Saturday, April 19, 2014

Librarians as Leaders in Interactive Educational Apps

One of the weekly Twitter chats I enjoy participating in when time permits is the #storyappchat on Sundays This chat has given me the chance to connect with app developers, authors and illustrators, and talented librarians. It's also provided me with the opportunity to learn about identifying quality educational apps for children and finding ways to use them as a supplemental tool in school libraries and classrooms.

In the most recent #storyappchat, hosted by Heather Shugar from the Diapered Daze and Knights blog (@DiaperedKnights on Twitter), we discussed how to bring more attention to interactive educational apps. If you go back through the entire chat archive which was curated by Brooks Jones (@brooks_jones), you will see that both authors/content creators and librarians are concerned with separating the "fluff" apps from those that truly provide an interactive learning experience while promoting literacy. Another concern is finding ways to reach out to educators and assisting them in using interactive educational apps to enhance the learning experience.

Eventually the discussion turned to professional development for teachers to help them understand the benefits of using interactive apps to promote literacy inside and outside schools. At one point, a participant suggested that experts from the tech industry train teachers on using interactive educational apps which, in my opinion, is an illustration of how the role of librarians has changed since the development of Web 2.0 technologies and the public's inability to recognize (or rather, accept?) this change.

Granted, I can see how someone would think of a technology expert (read: coder, or programmer) as the solution to this problem. After all, they are the ones creating the coding for the apps. But as I said in the following tweet, coders focus on the functionality and aren't necessarily skilled in professional development:

Furthermore, coders are so involved with the development of the app that they have trouble identifying areas that need additional work in order to make an app user-friendly. This is why there are beta testers - to see how functional and easy-to-use an app is for the end user. The beta testers then provide feedback to those who are writing the code, commenting on its functionality and ease of use. This relationship between creator and beta tester isn't just a gimmick to promote new apps; it's a way to identify areas of weakness and improve the product.

Despite public opinion, librarians are no longer keepers of books. We work with technology on a daily basis as it is now a huge component of our job. We are familiar with the user experience because we have learned to think like library patrons. In fact, Cen Campbell (@LittleLit) of LittleeLit stated it best:

Cen is exactly right. We do have core principals in librarianship that can and are applied to multiple formats, including print and digital. Whereas many uninformed people think the role of the librarian is diminished due to the growing role technology is playing in our lives, the fact is that librarians have adapted to advances in technology and are taking advantage of  what the rapidly developing advancements in technology can do to help our patrons. A large part of our job as information professionals is identifying weaknesses in our collections - be they virtual or physical - and working to strengthen those weaknesses in order to meet the information needs of our patrons. In other words, schools do not need to invest in experts from the technology industry in order to provide training to their teachers. All they need to do is enlist the expertise of their school or public librarian. 

Furthermore, our responsibility as librarians is to become familiar with the communities we serve, understand what their needs are, and identify ways to meet those needs. Tech experts, on the other hand, aren't familiar with individual communities and don't need to worry about meeting the information needs of the people using the apps. They are only concerned that the app functions. In school settings, the librarian is also a curriculum expert, which means he/she can identify apps that support the curriculum.

All this is not to say that technology experts don't have a place in professional development for teachers when it comes to using apps in the classroom. After all, they are familiar with the features of the apps they have created and can offer insight into the functionality. But as for finding practical uses for an app, that should rely upon the librarian, who is more skilled at evaluating apps with a fresh set of eyes and knows his/her patrons.

Thankfully librarians have resources like LittleeLit which provide training workshops for librarians, who in turn, provide professional development to colleagues and teachers. 

Suggested Reading:
In Defense of e-Books by Heather Shugar

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