will enable them to narrow their search to more relevant information. 

For example using boolean search term AND, a more specific search can be made. 
In the search engine Google, Rainforest AND Global Environment AND Issues produced the following results. 
This more specific search did produce 1 million more results, but did provide links through to scholarly articles. 

Adding a further term Rainforest AND Global Environment AND Issues AND kids provides links to more student friendly sites. 

It is interesting to note that whenever you add kids as a boolean search term, the ads disappear from the top of the search list - so a good pointer to use with students for all google searches. 
Also useful to teach both teachers and students is that using a dash - attached to the front of a word will eliminate websites with those terms. 
'rainforests AND teacher resources AND Australia' 
still produced websites from both the USA and UK. However using 
'rainforests AND teacher resources AND Australia -USA -UK' 
produced a list that is Australia focused. 
Also teaching the use of parentheses for combining search terms. 
EG rainforests AND teacher resources AND (Australia OR New Zealand) -USA -UK

Taking the time to teach teachers and students how to use these boolean terms will ensure they can use the Google search engine more efficiently, refine their search strategies and improve their current information searching behaviours (Coombes, p. 34). 


Combes, B. (2009). Generation Y: Are they really digital
natives or more like digital refugees? Synergy, 7(1), 31-40. Retrieved July 2014, from http://www.slav.schools.net.au/synergy/vol7num1/coombes.pdf
Google (2014). Google. Retrieved from https://www.google.ca

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Blooms Taxonomy and technology (ETL 501)

‘Vast quantities of information fuel this global society, and the ability to locate, evaluate, and use appropriate information for creation and innovation is essential’ (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007, p. 2). This statement from ‘Guided Inquiry – learning in the 21st century’ encapsulates so much of what we are about in school today, and the onus is on us as educators to ‘develop independent learners who know how to expand their knowledge and expertise through skilled use of a variety of information resources employed both inside and outside of school’ (p. 3).

I have used the inquiry process in my classroom with great success, and Bloom’s revised taxonomy has been a useful tool in enabling students to build on their understandings, fostering motivation and higher order thinking. I have found technology and the internet to be both a source of great help and great frustration in achieving student success in the location of information and the presentation of student learning.

I found working through the Bloom’s resource task for Module 1.2 a difficult task and it was good to be put in the place of our students, and what is sometimes asked of them, with little support. I came away with a number of thoughts that I think are worthy of consideration when planning inquiry / project based learning tasks with the intention of using technology as an integral aspect of the task.

Access to information is key
Firstly, as I had no background knowledge of South Australian ecosystems, and was solely reliant on the web for information, I started off, as many of our students do by ‘googling’ it, with limited success. While information on ecosystems is abundant, the more specific criteria of South Australian ecosystems, greatly limited the amount of relevant information. This highlighted the need for teachers of specific subjects to source what information is readily available for their students on the web before students begin the task. This doesn’t necessarily mean hand the website addresses over to the students, but discussing relevant and specific Boolean search terms with the students may enable them to bring up the relevant information faster than just a google search of ‘South Australian ecosystems’. This is also a situation that would lend itself to class discussion on the diversity of other sources of information available beyond the web: such as databases, non-fiction texts, local community resources (assuming you are focused on South Australian ecosystems because that is where you are located) and scientific organisations.

Higher order thinking tasks are built on the knowledge and understanding already acquired
On the website ‘Mimanifesto – Jaye’s weblog’, the author states her opinion that ‘Knowledge acquisition, or remembering, in this day and age is now not going to be the cognitive base level any more’ (April 2103). I disagree. In the past, it may have been the case that much more importance was placed on knowledge acquisition than what was placed on what was done with that knowledge. Today, I would argue that knowledge acquisition is still important, but we now place more importance on what we do with that knowledge once we have it. How can we create solutions to ecosystem issues if we don’t first understand what an ecosystem is, and how to apply and analyse that knowledge of what it should be versus what it is in 2014?

It is important that we ‘google proof ‘ our questions in order to encourage higher order thinking. It is equally important that we teach our students how to locate information on the web, verify its accuracy, authenticity and authority so that they build their understandings with the correct knowledge.

Build on what the students / teachers are familiar with
I also found this task difficult as I put myself in the position of attempting to locate new apps / web 2.0 tools that I was unfamiliar with and fit them to the task listed. I found this to be a very time consuming and ineffective method. Had I been working in a school for this task, my method would have been different. First, I would have looked at what apps / web 2.0 tools were currently being utlilised by my students ie: what is already available on the school ipads  / what the students are familiar with and looked at where they could be used by the students in completing some of the tasks listed. Then I would look at the gaps and investigate what apps / web2.0 tools could be added to enhance the teaching and learning experiences of the staff and students. It is important to remember, especially in the primary school setting, that explicit teaching of the functions of new apps / web 2.0 is essential if we want the students to be able to utilize that tool to the best what it can offer.
There is a time consuming element of having staff and students become familiar with the function of an app, and how it’s features and tools can be utilised to meet learning needs.
Ultimately, we want our students and staff to be so familiar and comfortable with the use of a range of apps and web 2.0 tools that they can choose for themselves, what app or web 2.0 tool they need to best meet their learning task needs, rather than having the TL or classroom teacher define what they need to use.

Use apps and web2.0 tools with flexibility, ingenuity and creativity
I admit that having a webpage like Kathy Shrock’s ‘Bloomin Apps’ is a great resource to be able to tap into when trying to find new apps and where they might in to teaching and learning experiences. One of the issues I have though, is allocating a particular app to a particular stage of blooms. There will always be that staff member or student, who, when you suggest using a particular app to meet a particular stage of blooms who will answer ‘ oh but that app is only for analysis’.
It is essential, that in our role as TL, we emphasis that often the limits of an app or a web2.0 tool are lack of experience from the user. As students and staff become familiar with an app or a tool, they should be able to see the potential for the different tasks and creations that are possible.
For example, should the site www.exploratree.org.uk only be considered as an appropriate tool for creating diagrams in the application phase of Blooms, then it limits the user from exploring what else they could use this site for. It would be more preferable, for this site to be used in a variety of teaching and learning experiences, where the students can see its versatility. Then, when it comes to the situation of considering for themselves, what tools best supports the delivery of their understandings, they posses enough working knowledge to either choose or dismiss this tool as an appropriate vehicle for publishing their thinking.

Be aware of the need to use selection criteria against all apps and web 2.0 tools
While there are many sites that educators can go to for suggestions of apps and web 2.0 resources that can fit into the new Bloom’s taxonomy, it is important that the TL looks into the site, and how students will interact within that site / app to ensure it’s suitability for student use.
Using a specific selection criteria will assist in assessing the sites / apps suitability. For example, on Kathy Schrock’s page ‘Bloomin Apps’, the simulating app suggested in the applying box, links through to Animation Creator HD, a free app, rated 12+ with infrequent / mild sexual content and nudity etc. This app would not be suitable for use in a primary school, where the majority of students are below the age range.
There are advantages and disadvantages to using both of these tools. Apps on school ipads, mean there is not usually issues with connectivity and use, apart from the need to connect to wifi for web based searches or export. The cost involved in provision of apps on a bank of ipads, can be considerable, but generally is a one off cost, with continual connection to upgrades at no cost. 
Web 2.0 can be free, but are reliant on the schools wifi access, broad band width and student access when needed. There can often be an issue with needing to register to gain access to tools such as saving, printing and exporting. Advertising can also be a concern. Some apps and web2.0 require payment for full use, though a ‘lite’ version may provide enough access.
So, while it is great there are people who are out there making attempts to curate suitable apps and web 2.0 technologies for use with Bloom’s, and make our jobs that little bit less time consuming, we must be certain to be checking these tools against our school’s selection criteria before use with students, or suggesting to teaching staff.

This was a great activity to do – I am more inspired now to continue my curating of apps, web2.0 tools and shared professional knowledge of all things ‘technology’.

Futurelab. (2007). Exploratree. In Exploratree. Retrieved from  http://www.exploratree.org.uk

Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L. & Caspari, A. (2007). Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited Inc.

Mimanifesto (April 1st 2013). I’m not really sold on Bloom’s Taxonomy. In Mimanifesto – Jaye’s Weblog. Retrieved from http://mimanifesto.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/im-not-really-sold-on-blooms-taxonomy/

Shrock, K. (2014). Bloomin’ apps. In Kathy Shrock’s guide to everything.  Retrieved from http://www.schrockguide.net/bloomin-apps.html