The Role of Librarians in Education Today
by Jeanne N. Klesch
Technology and Education
Technology is transforming the traditional methods of teaching and learning in the classrooms of the 21st century. The goal is to create students who can become active, independent and life-long learners rather than passive recipients of information. This new approach to education takes the student beyond the traditional textbook and requires students to develop a combination of skills in computer technology, critical thinking and information-seeking strategies. The classroom teacher is the key to the success of an education program that promotes these qualities. Virginia has joined the roster of states recognizing the importance of students who can bring these skills to the workplace and has taken steps to ensure the professional development of its teachers as a means to attain success in this goal.
There is also a growing realization that a teacher can no longer do it all. Society has long viewed librarians as the acknowledged information experts. As modern-day librarians we represent a professional group that long ago learned to bridge the gap between the traditional methods and the modern technological techniques used in the organization, management and retrieval of information. Our skills and expertise in technology and information resources make us the ideal collaborative partners with teachers in the transformation of the education process.
The Role of Librarians
Students must learn and practice the information literacy concepts and skills associated with the appropriate choice and use of information in the modern world. The 1989 "ALA Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report" was one of the first major statements about the importance of information literacy. It further states that educators at the school and college level must recognize and integrate information literacy into their learning programs. An experienced librarian recognizes that information literacy is not a task that can be learned in just a day, a week or any other short period of time. It is an expertise learned and absorbed in increments over the space of time and in a variety of learning situations. At the K-12 level, the library media specialist (i.e., the school librarian) is the primary collaborator with the classroom teacher for class projects requiring the additional resources relevant to the resource-based or active learning approach. At the same time, academic librarians can and should play an increasingly active teaching role in higher education resulting in information literate graduates.
This is especially relevant in the education of prospective teachers, for it is at the university level where the future teacher needs to learn about the professional literature of education as well as the literature associated with their primary subject discipline. As a result, information literate teachers aware of the varied formats of resources are better equipped to transfer these same skills to their students. Therefore, it is essential that the standards of information literacy become commonplace throughout the curriculum of education majors. Successfully achieving this requires both a new mindset among teaching faculty and academic librarians, and the time for collaboration. In her book Student Learning in the Information Age (1998), Patricia Breivik cogently addresses these issues, thereby lending increased weight and status to the teaching role of academic librarians in education today.
The Role of Teachers
Teachers will not be replaced by computers, but their role in the educational process is changing. The growing use of computers in schools requires the teacher to understand and learn how to integrate computer technology and resource-based learning into education. For this reason, the teachers of the 21st century are increasingly challenged to become competent in the uses of computer technology for instructional purposes. They are expected to learn and use technological innovations such as PowerPoint, the Internet and computerized graphs and images as a means to present classroom lessons, prepare class projects with their students or create web pages as information sources for parents and students. At the same time, it is important to realize that many teachers received their initial education before the advent of technology and its application to the world of information resources. Furthermore, technology and knowledge about information resources and the information-seeking techniques associated with the Internet or electronic databases require time, practice and effort to build skills and expertise. Financial support and appropriate venues are required for training prospective and experienced teachers.
Virginia Incorporates Technology into the Schools
In the mid-90's, the Virginia Department of Education implemented a Six-Year Educational Technology Plan designed to introduce the use of computer technology in education at the K-12 levels. At the same time, the Virginia General Assembly recognized that successful teacher preparation for using technology was essential. The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) identified several institutions capable of training K-12 teachers in the use of technology in the classroom. Based on the SCHEV recommendations, the Virginia Educational Technology Alliance (VETA), a collaboration of Virginia's 14 teacher educational institutions, was formed. Their primary mission is to assist in the design, maintenance and promotion of programs and resources that aid teachers in the integration of educational technologies in subject content areas.
Virginia is supporting the training of teachers in a number of ways. These include embedding technology in teacher education programs and professional development programs for the inservice teachers. Technological proficiency for teachers has assumed even greater significance because the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) in computer technology for Grades 5-8 and 9-12 have been instituted as part of the school curriculum in Virginia. The current SOLs comprise skills that incorporate both information technology and information literacy at these levels. The role of the library media specialists (i.e., school librarians) is assuming new importance as these standards are instituted in our schools. But the teacher's basic understanding of technology and its applications to the information world remain the key to success in any collaborative effort with the library media specialist.
Workshops for Professional Development
Workshops are a time-honored method for continuing the professional development of teachers. The CNU Education Department has a long-standing partnership with the Newport News Public Schools (NNPS) in which three school are designated teacher academies for the training and professional development of teachers. In June 2002, CNU and NNPS collaborated in a week-long Computer Technology Institute, funded by VETA, to teach twenty K-12 classroom teachers advanced technology skills. Each teacher had recently been issued a MAC laptop computer to create instructional aids. The summer institute program provided the teachers with three days of instruction and two additional days for the design and development of a presentation or web page. The teachers rated this workshop as one of the best and most effective professional development programs they had ever attended, partially because of the time provided for the immediate practice and development of their presentations.
A symposium was held in mid-October so the teachers could demonstrate their finished presentations and report about the integration of technology into their classrooms and its impact on student learning and achievement. At this time, the teachers received a stipend of $250 and a certificate for Level 2 Technology Integration. Programs such as the CNU/NNPS Summer Institute for the professional development of both pre-service and in-service teachers will become increasingly essential as the SOLs for computer technology are promoted and integrated into the curricula of Virginia's schools.
Orginally the focus of the CNU/NNPS summer institute was to be MAC-based instruction for the creation of PowerPoint presentations and web pages. My participation in this workshop began with a simple observation. As an academic librarian, I had frequently assisted both experienced and prospective teachers enrolled in education programs. While teachers displayed a wide range of technological skills and knowledge about information resources, many didn't know how to search online databases or locate the periodical resources relevant for their topics. A great many of them were unfamiliar with ERIC, as the major online database for locating professional literature in education. A bewildered teacher came to the reference desk looking for an information source for a class project in which the students were required to make a graph showing the population levels of all the Virginia counties since the year 1900. When I happened to mention these observations to a faculty member of the CNU Education Department involved with the VETA-grant summer institute, the response was immediate—we should include a day of instruction about information literacy in the summer institute.
The Internet as a Teaching Tool
The major focus of the information literacy session had to be the Internet. In 1997, SCHEV, in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, formed the Task Force on Technology in Teacher Education. The resulting guidelines refer to the national goal of access to the Internet by the year 2000 in every public school classroom in America. The Internet is now readily available in Virginia schools and provides access to a wide range of resources useful to both teachers and students. The Internet is currently incorporated into many of the lesson plans and projects for the Virginia SOLs in computer technology. Despite its many pitfalls as an information source including problems such as non-relevant hits, confusing error messages or dead-end websites, the Internet can be an excellent tool for librarians teaching information literacy. In fact, its problems as an informational resource provide the perfect means for honing information literacy skills. Its weaknesses can also be used to establish a doorway to other information resources that are better for background information, quicker to use, or simply not available on the Internet.
Since the teachers participating in the Computer Technology Institute had varying technological and information retrieval skills, the following topics would be covered:
- Internet basics (URLs, Listservs, etc.)
- Search engines and directories
- Development of search strategies
- Use of search techniques such as Boolean searches
- Evaluation and selection of Internet resources (i.e., authority, scope, currency, objectivity, presentation of materials)
- Citation of sources
- Guide to copyright rules
- List of web sites relevant for access to the subject content areas of K-12 teachers
Because there was no text that adequately covered all aspects of technology, the Internet, and information literacy as taught during this summer workshop, I compiled my own booklet to cover these topics. The sources in my course book were collected from the Internet, demonstrating the wealth of information to be found there. University library skills web sites provided the best source for many of the information literacy topics. Citation and copyright information was retrieved through the Librarians Index to the Internet. Knowing that teachers often don't have sufficient time to search for resources, I included a list of recommended websites. The list covered relevant resources for accessing teaching materials, information for multiple or specific subject disciplines such as history or social studies, statistical data and Virginia state information. An additional list chosen from a school web site included suggestions for choosing the most appropriate search engine for broad or narrow topics, biographical details, or graphic images. This was a lot to present in just a one-day session so I presented the major points in a PowerPoint presentation. We broke at appropriate points for hands on activities.
The final results observed at the October symposium appeared to be clearly dependent on a teacher's level of technological expertise or a particular need. At the beginning of the Institute, many teachers had only a rudimentary knowledge of technology. Many created presentations with clipart images and noises as a means to provide background information about themselves, classroom rules, and an agenda for the school year. Some teachers were confident enough to create a second presentation. Many of these were web pages that became an information resource about school assignments for the parents and students. Other teachers created PowerPoint presentations for specific topics covered in the school year. Certain teachers, such as those in special education, had set requirements that did not immediately translate well into the use of technology or finding information resources for class projects. Overall, the teachers noted that today's students exist in a media-rich environment so they readily accepted the use of technology in education.
As for information literacy, I observed that the teachers most likely to explore the Internet for resources were either looking for subject-specific resources or wanted to augment previous presentations. Teachers who have reached this stage are good candidates for collaboration with the library media specialists because they can recognize the value of taking the time to work with the school librarian on resource-based learning projects. With further reflection, I also concluded that it is important for a teacher to have a certain level of proficiency with the technology in order to appropriately find and use information. These teachers can take their students beyond the traditional textbook and develop their skills in finding and using additional resources. Perhaps this approach will spark a student's interest, both in the subject and in using technology to find information.
As a result of my participation in this summer institute, I have come to several conclusions about teaching information literacy to teachers in the future.
- Teachers with advanced technology training should be taught information literacy in several independent classes or workshops within a close expanse of time.
- Information literacy should be introduced in three different levels of proficiency. The first level would cover Internet basics, the second would cover search strategies and search techniques, and the third would cover the evaluation of resources, their citation and copyright issues.
- A resource-based learning approach is an effective method and carries over for teaching information literacy to students. Therefore, each workshop session needs to include a sufficient amount of time for hands-on experience. This is absolutely essential for immediate comprehension.
- The Internet should serve as the initial medium for teaching information literacy.
- Advanced workshops should be considered to introduce teachers to other essential resources such as periodical literature. This is especially important at the high school level.
- Librarians from all levels of our professional spectrum should be involved in order to give teachers the big picture about the availability of resources and service provided by each type of library. This also encourages collaboration to take place at many different levels between librarians and teachers.
Information has become a dynamic force in our world—constantly changing, always increasing and regenerating into new variant formats. The ability to use technology as a means to access information has assumed greater importance in the education process. Educators and librarians are the keys to unlocking the doors in a bewildering world of information. Many teachers are still struggling to learn technology and therefore are not always aware of the importance of information literacy for the successful use and integration of technology into learning. Through collaboration, the librarian and teacher can each contribute to creating the information literate student. The chief lesson to be learned is that knowledge is the result of a life-long quest for information.
American Library Association. American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy. Final Report. Chicago: American Library Association, 1989.
Breivik, Patricia S [enn]. Student Learning in the Information Age. American Council on Education/Oryx Press Series on Higher Education. Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press, 1998.
State Council of Higher Education (SCHEV). Guidelines for Technology in the Commonwealth's State-Approved Teacher-Education Programs, 1997. http://www.schev.edu. Click on Reports & Studies, then Reports Index.
Virginia Educational Technology Alliance (VETA). About Veta. http://www.veta.org.
Jeanne Klesch is Assistant Cataloging/Reference Librarian at Smith Library, Christoper Newport University, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.