Meet the latest tech superheroes: school librarians. According to School Library Journal’s 2012 School Technology Survey, media specialists are leading the charge to bring new media, mobile devices, social apps, and web-based technologies into our nation’s classrooms.
So far, the results have been pretty impressive: 87 percent of school librarians report that they’re in charge of their library’s technology, with 60 percent adding that they’ve also introduced it into the classroom. Furthermore, 44 percent now serve on their school’s tech team, and in these budget-troubled times, when many library positions are on the line, that role may mean increased job security. In fact, 55 percent of the elementary, middle, and high school librarians that responded to our survey say that their tech skills have increased their value in administrators’ eyes.
What are many librarians’ biggest challenges? Not surprisingly, money and time—from the funds necessary to upgrade existing technology to the time needed to teach students how to use these tools. Case in point? Erica Braverman, a media specialist at Lindenwold School 5, an elementary school in New Jersey, says it’s tough to find time to make sure kids know how to use the latest technology competently. “Students need to learn how to use technology before they can effectively create with it,” writes Braverman. “It’s like learning to drive a car: if they don’t receive the proper instruction on how to drive, they will crash! We don’t want any Web-based crashes! But the time to teach students how to use the tools is limited, and classroom teachers have so much to teach as it is, it’s very challenging.”
Another trend we spotted? The number of schools creating one-to-one programs, in which each student is issued a tablet, a laptop, or some other digital device, has risen from 21 percent in 2011 to 27 percent in 2012. The use of tablets has especially soared, with 26 percent of librarians using them with students and teachers in 2012—more than double the 10 percent that reported using them in 2011. “We are in phase one of a one-to-one initiative putting netbooks in every student’s hands,” explains Laura Schachet, a media specialist at Webber Middle School in Fort Collins, CO. “They also make videos using flip cameras in a Web 2.0 class.”
Kids are also taking advantage of free Web-based resources, including Animoto, Google Docs, and Wordle; video equipment and software; digital subscriptions; and interactive whiteboards; plus photo equipment and software. And in the coming year, media specialists expect to see even more tablets, ereaders, apps, and ebooks on campus.
The use of ebooks, in particular, continues to climb, with 47 percent of media specialists saying they’re currently using them, up from 31 percent last year. Students are also reading digital books on a variety of devices—whether that’s the 63 percent who are perusing titles on library computers, the 17 percent who are reading on tablets, or the 21 percent who are fans of dedicated ereaders.
Mobile devices are also playing a larger role in learning, as 23 percent of schools are now allowing students to use their own devices in school—compared to a measly 13 percent in 2011. And in high schools, where students are more often encouraged to whip out their smartphones, the use of mobile devices has spiked from 29 percent of schools in 2011 to 49 percent today.
Nearly half of all schools have turned to social apps for classroom learning. The top app? Edmodo, a site that enables students and educators to network, share, and collaborate online. Launched in 2010, the platform is now used by 18 percent of school librarians to support teaching and student learning, followed by Google+, Delicious, and GoodReads. Where’s Facebook? Dead last, with a mere seven percent of respondents using the social network with their kids.
School librarians are also having an easier time gaining access to websites and apps. Sixty-nine percent have successfully negotiated with their administrators and school district to unblock YouTube, 66 percent have gotten the green light on blogging sites, and 30 percent managed to get Twitter unlocked. Only eight percent of media specialists report that their school’s filtering program “is severely restrictive.”
With purse strings still tight in most places, 78 percent of school librarians have opted for free apps—almost double the 42 percent who were using them in 2011. They are “the number-one tool used by librarians with students and teachers,” according to our survey, and an additional four percent of media specialists plan to incorporate tools such as Google Docs, Glogster, and Prezi into their lessons next year.
Not only do many media specialists find these apps budget-friendly, but also many, like Sabrena Wetzel, a librarian at Chicago’s Josephine Locke Elementary School, have noticed that their students have fun using them. “I used an online continent site to review where we wanted to send Flat Stanley, and…they had to figure out the continents,” writes Wetzel, who uses popular stories and technology to help her second graders learn about geography. “They really enjoyed it.”
And that may be the best outcome of all.
Download the complete results of SLJ’s Technology Survey