Happy New Year to anyone who stumbles upon my blog.  It was a very relaxed holiday after an intense end of semester finishing up an online search course and a course on the learning commons.  Many of the fall’s posts were motivated by those courses.

The new year brings two new big projects.  One, which is not entirely new, but should see a lot of progress in the coming months involves a re-visioning of the learning commons at my school.  Meetings in the coming weeks should indicate how far we will be able to to go down that path in 2013 and how much will have to be left to a later date.

My other big project will involve an active development of a concept that I’ve been toying with of late.  Hopefully, it will generate something more concrete than simply a concept, but that will remain to be seen.  I have given a fair amount of thought to the changing role of the library in the school environment as well as how changes in approaches to education affect the work of the school as a whole.  Technology has a significant role to play in both of these endeavours.  Here’s what I’m thinking:

The biggest ways that technology can improve education is through access to information and allowing learning to become more self-directed.  Some would argue that the same technology that allows greater access to information, also renders the concept of a library useless.  If a library is simply a collection of objects that contain information, clearly, technology allows faster access to a greater body of information and a library serves little real purpose.  Of course there are documents that have yet to be digitized, but many of them fall outside of the needs of a typical K12 institution.  One argument that is effective for the preservation of a library as a collection says that books are dealt with, cognitively, very differently than digital objects.  If this is true, and I think that there is truth to this, then there will always be a place for book collections in schools.

What a school library and a teacher librarian do that is essential to learning in a school environment is curation.  With greater access to information, comes greater difficulty separating the wheat from the chaff.  More information does not equal better information.  A school library offers a curated collection of information in multiple forms, but it also offers a curriculum to teach learners to become personal curators and evaluators of their own information.  What I’m most concerned with at this point is that curated collection in the form of the school’s online catalogue.  Mind you, this is not the online catalogue that we think of today in the same way that the current online catalogue isn’t the card catalogue that many of us grew up with.  This is a catalogue of physical and digital resources that extends well beyond what is offered by the current products on the market.  This catalogue works in conjunction with the school’s Virtual Learning Commons (VLC) that houses the learner created information and serves as a home base for student learning.

The other part of this is that the idea that a learner should be at the centre of their own learning is made more possible by technology.  There have been attempts in the past to have schools built around individual students rather than groups (classes, grades).  Many of these failed due to the logistics of keeping track of large numbers of individuals.  A class-based system does allow students to travel along curriculum in a streamlined manner making administration much easier.  Technology however, helps to remove some the issues with this administration.  Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) could exist as ways to build student-centred learning spaces (virtual) that allow for the pulling together of information and the curation of student work through portfolios.  There are some who think that PLEs are destined to replace Learning Management Systems (LMSs).  I am thinking that there is a place for both to work together.  While PLEs are outstanding ways of personalize learning, they in and of themselves, don’t provide a structured curriculum that help students to progress through some sort of curriculum.  The manner and speed  with which the learner progresses becomes up to the student, but the basic structure of the curriculum has to be set by some larger governing body (school, school district, Provincial/State government).

What I’m going to be looking at in the coming months is the relationship between the catalogue, VLC, PLE, & LMS.  What does the school of the next decade look like when learning becomes truly student-centred and how do these components come together to serve that learning?  I would love to hear about others’ ideas around my thinking.  In particular, I would love to hear about research and products that are potentially moving in this direction already.  I can’t imagine that my ideas are completely new.  There must be people working in parallel or ahead of me.

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