21 Century Learner Toolbox: EasyBib.com

easybib_2One of my goals this year as GA’s media specialist is to equip students with various Web 2.0 tools and skills that they can apply to their everyday learning and information needs.  The idea is they will take what they learn in the computer lab/library and use it in other areas in and out of school — whether it’s writing a history paper, finishing a multimedia presentation for another teacher, or researching the latest tech toy to hit the market.

One of the tools we’ve been using in the Academy is EasyBib.com, a free website that helps students generate citations in MLA, APA, and Chicago formats for their bibliography page. By doing a little detective work (e.g. who’s the author of the information, when was this information published, etc.), students can easily and quickly cite anything from web pages and books to video recordings and magazine/database articles.  Citations can be saved when students sign in with their G+ accounts, and even shared with collaborators in a group project!  This is a relevant skill for the 21st century learner since we consistently remind students to practice the responsible and ethical use of information (AASL Learning Standards 1.3.3, 2.3.3, 3.1.6, 4.3.4).  By citing resources they have used during the research process, students not only give due credit to the sources of their information, but enable themselves (and their readers!) to access that information in the future.


Let’s Talk About Abandonment…

It seems like there’s an unspoken rule in the library world about abandoning books, that even if you truly dislike a book, you finish it.  After all, that’s what we tell our students, our own children — once you commit to something, you finish…if you stick with it, you might end up enjoying it at the end…we persevere, we don’t quit.

So here’s the thing, in the last few months, I’ve abandoned a couple of books that everyone (professional reviews, book bloggers, friends, etc.) said that I “must read”.  I have abandoned them with dramatic THUNKS…like, literally, I have flung them on my floor in front of my impressionable kids and declared, “Oh, honey, that’s IT!  I am DONE with this!”  And so far, not only have the Library Gods not come and stripped me of my MLIS title, but precious time has been freed for me to take on other books.

Listen, I am not saying we should make abandoning books into a habit, and I am open to the idea of re-reading these books in the future — I might love them in a different time, a different mood.  But I realized it’s okay to give myself — and my kids — the permission to say “No, maybe later…or maybe not ever” to a book once in a while, even if they happened to be award-winners or classics or on someone’s best-sellers list.  Because at the end of the day, reading shouldn’t seem like a chore or something you dread.  It should bring you lots of joy and anticipation instead.

Without further ado, here are a couple of books I bravely left behind this year…don’t judge me.



Assessing Collaboration

Starting in February, 3rd through 5th graders were put into groups of 3 or 4 to collaborate on author studies.  They were given guidelines on what information they need to include in their final presentations, and groups were given graphic organizers to take notes on.  I taught a lesson on collaborating using Google Slides, where group leaders have to create the initial document and share it with group members using school email addresses. Group leaders also have to work with their members to figure out who will work on each slide: one introducing the author, one on his/her life, one on his/her writing, etc.

Group Assignments: I made up the groups based on what I know about the students’ personalities and performance.  Though the students groaned a little about not being able to work with their friends, I wanted each group to have a good mix of high and low kids. Because there is a considerable ELL population at the school, I also made sure they didn’t end up in their own group.

Working in Google Slides: Setting up the project in Google Slides proved to be a big learning curve for the students, even for those who are usually tech-savvy. We also ran into problems where students were working outside their assigned slides, or deleting them accidentally/on purpose. Even though Google apps have a “See revision history” function that allowed us to restore lost work, it still created some tension among the students. This was a good way for students to learn what it’s like to collaborate in the “real world”: they needed to be responsible and accountable not only to and for themselves but to and for their teammates as well.  In the real world, even if honest mistakes can be reverted, one still has to deal with possible repercussions.

Group Dynamics: Because students did not get to choose their teammates, certain groups worked more effectively than others. I allowed students to decide their roles on their own based on how confident they are about their abilities to create and share Google Slides, as well as their ability to lead other group members.  For the most part, the natural leaders of each group emerged and were able to help their members stay on task effectively.  Some groups, on the other hand, did not work well together at all, and the constant battle within the group are clearly reflected in their finished products/presentations. There is usually a lack of content, effort, and cohesiveness.

As we come to the end of this group project, I posted a survey in Google Classroom for each of the students to complete. I am hoping that this final piece of the assignment will not only give me insight as to the success (or lack thereof) of their collaboration process, but also allow the students to assess their own contribution (or lack thereof) to this experience.  Findings will be posted soon!


For more on assessing collaboration, see:

Siko, Jason. “Assessing Collaboration: More Than Just Lip Service.”MACUL Journal Winter 36.2 (2016): 8-9. Web.

Lesson Plan: Resources in the Virtual Library

This is a lesson plan I created for a class at the technical college I work at.  The full-time librarian and I have noticed a lack of information literacy skills in the adult students (see my previous post about this), and we are making a concerted effort to collaborate with the instructors to incorporate these skills into the classroom.  For this class, the students are working on a project in which they have to create a database from scratch, using what they have learned in class, through their textbook, and articles they can access through the school’s virtual library, which most of the students are unfamiliar with and reluctant to try (of course, they prefer Google!).  The plan is shown below; depending on how the students are able to follow along, I might have to visit the class a second time.  Fingers crossed that it goes well!

Resources in the Virtual Library

Project: To create a database that tracks faculty and staff computers and software.

Learning Objectives:

  • To familiarize students with the Virtual Library and identify types of resources available.
  • To locate resources in the Virtual Library that will help students with database building/development.
  • To practice using the citation tool in databases.
  • To encourage collaboration through use of Google Docs.


  • XML document
  • XPath statements
  • XML schemas
  • normalized logical database design
  • Microsoft Visio
  • MySQL
  • database queries
  • jQuery
  • relational databases

Activity (demo this first, then have students try it on their own)

  • Open up Google Doc created for this class. [Link not included here]
  • Have students pair up with a partner.  Assign one of the keywords.
  • Conducting searches in the Virtual Library:
  1. In another tab or window, log onto the Virtual Library.
  2. In the Basic Search field, type in your search term, then scan the first page of your results.
  3. Click on a resource that you think will be relevant to your project. This will take you to the Detailed Record page.
  4. On the right of your screen, click Cite, then scroll to find the APA citation style.
  5. Highlight the citation (triple-click), then press Ctrl+C to copy. Navigate back to the result list.
  6. Switch to the window that has the shared Google Doc open.  Paste this citation into the Google Doc under references.
  7. Repeat until each pair has located and cited at least 3 resources and transferred them into the Google Doc.


  • Students might end up with same resources — this is okay since many of these keywords are related!
  • Students might have to go to the second page of results to find something relevant, or revise their initial search to find relevant resources.

mLearning in Schools

Here’s the presentation my colleague Jason Sharp and I created for our IS 585 Information Technologies class.  Topics covered include:

  • Definition and scope of mLearning
  • Advantages and disadvantages of mLearning
  • Types of technologies and software available on the market
  • Criteria for selecting technologies and software
  • Impact of mLearning on students, teachers, and other stakeholders

Here are some case studies we came across illustrating the impact of mLearning on test scores and student achievement.

After our presentation, we answered some great questions from our audience!  Here is a short summary of the Q&A session.

Q. What about the costs of mLearning?

A. Yes, cost is a big concern.  Adopting a school-wide mLearning initiative not only means purchasing or leasing the devices, but equipping the school with the necessary technical infrastructure (broadband, firewalls, etc.) as well.  Peripherals such as keyboards, styluses, covers, etc. can add up to tens of thousands of dollars.  My school district has gone from “We’ll pay for every student in the county to have their own device!” to “Your school can adopt 1:1 initiative but you’d have to come up with money yourself!” to their current stance of “BYOD” (every child brings their own device).   BYOD, though, assumes that most families can afford devices or cover loss/damage to these devices but that’s not true.  There are families who might not be financially able to provide devices (or Internet) at home, or feel uncomfortable letting their children be responsible for such an expensive item.  If the county leaves it to the schools to fund their own 1:1 initiative, many will simply be unable to do so, even with the help of PTA fundraising efforts, if they were lucky enough to have an active PTA.  These schools will likely fall further behind in terms of technology.  If the school county were to fund every school, this will mean a huge financial strains too, especially in the age of budget cuts and arguably more pressing needs.

My daughters’ school is doing a mixture of both: the PTA has raised enough funds to provide devices and peripherals for most classrooms (though some grades share devices that are wheeled from room to room in charging carts), but students are encouraged to bring their own device. further behind in terms of technology.

Q. Can parents/teachers control what apps are used and which are blocked, and otherwise monitor the appropriate use of mLearning devices?

A. Some devices – iPads, for example – have parental control settings (see http://support.apple.com/kb/ht4213) that allow teachers to restrict access to various applications or features on the devices.  For example, one might wish to block the use of the camera or Facetime during class time, and students shouldn’t be allowed to download, install, or delete apps or make purchases within apps or in the iTunes or iBooks stores.  One can also restrict access to specific content types such as movies, TV shows, or particular web sites.  Students should not be allowed to make changes to account and privacy settings. Schools might also have existing firewalls that blocks certain sites to be accessed by students/teachers.

Obviously, whenever one gives a student access to technology (especially one whose mobile nature makes its use hard to monitor), a discussion on digital citizenship and responsible use needs to take place.  Giving students mLearning devices provide an opportunity for them to practice using technology responsibly, safely, and appropriately.  Parents/teachers and students should clearly lay out expectations and consequences for inappropriate use.

Q. Do studies really show improvement in test scores and student performance/achievement when using mLearning?

A. There have been studies that show how mLearning improves not only test scores, student achievement, but also their motivation and level of engagement when learning.  That said, there are also studies that show otherwise.  The effectiveness of mLearning seems to depend largely upon the software/app and its content (whether it is designed “just to entertain”, or whether it actually supports learning standards), the teachers and how he/she is using it (as a glorified workbook?  as a babysitter? as an enrichment tool? or as a tool that truly differentiates and customizes learning?), and the learner him/herself (the Khan Academy study, for example, showed that students who were already excelling in school thrived after they started using the Khan app, but those who were already struggling did not show improvement at all).  It is vital when rolling out mLearning that the district provides ample professional development/training and provide opportunities where teachers can collaborate with each other to learn what works and what doesn’t.

Q. I am a student who hates math, science, or [fill in the blank].  How is mLearning going to help?

A. The beauty of mLearning is that it affords the student a choice in HOW they want to learn something, the pace at which they want to learn, and under the teacher’s guidance (particularly for younger students), even WHAT they want to learn. For example, instead of having students do worksheet after worksheet so they can learn their math facts, teachers can let reluctant learners use game apps like Sushi Monster.  My daughter learned how to count change using Cash Cow and she didn’t even realize it, but when I pointed out that she, in fact, knew her coins and their values, her confidence in the topic shot up.  mLearning — when used properly — can do wonders in improving student’s level of engagement and motivation. Students might moan and groan when they “have to” study history (which might not seem to have any relevance to them), but if they are using those facts to compete with someone (who could be in another state or in a different country!) in an app such as Social Studies Friendzy, they might be more motivated to learn them.  mLearning makes learning fun and less dry, and once students gain confidence and motivation, they might take their learning a step further, perhaps to generate their own learning goals outside the classroom.

Q. Are teachers still necessary?

A. Of course!  Similar to why librarians will always be needed in this increasingly technology-driven world, just because the knowledge is out there, it doesn’t mean that students will know what they need or how to find it.  And as we mentioned in the presentation, even though mLearning shifts a teacher’s role to that of facilitator in higher learning, and shifts the emphasis from one-sided knowledge “communication” to knowledge “sharing” (where students take a bigger part), certain forms of knowledge are not accessible — especially to younger students — without a formal pedagogic process.  Teachers are necessary in bridging the students’ existing knowledge to new ones, in building basic, but foundational skills, and in steering students on the right track.  They play an important role in the student’s academic- and lifelong learning — able to correct, direct, and inspire as only teachers can.  Ironically, though interactivity is one of the most frequently cited reasons for mLearning, students surveyed in the Khan Academy study report that while they do learn something from watching Khan videos, they dislike the “one-sided” nature of video lessons.  Instead, both students and teachers prefer the organic discussions and interactivity that are possible in face-to-face sessions.