Friday, September 21, 2018

Having been a teacher

I used to be a teacher, a primary school teacher, but unlike some of my colleagues I don't really think of myself in that way any longer. I've often heard people in teacher education say 'I'm still a teacher, really' meaning that they don't really consider themselves to be a lecturer, an academic or a researcher - part of them is still in the classroom. It's one of those funny things about identity, no matter what you actually are, it's what you think you are that counts, that guides you or gives you anchorage. Moving into a university environment relatively early in my career and into research rather than teacher education perhaps gives me some distance from the classroom and helped to forge my particular professional identity. I think of myself as an education academic, researcher and writer rather than a teacher. Of course a lot of my work is still rooted in schools and classrooms but I'm not a teacher, although I could probably still do it - at a stretch. As a result, visiting a school I used to teach in, as I did last week, was quite a strange affair. Now I've been visiting schools most of my working life and so going in, signing the little touchscreen and wandering around was all quite familiar. That said, the usual sort of atmosphere and environment was in this case overlaid with a memory of how things looked forty years ago, which teachers used to teach in each classroom and a strange bodily sensation of standing again where I'd stood many times before, separated only by the passage of time. And in amongst all this I could just about recall something of what it was like to be a teacher or at least to feel like a teacher. Never mind the fact that they'd closed down some of the spaces we'd opened up, and that looking around it all seemed far more old-fashioned than it had forty years ago - there was an embodied memory. But there were also stories - histories if you like, readily prompted by the shape of a particular room, the look of a corridor, a doorway or stairwell. These were stories about people all of whom seemed to have disappeared without trace. In fact it was if they'd all been wiped out, all except for the young teacher, a contemporary of mine, who'd taken his own life. For a small plaque announced that a large and colourful mural had been commissioned in his memory and a riotous assembly of characters from children's literature clambered up one wall - just dull brickwork in former times. It was a fitting tribute. Of course no-one in the school had the faintest idea who he was, but it was moving to think that he'd left his mark in the way that nobody else had, even though we were all teachers once.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Rethinking the library

'Digital communication and new media have rapidly become an important feature of daily life for all age groups. Although the global spread of new technology has opened new opportunities for many, public institutions such as libraries, schools and universities still have an important role to play. Librarians, as gatekeepers and stewards of information, are uniquely placed to encourage new forms of reading for pleasure and the kinds of critical habits of mind needed for the information age.' That was the headline for my keynote at the Innovatics conference in Chile last week and I made a bold attempt to connect what I know about children and young people's digital practices with what I'm rapidly learning about libraries. In all honesty I've given little thought to libraries during my research career - and my most enduring engagement with them is through my own institution's digital library, but I do believe that new practices and new habits of mind are reconfiguring what it means to know and what it means to find out and that this has profound implications for how we think about learning, information and knowledge - and that's got to include libraries and librarians. I support the move to reinvent libraries as welcoming, comfortable and user-oriented community spaces where you can 'take your shoes off'. Santiago Villegas-Ceballos illustrated that well with vivid examples from Colombia of new library spaces. Access is obviously a key concept for libraries and one that works on many levels, but the other keynote Cristina Azorín focused more specifically on digital repositories, based on work she's been involved in at the Universitàries de Catalunya (Catalonia). As someone with vested interests in academic publication some of what she said about publishers, open access, and peer-review was challenging, but food for thought. Perhaps in some ways I've grown used to the status quo! Regardless of all this I came away from my visit with some great memories - meeting Carlos from the world's southernmost city, Puerto Williams who has found out how videogames can work to attract teenagers into the library was great. And then there's stories of quirky sociomaterial arrangements that bring books to remote communities. All I have are mental images of what a donkey-library or a canoe-library might look like, but maybe there are some open access free-to-use pictures out there somewhere!