The expanding role of the TL is exciting and a tad daunting at the same time. Listening to Judy O’Connell’s “Lifesavers of Learning” webinar and accessing each of the suggested resources is a great starting point for developing a 21st Century Capable Library Program, but where to begin? Small steps first but at the centre of literacy learning is inquiry. Creating a sense of wonderment is highly engaging for students. Allowing them to develop their own questions and formulate hypotheses is empowering. Facilitating inquiry into authentic and socio-cultural contexts is powerful. Of course, I am talking about inquiry learning and more specifically, Project Based Learning ((PBL), supported by the Information Literacy Process. To successfully implement PBL we must be multi-talented to develop multi-faceted learning experiences. This provides TL’s with the opportunity to be visible, virtual and creative in developing outstanding library services.
As Boss and Krauss (2008) assert: “When teachers facilitate well-designed projects that use digital tools, they do much more than create memorable learning experiences. They prepare students to thrive in a world that’s certain to continue changing.” (p. 13).
Joyce Valenza’s humourous but poignant TED presentation highlights just how much the TL’s role has been transformed by the needs of our learners in a 21st Century. Social constructivist approaches, such as PBL, can effectively meet these needs. There are cautions though. Much of the research has indicated that simply creating a 1:1 ratio or implementing a new technology roll-out is simply not enough. The school context will always mould what you are able to do as well, but within these parameters there are ways to create discover learning opportunities for students.
What is PBL? It is an ‘extended inquiry process into a complex question, problem, or challenge.’ (O’Connell, Webinar). Students actively participate and construct their own knowledge as they ask their own questions, investigate a problem, issue or concern, create some form of order of their ideas to present a solution, discuss their thinking and reflect on whether they have answered the question, whether they need to re-formulate the question, or whether additional questions for investigation have been raised. Whilst actively engaged in this process, students collaborate, communicate and think critically, using a variety of technology tools for investigation and creation. The collaboration aspect of PBL reflects the increasing connectivism of our world. At present, students metaphorically “turn of” (just as they turn off their devices), when they enter the school gates but PBL reaches out to them and reconnects them to the world outside of school.
O’Connell (2012) highlights that, for inquiry learning to be successful and digital literacy to be integrated into real-life problems then constructed into solutions that can make a difference in our world, everyone in the equation must become a researcher. There is a distinct shift away from teacher-led instruction to student-centred approaches and PBL has a significant role to play. Tying this with a greater focus on formative assessment and perhaps the use of Digital Portfolios provide the data required by some parents and other teachers to buy in to the PBL approach.
Both Australian Curriculum and Harvard University’s Project Zero have seen the wind of change and have responded accordingly. A cursory review of their current research and support materials reveals a variety of opportunities to engage students in PBL and inquiry learning. This is in response to the new Australian Curriculum which has extended its definition of literate to mean far more than just reading and writing. It includes these two main elements and links them to digital resources so that students must have experiences in reading, viewing and writing both linear and non-linear texts across a range of paper-based and electronic platforms. The aim here is to create students who are information fluent. That is, they can “subconsciously and intuitively interpret information in all forms and formats in order to extract the essential knowledge, authenticate it, and perceive its significance.” (O’Connell, p. 7).
Similarly, the basic premise of Project Zero is inquiry through collaboration, questioning, global perspectives, digital literacy and developing deeper understandings.
In this brave new world, TL’s have considerable PBL research and practical guidance to help us pursue best practice in student learning and to create ethical, considerate, collaborative global citizens.