School libraries in the digital age

Amy Icke reports from the International Association of School Librarians (IASL) conference held in Japan.

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4. Teaching digital literacies and getting students work ready

The fourth overarching theme of the conference was the relationship between education and the world of work. In the UK press recently we have seen headlines highlighting the digital skills gap. Acutely aware of the changing digital landscape, librarians are well placed to support the digital skills agenda in schools. 

An interesting approach to teaching digital literacies was explored by Ross Todd and Virgilio Medina. They had been working on a project auditing students’ digital literacy skills and began by asking the questions, “What is stopping pupils from achieving their potential?” and “What digital skills do they need to do so?” Their project acknowledged from the outset that educators may not know how or why students engage with the digital world and how they understand their own competences in this area. 

When gathering data, they used questions developed by The Open University’s “Being digital: skills for life online.” “Being digital” is a collection of short, easy to follow activities designed to help students evaluate their skills in the following areas: searching efficiently; critically evaluating information; communicating and sharing online; and selecting the right online tool. Carrying out this sort of audit encourages students to be reflective learners, and practitioners to base interventions on evidence based practice. From the students’ responses, Todd and Medina identified a few common difficulties and challenges: 

  • Students struggle to evaluate information and engage with it critically
  • Students were unsure of whether websites were safe and had difficulty managing digital disruptions and transfers
  • Students found it difficult to organise and synthesise information once they’d found it online

By looking at student responses, a competency framework was developed to reflect the students’ concerns. This framework contained advice and information about:

  • Intellectual property
  • Information organisation and synthesis
  • Digital reading
  • Effective research processes
  • Internet safety

By auditing students’ skills, a more focused and relevant digital literary programme was developed with targeted interventions. This approach is one way of adapting more traditional information literacy training, based around a more rigid and linear programme of skills development. Initial evaluations of the scheme suggest it has been successful and Todd and Medina are continuing trials over the coming year. 

Liselott Drejstam, a school librarian working in a primary school in Sweden, described a number of digital projects being implemented to develop students’ digital skills from an early age. Drejstam explained that all educators in her area were encouraged to use digital tools in a variety of ways including for subject development, write to read tasks and to develop computational thinking. There is also widespread recognition that school libraries and librarians are an important resource in schools becoming more digitally literate and confident.

One of the key projects Drejstam spoke about was the establishment of the platform SkolArena, a website where you can search across databases and upload student work to curate digital collections. This had been particularly successful because access to resources became much easier, and it also allowed the school to more readily share students’ work with parents and the wider school community. 

The presentations addressing digital literacy encouraged me to think about forming partnerships with school careers teams and employers to ensure students are well equipped to enter the increasingly competitive and digitally reliant workplace.

My trip was funded by UKeiG (through their Early Career Award) and with funding secured from the John Campbell Bursary Trust. I am very grateful to both organisations for supporting my trip. I would wholeheartedly recommend IASL.  IASL 2017 is being held in California (more information here

Amy Icke is the Digital Learning Platform Manager at The Girls’ Day School Trust, a network of twenty-four schools and two academies across England and Wales. In her role she supports teachers and pupils in the effective use of digital learning platforms and tools and designs and delivers training.  She is the winner of UKeiG’s Early Career Award in 2015.

This is an edited version of an article recently published on eLucidate, the OA online journal of UKeiG – a special interest group of CILIP. 


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