Reflections from the 2014 #edchatnz Conference (Guest Posts)

edchatnzEarlier this year Mr Matt Nicoll started introducing a wider group of staff at St Andrew’s College to Twitter, and how they could use this as an expanded Professional Learning Network (PLN) to support their teaching practice. As part of this, he introduced them to the fortnightly #edchatnz “teacher chat” which is sometimes referred to as “PD in your PJs” since it runs between 8:30-9:30pm on a Thursday night.

edchatNZ MissionsAs wider momentum built nationally behind this regular chat, plans for a conference grew, coming to fruition over the 8-9th of August at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. Matt Nicoll was part of the #edchatnz organising committee, and St Andrew’s College sent ten staff to attend this, a mixture of Preparatory and Secondary teachers and our Library Manager. They all committed to blogging some reflections and you can see them in their entirety here. I have selected just a few observations to include below:

Vicki Pettit – Head of Learning Preparatory School:

Mrs Pettit started with a tour of Hobsonville Point Primary and reflected:

From hearing all the talk about modern learning environments it was great to see one in action [at Hobsonville Point Primary] … What we saw continually reinforced by staff and students at HPPS was the students being at the centre of the learning … Learning is visible and by visible, all stages of the planning and process are displayed as you move around the different spaces … It was interesting to talk to the students and hear them articulate where they are at in the learning process.

She went on to reflect about how personalisation of learning is instrumental:

Personalised learning in Action and lies in designing a curriculum that truly engages the learner. And of course to do that, personalisation is the key. Would your students still come to school, or to your class in they didn’t have to? The answer should be a resounding “YES” … A great two days spent with an inspiring group of educators!

Ben Hilliam – Maths and Statistics Teacher:

Like Mrs Petitt, Mr Hilliam started out with a tour, but this time it was of the brand new Hobsonville Point secondary school. He observed:

The campus is unlike any secondary campus I have ever visited. It is built to accommodate 1350 day students, but currently it has a roll of around 120 year 9s … The feel of the building is much more in line with what a modern library, university campus or software development company office might feel like. It is physically set up to encourage openness and collaboration …

The potential challenges of teaching in an environment like this was not lost on him, but there was abundant evidence that learning was taking place:

There are no classrooms, form-groups, timetables, bells, periods or subjects. As a teacher from a ‘traditional’ school, the question begs, how on earth does anything get learnt?! (or taught) … Yet, despite the apparent lack of structure, the year 9s were busy doing all sorts of things. The walls were covered with examples of student work … What struck me a lot within the way students self-direct themselves was the way they are encouraged to be self-aware of their goals and what they will have to do along the way to achieve them.

This final comment is telling in terms of the emphasis placed on students to be responsible for their own learning:

Such a pedagogical structure places massive amount of responsibility on the individual student. This is not a fact lost on the staff at Hobsonville Point.

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Promoting Reading With eBooks & OverDrive

A selection of eBook titles available through OverDrive with St Andrew's College

A selection of eBook titles available through OverDrive with St Andrew’s College

I took the opportunity in the last week of Term 2 to sit down with Cathy Kennedy, the Library Manager at St Andrew’s College, and discuss the implementation of eBooks in the College libraries. Having personally used various eBook readers, from Kindles to iPads, I was keen to learn more about the journey to arrive at the current solution in place.

Due to the length of this post you may want to skip down to the various sections below which include:

  • Background
  • Launch
  • Benefits of OverDrive
  • Challenges
  • Uptake amongst students
  • Promoting eBooks at the College
  • Conclusion

Background:

Since around 2010 Cathy had been closely watching the development of eBooks and was always keen to introduce them to the students here at St Andrew’s, however it was not until OverDrive came to Australasia and offered a package targeted at schools that it became truly viable. Prior to this, there had been other vendors but they were too expensive and their solutions were still really in their infancy and not easy to implement. OverDrive was an obvious choice because:

  • It already had massive market share in the public library sector
  • The option existed to form a “consortium” with other schools and combine your respective eBook libraries to increase the size of the total collection
  • It combined with our existing Library Management System “Oliver” from Softlink meaning that there was only one platform from which students could access all their books, in both paper and electronic formats.
  • Audiobooks were supported and could be accessed by our students in the same way as eBooks.
  • Fantastic support materials, both technically and from a promotional perspective, with posters and videos to help our students use the system easily.

After enquiring about other schools in Christchurch that might be interested in setting up a consortium and sharing eBook collections, Cathy found there were no equivalent Year 1-13 schools keen to partner and so she decided to go it alone in Term 3, 2013.

Launch:

Deciding on a “soft launch” first, the new eBook library was introduced to staff only in Term 4, 2013, before students were given access to the full collection in Term 1, 2014. Now six months on, Cathy is satisfied with the decision to go it alone and not partner with another school, as it has allowed her greater control over the selection of titles in the growing library. Interestingly, she did comment that:

For smaller schools, the appeal of a consortium must be very high, as the price of entry into eBooks is not cheap. To be able to quickly grow your catalogue with another school would make it significantly more affordable.

Benefits of OverDrive:

A shot of the interface used by the Library to help identify potential new eBook Purchases.

A shot of the interface used by the Library to help identify potential new eBook Purchases.

One of the biggest drawcards for using OverDrive is the wide range of publishers that are supported, allowing the library to select from a massive number of titles. The pricing model is based on an annual subscription, half of which covers the support of the platform itself, and the other half is credit towards eBook purchases for that year. I thought this was a rather smart “hook” by OverDrive to guarantee a minimum number of eBook purchases by schools each year, whilst it does meant that the students benefit from a continual supply of new titles.

To assist with the selection of new titles, the interface used by the Librarians shows a “Top 200” titles in various categories that we currently do not own (see screenshot on the right). From this, it’s easy to sort through Young Adult, Fiction, Audiobooks etc to locate popular titles that could be added the collection.

OverDrive supports two formats for eBooks

  • OverDrive Read: allowing a user to read the eBook directly within the web browser on their device
  • ePub: one of the more established eBook formats on the internet and supported by apps on tablets and smart phones and requires the use of Adobe Digital Editions

Additionally, OverDrive eBooks can be read on most common eBook readers including iPads and Nooks, with the major omission currently being the Amazon Kindle. This is being supported in the Northern Hemisphere and Cathy is hopeful that support for the Kindle may be available in 2015. Student laptops can also be used to read eBooks on as well.

As mentioned earlier, the integration with Oliver was crucial as this makes it easy for students to find any title, printed or electronic, from the one platform. An upgrade is planned to support “ezread” which will allow students to borrow eBooks directly from Oliver, without the need to be redirected to OverDrive.

Logging into OverDrive from an iPad and being asked for standard username/password

Logging into OverDrive from an iPad and being asked for standard username/password

Furthermore, both Oliver and OverDrive support Single Sign On (SSO), allowing students to use their existing username and password to authenticate to the systems to borrow books. This allows us to restrict younger students from accessing content intended for senior students, as our students are grouped by Year Level.

This level of integration is becoming an increasing requirement for third party products that we look to deploy into the College, as it allows for centralised management of student data and avoids issues of students forgetting their passwords and being dependent on a third party to reset and provide to them.

 

Challenges:

One of the biggest challenges being experienced is the need to continue to provide new titles in both formats: paper and eBook. Students and staff have not yet fully accepted that a title may only be available in one format or the other, meaning that new titles are effectively being purchased twice. Cathy’s end goal is very clear however: for borrowers to be comfortable reading a title in either format, meaning she only needs to purchase it in one format or the other. Continue reading