Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Vital #4: Online Professional Development

It might seem like we’ve finished where we might have started, and, truth be told, we debated what order to put our vitals in as we went. Ultimately we decided to wrap up with online professional development because it is such a rich topic, with lots of room for exploration, and now that you’ve had some experience with it, we hope that you’ll branch out in ways that are useful to you. Online professional development can take many, many forms, both structured and more casual. We’re going to focus primarily on freely available, self-directed professional development--namely the personal learning network, but have also thrown in some more formal, content provided options, such as webinars and online educational videos you can check out.

How does this help me?
I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it more and more difficult to actually get out of the library for any reason, much less professional development. Getting my district to pay for me to go to all the professional development opportunities I’m interested in is the stuff dreams are made of, and I simply can’t afford to do much on my own. All that said, I do my best to get new ideas and find my professional development where I can. Lots of online professional development is free, or low cost. I’m all for saving time and money and still getting what I want, whenever I can!

Many librarians in our region experience professional isolation. Some are the sole librarian in their district, most find it difficult to meet with colleagues on a regular basis. Geographic considerations also play into the mix. Targeted social networking can go a long way towards solving these problems. It is possible to build a community of learning that will provide that missing connection: to have a group of people who share resources, discuss common concerns, and offer support and encouragement...who will be there when you need them no matter the date or time of day.

A natural extension of this type of interaction is participating in online professional development. There are a number of tutorials, even entire conferences, available for free. The TL Virtual Cafe hosts webinars primarily targeted for librarians, although they have value for educators in other disciplines as well.
Online offerings are usually archived, so it is possible to choose when to participate and select content relevant to your situation and skill level.

It's important to keep abreast of issues affecting education in general and librarianship in particular, to have access to the wealth of information being shared by our profession's thought leaders. Online professional development is the perfect means to accomplish this end.

Stuff to check out

Gale often offers webinars on their products. Here’s a pretty little site they put together to advertise. Most of these webinars have passed, but here’s the full calendar of all their online training.
Similarly, EBSCO has a ton of self-driven video tutorials on their products. There is some really great stuff here! also offers lots of online videos and webinars, that can be customized for your district.
These can help you to:

  • See how you can use to support your reading and library activites.

  • Become acquainted with the types of materials available on

  • Learn how to best search the database to find materials relevant to your classroom or library.

  • Use these demonstrations in a Professional Development opportunity.

General overview: 3 minute demo
Have a little more time? Try the 11 minute overview.

There are also several videos to help you best use for a variety of purposes:

Other more formal resources to check out are online conferences. Some are free, some you must pay for, but they are often much less expensive than traveling to actual, brick & mortar conferences. Here are two upcoming virtual conferences that you might want to investigate:

Personal learning networks are free, infinitely customizable and can help you find experts in topics that interest you. Here’s a great little video by Will Richardson explaining Personal Learning Networks:

The Will Richardson video above came from this blog post, 5 Things You Can Do to Begin Developing Your Personal Learning Network, which does a great job explaining how to begin to grow a personal learning network.

Here are several other excellent blog posts discussing Personal Learning Networks:

Here's a great mini-workshop on how to use Twitter to develop your personal learning network.

This post has a great example of how you might spend your time using a PLN:

So exactly what does my Personal Learning Network (PLN) look like? Here’s a sample of how I spend the first half hour of every morning learning before I go to work:
  1. Check my email.

  2. Check in with Twitter and Classroom 2.0 to see what people are saying, blogging, what websites are being referenced, or what webinars may be available later in the day.

  3. Visit interesting bookmarks shared through the Diigo groups I belong.

  4. I’ll check into Facebook to see what friends and relatives, some personal some professional, are up to this day.

  5. I’ll check my school and student email. (Students use a unique email to access me.)

  6. I’ll check my blog to see if I need to respond to anyone or perhaps I’ll add a new post.

  7. I’ll review the new posts of the many blogs I follow.

  8. Whatever new comes my way that day, I’ll click and check it out.

If you are using Twitter, or about to start using Twitter as part of your PLN, please feel free to follow us: I'm @amycah personally and my library is @SCSDMSHSLibrary. Diane is @dmcordell. Take a look at who we're following to get ideas of who you might be interested in following. Some suggestions are:

@buffyjhamilton (Buffy Hamilton)
@joycevalenza (Joyce Valenza)
@shannonmmiller (Shannon Miller)
@MrSchuReads (John Schumacher)
@technolibrary (Carolyn Foote)
@cathyjo (Cathy Jo Nelson)
@librarian_tiff (Tiffany Whitehead)
@heyjudeonline (Judy O'Connell)
@elemlms (Amalia Connolly)
@kathyfs24 (Kathy Schmidt)
@carolynstarkey (Carolyn Starkey)
@jmalphy (Jennifer Malphy)
@eabarbanel (Elisabeth Abarbanel)
@elemenous (Lucy Gray)
@kishizuka (Kathy Ishizuka, SLJ)
@pollyalida (Polly-Alida Farrington)
@srabrams (Steve Abrams)
@willrich (Will Richardson)
@INFOlit4U (Paige Jaeger)

Vital Task
Short-term, this shouldn’t take up too much of your time. Long-term, it will require more time, if you choose to commit to it. For now, try out one of the more formal online professional development opportunities. Check out a webinar or a learning video and let us know how it will inform your instruction and/or practice for the year. Longer-term, find a way to develop your personal online professional learning community. Will you develop a professional learning community on Twitter? Contribute more to the local or national list-serv? This article gives some great step-by-step ideas for how to grow your own personal professional learning community. If you’re not sure where to start, you could do worse than to look here.
Write a blog post reflecting on this topic. Make sure to share:

  • Which formal online professional development ‘thing’ you did

  • What do you plan to do for the upcoming year to engage in online professional development or to grow your online personal professional learning community?

  • Any further thoughts you have on this course, anything you learned, or wish you’d learned or want to share.

"One Click or Two" by Kaptain Kobold (edited in Picnik)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Vital #3: Cool Tools

...and now, without further ado, Virtual Vital #3!
Now that you've set up an RSS reader, you're probably aware that there are a bewildering variety of technology tools being used in education. It's important that you remember these key points:

  • new sites, applications, and tools are being created daily
  • even the "experts" don't know everything
  • technology can be used to enhance knowledge acquisition, but it shouldn't drive the learning experience

How does this help me?
Tech integration, also referred to as "connected learning," is becoming increasingly important, as districts focus on preparing graduates for success in a digitalized world. Technology can also help to extend and enrich the services you offer to students, staff, and your community.

So browse our list, try an assortment of new things, and and add a few cool tools to your toolbox.

Stuff to check out

Saving and sharing
delicious - tag, save and share bookmarks
Diigo - bookmark, highlight, and share online resources
Dropbox - instantly save files to your computers, phone, and the Dropbox website
Flickr - online photo management and sharing
Goodreads - share book recommendations
Shelfari - create virtual bookshelves, have discussion groups online

Communicating and collaborating
Edmodo - secure social learning network for teachers and students
poll everywhere - instant audience feedback
Skype - communicate for free, anywhere in the world
Skype an Author Network - virtual author visits in your library or classroom
todaysmeet - create a "room" and interact with a group online
wallwisher - online interactive noticeboard maker

Creating and presenting

Animoto - create slideshows with photos and music
bighugelabs - make collages, posters, trading cards, and more
blabberize - create talking pictures
Glogster - online multi-media poster creator
Picnik - edit photos online
screencast-o-matic - online screen recorder
SlideShare - upload and share publicly or privately PowerPoint presentations, Word documents and Adobe PDF Portfolios
Stixy - online project bulletin board
tagxedo - turns words - famous speeches, news articles, slogans and themes - into a word cloud
toondoo - create your own cartoons (no artistic ability needed!)
voki - create speaking avatars
wordle - generate word clouds from the text you provide

Vital Task

Choose a minimum of three tools. Spend some time checking them out thoroughly, including help files if you need them. Sign up if necessary, poke around, fool with the features, have fun!

Write a post on your blog titled Vital 3: Cool Tools. Reflect on how you think the tools might be useful to you (or not!). Could you incorporate them into a lesson plan? Share them with a teacher? An administrator? Some of the tools listed can be embedded into your blog--if you try one that can, try to embed it! Also, share any tips, tricks or other tools that you've used/discovered on your own.

Once you've created your own blog post, check out the other participants' blogs. See what they explored and make comments!

Just for fun: Want to hear about more tools? Here are two things you can check out:
Take a look at the links to the tools shared at Tech Smackdown at the NYLA/SSL Leadership Retreat on (itself a very cool tool!)
Watch the funny-but-informative Learning Tools Family Feud, presented by a group of librarians at this summer's ISTE convention.

"State Capitol Toolbox" by Minnesota Historical Society

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Virtual Vital #3 update

Virtual Vital #3 is coming soon, but we've run into a little technical difficulty. Namely, that we had the post 98% written, went in to do some final add-ins and edits and Blogger 'poofed' the post. I don't know if you've noticed, but Blogger auto-saves every so often. In this case, I was working on the post and accidentally deleted all the text while trying to move something around. Blogger auto-saved, I hit back on the page and it was all gone.  Sigh.  So, helpful hint/handy tip: it can be a really good idea to compose your blog posts in your regular word processing program, then copy and paste into your blog site.  We're recreating #3 for you, and plan to post it in a day or two and it will be bigger and better than ever! The good news is that this gives you time to finish #2, if you haven't done so already!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Virtual Vital #3 is coming soon!

Our 3rd vital was slated to launch today, but we're going to hold off until tomorrow.  I'm at the SLMS Carol A. Kearney Leadership Retreat, where Polly Farrington is holding a Tech Smackdown this evening.  Diane and I decided to hold off so that we could include any new, nifty tools discussed there.  Tune in tomorrow!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Vital #2: RSS


In Vital #1, you examined a few library blogs, then created a personal blog specific to this project. Since the purpose of Virtual Vitals is to promote professional development, you will want to have access to timely information found not only in blogs, but also available on news sites and from other Internet sources. The easiest, most efficient way to do this is to set up an RSS feed.

RSS, which stands for "Really Simple Syndication," (alternately, "Rich Site Summary" or "RDF Site Summery") is a way to distribute new content alerts to users automatically, eliminating the need to constantly check individual websites. This requires the use of an RSS reader or news aggregator, an easy-to-use piece of free software.

Once again, the folks from Common Craft have provided a simple explanation:

How does this help me?

The greatest benefit of RSS is the gift of time - but there are other reasons to use this tool:
  • RSS Feeds can be grouped in folders, making it possible to organize and target your reading
  • you're not limited to text - it's possible to follow Flikr feeds as well
  • by setting up a list of followers, it is possible to share with others, thereby greatly expanding the scope of information accessed
  • RSS can be used to receive search alerts from databases
  • RSS is increasingly being used by libraries and other institutions to announce events, issue updates, generate reports, and deliver content. It is a powerful marketing tool, in both the public and the private sector.
Here is some additional insight about the value of RSS for librarians, from Elyssa Kroski, of San Jose State University's School of Library and Information Science.

Stuff to check out

Gale provides a tutorial on how to subscribe to their RSS feeds and Search Alerts.

EBSCO Support has an RSS for its top news stories.

Vital Task

First Choose an RSS Reader:
Google Reader | Bloglines |

Here are some tutorials, to help get you started:

Google Reader


Next, add some feeds.

Select 15-20 sites to follow, grouping them by genre. Mix in a few personal preferences (food, travel, decorating, etc.) as well as professional readings.

Here are some suggestions, but feel free to strike out on your own. Professional journals and newspapers frequently include links to blogs, and a quick search will turn up lists of recommended sites on a variety of topics.

Libraries & Librarians:
Library fun:
*don't forget to include Virtual Vitals and your own blog!


The Culinary Librarian blogged about her Google Reader obsession. Once you've set up your own RSS reader, do a reflective posting about the experience, giving specific reasons why (or why not) this tool will be valuable for you as a learner.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Vital #1: Blogging


Have you ever kept a journal, a diary, a simple log of what you’ve been up to? A blog (or “web log”) is simply an online version where you can record your thoughts and musings in online posts. You can write about any topic that interests you—education, libraries, travel, food, your kids, in a word—anything!

Blogs take you one step further than a simple diary, with the ability to share what you’ve written with the world, invite comments and questions (or not!) through the commenting feature. Blogs are a wonderful way to connect with other people with similar interests. Blogs can be a great way to develop your professional network and are also wonderful for helping you to remember events and projects in the future and to reflect upon them as you go.

Blogs let you do all these wonderful things without the pesky need to master (or even think about) HTML or web page creation. Additionally, they are usually free to create and maintain!

For more information, check out this short video about blogs from the Commoncraft Website.

How does this help me?

Blogs sound great and all, but how can they help you? You can use a blog to
  • Connect with members of your community
  • Share book recommendations and reviews
  • Showcase student writing projects & portfolios
  • Share interesting new tools and technology
  • and much more!
This article from WebJunction has 6 great reasons why you should consider blogging. I particularly like reasons 1: "Writing a blog keeps you current" & 2: "Blogs are an advocacy tool." We work hard as librarians to stay current and keep up with the constantly changing landscape. We are (or should be) constant advocates for our own library programs and for libraries in general. One more tool in our toolbox is always handy!

Here are some examples of library blogs in action:
Chances are good that you already know a person or organization with a blog. Two of these blogs are written by librarians within the WSWHE BOCES SLS.

Stuff to check out

There are plenty of different blogging tools to choose from. Some are more full-featured than others, some are more a quick-start. Poke around and see which appeals to you! These are all free options.
  • Posterous. Super minimalistic, Posterous can get you off to a quick start. Two neat things you can do with Posterous: create a post via email and easily share your posts with your Facebook and Twitter friends/followers.
  • Blogger, WordPress and Edublogs are full-featured blogging tools that allow for more customization. You can get started quickly and easily, but can also poke around in settings and make the blog more personalized over time.
If you haven't used any of these blogging tools before, you might try Blogger. The video below can help you get started.

Vital Task

Your first task is to create your own blog. This will help you to keep a record of what you’re learning during this project. It will also serve as a way to communicate with other participants. You can use any of the blogging platforms we’ve mentioned, or another if you prefer. If you’re new to blogging, try

First: Choose your platform and create your blog!
Posterous | Blogger| WordPress | Edublogs

Important stuff: You must have a blog specific to this project. Please don’t register your library’s blog, or a blog that you’re using for another topic/purpose. We will be looking at your blogs to see how you’re doing with each topic and to track your progress through the project.

More important stuff: Don’t forget to write down your account info! Login, password, URL, blog name.

Next: Create your first blog post!
Tell us who, what, where, why!
· Who are you?
· What have you learned in the program so far?
· Where do you work?
· Why are you taking part in this program?
Since this is an official weekly post (you can write more than once a week if you want), please title it “Virtual Vital: Blogging”.

And then: Register your blog here
We’ll use this to create a list of participants' blogs so everyone can read each others blogs and share their tips and ideas. Your blog entries will also be the basis for earning professional development credit.

Finally: Comments
Check the list of participants' blogs. There is a list on the Participants' Blog page, and they are also listed under the 'My Blog List' widget on the right side of this page. Take a look at other people’s blogs and leave a comment or two on anything you find interesting. Keep in mind that this is a way to share your ideas, react to another writer’s thoughts and to make connections with other people. When commenting on a blog post, remember to be respectful and courteous, even if you disagree with something they’ve posted. Next week we'll work on how to organize all these blogs!

Comments, part the second:
Leave a comment on this blog post as well, if you like.   You can say hello, post a link to your own newly created blog or let us know you're here and planning to join us.  Welcome!