ALSC’s Children and Technology committee has been reflecting on the past year, about our roles and practices in our learning environments, especially as they relate to technology. This is the first of two posts we created that share our experiences. Today, we are focusing on the school librarians in our group. Manuela Aronofsky is the Middle School Technology Integrator at the Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, New York, and Julie Williams is the Librarian at Sanford Middle School in Sanford, Maine.
What is the top digital tool or strategy you are taking from the pandemic?
Manuela: I have come to really appreciate digital tools that allow for asynchronous discussion, and response. The main tools I’m using in the classroom include Flipgrid (for students to record video responses), and Padlet (for students to post short written responses). The nice thing about these tools is that they allow for online “conversation” – students can react to each other’s responses, or comment. While we really started using these intensively during the pandemic, I’m sure myself and other teachers will incorporate them into regular classwork when we return in person. They allow for students who don’t speak up as much in class to provide a response, and for students who may need time to formulate their thoughts to still join the conversation in a productive way.
Julie: I think my favorite thing has been Bitmoji Classrooms. The creativity I was seeing at the beginning of the pandemic in creating these as a way to reach students and the community that developed around them was awesome. Creating the rooms also forced me to up my tech skills even more which inspired me to finally get my Google Level 1 certification. I have Bitmoji rooms all over my school website and continue to get asked to help others with them. (Julie blogged about it here)
What is the top digital tool or strategy you are glad to leave behind in 2020/2021?
Manuela: This seems like an obvious answer, but regular Zooming! While I have to say that our students have done an incredible job remaining engaged throughout our time of remote learning, it is just not the same. We inevitably lose huge chunks of our instruction due to distraction, screen fatigue, or technical difficulties that make it difficult, or sometimes even impossible for students to participate. The immediate “spider sense” feedback loop you gain as a teacher when working with students in person is also missing over Zoom – did they really understand the lesson? Or the expectations for an assignment? It’s sometimes impossible to tell, until you realize a piece of communication was dropped. Having fewer in-person touchpoints with students has also naturally led to more missing, or incomplete work, and a definite fatigue in maintaining follow-up over email.
Julie: I haven’t really left it behind yet but I will be glad when I don’t have to use Zoom daily in classes with students. Zoom has its place and has been instrumental in keeping people connected, but it is no substitute for in-person learning and connections.
Has your position as a school librarian changed since the transition into hybrid/remote learning? If so, what are some new responsibilities, or new roles you’ve gained?
Manuela: Absolutely! I am both a librarian, and technology integrator at the middle school – working closely with the library team, and the tech department. After last March, the tech portion of my job exploded. These responsibilities ranged from assisting students in joining remote classes, troubleshooting device issues remotely, making Zoom links accessible, and also helping teachers integrate technology effectively into their teaching practice. Sometimes I can’t believe how much the pandemic changed both my skillsets, and daily work flow in such a short period of time. Almost too obvious not to add – our school library has become a classroom during hybrid learning, and we’ve only been circulating digital materials regularly! I can’t wait for the library to return to normal.
Julie: My view of my position hasn’t changed – I have always considered myself to be available and willing to help with technology. Perception of others is what has changed – more of my staff are aware of the fact that I can help them. That is a good thing.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced integrating new ways of digital learning into your educational environment?
Manuela: The biggest thing that comes to mind was trying to navigate a world of tech troubleshooting remotely. This isn’t specifically a challenge in digital learning, but confronting the challenge was necessary in order to make digital learning possible! I definitely took for granted the ability to help students in-person & in the moment with whatever tech issue they were having. This did not translate well to over-email support. My ALSC blog post Technology In Practice : Adapting To A Remote Learning Environment explains in detail how we tackled these challenges head-on when re-entering a remote school environment this school year. Re-reading it now, it is definitely a confidence boost to see that the efforts we put into alleviating these challenges really came through for us in the fall.
Julie: The isolation of the pandemic has been challenging and the fact that everyone is sick of screens and inundated with emails. At times I struggle with getting my message across because it’s just one more email in a flooded inbox and I am unable to go directly to staff. It has also been difficult to have connections with students – especially ones who have stayed remote. It is so nice that restrictions are easing up in my area.
Beyond Manuela’s job, her library interests include: expanding inclusivity and cultural competency in the school library environment, coordinating volunteer work with the Prison Library Support Network, and teaching the act of reading as a community-building experience.
Julie has had the privilege of travelling to Guatemala many times and has helped start up a library in the village of San Juan la Laguna. She has trained some of the staff in Guatemala with the organization she works with in using Library Thing’s Tiny Cat system. Although she couldn’t go down last summer, she is hoping that travel will be possible this summer.