I hate textbooks. When I was a teacher librarian, I engaged in a Sisyphean cycle that included the ordering, distribution, inventory, transfer, repair, storage, and subsequent collection of heavy, sticky, and often obscenely vandalized tertiary sources. One of my first library clerks literally cried when it came time to circulate textbooks. I stoically comforted her as I put my shoulder to another heaving cart. Students checked out textbooks with the same grim resignation they might show when getting a shot. Really, does anybody except publishers like them? Apparently not.
The Pivot: Digital Learning Resources
At a recent CoSN (Consortium for School Networking) Conference, I participated in several discussions with content and educational service providers, not to mention district leaders. To my surprise, they don’t think much of textbooks either. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has all but declared war on textbooks, advocating a rapid shift to digital resources to better support student learning. The demise of print textbooks may well be more sudden and ignominious than the fall of disco in the late 1970s. Was that guy wearing a “Textbooks Suck” T-shirt?
As traditional publishers rush into the digital marketplace, Washington State has adopted a K–12 open educational resources (OER) initiative. Similar to programs around the nation, the goal is to provide free or low-cost learning resources to schools. While not strictly digital, OER is intended to support 21st-century models, including online learning and 1:1. In turn, Apple is actively promoting iBook authoring tools for teachers (and students) to create or remix OER content for custom textbooks. The digital shift is underway. There are many ways that teacher librarians can inform and assist districts making the transition.
Curation. Despite appearing on several year-end “Do Not Use Anymore” word lists, the term “curation” was used with impunity at the conference. From sales pitches to conversations with superintendents and technology directors, the need to locate, collect, and manage digital content was consistent and clear. Semantics aside, teacher librarians know curation. For decades, they have been curating both analog and digital content. As districts look to digital resources, teacher librarians can repackage their skills in collection development and learning-resource management to provide sorely needed leadership, particularly with curriculum departments. Few curriculum departments have the staffing or expertise to understand the challenges of digital content and OER or how to effectively implement a digital content strategy. While some companies offer digital content curation, many districts will opt to do the work themselves due to cost or the desire to retain control. Enter teacher librarians to the rescue.
Metadata. Curation is not just about finding and selecting content. Like library materials, digital resources require organization and classification so that users can locate them. Pivoting from Dewey and Sears, teacher librarians can learn some new concepts. Another key term is metadata, the tags and descriptors that, like subject headings, provide categorization of and subsequent access to digital learning resources. Metadata is everywhere. Because teacher librarians understand controlled vocabularies, subject headings, and the limitations of keyword searching, they can help districts create guidelines and systems that will guarantee a successful digital shift.
Learning objects. As ebooks have complicated the library universe, learning objects will vex classrooms and curriculum departments. Learning objects include a diverse array of instructional materials that can be used as schools begin to leverage digital content—handouts, slide stacks, lesson plans, interactive texts, audio and video files, animations, and games. The same order applied to library catalogs will necessarily have to be applied to learning objects both within and among districts and states. LORs, or learning object repositories, will house these curated collections and will be available to students and teachers not in a sticky textbook, but on an iPad or laptop. And who will likely collect, inventory, and circulate those devices?
Just ask Sisyphus.
Mark Ray (Mark.Ray@vansd.org) is the manager of instructional technology and library services at the Vancouver (WA) Public Schools.