About a week ago, I spent a whirlwind 3 days at the AASL conference. Back home, I’m contemplating how to translate all I learned, observed, and soaked up in Hartford into practice. First and foremost, I was blown away by the incredible community of librarians. Time and again, I was struck by their generosity with information; their willingness to share experiences, tools, tips, and lunch tables; and the passion for equality of access, freedom of information, and innate curiosity/thirst for knowledge that drives our profession. If nothing else, my time in Hartford affirmed that I am proud to be a librarian and that I have seriously found my people in this profession. Below, I’ve included a summary of my top sessions of each day, followed by a “key takeway” in bold (Hint: if you want to skip the story and cut to the chase, just read the bold text).
Thursday: Holy cannoli, Dr. Tony Wagner knocked my socks off! Dr. Wagner is the Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (I like to know who people are and why I should take their opinions to heart) and he had some definite opinions on assessment, the role of creativity and innovation in schools, and “survival skills” for today’s students. In lieu of re-writing it all, here’s a Storify of some of the live tweeting during his keynote. The big takeaway: Creativity is essential to innovation, innovation is essential to growth/college and career readiness. Critical thinking is about knowing HOW to find the answers to big, tough questions. How will we help students develop and hone these skills?
Friday: On Friday, the most notable session I attended was on the topic of changing school policy to allow personal devices and mobile technology. This was a mini, condensed version of a pre-conference workshop. There was a panel of speakers, with varying device policies in their districts. One of the speakers, Michelle Luhtala, has won a number of national awards, including Innovator of the Year from the International Society of Technology Educators (ISTE); in her school, students are not only allowed but encouraged to use their cellphones and personal devices for educational purposes. Another speaker, Brenda Boyer, taught in a district that has been one-to-one for over 10 years (now that’s forward thinking!) using MacBooks. Their perspectives on policy (keep it vague), restricting student use (tell students you trust them, and they generally honor that trust) and the amazing things that can be accomplished by allowing device freedom was incredible. The big takeaway: Students are using devices, period. Instead of fighting the current, we can tap this ubiquitous use for incredible instructional purposes. Device integration is a continuum, but no matter where you are, librarians play a key role in harnessing media to help students find answers and information. Also of note was the Intellectual Freedom session I attended, with small group discussions on a number of intellectual freedom issues, such as eBook access and student privacy, challenged books, internet filtering, and selection policy. Each small group had about 10 minutes to discuss–I wish we had much, much longer. The big takeaway: Have a selection/challenge policy in place before you need it, and seriously consider working with your district to create a policy that includes challenged WEBSITES, apps, eBooks, and other rapidly shifting media in addition to your print collection policies.
Saturday: On Saturday, I was most impressed by a panel discussion that I attended on “Project Connect”. This panel included the 2013 American Association of School Administrators (AASA) National Superintendent of the Year Dr. Mark Edwards, Dr. Karen Cator, former Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education and current CEO of Digital Promise, Dr. Mark Ray, SLJ columnist and 2011 Washington State Teacher of the Year (and first librarian to win that honor in his state), and Dr. Steve Joel, the Superintendent of Schools in Lincoln, Nebraska. These administrators and policy-makers joined together with other educational leaders and representatives from Follett and Gale, two major library companies, to work on promoting the leadership capacity of school librarians. Project Connect is an on-going initiative, and is creating white papers, videos, and case studies to help school districts tap into the potential of using their librarians as instructional and technology leaders. It was energizing to hear these prominent educational leaders speak and to see how the field of librarianship is becoming more essential as digital content and devices become prevalent in schools. The big takeaway: Keep your eyes and ears open for resources from Project Connect. They get why librarians are leaders, and are spreading the word. Debbie Abilock and Kristen Fontichiaro’s session on “Big Data” blew. my. mind. There are some pretty scary and pretty amazing things happening with data collection/mining, from hidden internet tracking to companies crowd-sourced data collection for the common good. The big takeaway: Download Ghostery right now, and be totally creeped out by who’s watching. Then, help classify some galaxies with the crowd-sourced data site Galaxy Zoo.
While the conference theme was “rise to the challenge”, I think the real challenge is taking all the useful things I learned and putting them into practice. If nothing else, I was able to bring back some great ideas, expand my PLN, and return to my office tired, inspired, and raring to go.