Author Archives: Karen Yarbrough

Leveraging Online Communities

While this week’s readings focus on youth social and media learning networks, the principles and ideas can be applicable across any age group.  Librarians have been trying to engage with patrons through social media for years, but it is sometimes the young adult or teen librarian who is involved with planning and maintaining the library’s digital life.  At the last YALSA Young Adult Literature Symposium in 2012, I took part in a discussion with fellow librarians about the issues and concerns that we had with integrating social media into library service.  There were two main discussion points that came from the talk.  First, some people were very concerned with budget decision makers decreeing that electronic service can take the place of face-to-face service, and second, people complained a lot about the amount of red tape and policy setbacks that prevent electronic interactions between educators and their learners, especially in school systems.  My previous employer took draconian steps to guarantee that only the official statements of the company were available in electronic and print formats, and that was above and beyond the district-wide policy prohibiting contact on social media between school employees and students.  Knowing your school’s policies can definitely save you a lot of grief.

It is so frustrating because using social media networks in education can be such an engaging and meaningful (not to mention free in some cases) method of getting information and interaction flowing.  The article about students using Scratch to build educational media learning experiences is a great example that can be used as ammunition for educators who want to propose using educational social media by stating that “access to the community created opportunities for individuals to imagine new possibilities for creation; develop their technical and aesthetic abilities; create more technically, aesthetically, or conceptually sophisticated projects than would have been possible to create independently; and reflect on their development as creators of interactive media” (Brennan, Monroy-Hernandez, & Resnick, 2010, p. 82).  Students were able to build connections, not just with each other, but also between content and media literacy skills.

The article about students using Remix World also gives good data and evidence to help argue the case for young people learning through social networks.  It especially emphasizes the importance of planning and connecting social interactions with learning because “fulfilling formal educational goals requires that curriculum designers and educators develop tools that help to facilitate and scaffold learning and the also encourage users to take ownership of the environment through their contributions and participation to the site” (Zywica, Richards, & Gomez, 2011, p. 40).  Students take an active part in their learning through integrating technologies that require less direct instruction to use because they already have prior knowledge of social media norms.  Less technological instruction on things they know anyway helps to keep students interested in their learning by not boring them with repetition.  They can utilize skills they already have to enable them to move forward with their own learning goals.

I especially enjoyed the shorter article about the dance competition in Brazil.  It made me think of my friend who made it to the finale of this year’s Hooping Idol, an international hooping competition, and it also reminded me of an episode of Touch where one of the seemingly unconnected but obviously incredibly connected storylines was about a young boy trying to break into his school so he could access a webcam to be able to win an international dance competition.  The dancers in Brazil, through technology and social media, are able to be proud of their skills and have potential opportunities in their futures.  “The idea is that, through dance, the social UPP units can reach youngsters and open the dialogue with them in the pacified favelas” (Recuero, 2012).  By giving them options outside their limited backgrounds, social media opens doors for these dancers who might not have any other way out of their situations.  It’s an extreme example, but it is a model that can work anywhere.  By showing these sorts of social media networks to students as well as administrators, we can start to change the way that people view social learning to help educators leverage online communities for greater, more meaningful learning.

New Credentials in Learning

Lifelong learning badges create an interesting educational situation where credentials can be gained without a traditional degree structure.  There has always been a system of certificates for specialized training, and as an electronic off-shoot of that system, I can see why badges might be appealing since they can also emphasize soft skills that are not usually specified in a traditional transcript.  “[A] badge would carry more cachet than simply listing volunteer work on a résumé” (Young, 2012), and learners can show that they are interested in professional development and improvement through self-motivated learning.  If badges are used much like the endorsement system on LinkedIn where your connections can vouch for your skills, then it makes sense as something that could be of value to employers and job hunters, but like the LinkedIn system, it only works if people use it and if the people making hiring decisions trust that the credential is valid.

Validity could be a big issue since there is little to no oversight of the relatively new education system.  When setting up a badge for learners, the developer has to think about the ramifications of his or her assessment techniques, and while “there is usually some kind of assessment of that learning so that claims about learning can be substantiated by evidence” (Itow & Hickey, 2013), there is no set method to ensure validity and reliability of learning gains.  Employers would either have to check out each individual badge or just trust that it means what it says it means and does what it says it does.  I don’t know if many HR reps would go to the trouble.  Until there is a greater guarantee of usefulness, I wonder if the end result is meaningful.  Personally, I think any learning is potentially meaningful for the learner, but that doesn’t mean that anyone else is going to care.

One positive that could potentially come out of wider use of a badge system of learning is that it goes a long way toward validating how people are already learning through personal networks.  Any calls for it to completely replace traditional learning models are misguided, but it can acknowledge “that because of the connections we can now make on the web, there is as much potential (if not more) for meaningful learning to occur in the interactions between people online than in their face to face places” (Richardson, 2011).  I’ve made many friendships and professional collaborations with people I only know online, and I take offense when people say that those relationships aren’t as important as other face to face interactions.  Badges could be a way to make tangible the learning accomplishments that take place in more informal, self-motivated educational environments.


Itow, R. & Hickey, D. (2013).  Design principles for assessing learning with digital badges. HASTAC. Retrieved from

Group 3 – Personal Learning Networks II

This week Group 3 focused on the possibilities of connectivity in formal and informal learning. By taking a connectivist view of knowledge, more information is made available to students both inside and outside of the classroom. Students can begin to construct their own knowledge bases by creating learning situations through hands-on interactions with information building.

Shelby mentions that some of this week’s ideas were new to her as she connected some of those ideas to her personal experiences.  She discusses how she was quick to challenge Dede’s definition of Web 2.0 Knowledge because she has never been supported in using Web 2.0 by her previous instructors, but through the readings this week, she has been reconsidering her initial impulse, stating “why should students be limited to only the resources and tools that one professor may have to share?” Shelby also discusses how less traditionally academically adept students might learn more through Web 2.0 Knowledge sources that prepare them for more than standardized tests as they are introduced to more tools that can help them access a wider variety of information.

Eunsung, too, discusses how Web 2.0 knowledge can be a new concept for her, both as a student and as an educator.  She has become more familiar with connectivist learning methods through her college classes, and she can see the value in having a wider selection of experts, believing that “learning is and should be continual process and connected not only with teachers and other students also with experts and communities where people gather for related topics to share and make meaningful way of learning.”  Eunsung also emphasizes that the distinctions between Classical Knowledge and Web 2.0 Knowledge are most evident in the advent of lifetime learning goals.  Learners do not stop learning when they have stepped out of the classroom, and instead most ongoing learning throughout adulthood comes through every day sources and not through traditional classroom lectures.

Rachel speaks specifically to her situation as an educator in a small nation where a relatively limited number of experts can be supplemented through Web 2.0 Knowledge sources to directly impact the outcomes for future generations in the workplace.  She also discusses MOOCs, placing distinctions between how self-motivated learners can gain knowledge through more learner-centric classrooms or also through more traditional presentations.  Rachel questions where these new developments might be headed, believing that “it is difficult to imagine what education and assessment will look like in the next 10-20 years but we can be sure that key assessment groups (e.g. Cambridge) are looking at how people are learning with Web 2.0 and mobile technologies.”  With both macro- and micro-assessment playing such a large role at the moment, it is a valid question to ask.

I, on the other hand, pointed out some flaws in the arguments put forth this week in our readings, but I also agreed that connectivity has a farther reach for information gathering that could be beneficial to learners.  The importance of critical thinking and evaluation of content and sources will only become more important as Web 2.0 Knowledge inches closer into the mainstream of education.  “Recognizing that connectivist learning is more than just interacting with content (even digital content), its success actually hinges on learners being able to justify their processes for finding and using certain sources whether the source is an expert in the field or an unknown blogger.” Developing the necessary critical thinking skills are vitally important for each new learning situation.

Together this week, Group 3 found interesting ideas about the perceived differences between Classical Knowledge and Web 2.0 Knowledge that lead us to relate these new concepts to our own prior knowledge and experiences with emerging learning technologies.  By making personal connections to the readings, we were able to critique and analyze some of the authors’ assumptions about learning and apply them to our own learning environments.  Through this week’s readings, Group 3 continued to evolve our individual understandings of Web 2.0 Knowledge and how we can use emerging technologies to encourage new understandings in our current and future students.

Ivory Towers of Learning

We’ve been discussing personal learning networks, and it seems like this week’s readings take a look at the more theoretical processes behind the practical surface of networked learning.  Dede and Siemens discuss how learning theories interact and impact learning by relating some basic differences between them.  Siemens puts more emphasis on the evolution of connectivism in learning, listing ways that thinking about learning has become both more expansive and more specific at the same time, which I think is a valuable idea.  We now encourage our learners not just to learn content but also to think critically about their learning process itself.  “Know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where (the understanding of where to find knowledge needed)” (Siemens, 2004).  Recognizing that connectivist learning is more than just interacting with content (even digital content), its success actually hinges on learners being able to justify their processes for finding and using certain sources whether the source is an expert in the field or an unknown blogger.  That justification is a big step, and networked sources being accepted as a valid resource is still experiencing some growing pains.

Dede contrasts “Classical knowledge” and “Web 2.0 knowledge”, but I’m not so sure that the distinctions between the two are really all that distinct.  He uses Encyclopedia Britannica as his example of the monolithic, traditional, top-down knowledge source that must always been taken as gospel and cannot be disputed.  The assumption is that learners assume that it is correct because it has been published.  There is some truth to that thought, but that is where critical thinking about content and not just sources comes into play.  “In contrast to articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia articles are either undisputed (tacitly considered accurate) or disputed (still resolving through collective argumentation), and Wikipedia articles cover topics that are not central to academic disciplines or to a wide audience (e.g., the cartoon dog Scooby-Doo)” (Dede, 2008).

The first of the two statements of that compound sentence, that Wikipedia articles are accurate or in the process of being accurate and that the process of collective argumentation is preferable, ignores the fact that there is actually a process for challenging content of large-scale traditional print encyclopedias.  It is also reasonable to point out that encyclopedias are not written by one sainted scholar high in an ivory tower.  The articles are written by hundreds of people and must pass through the evaluations of dozens of editors.  What is different about EB and Wikipedia is the amount of time the challenge process takes.  New editions of print encyclopedia sets are published about once a decade (if they are even published anymore), but Wikipedia content updates almost constantly and practically instantly.  The fact that anyone can post and edit is usually touted as the main reason Wikipedia is so amazing and innovative, but that is not even close to the best reason.  Why wait ten years for updated accurate information?  Update it yourself and be crowned Wikipedia royalty.

The second statement, that Wikipedia is superior for generating articles outside the academic disciplines and that appeal to limited, specific audiences, is pretty easy to counter, too.  Scooby Doo? Really?  How is one of the most globally popular cartoon characters not relevant to a wide audience?  There are plenty of ways that information on even just that one cartoon could be relevant and possibly even central to academic disciplines (i.e. criminology, anthropology, psychology, art, etc,).  I can’t say whether or not EB has anything to say about our old pal Scoob, but I do know that there are such things as subject-specific encyclopedias that are generally more favored these days over the large print sets anyway because they take up less space, are less expensive, and are easier to upgrade to new editions.  Take The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons, for example.

I know I went off on a bit of tangent there, but it seemed to me that Dede’s statement was full of easily countered fallacies.  It is certainly interesting that Wikipedia has embraced an innovative author and editor structure, and I’m not saying its a horrible thing or anything remotely like that.  I’m just saying that the fact that it is free and is constantly updated are the real reasons why people use it.  If we ignore that practical fact, then we are the sages in the ivory tower.

Personal Learning Networks

The truth is that we all build personal learning networks all the time, but we don’t necessarily think about them in terms of formal education.  We look up recipes online, we crowdsource ideas for what movies to go see, we search the most common hashtags on Twitter.  Even in a traditional classroom setting, we often look around to see if other people look as confused as we feel.  Learning is social, and the question becomes how we can find more formal uses for our informal learning solutions.  On this week’s websites and podcasts, there are many examples of multimedia enhancing learning opportunities, sometimes as simply as just providing inspiration and motivation.  The “A Vision of Students Today” video and the introductory video for the World Simulation Project clearly are meant to be thought-provoking and to get students to think differently about their assumptions about the world and, by extension, how they learn about the world and interact within its social constructs.  “The networked society that we live in today may feel radically different, but many youth are struggling with the things they’ve always struggled with. They’re trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into the bigger world” (Boyd, 2012).  They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that is never more true than when applying multimedia to learning situations.  Connecting personal learning experiences with relevant media makes learning that much more memorable and powerful.

Part of the problem with trying to fit new learning models that fit more styles of learning into standardized testing regimens is that these new learning efforts are inherently non-standardized. “Learning networks are not a one size-fits-all solution that works for each school in the same way. Quite the contrary, one of the reasons these tools are so powerful is their ability to serve a variety of goals” (Richardson & Mancabelli, 2011, p.27).  If we concern ourselves with Richardson and Mancabelli’s new literacies in order to embrace new technologies, then we have to find a way to think about bigger issues than just whether or not our students can connect with a global audience, for example.  For me, the biggest question is teaching our students how to ethically interact with information and information sources, and in a PLN structure, one of those potential information sources is the people we encounter on the Internet.  We have to be proactive about anonymity and the problems that a perceived lack of accountability can mean on personal interactions.  If we are going to build PLNs, then there has to be a responsibility of honesty and respect throughout the network.   There needs to be a cultural shift, and we need to be willing to ask hard questions about assumptions that we take for granted.

Collaborative and Creative Learning on Wikis

I’ve been looking forward to this week’s coverage of wikis because I’ve enjoyed the collaborative projects that I’ve completed for other classes, and I wanted to understand the technology a little better.  Especially after the interview assignment last week, I feel like wikis could be an interesting way to creatively engage with emerging web technologies with learners and other educators.  The examples given in Schweder and Wissick’s column as well as the Wikipedia Projects and User Page examples opened by eyes to the many ways that educators can use this popular web technology.  Additionally, Vicki Davis’s two wikis this week were very helpful, and I thought her step by step instructions on how to create and edit in a wiki were brilliant and to the point.  People are often stymied by the idea of editing content, especially things that other user’s have added, and so such clear directions would be very helpful to get the process moving forward with clear expectations.  Her Flat Classroom project with Julie Lindsay seems like an interesting opportunity to expand learning beyond the classroom, and I think using a wiki to collaborate with students on the other side of the world is a clever way to promote global citizenship as well as critical thinking about new technologies.  McCrea’s article introducing Davis’s ideas and projects in her school captures the way that technology can be contagious, and wikis are a great example of that trend.  Valerie Burton, the other featured teacher, made a convincing argument for using wikis as an assessment method for students’ individual and collaborative assignments.  I am a big proponent of “not reinventing the wheel” when it comes to lesson planning and generating new practice activities, and so using wikis to store and organize materials makes a lot of sense to me.  Students and teachers alike could easily access any information literacy materials I created, freeing up my time for more individualized reference needs.

One of the biggest issues about wikis in education is the validity and reliability of the user-generated information, but I think Wikipedia’s “What Wikipedia Is Not” page goes a long way to address some of the concerns leveled against their site.  The page clearly shows that the foundation behind the site as well as the site’s user editors take their information sharing seriously and that they have policies in place to protect the level of scholarship available through their services.  The site is set up to be basically self-policing except in extreme cases where the foundation’s actual employees have to intervene.  People who are regular Wikipedia contributors tend to be very twitchy about the reputation of the site, and I think that helps to ensure that problem users are identified (and sometimes Internet shamed) fairly quickly.  When discussing Wikipedia with students, I always used the example of “What if you wrote in your biography assignment that someone was dead but he actually wasn’t?”, so reading the policies on Biographies of Living Persons, speculation, and scandal mongering were especially interesting to me.  I might just start sharing the Wikipedia policy pages with students in the future; they need to understand the process better and not just take the information presented on faith alone.  Wikipedia is so large and well-known that it is usually what comes to mind when someone mentions wikis, but smaller classroom wikis are becoming more popular.  In these cases, the educator often acts as more of a moderator, but students are still held responsible for the information.  I think it can be a valuable way to teach personal accountability as well as responsibility to the learning community.  I am looking forward to using wikis in my library service model in the future, and I think that my student and faculty patrons will benefit from having to think a little more critically about user-generated information sources.

Interview with Elementary Media Specialist

KY Interview Final

On Sunday evening, I spoke with Sarah Rentz, an elementary media specialist in Maryland.  She shared with me some details about her students’ use of a library wiki to build projects and learn technology skills.  The wiki is used by fourth and fifth grade students since her library’s PBWorks account only includes 100 users, but she allows third graders limited access to introduce them to their future assignments during the next two years.  Her school is set up on a rotating specials schedule, and so she sees the same classes of students regularly multiple times a month.  There is no technology special at her school, which leaves any technology instruction to her as the media specialist or to the classroom teachers on their own.  I’m grateful that Sarah took the time to speak with me, and I think you will all enjoy hearing about her experiences.

Formal and Informal Education Blogs

A blog about blogs: how terribly meta.

The readings this week really interested me because I’ve always thought about blogging as a viable outlet for me, both privately and professionally.  Sometimes it seems like every librarian in the world has a blog these days.  I’ve been held up by the thought that it would probably be more likely to get me in trouble than to help me.  I have a tendency to be honest to a fault, and some principals are not huge fans of people who are willing to disagree with them.  The result is that I have so far avoided blogging, but that fact is a disappointment to me.  It’s something that I could easily see changing at some point.  I just have to rewire how I think a bit.  Reading the teacher and educator blogs this week reminded me that people can dissent against the dominant power structure, and it isn’t always a dangerous thing.  That’s sometimes a little hard for me to realize because of my work and life background.  I grew up in a very conservative and religious Southern town where popularity was decided by which church you attended.  Speaking out against the norm could get you into real trouble.  Most people I know would consider me to be very outspoken, and it would probably shock them that I even worry about the impact of what I could say.  Informal blogs about education issues and classroom experiences are pretty common now, and so maybe that has shifted things a little more in our favor, freedom of speech wise, but Ferlazzo’s post including the teacher who got in trouble for her blog post hit home with me because I once was called in by an assistant principal because she heard some other teachers discussing something in the teachers’ lounge that I had posted on my private Facebook.  In a work environment that relies so much on hearsay, it is unsurprising that I might worry about how my personal, informal blog might hurt my job chances.

Taking the other option for educational blogging and considering classroom use of blogs by students, I worry about district privacy policies and other such bureaucratic annoyances, but I definitely see the value of using blogs with students.  “The Community of Voices” article as well as the posts from Mr. Borges’ “Blog Squad” and the study abroad posts really show how student learning can be showcased and critical thinking can be encouraged through blogging.  “Blogging affords students the valuable opportunity to create and recreate their own educational experience. As part of a collective learning environment, community blogs encourage students to extend themselves into the information universe in search of new ideas that may alter the trajectory of the course” (Bartholomew, Jones, & Glassman, 2012, p. 19).  By allowing students to lead discussions that are flexible enough to gather their own momentum, educators can use those discussions as a balance to the planned curriculum.  Depending on how integrated the blog experience is with the classroom environment, there could be either two parallel learning options that double the amount of content covered in the course, or there could be one large on-going circuit of learning that is taking place both laterally and vertically within the same context.  It is important to plan well beforehand what requirements are there for the student blogging community and to make sure that those requirements stay consistent and easy to understand.  Blogging can be intimidating to people who feel like they don’t have anything to add to the discussion, but by pacing our students and giving them many different options we can encourage them to engage with new technologies in smart and meaningful ways.

Beginning Formal Web 2.0 Learning

In reading this week’s chapter, I realized that the most important part of integrating Web 2.0 in formal learning environments is comfort and familiarity with emerging technologies.  It’s a very simple idea, but one that is easy to assume and so to overlook.  I think those of us with more comfort (which we would have to be because most of the class seems to be Ed Tech oriented) can easily forget that for most classroom teachers many of these technologies and the very idea of using them in their classrooms with students is a very foreign and unknown concept.  When talking up these new ideas in professional development situations, it is important to remember that new media Web 2.0 technology literacy might be a completely new term and will probably need to be explicitly defined “as an individual’s ability to understand, evaluate, manage, and use Web 2.0 technologies that enhance constructivist and social-constructivist communication and collaboration to create knowledge and learning products. Note that from this definition, new media Web 2.0 technology literacy in education is critically important for both teachers and students” (Hsu, Ching, & Grabowski, 2010, p. 355).

Tagging, blogging, and collaborating on wikispaces were all given as excellent first steps into use of emerging technologies in formal classroom settings, and I think these three options are able to be used by less experienced educators without being too overwhelming for them.  It is valuable to consider that “teachers’ technical capability was the fundamental predictor for any technology to be integrated in the classroom.  That is, only after much hands-on practice will teachers start to feel confident about and consider adopting high level use of the technology with their students. This means that for a technology that requires complex skills and has a long and steep learning curve, teachers are less likely to develop the confidence they need to adopt it” (Hsu, Ching, & Grabowski, 2010, p. 354).  We don’t want to disadvantage teachers and by extension their students by not providing the support that teachers need to become more fluent with new literacies.  Table 1 on page 357 would be a good method of introducing teachers to new ideas for using emerging technologies in their classrooms, but I feel like the table is perhaps a bit too regimented.  For simplicity’s sake, I can see the point of partitioning off the three technologies in the way that the authors did, but I worry people who are less familiar might come think of the assignments and cognitive applications as proscribed and not just suggestions.  For example, wikis could easily be used to organize prior knowledge while tagging could be used more metacognitively, but the chart doesn’t reflect these uses.

I very much enjoyed the Mobile Tech and Learning course last semester, and it seems to me that using mobile technologies in the classroom could be a good gateway for teachers who aren’t yet fully comfortable with more web-based instruction techniques.  “Mobiles allow very simple tools to be easily integrated into classroom activities with no need for involvement of IT or support staff” (Johnson, Smith, Willis, Levine, & Haywood, 2011, p. 13). By using simple apps on technologies that the students would provide (i.e. their own Smartphones), the teacher could ease into new technologies without having to step too far outside their own classrooms into the wider world of the Internet.  Once the teacher was feeling more adventurous, he or she could then think about more intensive uses of mobile technologies in digital literacy instruction, such as augmented reality.  “AR that relies on mobile devices leverages an increasingly ubiquitous tool, not for social interactions but for learning, blurring the boundaries between formal and informal learning, which can in turn contribute to the evolution of a learning ecology that transcends educational institutions. Indeed, the potential for just-in-time learning and exploration, without special goggles or other equipment, is a deeply compelling aspect of this technology” (Johnson, Smith, Willis, Levine, & Haywood, 2011, p. 17). 

As a media specialist, I can’t just think about my own technology uses, but also the uses of the classroom teachers who would depend on my however rightly or wrongly assumed expertise in new technologies.  I would hope that by encouraging baby steps like suggested by this week’s authors, I would then be able to help teachers move from apps connected to a chart, map, or textbook into more advanced, yet still accessible means of digital instruction, such as tagging found articles, collaborating on creative wiki projects, or encouraging reflection and publishing through blogs.  I worry about school and district policies getting in the way, and I worry about teachers’ own concerns with privacy and Internet safety in their classrooms stopping them from being innovative.  Many of these teachers will look to me, and I’m thinking that through classes like this one I will be able to make them feel more comfortable in these new educational surroundings.