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November 22, 2014

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Colorado School District Experiments with Digital Literacy Teachers

DigitalLiteracy 2 225x300 Colorado School District Experiments with Digital Literacy Teachers

Students working on supplemental math curriculum and using the Flubaroo Script in Google Forms / Nathan Wendlowsky

Faced with a budget cut that turned their full-time teacher librarians into half-time positions, Adams 12 Five Star Schools District  (Adams 12) in Thornton, Colorado created a new position—digital literacy teachers—to get media specialists into K-8 classrooms as much as possible.

“We were thinking of how to maximize instructional time for information literacy skills,” says Julie Bowline, director of instructional tech and library services for Adams 12, which now has half-time people, often referred to as a “.5 person,” instead of full-time staff.

Adams 12 lost $50 million in budget cuts during a recent three year period, resulting in teacher librarian positions being sliced to half time. The district rolled out the pilot digital literacy program with six teachers in nine different schools in the 2012–2013 school year.

This year, 23 percent—or 11 out of the 41 elementary, middle and K−8 schools—have chosen digital literacy teachers over traditional teacher librarians. (High schools in the Adams 12 school district kept their full-time teacher librarian positions.) It’s a shift that made the best of what some in the district believe was a difficult situation.

Each school is given a choice—keep a teacher librarian at half-time or try a digital literacy teacher at half-time who can teach technology, digital literacy, and digital citizenship skills in the classroom, says Bowline. The cost when choosing a digital literacy teacher, though, is less oversight in the media center.

“To go to [half-time] positions in K-8 was a huge loss for the community and for the talent in our district,” says Bowline. “Teacher librarians can be such an integral part of the culture of literacy, and in some buildings, that’s had to slide because instructional demands are so great.”

Plus, says Caroline Hughes, library services coordinator for Adams 12, “[Digtal literacy teachers] can’t do it all in a part-time job,” says. “So we take collection development off [the digital literacy teacher's] plate.”

Digital literacy is a buzz word in the school library world with the rising trend of school districts, administrators, and media specialists all looking to incorporate digital skills into the work they do with students. Public libraries, too, are working these tools into the programming they offer students, even hiring volunteers to work with patrons on basic needs from understanding what a password is to setting up an email account.

While digital literacy is front and center in the Adams 12 school district, there is also hope the new positions will create a renewed sense of appreciation for the instructional ability of teacher librarians as a whole. While Adams 12 has no plan to increase funding or staffing for school librarians in the upcoming 2014-2015 school year, Bowline still has hope that one day the positions could be restored to full-time.

“Until Colorado increases funding to education we are hard-pressed,” she says. “But we are not without hope.”

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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