Through the use of innovative technologies and online resources, school libraries can now be available to students wherever—and whenever—they need them. “Flipped” or blended learning offers students the power of personalized instruction, through a mix of virtual and face-to-face interactions, at a student’s own pace. Embracing this concept is a must for student engagement and the future of the profession, say school librarians Joyce Valenza, Brenda Boyer, and Michelle Luhtala.
The powerhouse trio of experts shared their thoughts on the concept during “Flipped School Libraries,” a rapid-fire, dynamic session during The Digital Shift: Reinventing Libraries (#TDS13) webcast on October 16, in which they exchanged tips, inspiration, motivation, and their favorite tech tools.
“The library has to be flipped. Not all of our students are with us physically; as many students enter our virtual door as well as our physical front door,” says Valenza, SLJ contributor, teacher librarian at Springfield Township (PA) High School, and incoming faculty member at the Rutgers School of Information and Communication. And students need to use the library 24/7, she adds. “Activity is wild, even at 1:00 in the morning. If we’re not there, we’re not meeting the needs of our learning community.”
In the classroom, Valenza notes, the flipped model frees up time to be used interactively on problem-based learning, and turns the 100-plus-year-old instruction model on its head. “The classroom becomes a conversation place. Home becomes a lecture space,” she says.
In much the same way, flipping the school library provides ”more differentiation and personalization to our learners,” says Boyer, chair of information technology and resources at the Kurztown (PA) School District and a doctoral researcher in the field of instructional design for online learning. It means meeting students “where they are in the process,” and extending the classroom and active learning outside of school.
As Luhtala, library department chair at New Canaan (CT) High School Library, notes, “If you wanted to create an environment directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you would probably design something like a classroom,” quoting from John Medina, author of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (Pear Press, 2008). To stress the point during the webcast, Luhtala flashed a slide of an empty classroom crammed with school desks.
Blended learning is becoming an increasingly popular model, Boyer says, noting that nearly 70 percent of K-12 schools offer some online or blended options. “Flipping really underscores the importance of independent exploratory learning, maximizing and librarian’s instructional capital,” she says. She also cites the trending growth of public school virtual academies.
Managing mobile technology
Teaching students in a flipped school library usually means remote instruction and the use of mobile tools, so applications that let students quickly add lesson comments and questions—via text, video, and audio—are key to this process, Valenza, Boyer, and Luhtala say.
Valenza likes to use Google Drive and My Drive, enabling video posting and audio imported from the Google Chrome app Voice Comments. It’s easier for students to record their voice thoughts than to write them down, she explains. “This makes commenting on Google Drive easy, engaging, and personal.”
Another best practice, Valenza says, is to “curate archives of material that people need on a regular basis, including stuff that can’t be collected in notebooks.” She likes to then pair those archives with open educational resources—like “grabbing MARC records and putting them in my OPAC,” she says.
Luhtala is drawn to Google Voice, particularly because it allows her to create discussion threads that fuel students’ discussions about learning. “It gives students the ability to reach out when they need help,” she says, noting that students can “push their learning forward as they need it and personalize it.”
Other “amazing portals,” Valenza says, are TEDEd, a video tool adapted from the TED talk model in “which you can add your own comments to flip further,” and OER Commons, a clearing house for open education material. “These are blended spaces, copyright-friendly portals you can use over and over again,” she says, noting that they will be used “likely at night by kids producing media on their own.” Other such recommended resources include Open Culture and Einztein, while Valenza adds that she is “in love with the [free] Mackin VIA app, because it makes it easy for kids to access with one login.”
In addition, Valenza recommends the LibGuides mobile app, which can be used to create mobile sites, and Mozilla PopcornMaker, which enables mixing of web video, audio, and images; her students have used both of these tools to enhance their learning. Mentormob, which allows students to create multimedia reading lists, and Voice Thread are also both on Valenza’s top resource list.
Boyer creates go-to resources for students including practical tips and educational materials, such as a guide called, “Thesis: What It Is and How to Write a Good One.” Boyer also looks “for symbiosis” in her tech tools, she says. One of Luhtala’s favorites is Blogger, because it offers a special comments feature that enables “text messages embedded within student-driven FAQs.” She cites an example in which a student texted a question that merited an instant response. “We created a video and put it up” right away, she notes. “It went to our Facebook page and our Twitter feed.”
What’s important, Valenza emphasizes, is that “you want to personalize” your flipped library. “Put your own voice, and your own references,” on the resources you provide for students; flipped library material should be “transparent and available, so students now who’s behind this,” she says.
Partners in programming
Beyond technical prowess, the success of a flipped system of learning often relies on a strong partnership between the school library and its public library counterpart. The New Canaan High School library enjoys a “formidable relationship with the town library,” says Luhtala. As New Canaan works “to cultivate the summer reading list,” the local public library then takes over the administration of programming, she explains. “They circulate our resources and our content during the summer [and] at the end of summer they come back to us with circulation stats.” The two libraries collaborate during the school year as well.
Luhtala also lends out loaded iPods to her students, creating a 1:1 experience, while Valenza passes out flash drives to students. This helps address the “tech at home” problem, Valenza says: The digital divide for those students without home computing options.
Once students have all these resources at their fingertips, what’s the best way to proceed? How do you gauge what’s working well for students?
When presenting all these flipped riches to students, Boyer cautions, librarians should be aware of the potential “cognitive load”—the learning curve that goes with “asking kids to learn with new content and new tools.” And as Valenza adds, librarians must also recognize learning differences among students.
Luhtala also emphasizes that “traffic does not equal consumption” on social media platforms. As an example of how to address that problem, she describes a Moodle quiz she designed for freshmen taking on a research project. Luhtala made sure that “no matter what they clicked, they’d get instant feedback” so they would stay engaged. This is critical in a flipped library model, she says.
“It’s not just about lecturing kids in their bedrooms,” says Luhtala. Flipping “should give kids the power to own and engage their learning.” Doing this, it turns a librarian into “a coach and facilitator.”
Adds Boyer, “If we give kids things they’re passionate about, we’re fueling the flipping.”