As education technology has evolved, so, too, have the kinds of digital tools that school librarians use with their students, as shown in School Library Journal’s 2013 School Technology Survey. Handheld tablets and devices are coveted items for classroom and instructional use, along with access to online sites and apps that school librarians believe can revolutionize the way they instruct—and the way students learn. More than 750 school librarians responded to SLJ’s survey, representing K–12 public and private schools across the country. According to the data, school librarians make the most of what they have, learning one day and sharing that knowledge the next. They not only make tech tools available for students and teachers, but teach them how to use the tools as well.
In particular, 98 percent of respondents say they instruct students and teachers in some use of tech tools, most notably subscription-based databases, multimedia, and free Web-based resources such as Moodle, with the usage of blogs, digital textbooks, and open-source technology, they report, likely to be incorporated in 2014.
“The learning curve is steep,” says a K–8 private school librarian in New York State. “Nothing stays the same for long.”
Challenges remain. Librarians say they have found technology adoption in their schools bound by restrictions—by budget and time, but also by schools’ strict Internet and device policies and a lack of support from faculty and administrators.
Hardware and online learning
On the hardware front, 80 percent of respondents report that interactive whiteboards are currently used in their schools, 72 percent say their schools provide access to laptops, and about a third say they have tablets available at school. A quarter of schools offer one-to-one access. Tablets top the hardware wish list for 36 percent of schools.
E-textbooks still struggle to find a place in the classroom; just six percent of school librarians currently use digital texts. But ebooks have firmly found a place in 68 percent of K–12 school libraries. And while 20 percent of students are reading them on school-owned ebook readers, nearly 41 percent of students access them on their own personal readers.
Twenty-one percent of school librarians (approximately 39 percent of high school, 32 percent of middle school, and 16 percent of elementary school) report that their campus has an official “bring your own device” (BYOD) policy, allowing students to use their own tools, such as tablets. Further, 11 percent of all schools are looking to establish a BYOD policy next year.
Librarians estimate that upward of 43 percent of students have personal Web-enabled mobile devices, including ereaders, tablets, and cell phones. Almost half (49 percent) of schools forbid their use in classrooms, but among the rest, student devices are used to aid instruction at least occasionally (sometimes against the official policy of the school). That number peaks in the upper grades, where 67 percent of middle schools and 77 percent of high schools report allowing students to use their own devices for classroom activities such as independent reading.
Though 82 percent of those surveyed feel they have adequate bandwidth to support their tech initiatives, up from 73 percent last year, there are frustrations. Problems arise when a glut of devices all try to log on to one IP address, stressing bandwidth. “We recently upgraded but it is not enough,” says Tracy Richards, teacher librarian at the Mark. R. Isfeld Secondary School in British Columbia. “With the student devices grabbing IP addresses, teachers [even on the password wireless] have difficulty connecting and using technology.”
Some say that bandwidth is the biggest challenge facing their schools. One respondent, a New York State school librarian working with grades 7–12, believes that teachers can be discouraged from using online materials after a single bad experience, such as taking too long to log on to a site. The respondent notes, “classes working on WiFi on laptops often have problems all logging on at once, so pushing teachers to incorporate Web-based activities, plans, and materials [like ebooks] can be a hard sell.”
Gatekeepers of technology
School librarians continue to be seen as technology leaders in their schools, according to 72 percent of respondents. Another 72 percent say they’re responsible for at least the technology used in their library spaces.
However, many express frustration at still having to ask administrators for access to applications that they want to use with students. Some complain about being sent to conferences in order to discover new applications and technologies—only to be told by school and district administrators that they can’t implement them. “The district sends us to tech conferences and we come back with enthusiasm and great ideas, but then get slapped down with a resounding ‘No!’ when we ask to try something new,” says a librarian who works at a Texas middle school. “It’s getting tiresome.”
Overall, 92 percent of schools are WiFi enabled and 99 percent have Internet filters in place. The site that many librarians want to access most is YouTube, for its library of educational videos and “real-world evidence of what we are teaching,” says Sheri Levasseur, library media specialist at the South Orangetown (NY) Middle School. Yet YouTube is often banned in public schools. Sixty-seven percent of respondents say they must submit both a request and a reason for having a site unblocked. The feeling of being told what they can—and can’t—use with students impacts school librarians’ sense of job security. Though the majority report that they’re perceived as tech experts in their schools, just 43.5 percent feel that their expertise bestows job security—down from 55 percent who expressed that a year ago.
Some say they are concerned that other educators do not view technology as crucial to student learning. The biggest challenge, says Stephanie Rosalia, library media specialist at NEST+m school in New York City, is “teacher and administration ignorance of how to use [technology], or why it’s important to integrate technology into teaching and not to view tech as something ‘extra’ that stands alone.” Rosalia adds, “the challenge is to teach all the stakeholders that technology is embedded as a tool in teaching and learning and not something that is tacked on.”
Free social apps save costs
As budget cuts continue to affect K–12 schools around the country, the adoption of free social applications and other apps continues. About 69 percent of those surveyed state that they use at least one of these sites to support teaching and learning in schools. The top three social applications that librarians use for this purpose? Edmodo, Pinterest, and Goodreads—all free Web-based resources that school librarians say have been helpful to themselves and students.
Social learning platform Edmodo “is a great way for students to participate in a time when so many of them are too busy with other activities,” says Katie Llera, librarian and media specialist at the Bound Brook (NJ) School District. “This is something students can do at school, during lunch/recess, or at home using their own computer, tablet, or smartphone thanks to the Edmodo app. Even during Hurricane Sandy, my students were corresponding on Edmodo about [books].”
Respondents also report that they collaborate with fellow teachers and other school librarians in their districts on Edmodo, while keeping track of books, recommendations, and reviews on Goodreads. While the applications are attractive from a budgetary standpoint, they also provide helpful lessons for students as they navigate the growing digitized world around them—an increasingly important goal for school librarians, the respondents say.
“Another great factor of having the group online is that it is another teachable moment,” notes Llera. “I can help my students communicate online in an effective, fun way. They can understand the etiquette or netiquette when chatting online.”