Learning to navigate: being an active researcher

In 2020, we are surrounded by information. It is everywhere, at our fingertips, and we even carry, in our pockets, phones that give us access to a wealth of information that no one could have imagined only a decades ago. Tom Stevenson tells us that We Are Living In The Age of Information Overload and urges us to be selective: less is more, right?
But what exactly is information? Merriam-Webster’s specifies three different meanings: “(1) Knowledge obtained from investigation, study or instruction (2) News (3) Facts / Data”, while knowledge is “the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association”. Comparing both terms show us that a process is needed to access knowledge.
This is what research is. And to have a safe journey through it involves learning to navigate through that sea of information.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

As educators, our role is not anymore to feed students with pre-defined content: slowly but surely the ex-cathedra teaching model has become outdated. Nowadays learning to learn holds more validity than being able to recite facts. In 2016, Erika Andersen explained in a Harvard Business Review article that the concept of “Learning to Learn” is probably the new challenge for businesses wanting to remain competitive.

“Curiosity is what makes us try something until we can do it, or think about something until we understand it. ” (Andersen)

I enjoyed watching Diana Laufenberg TEDx Talk: How to learn? From mistakes. I could indeed relate to her personal experience as a younger student who, unlike her parents and grandparents, had access to printed encyclopedias at home: for the first time information, and therefore knowledge, was not only delivered at school by teachers who were the main keepers of knowledge. In my bedroom, I would often flick through a volume and read a couple of articles (and over the years I must have read most of them, if not all, in those thirty-something volumes!), and when I reached High School, I would look up for some background information before writing essays -my Belgian school didn’t have a library (!).
For Laufenberg, it is clear that as kids don’t have to come to school anymore to get information, the teacher’s new role – more of a mentor’s I would say – is to ask students what they can do with it, and accompany them through the process.

For teenagers, being “connected” is very natural as it has become part of their life. Parents and teachers often think that “hanging out’ with friends, and using new media is a waste of time, as the findings of the Digital Youth Project shows (Living with New Media, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation), but to teens, it is an essential part of everyday communication and part of their identity construction. Being engaged in new media practices in such a way is expanding their technology literacy.
This happens when they are “messing around’, which in this context means experimentation and exploration by looking around, searching for information online, play with gaming and/or digital media production. It requires interest-driven orientation, and usually take place within a social context that will allow sharing. At this stage, it is interesting to note that one of the goals of this three-year-long ethnographic study was to find out how practices are changing “the dynamics of youth-adult negotiations over literacy, learning and authoritative knowledge”. How should educators, in the broader meaning (parents, caregivers, teachers) adapt their teaching of the young?

Image by cev_91 from Pixabay

Digital technology, and social media, are part of our lives now, for better and, sometimes, for worse. These unlimited opportunities for communication, although asynchronous – allowing to think twice about what you are texting or posting, can sometimes slip: some children or teenagers can be confronted to harmful loss of privacy, bullying, child sexual abuse as the UNICEF report “Children in a Digital World” points out. Young people between 15 and 24 years-old represent the most connected age group with 71% worldwide being online vs. only 48% total population if all ages are included. One in three under 18 years-old are internet users, and children access the internet at an increasingly younger age.

This is the reason why teachers need to help students take ownership of their digital lives. Last year, Merve Lapus from Common Sense Media spent a few days at our school, The International School of Brussel meeting its administration, its students, parents, and faculty, and working closely with key actors, like librarians and technology integrators, to model Digital Citizenship lessons. ISB then started to pilot the Common Sense Media DC Curriculum during the 2019-20 School Year and will continue to integrate such lessons in order to help students to make smart choices online.
Another recent “hot” topic in the new media is Fake News, and we can, right now, observe an increase of false information during the COVID-19 pandemic, which “is putting [more] lives at risk” claims UN News. Internet users need to learn how to distinguish such fabricated news from legitimate ones. To help our Middle School students understand the many ways this term can be used and how to search for truth in an era of too many Fake News, last January, our school invited the Belgian journalist Tim Verheyden for a lecture on the topic followed by an interesting discussion with students.

7 Steps to IB Level Research @ The International School of Brussels

Leading students to develop a critical mind when it comes to research is indeed a crucial mission for all educators, including teacher-librarians of course! While it is very easy to do a Google search, finding reliable and academic-level information and use it ethically needs guidance and practice.

To lurk or not to lurk?

Image from Pixabay

Week 1 readings gave substance to the reason why I joined the COETAIL program. First of all, a lurker is not a word I was familiar with, so I checked its definition: ” In Internet culture, a lurker is typically a member of an online community or PLN who observes, but does not participate.”
Clearly, without knowing the word for it, I am a lurker (shame on me!). Can I be exempt or even forgiven: part of my job as a librarian is to look up for facts and teach students how to effectively research reliable information, and today it means scouting the online subscriptions and the World World Web.
Well, “part of my job” should give you a hint: nowadays the role of school libraries is constantly evolving and moving away, or at least expanding, from its traditional missions in order to meet students needs and to help them become fully equipped citizens in a rapidly changing digital environment. Libraries are becoming vibrant places where collaboration is natural, and the use of technology such as green screen filming equipment, sound recording… is encouraged if not required. Makerspaces are often part of libraries.
This is why it was enlighting to read about the different types of social media users in Online Personas: Who We Become When We Learn with Others Online (Lloyd, Skyring and Fraser), the main ones being mavens, connectors, and challengers. Interestingly, one individual can adopt different personas on social media depending on the context.

In 2020 students are immersed in technology use, both recreational and educational. As one can read in the first part of the Living with New Media (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) project, the immediacy and breadth of information they have, allow self-directed learning. The new media allow for some freedom and autonomy and can nurture motivation as efforts are self-directed. The outcome will emerge from exploration. It sounds clear that to be successful educators need to be able to provide these possibilities within the classroom.

So, To Lurk or not to Lurk?
Everyone has been a lurker at some point, if only as a newbie. The importance is to rapidly expand our role within the online media and becoming a connector.
As outlined by Cofino in her First Steps Toward Becoming a 21st Century Educator, the powers of web 2.0 technologies are fascinating and revealing as they will help teachers -who must remain learners- communicate, collaborate and connect with other educators, creating a network based on interest, skills and experience.

And when Utecht asks: What does it mean to disconnect?, he redirects the conversation to this essential aspect of the use of technology: are we consuming, using or creating?
So, in reality, he is not, as we might first think, referring to disconnecting from all “screens” but asking how we are interacting with technology. And stating that creating means an active mind at work, and the world need creators, innovators and problem-solvers.
And if our students need to be, so do we. So do I.

“Spending time with technology is not a bad thing… it is how you spend that time that counts” (Utecht)

Photo by Mael BALLAND on Unsplash

The image above shows how I feel at the beginning of this journey: I started the trip, climbed some steep steps, the most challenging part is still ahead, but I am looking up to the destination: the sky and trees waiting for me. And then at some point, somehow, you realize that the endpoint is not important: what is, is what you gain along the way, and how you continue to grow.

Hello from Brussels!

I am Christel, a French-speaking Belgian originally from Binche, a small medieval city famous for its Carnival, recognized as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. After 1 year in London to learn English and 10+ years in Brussels, we settled 20 km south of the capital city to raise our 2 children, who are now at university.

My work place feels like a second home to me as I have been at the International School of Brussels (ISB) for.. ever! Starting as a High School part-time Library Assistant 27 years ago, I am now a full-time Teacher-Librarian at the Middle and High School Library.

I joined Cohort 12 as I felt the need to upgrade the Educational Technology skills to keep up with the ever-changing role of school libraries, especially in the international context we are in.

I unfortunately fell behind in the course schedule… but eager to catch up the soonest! First step was to get myself a Twitter account so here it is: @Ch_Toilier
(as I have been using our library one so far!) ; the next thing will obviously be to go ahead and Tweet!!

Having already read a couple of my other Cohort 12 classmates’ blog post, I am very excited at finding out more about everyone’s different background and experiences.