Month: July 2015

A Teacher/Learner Guide

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As a human, I can mostly be summed up by calling myself a learner. It is my favorite thing to do, and it is my favorite thing to help or inspire other people to do. I think often about how quickly technology moves, and how it sometimes seems like language acquisition – the older I get, the harder it is to really become fluent. When I decided to go to school to be a school librarian, it was like a vow to myself that I would never become my dad – the man who refuses to text. There are so many resources on the web to keep us current, informed, challenged, and connected. As technology changes, and our access points/devices/practices change, I’ll remember that vow – you’re never too old to learn.

AASL is fabulous for putting together an annual list of the best websites (2015) and apps (2015) for teaching and learning. If you click through to linked pages, each year’s list is archived at the bottom of the page. These are usually my favorite sessions to go to at conferences, and favorite lists to peruse on the web. I like to see the roundup, and learn how people are using them in their classrooms/libraries. Since I’m not a teacher, it’s helpful to involve myself in that community to see how I might best support the school I will (eventually) work in. My favorites from this year’s list include:

Beenpod – Beenpod is a web companion that helps to organize a set of pages (a been!) in an easily-accessible fashion. Beens can be shared with other users (think a classroom, project group, group of teachers, teacher-librarian, etc.), used simultaneously (SurfTogether), and edited as needed. Users can comment in the been, and even pause if they are working together. I can see this used to collaborate with teachers as a way to compile resources, or even shared classroom by classroom or on the library page for specific topics that may be relevant to student work.

Gooru – Gooru in itself is a collaborative space. It reminded me of something a teaching and learning professor said to me about lesson planning – “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.” Gooru is helping educators share ideas and resources in a free, easy, searchable-by-topic way. Because you can “remix” the resources found on the site, you can tailor your collection to be exactly what you may need. This is a wonderful way to find and share multimedia resources, and would be a great site to share with teachers and students on the library homepage. It makes collaboration easy, and can also help in differentiating instruction.

WhatWasThere – This tool piqued my interest as a history/map nerd. I fully believe in learning through stories, and I think WhatWasThere follows that idea. Users can search any location and find images related to that geographic location. You can upload photos and tag them to locations, so there is a mixture of current and historical images. I can see this being used in elementary school science and history classes, learning about place, direction, and change over time. I like the idea of creating a WhatWasThere scavenger hunt, and also challenging students to participate in the project by uploading their own images.

I find blogs to be very valuable in a more narrative approach to staying current. Even reading blogs sort of involves you in the conversation, or at least sparks your thoughts which will eventually contribute to it (through your work or writing). There are SO many library, educator, technology, edtech, etc. blogs that are relevant reading to school librarians (even those of us in training). I think who you follow closely depends on your visual and narrative preference. Will Richardson’s blog resonated with me because he takes on larger scale questions. As a big picture person, it’s nice to see his thoughts and reactions, alongside linked articles and multimedia. I’m still developing my person pedagogical frame, so while library-specific sites are helpful in thinking about..well..specifics, I’m not in that particular phase of my librarian development. His blog also focuses a lot on meaningful integration and understanding of technology, which I think is a humongous part of the school library profession.


Presentation Tools

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Since I’ve started the school library program at ODU, I’ve been exposed to a whole new world of presentation tools. This semester has helped me understand what makes a presentation an effective communication tool, and what makes a presentation evoke yawns from its audience. I’m always excited to learn about new tools, so this week’s assignment has been pretty fun for me.

Many of the tools I had used before, so I chose to focus on two here that I had never worked with. I also chose to work with tools that offer really decent freemium memberships. Meaning, I don’t want to pay money monthly (or lump) to use what I would consider basic functions of these tools.

Blendspace was really intriguing to me. Blendspace is marketing itself to educators in a way that makes the product accessible and smart. To me, it seemed like they were pushing using the product for a flipped classroom, which I thought is a wonderful use but also not necessarily available to all educators. They also mention it’s value in project-based learning, and differentiated instruction. Taking a closer look, I was a little overwhelmed by the presentations themselves. I can see why they work for a flipped classroom because you can honestly embed or share almost any multimedia in a Blendspace. I love the fact that this really does differentiate instruction – you can cater to all different kinds of learners in one presentation. I think Blendspaces would also be wonderful study guides. As a classroom presentation, I can see it becoming a little clunky – change slide, click here, change slide, click there. However, this does offer a seamless way to compile your web resources in one place. They make it so easy to search any subject in a variety of places (Google, Youtube,  Flickr, Educreations, Gooru), as well as your own documents (via Dropbox, Drive, or your device). You can drag and drop the media right into the presentation, or add your own text. They also have built-in ways to assess students (quizzes). I can see Blendspaces used in class being linked through the library website, perhaps for absentees or even just as a refresher on the information. Blendspaces are super user friendly, however they do bring up issues of accessibility. If a student doesn’t have internet or a device to use from home, these would just become nice presentation tools instead of interaction guides for students.

Emaze is another user-friendly presentation builder. Their free account allows access to enough templates to be worthwhile, and also offers enough creative freedom to make the exact presentation you intend to. Emaze uses many of the techniques we have learned this semester to guide your presentation into effective communication territory. They offer slide by slide templates under a selected theme, taking the guesswork out of fonts, sizes, styles, etc. Obviously, you may choose to build your own slideshow, but if you are design-challenged or a perfectionist, their templates offer clean and creative styles that may save you a good amount of time. You can add text, images, embedded or linked multimedia, geometric shapes, or charts (developed from spreadsheets which may be imported). These features are easy to use and totally customizable to meet your needs. After saving your presentation, you can simply press “share” and send to most social media outlets, and also receive a standing link and an embed code. They also offer the option to send collaboration invitations via email, which is optimal for group projects. I see this tool as more of a classroom presentation tool, or perhaps to be used on a website for tutorials or study guides. It is quite a bit less interactive than Blendspace, and doesn’t offer the same in-site search tools that lend themselves to lesson creation.

3D Printing, Coding, & Robots

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Our module for this week was challenging for me to wrap my head around. I tend to be a minimalist – I like to integrate technology that will make my life easier and less complicated. I was really on the fence about (as Sansing, 2015 refers to it) “the hype” for not just 3D printing, but all of it. However, after reading through the articles, watching the videos, and doing some independent research, I can see the educational and social value. Here’s why:

Technology is always a bit rocky at first. We like to watch it improve, but that places us in the position of absolute consumers. When we work to integrate new technologies like 3D printing and robotics, or new skills like coding, into our curricula, we are grooming students (and ourselves) to become both producers and consumers. They are learning how to democratically participate in a tech and media saturated world. This is of the utmost importance. In his article, “Coding Skills Empower Us All,” Sansing (2015) quotes Paul Oh as saying “…an inability to code—only widens the participation gap, with all that implies racially and socioeconomically.” Sansing sums this up by reminding us that “If we don’t use code and other participatory ways to interact with technology in our classrooms, students will never own it as a learning tool—they will be owned by it.”

There are so many wonderful ways we can use these bits of technology in the classroom. Teaching coding like we teach language would give students an enormously broader understanding of their world, problem-solving, and decision-making. When we teach students to be problem-solvers, we are pushing their creativity and imagination. These skills could make amazing projects with a 3D printer, but could also be the hands that get to hold the Lincoln Death Mask or a human heart that has been printed. Robots have the potential to do the teaching that humans can’t do. Maybe they are more fascinating, or less intimidating, or both. But as we know, practice makes perfect and they seem to make outstanding partners (see Musio).

For all these reasons, wading through the arduous hour-long process of 3D printing is worth it for the 3D printers to come, for the products it gives us, and for the sense of “anything is possible” that people feel when they hear about them. Coding is worth it so our students speak the language they are expected to mindlessly consume. Robots are worth it because of their faithful companionship as teachers and helpers. Technology always seems daunting until you’re in the thick of it (and even sometimes then), but that’s no excuse to disregard it. As 3D printing novice, coding dummy, and robot gawker, I consider myself sold on trying new things. I’ll be on Code Academy if anyone needs me.

Sansing, C. (11 May 2015). Coding skills empower us all. School Library Journal. Retrieved from

QR Codes and Augmented Reality

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Since I have learned about QR codes, I have wondered about their effectiveness as an educational tool. I downloaded a QR scanner app, and tried it out quite a few times, but I always felt a little disappointed in the amount of effort it takes to get to where I’m going. After all, couldn’t you just spell out a shortened URL and send me to the same place? I think/hope eventually our devices will integrate QR scanners into their cameras (half augmented reality??) and this will change the game a bit. For me, relying on QR codes in any way other than in the classroom assumes that A) each student has access to a device at home and B) each student has access to download apps on the device (whether or not they are free, some parents might not allow their kids to download apps on their phone/tablet). So there is a bit of a digital divide along economic and age lines here. And for me (maybe I’m lazy), there is an efficiency gap because of this divide. It feels a bit like integrated technology for the sake of integrating technology…it doesn’t feel transformative.

That being said, if we assume all students have access to devices that have a QR reader, there are a few ways I can see them being a fun and helpful tool. I once heard that you should never give your handout/copies of your slideshow out before you present, because once you do, you’ve lost your audience. I like the idea of using a QR code on a card or digitally to link to a PDF handout, ensuring that students (and parents) can access it later but it isn’t distracting them during class. Along the same lines, teachers could use QR codes as a reminder of classroom expectations, project guidelines, or even link the whole syllabus in the corner of handouts for easy access without a pile of papers to keep track out. Using QR codes on promotional materials for clubs could be an effective way to convey the information needed, while maintaining an appealing design. These QR codes could link to wikis, club pages, or even a Google Form for an application to join or survey. The QR code I generated below links to a video I made on Powtoons about digital citizenship. QR codes like these could be posted around the library as reminders that come to life when they are scanned. They are alarmingly easy to generate, and can link to just about anything. This one was made using QR Code Monkey by simply copying and pasting a URL, choosing a color, and pressing create.


Augmented reality was hard for me to wrap my head around. After reading the recommended articles, and watching the Aurasma TED talk (prepare to be dazzled), I decided to explore the web for more ideas. This video from Common Craft helped me comprehend the idea of augmented reality a little more.  I love the idea of layering information on what you already see, but I do take the same issue with augmented reality tools as I do with QR codes – there is an assumption of access which can be alienating for many. However, it is a really exciting prospect and feels very Back to the Future-y. I am a Google junkie, and this sort of feels like integrating Google with your brain.  Cool!

My initial thought was to use Aurasma as a way for visitors (students, parents, teachers, admin, etc.) to explore galleries of student work. Each piece would be inlaid with an aura that gives information about the artist/creator, the title, their grade, maybe even a short clip of the student talking about it. The possibilities here are endless, but would have to remain short and sweet to make a worthwhile tour. This way the auras would enhance the experience, rather than become the entire experience on their own. I was completely inspired by Heritage Elementary School’s use of Aurasma in their school garden. Working with naturalists, they made of 500 trigger images that help students learn about the varied ecologies found in their home state. You can watch a video explaining this project here – Texas Our Heritage Garden.

As always, I’ve enjoyed exploring the ways in which other educators are integrating these technologies into their curricula, but also thinking critically about how social structure affects accessibility. There are well-defined hurdles, but it is important to start and continue a conversation about how to use technology to best serve each population of students.