Literacy and the Blogging Landscape

As a community college librarian, I’ve often experienced that it’s just go, go, go from day one of the semester. We do what we know because it’s easy and less time intensive.  Finding space for experimentation doesn’t always appear. Then, every once a while, something comes along where we can stop and consider the possibility. I’m at one of those moments thanks to a colleague at Santa Barbara City College.

Consider the possibility of framing critical thinking and 21st century literacy within the framework of blogging. It’s not really a new idea, nor a very innovative idea, but today I was afforded the opportunity to see what it might be like. I was invited to an English class, one level below college English, that has been using blogging this semester to share their writing. The professor asked me to come to the class and use blogs to open a discussion on critical thinking. There wasn’t really a “research” component to the visit, just more of a discussion. I was invited because we were recently talking about blogging and I had shared some recent research on the topic (see Beyond Peer Reviewed Articles)

The class was fun. It was interactive. It was informative. It was relaxed. It was engaging. And I’d love to do it again.

I’ve taught social media independently of my librarian role, and have definitely included elements from the social media landscape within the framework of my traditional library instruction sessions. This English class felt different. This felt richer. This felt more appropriate to student learning. We can all see the content landscape shifting and students need these skills to understand, think, and navigate effectively. Faculty need to embrace it.

This was my first time with this format, and I only prepared a most basic framework (links) for the discussion. I’d like to do this again with other classes. So much valuable content is provided using blogging foundations – even from traditional media sources. How can students capitalize on this content? How can faculty learn to embrace this content as appropriate for learning?

An Experiment: Children in School

Today is the first day of school for my 7-year old daughter.

We have two children, ages seven and ten, who have been homeschooled their entire lives. Since our older child was very young, our intention was to homeschool them for as long as it seemed feasible and right. During the last ten years, the homeschool approach to learning connected with our values, and has become a part of who we are as a family. We have built a community around this life-learning. Homeschooling provides flexibility that you can’t find in a traditional school environment. Homeschooling provides for our family to remain a tight community. Homeschooling allows the children to learn what they find interesting, at the time they are interested in the topic. Homeschooling provides a method to learning that doesn’t force learning to the most common dominator. Homeschooling doesn’t teach children how to stand in line, doesn’t rely on exhausted teachers who must follow the state “standards” for learning (not saying that my wife Leslie doesn’t get exhausted).

Though there is great joy and enrichment from homeschooling, it hasn’t been without struggle, frustration, and difficulty – both for the children and for the parents. The two learners have different needs and different styles. Perhaps it hasn’t servered both the children in the same manner due to their different personalities. Further, our son has moderate special needs and demands a great deal of focus and attention. From time to time, we sit down and assess if we are moving in the right direction; to see what is working and what isn’t working. A lot of the issues surround our son and his needs.

Ironically, our little village of Ojai has about 14 schools in the area. Most of them are private boarding schools. Last month Leslie decided to make an appointment to visit the Montessori School of Ojai. I took the day off work and went to observe the classrooms and meet the teachers. Of all the types of schools we have available, this school appears to be the most flexible with integrating different children together by grouping ages (a homeschool value), providing flexibility in how often our children attend, and having open enrollment. They also have a scholarship program to assist with the tuition. The class sizes are very small and the teachers have a long history with the school. Children can be learning at different levels in the same classroom. For example, a children could be reading “above” grade-level and writing “below” grade level and that isn’t a problem.

So our grand experiment begins today. There is about six weeks remaining in their school year and we hope this will give us a chance to experience having children in school. If it works well, then we may continue it next year. This is a significant change for us and involves a lot of letting go of ideas. It’s a great opportunity for me to practice the vows I’ve taken to be open and not attached to views. Who knows what the future may hold. Please send us your support and loving energy, both for Leslie and the children.

Next week: my son’s first day of school.

This Is Not Hardcore

Don’t feel much like writing tonight, though I’ve had a good run since committing to writing something everyday. Instead, you get a music mix. Hear tracks from Nicolas Jaar, James Blake, Radiohead, Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie XX, Elbow, and Mogwai. All great new stuff.

Expanding Library Hours? Yes!

In this economic environment, it’s not very often a library can expand hours. This semester, the Luria Library has been encouraged to expand our weekend hours and we have been given the funds to do so. The community donor met with me a couple weeks ago and she suggested the expanded hours. Over my other suggestions, she felt this would have the most immediate and direct impact for students – it’s not sexy, but it is practical. Our donor suggested tracking the usage over the next six weeks to see if it makes an impact for students. The funds also included advertising (which we haven’t completed).

The expanded hours do take a little juggling because of staffing — hourly workers, adjunct librarians, etc — but we made it work. The library will now be open from 10:00am-10:00pm on Sunday through the end of the semester. Today is the first day of our expanded hours and, ironically, I am working the circulation desk to cover for our regular staff person. It’s fun to be here on Sunday and see the type of work that occurs (and I can wear sneakers). The library is active and alive.

Until today, our normal opening time was 1:30. At 10am we had 3 people waiting to get into the building, at 11am we had 19 people in the building, at 12pm we had 44 people, and at 1pm we had 109 people. With limited marketing – a post on Facebook and Twitter earlier in the week and a few signs posted on the library doors on Friday – we have a minor success for the first day. I suspect that once the word gets out that we’ll see more students in the morning. The other side of the coin is remaining open until 10pm rather than 9pm; this matches our weekday hours.

How do we measure success? Is there a magic number of students to support the extra hours? Creating an excellent community college library means setting ourselves apart from the others. How many other community college libraries are open on Sunday?

Time will tell. Right now, I’m happy we can offer the expanded hours for those who are present.

Google Apps and Nonprofits

I recently came across the Google for Nonprofits program and thought it might fit the need for a local nonprofit called Ojai Valley Green Coalition. At my 7pm appointment with their Executive Director and another volunteer, we had a great time talking about utilizing Google Apps for the organization. Originally, they came to me with a need to integrate document sharing, conversation, and calendaring. One of their biggest challenges as an organization is communication – making it sophisticated enough to be practical and easy enough for most people to use. Many things have been tried over the years. With the Google Apps option, this organization can integrate it all under their domain name and provide organization accounts to the key players. The added components for nonprofits are a bonus.

Based on past experience with Apps, I thought setting up the Google for Nonprofits would be a breeze. Though it was very simple to complete the application (contact information needed only), we then discovered we’d have to wait up to 30-days before it was reviewed and approved. This was only 5-minutes into our scheduled meeting! Fortunately, not all was lost, we discovered we could move forward by setting up a regular Google Apps account and later link it with the nonprofit component.

It took about an hour, but we setup and configured our domain to be hosted on Google Apps with a handful of users. Explaining as we went along, the two members seemed to understand the options provided by Google. Possibly the most challenging piece we’ve yet to resolve is that they are using .com for email right now but everything else is on .org – I think they should transition the email to .org to keep it all consistent (and then redirect).

Two key steps remain:

  1. Editing the CNAME and MX records for the custom URLs and the mail.
  2. Explore the Sites component to build an integrated environment for the organization’s committees – this is what they asked! Here’s an example of what it might look like. I’ve actually never used Sites, but I’m optimistic about this type of solution.

I had a great time teaching and learning more about these free tools. We have a month to tinker while we have Google review our nonprofit status. A fun Friday evening.

 

Soil and Rocks. Breathing and Smiling.

We’ve all been there. The endless lists, multitude of projects, work/family/volunteer seemingly colliding together. Some days we feel like the rocks and soil are simply burying us alive with the anxiety and fear. It is in times like that when breathing and smiling can really save the day, at least in the moment. Even after gaining three hours over the weekend (flying west), I still came to work this week with the awareness of responsibility and tasks.

Being out front, wanting to lead, is something I’ve always done. I can manage many tasks at one time across a wide range of areas – committees, politics, spiritual, home. It seems to be a gift because it comes naturally for me . But the gift of abundance does also must have a balance. Most of the time my life feels in balance, but there comes a time when it feels like the house of cards will fall.

My goal is to present for those around me. This means that “my tasks” sometimes get put aside for the benefit of those who work for me and those who I mentor and support. Because this goal of presence is mine, I do it with joy and awareness. The others in my life, both at home and at work, hold no responsibility for my feeling of imbalance. As a Library Director, I let the day take me with it and there must be space in the calendar to allow for flexibility. As a husband and father, I let the evening take me with it even if the “work” tasks were left incomplete. Though I don’t do this 100%, it is an intentional goal and practice. As Catherine Hakala-Ausperk wrote in Be A Great Boss, “being prepared for permanent whitewater will give you the attitude you need for that day.”

The benefits of being available are immeasurable. There are costs, of course, but I believe the benefits outweigh the costs. It is the human connection that will have a lasting impact, not completing the report or reading the background material or finalizing that budget. Those things are important too, and they will get done, but I’ve set my priority elsewhere. When imbalance arrives, which it did yesterday, then I can use the tools of my practice to keep me centered. It could mean that I close my office door and focus on checking off a few items on the task list (which I didn’t do yesterday). It could mean staying up a little later or getting up a little earlier. Finding joy in the anxiety and fear is possible. Being present, sharing with someone, writing a blog post, they all contribute to balance.

(Recently I committed to writing 250-words a day, but I missed a couple days. That’s part of the letting go too, so here’s my post now.)

Moved by Exhibits: Being Political

For some reason being in Philadelphia is getting me in touch with my political nature. This evening, the ACRL 2011 conference reception was held at the National Constitution Center. Rather than spend time smoozing and drinking, I visited a few exhibits on my own and glad I did.

I love this country. I’m happy and proud to be a naturalized citizen. These are words that might be surprising to some of my readers, especially those who have known me a long time. My history of radical and far left-leaning politics don’t always match the views of the general population. I don’t (and wont) salute the flag. I will challenge and do protest my government when I believe they are acting incorrectly. I strongly oppose military action, the death penalty, economic and social racism.

This contradiction is true because a group of white men in their 30s and 40s got together in 1776 in order to “form a more perfect union.” The constitution is an amazing document.

One of the exhibits is Spies, Traitors, and Saboteurs. This history of radical, and sometimes violent, movements on both the right and left are demonstrated through images, notes, and audio. The museum did a decent job of being unbiased in the presentation though I’m surprised they focused mostly on the 20th century. I felt at home, and had a sense of solidarity, with many of this who have struggled for social justice and the end of wars. I felt a sadness for those who have promoted hate and bigotry in the last century and continue to in this century.

Between my time with Raj Patel yesterday, the spies exhibit, and the multimedia presentation on the formation of the nation, I feel inspired to be political. I feel inspired to be radical. I feel inspired to be an American.

How do you work with your politics? How do you take part in our democracy?