Embedded Librarianship with Google Apps

“Collaboration doesn’t look the same for all teachers.”

--Rebbecca (Becky) Nelsen, Principal Warder Elementary, Jefferson County Schools, Colorado.

I think about Becky’s advice when considering my approach to teacher/librarian collaborations. This one piece of advice made me realize that as a 21st Century teacher-librarian, I can’t just hope that contextually relevant opportunities will come along and that I will get a chance to share my research expertise and demonstrate how to use databases. I have to be proactive and find ways to inject and embed my expertise into the teachers routines in a way that both compliments the teachers’ learning objectives and also establishes my brand as an information professional. Google Apps Edu has provided me with a way to achieve this goal.

The Opportunity
My school, Flagstaff Academy, has been a Google Apps Edu school since 2009. Staff and students have integrated Google Docs into their work flow. Assignments are routinely distributed via Google Docs (as shared docs or templates) and the staff are aware of the collaborative power of Google Docs. However, just this year I realized that collaboration in Google Docs isn’t limited to co-writing, editing, and commenting in documents. You could also embed instructions, directions, tips, and hints at the point-of-need, interactively with the student!

Making It Work!
I needed a project to flesh this out...Ah, ha! Our 5th grade team requires students to conduct a weekly “A to Z” home work assignment. Every week, students answer a specific set of questions that include a topic that begins with that letter of the alphabet.

Many of parent volunteers in the Library Media Center (LMC) are also happen to be 5th grade moms. I heard first hand about their frustration helping their students conduct their “A to Z” research: The student didn’t know where to go to find facts and they didn’t know if what they found was credible. I noticed that the students would type in entire questions to Google and just use whatever came up in the first three results. And they had no clue whatsoever about Creative Commons (CC) licenses or, for that matter, any copyright/ownership issues.

Even though I demonstrate Safe Searching Resources to students during LMC orientations and conduct parent workshops that highlight our databases and Pathfinders including how easy it is to locate targeted facts, built-in citation features, and how to use the CC Image Searching page on the LMCWiki, they were always very surprised that these resources existed.

Parents and students that came into the LMC to work on “A to Z” would benefit from my guidance and suggestions. However, this was hit or miss at best. I had to think of a way to equitably share my expertise with parents and students at the point-of-need. That’s when I decided to create LMCTips (Library Media Center) and Hints and embed them directly in the A to Z assignment.

I asked the 5th grade team lead, Mrs. Burnett, to share the “A to Z” weekly assignments with me. The assignment was a Google Doc that each 5th grade teacher publishes as a page to their website. Burnett gave me edit rights to the page so whatever I added would automatically update to the web page/assignment. I completely re-branded the A to Z assignment, adding a logo to the assignment page, specific directions on how a student could use Safe Searching Resources to locate data, and information that would help them find facts and formulate answers for that week’s letter.

Contextual Relevance & Teacher Support
In addition to adding LMCTips and hints, the 5th grade team also scheduled class visits in the LMC for letters B-D so I could introduce how LMCTips worked within the document and model Safe Searching resource features and benefits. These benefits included:

* accessing the LMCWiki (Safe Searching portal--one-stop-shopping)
* reviewing passwords for databases
* modeling the difference between searching on Google and from a database
* recognizing and developing keywords
* discussing MLA7 citation format and the importance of citing sources
* demonstrating how Google finds results (ranking vs. filtering)
* locating citations in databases and demoing citation builders

The teachers were present for every session and were adamant that students use the LMCTips, hints, and Safe Searching Resources for “A to Z”. Students were not allowed to site Google as a source. Ms. Burnett created an “A to Z” citation log that students are required to use to cite all the sources they used for that week’s letter. I embedded sample citations, a link to the Easybib MLA7 citation guide, and links to popular citation builders into the citation log. All citations must adhere to MLA7 format and if a student uses an open website from our Pathfinders they must cite the source using a citation builder to create an accurate MLA7 citation.

The LMCTips has also provided an opportunity to virtually model searching for students. If they repeat the steps outlined in the LMCTips, it’s as if I am sitting next to them showing them how to search more efficiently!

Who Says We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges?
To further motivate students to follow the LMCTips, I created a series of virtual badges that students can earn to demonstrate their Safe Searching (database) proficiency. I embed an image of the badge into the “A to Z” assignment page. These badges really got the students’ attention! To earn a badge, students share their citation logs with the teacher and it is up to the teacher on whether or not a student has followed the LMCTips and earned their badge. Once a student or class earns a badge, the teacher posts the badge to their web site and students can also post it to their personal web sites.

Bring on the Cynics!
I was delighted when a student told me during a class A to Z session, “I used an LMCTip but couldn’t locate anything helpful!” I ask then to show me what they did: Did they follow the tip directions? Did they read the result snippets? Did they click on the right result(s)? And so on. So many questions! 100% of the time the student didn’t follow the directions and they used Google.

Working with the 5th grade team, we took a routine weekly fact finding assignment and cranked it up a notch by adding specific search skill tips and providing an incentive by way of virtual badges. According to Burnett, “The fifth grade team has greatly appreciated Zoe's work on improving the quality of research for our ‘A to Z’ project. She provides the students with resources that help them learn in a fun and engaging manner.” Another 5th grade teacher added, “The students have LOVED the resources that are added to the ‘A-Z’ assignments. They are able to find more meaningful and useful information by using these credible sites.”

Parents have communicated to teachers that are using LMCTips to help direct their students. And, in the process, parents are learning the value of our Safe Searching resources and encouraging their students to use those resources first before heading to Google. One parent told me, “I get it, you don’t want us to start with Google.” And, “What fantastic information. I never realized we had access to such a vast spectrum of resources!” Burnett and I are already planning on conducting “A to Z” Safe Searching workshops for parents at the beginning of next year so we can introduce parents to our virtual collection of databases and ebooks before students begin their "A to Z" research efforts.

Below are some student quotes about LMCTips:

“I love LMCTips because instead of being worried out of my head trying to figure to find info the LMCTips keep me cool & right on track!!--Laura

“They [LMCTips] help you get your ‘A-Z’ done quick & easy.”--Alak

“I like the LMCTips because instead of looking every where I can just got straight to the perfect spot.” --Brinley

“The LMCTips help a lot by telling you some keywords and hints.”--Andrew

It Works!
I am embedding tips directly into assignments and rubrics created in Google Docs (Docs, Spreadsheets, and Presentation) that are shared with students or published as web pages on teachers’ websites. I have also developed a suite of Google Docs templates for middle school students to use for their STEM Fair research process that include embedded instructions on how to create publication quality formatted documents, and how to avoid cut and paste plagiarism. 5-8 grade students are using an eNotecard template I created in Google Presentation that includes sample note cards that students can duplicate and a keyword searching slide where students can list keywords and concepts as they research. Students share their eNotecards with me and I comment or offer tips on their notes, provide more keywords, and send them direct links to database articles and additional resources.

I am not waiting for teachers to schedule flex time to collaborate. I am actively seeking out ways to embed my expertise and our collection of virtual resources into the fabric of an assignment or unit of study. Google Apps allows teacher-librarians to reach out to teachers, students, and parents in a relevant and timely way--when they need the help, when they are open to it, and will use it.

Follow the links to view a sampling of A to Z LMCTips, Safe Searching Badges, and eNotecard template:
Letter D
Letter E
Letter F
Letter I
Letter M
eNotecard Template

--Thanks @buffyjhamilton for all the encouragement and validation.