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4 online tools used to engage teachers in collaboration and information literacy.

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

Over the last few years, I have spent time trying to work out ways to engage our teachers. We, at Schools' Library Service, have introduced an information literacy framework, created lesson ideas and spent hours talking to teachers about how school librarians can support teaching and learning. I even wrote a blog about 'How to make an information literacy framework work for you", but still some teachers are just too busy to listen.

Last year, however, things changed. The new Guernsey Curriculum was introduced which included a skills-based element which is perfect for teaching information literacy. It also focuses heavily on digital literacy and collaborative learning. This was our perfect opportunity to find the hook that would enable us to work with some of those hard-to-reach teachers.

In order to do our job, school librarians must constantly keep up to date and be prepared to adapt and change. The idea that we could become experts in certain online tools was therefore just an extension of that. We could then support and help teachers to use them, engage with their classes and co-teach the research skills. The use of the online tool therefore, enhanced the teaching and learning and supported the message that this was not about using the online tool just for the sake of it.

Our research showed that lots of great tools being are used across the world in school libraries. Instead of re inventing the wheel, we decided to take some of those ideas and focus on the tools that we thought could have the biggest impact. Take a look at Facebook groups such as The School Librarian's Workshop, Future Ready Librarian and Int'l School Library Connection. All are closed groups, but can be joined on request and are full of school library staff willing to share advice and support. There is also a lot of information shared on Twitter, so if you have not headed there yet it is time to go and do some lurking.

We chose to focus on four online tools: Google Hangouts/Skype, Padlet, Flipgrid and BreakoutEdu. Although we are still using the physical Breakout boxes, we have the opportunity to move to the digital version if we need to.

The reason things changed was because we now had skills that teachers could see they needed. There are many teachers who are confident with online tools, but there are equally as many who are not. Teachers also have so little time to learn how to use these tools or to make connections and that this is our way in. If we can learn and teach them or if we can organise the collaboration then we have saved the teachers some time and enhanced their teaching too. This then leads us being able to talk about the importance of information literacy at the same time.

We started with Mystery Hangouts, linking with schools across the world and using it to teach research skills. After arranging the connection we would then talk to the teacher about ensuring that the questions they needed to ask were actually good questions. The teachers do not want their students to show them up, so were happy to take our support and work alongside us. We found that we were able to use this preparation time to teach the students how to use the school library catalogue, how to find a book, how to decide which website to choose from the catalogue, how to search our online academic resources, as well as note-taking and creating a good question. Sometimes we do all of this, other times it is just the Hangout but at least the teacher knows we are there to support and on occasions this has led to other conversations.

This short video comes from my friend Stony Evans' blog post on our first international connection. We connected our students in Alderney with his students in Hot Springs, Arkansas and it was an amazing event. He can be found on Twitter too, @stony12270, a great person to follow for ideas on school libraries.

Padlet is an online post-it board where you can post ideas and also post replies. It has many possibilities, but we have used it to enhance literacy through an online international book discussion. We connected Arkansas, Nebraska and Guernsey in an online book discussion on Wonder by RJ Palacio. We found that students who would normally not engage or write much found a voice through the online post-it board. They liked the idea that others across the world were reading the same book. We have also used Padlet to talk to the author of the book that our students were reading. Instead of a lesson on 'If you could ask the author anything you wanted about this book or writing a book what would it be?' it became a lesson on 'We are going to ask the author questions that she will reply to, now what do you want to ask?' The impact of adding a real element to this was what engaged the students and they asked some really good questions. There was added excitement when they realised that the author was actually online at the same time and replying to questions immediately. Such fun but also great learning and engagement too.

Flipgrid is a video recording tool. We use this when students are not in the same time zones, so can't talk on a Hangout. They pose questions and students can answer. It can be a good way to have a conversation, albeit not instant but it helps that there is a real audience and they will get a response. We have also used it at the end of a topic to allow students to share what they have learnt. Instead of getting them to write, they talk and this can be assessed too.

Breakout has been great fun. It is a game where students have to answer clues to unlock boxes (to break out). Although we are not using it as an online version yet we have 4 boxes that we use with teachers. We help the teachers set up the clues, and it is either used to make sure students know and understand how to use the online tools available from the library or it is used as an end of topic assessment tool. Both have been used well and the students love the game element of learning and teachers like the engagement from the students. If you want to know more read Schools' Library Service blog post 4 Digital Tools for the Classroom.

I am not saying that every time we organised a Hangout, Padlet, Flipgrid or Breakout session that every teacher embeds information literacy in their lesson, but what does happen is that conversations have started and an understanding of our role and expertise has grown. There has been an increase in engagement with the teachers we have worked with and we have been approached by teachers asking for support who have never worked with us before. This very often comes about because they have heard about what we are doing in other classes and they want some of it too. Information literacy and research skill are slowly being supported and taught by our librarians and we take every opportunity to work with teachers and students when we can. These small steps are moving us towards our main goal of raising awareness of the importance of school libraries through the resources we provide and embedding information literacy within the curriculum.

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