Thursday, August 30, 2012

ebooks, ereaders and book suggestions

This newsletter was posted on Facebook by Islandtime Books and More -- an amazing independent bookstore on Washington Island in Wisconsin's Door County.  It is published for the book industry, but you can also sign up for a reader's edition, which is a twice weekly collection of book reviews.

Librarians and independent booksellers are often the best source of recommendations for books to read.  I am not going to talk about the length of my "to read" list on Goodreads -- but it is a long one.  I added to it today at another independent bookstore, Oshkosh's Apple Blossom Books, buying one book and adding another to my list -- which is showing restraint, really. 

I clicked on Shelf Awareness to follow the post on "Indie Booksellers as Agents of Social Change," but I read on to find most of the issue devoted to ebooks and ebook readers, not just here but internationally.  Of course, then I had to click on the "Readers" tab so I could add a few more books to my list.  Then I signed up to get the newsletter every day. 

Northport Pier headed towards Washington Island

Returning Ferry
Swans in Jackson Harbor, Washington Island, WI

Friday, August 24, 2012

Learning through folk songs

I had the great good fortune to attend Milwaukee's Irish Fest last weekend.  The event included all the joys of summer festivals -- food (including corn on the cob on a stick and a lot of variations on corned beef and potato themes),  people watching (most of them dressed in green), spectacle (tug of war, Celtic Canines),  culture (genealogy and Gaelic lessons) and amazing music.

 It is held on Milwaukee's Summer Fest grounds,  an ideal location for a summer music festival.  Some of the stages are set under the highway overpass, so I was able to send my nephew  pictures that included two of his favorite things:  acoustic speakers and bridges [he's studying Architectural Engineering] 

It is an impressive display of Irish-American Culture, and includes musicians from Ireland as well as the Irish Diaspora  -- this year's theme was the relationship to Bluegrass music, so there were a lot of banjos!. 

The stories told in folk songs and popular tales are always interesting to me, and, I think, educational.  This year, in addition to the songs I've heard often about leaving Ireland, I heard a few that were new to me  -- two about Irish soldiers fighting for the North in the American Civil War, and one written about tenement life in New York City near the turn of the twentieth century. 

What struck me in these songs was that they told a key but small part of United States history, and that it is very important that we as a community and a nation remember that we are all immigrants

With the exception of Native Americans, many of whom also experienced forced migration and relocation to other parts of our vast country, all of our ancestors came to the United States from somewhere else.  Not all driven by poverty, but most driven and shaped by events beyond their control.

The American Folklore Theater in Fish Creek, WI, is just finishing their outdoor season this week.  They do original musicals, usually with Wisconsin themes.  This year featured an historical musical, Victory Farm, about World War II German prisoners of war who are sent to work on a Door County cherry farm.  Their presence provokes complex reactions for the German-American farm wife and daughter who are struggling to get in the cherry harvest -- after the death of the head of their family in the war. 

It's a great play, and I hope it will be performed often.  It has its lighthearted musical moments as well -- the company is known for their comedy -- but that is not what I remember most clearly about it.  The indelible impression at the end of the play is of the humanity all the characters share -- including their love of music, family, and home.

Did you attend any cultural events this summer that celebrated different strands of our culture contributed by "hyphenated Americans"?  What's your favorite food -- and how did it become part of our culture?  My heritage is Irish, Scots, Welsh, English, and Canadian, but I would have long ago starved to death if it were not for the contributions of Italian and Mexican Americans to our food heritage.

People have used a lot of metaphors for our collective culture here in the United States, but I like to think of it as a tapestry -- where each strand of different colored thread contributes to the whole picture -- and enhances the colors that are its neighbors.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"They're playing Scrabble!"

"Can you please get the dictionary unblocked," our student assistant implores, waving his iPhone for emphasis.  "They're playing Scrabble online all over the school!"  Access to the the wireless networks, faster computers, and more liberal technology policies in general are his thing.  "I've already filled out the form to unblock Merriam-Webster online," I say, " last week, when I posted it as a source for 'Word of the Week.'  It has word games on the site, so it was blocked for that."  "I'm telling you, Scrabble is the new big thing.  People are arguing about it in class!"  "I believe you," I say. "That's great." He is still waving his iPhone.  "That's what students are doing with their wireless access.  Learning vocabulary.  Arguing about Scrabble!"
"I'm on your side," I say.

That was two years ago, when I was working part time in a high school library.  The school district had just installed wireless access in all the schools, and decided to allow high school students to have their phones with them to use between classes and and during free hours.  

The two most common issues discussed in schools seemed to me to be "why don't we have enough computers for everyone" and "how can we keep them off their cell phones?"  I see a relationship between the two problems, and a solution -- but the solution requires trust. 

Optical illusion
Trust, and education -- on ethical behavior, appropriate use of technology, and respect.  It also requires an even larger infrastructure and equipment expenditure, in wireless wiring and server capacity, and in portable devices for students who don't have their own.  It is not an inconsiderable expense.

There are risks, as well -- will students use technology to cheat?  Will there be an increase in cyber-bullying?   What will happen if the students know things that their teachers don't?

In this American Libraries article, "A Tale of Two Students," the authors assume that students in a technology rich environment have an advantage over students in a less technology laden environment. I agree with them.  I was concerned to see that the first two people who commented didn't agree, and even made fun of the authors' list of technology applications. 

Why?  Why does technology seem to inspire contempt or fear?  Is it just the exponential growth in technology, so that it is hard to keep up and hard to understand?  Have the dangers been exaggerated?

Spring Thaw, Peninsula State Park

When I first began teaching faculty about the Internet,  I used to say "It's a tool.  Like fire."  Yes, there are dangers, but, equally, there are amazing possibilities.  And it is possible to learn to use it safely. 

It is also now an integral part of our lives, especially our business lives.  It is not possible to conduct a job search without using technology, and there are few jobs without some computer applications.  Even the local coffee shop uses a computerized cash register, and  the newest restaurant in my small town presents your credit card bill on an iPAD and emails you the receipt. 

The research on both cyberbullying and cheating is new and incomplete.  A recent report says that cyberbullying may not be as widespread as previously reported "Researchers: Cyberbullying Not as Widespread, Common as Believed"  [Click on "the research" link in the article to read the original study].  In his review of the literature on cheating in an online environment, "A New Honesty for a New Game: Distinguishing Cheating from Learning in a Web-Based Testing Environment," the author suggests that we many have to look at how we assess learning and make changes based on the online environment, rather than trying to make the new environment conform to our ideas formed in a different environment.  [Turner, Charles C. "A New Honesty For A New Game: Distinguishing Cheating From Learning In A Web-Based Testing Environment." Journal Of Political Science Education 1.2 (2005): 163-174. Education Research Complete. Web. 15 Aug. 2012.]

I believe in teaching students to use technology effectively and ethically, and making it as available to them as possible.  The only thing we know for sure about the future of education is that we are living with rapid change, and that we have to somehow prepare students for a new and evolving world.  They need to know, not how to use a specific type of hardware or software, but how to approach learning and adapting to new technologies quickly.  They need to have basic knowledge of all the traditional subjects -- but they need to be able to find, evaluate, and apply new knowledge across disciplines.  A system firmly rooted in 19th Century models is not going to work, and the best teachers and administrators know that, and are working to find models of change that will work for our students.

A box of rocks invites creativity at Edgewood Galleries outdoor sculpture garden.

How can we create an environment and an infrastructure that provides the opportunity for education to all students?  How can we convince people that an educated workforce and voting public is important to everyone in our society -- even though there is a cost associated with high quality education? 

We have some ideas about where we need to go:    Education for Life and Work:  Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century.  We need a lot of innovative and risk-taking ideas about how to get there -- and we need to trust both our educators and our students. 

Shadows on the sand

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

An alumna returns to. . . the library, of course

Writing from study carrel 5749A, Northwestern University Library, 5th Floor South (aka "5 Green"). 

The approach from the South, gardens beside the Deering Library

Actually, the student assistant who gave me my computer password wrote "alumni" on her form, so that's what I entered on my guest log in as well;  so today I am a collective noun.  Probably I am representative of the group, since I came seeking both nostalgia and inspiration -- and to see what has changed.

Approach from the north -- the new library and the Deering Library

South Tower Stacks

Study Carrel

The carpet on the 5th floor is still green, though I'm happy to say that it is not the same carpet that was here when I was in school.  It also appears to be ecologically green, in that it is made up of replaceable squares, though I imagine that is true in the 'red' and 'gold' towers as well.  There is no west tower -- don't look for it -- though in the imaginations of those devising pledge pranks, it has blue carpet. 
North (Gold) Tower
 Digression. . . it's an art form.  It has taken me several hours to get from the first floor to the fifth, in part because I was taking photos, and in part because I allowed myself to be distracted by the "new acquisitions alcove."  That has an element of nostalgia, too -- I loved the new book display (then in a different location) as an undergraduate, and I loved the new book shelf in UNC's Library School library -- and I like the new book section of my public library.  The appeal is it's a library in miniature -- all the subjects, in manageable numbers.  Northwestern does not keep its dust jackets nor wrap its books in plastic, but they have used the book jackets to market the new books, so you find the book near its cover on the shelves.  After all, a lot of money goes into book marketing and design -- why not use it? 
New Acquisitions Alcove

New books!!!!!                 
I am drawn in, and I find a lot of books that I am interested in.  Actually, I'd like to read most of them, but I make a selection.  Then I sit down in the comfy chairs and read the introductions to see if they are actually as interesting as those cover artists and title writers suggested.  They are, and I copy the ISBN numbers into Goodreads,  to my "to-read" shelf, which has a lot of books on it already. I love the search and scan features of the web site, since I've spent a lifetime copying ISBN numbers on the edges of bookmarks and other pieces of scrap paper in lots of book stores.   I'm proud of my use of technology and that I was actually able to move on -- to lunch at the Plaza Cafe (a brilliant re-imagining of space that had been intended as a 2nd entrance to the library but which never worked for that purpose.   In  part, staffing two entrances was a problem, and in part because, with only one building to the east of the library, there was no natural foot traffic from that direction.)

Plaza garden (a replacement for the original fountain and an end, I hope, to leaks into the library)
One of the many interesting things that Jonathan Kozol said about libraries in his article:  The Other America: giving our poorest children the same opportunities as our richest,  is that they should be beautiful, and inviting.  He goes on to say that most school libraries are not either one in our poorer schools.  I came to
Now the Cultural Center, this was Chicago's Central Library 
Northwestern as a scholarship student, but my Chicago Public Schools had decent libraries, and teacher-librarians.  Furthermore, I came from a family that valued education above all else.  I was taken to the Chicago Public Library at a young age, and had the great good fortune to have a sixth grade teacher and a public librarian who introduced us to the basics of research through a series of weekly lessons.  To complete our final project, we had to take ourselves to Chicago's Central Library (then on Michigan Avenue).  We learned a lot about research, but we also learned that an amazing piece of architecture, dedicated to books and learning, belonged to us.

I have now whiled away a lot of time here at the library -- enjoying the pleasure of reading and thinking about new ideas -- learning for its own sake.  I will return, at least in this space,  to the library to discuss what is the same and what is different -- and what important lessons lurk in the Kozol article.

First floor learning commons:  where the card catalog once stood


Fortune Cookie

Information is not knowledge.
Knowledge is not wisdom.
Wisdom is not truth.
Truth is not beauty.
Beauty is not love.
Love is not music.
Music is the best.
Frank Zappa