I have just returned from 24 hours at the School Librarians' Group of CILIP conference this year held at The Derbyshire Hotel in...yes Derbyshire where I was invited to speak at one of the seminars. A colleague was then unable to attend so I ended up delivering two seminars.
I set off very early on Friday morning expecting the first day of the majority of schools' holidays to result in a nightmare on the roads and picked up a friend en route at an equally riddiculous hour only to find the M25 and M1 fairly deserted in comparison to normal. So we had a leisurely stop off for coffee at the infamous Watford Gap (producing passports and visas for the North) and arrived in good time for the opening Key Note speech by Nick Dennis, Deputy Head at Berkhamsted School.
Nick was as inspiring as ever delving into a wide range of debates about the relationship of education with information handling, teaching students information literacy and engagement with reading, and of course the medium through which such information can be delivered. Nick made reference to the research area of Digital Humanities first coined by Roberto Busa in the 1940s. This is all about the curation of digital material and data sets in order to make sense of our world from a humanistic viewpoint. There have been criticisms that such research has a race bias simply due to the data available and the methodology of collection in the past. Overall however I agree with Nick's viewpoint that this will make retrieval and access to information easier in the future. Nick recommended again Hans Jurgen Massaquoi's autobiography Destined to Witness ISBN 978-0060959616 as an example of how powerfully we can be influenced by our surroundings both from the inside looking out and looking back reflecting with historical insight. Such stories can be used as a trigger to engage students in learning. Nick also drew attention to Mick Water's tome Thinking Allowed ISBN 978-1781350560 which considers the state of education in the maintained sector and how restrictive the rules and regulations and changes of policy at whim make the process of teaching and learning. Nick outlined the progress or perhaps the circular nature of the fads and styles of education by drawing on historical examples and blending this with the technology we use today. He mentioned the growth of MOOCs and Berkhamsted School's plan to produce an GCSE/A Levvel MOOC for physics which will be on open access to all.
Nick then took part in a panel debate (Question Time style) chaired by John Hess with fellow panellists Alan Gibbons, Seni Glaister, Barbara Band, Claire Fox and two students from Heanor Gate Science College. Having Claire on the panel produced an atmosphere ripe for controversy and the discussion centered on various topics relating to librarianship, education and reading did not disappoint. It was interesting and surprising that the panel were largely unaware that librarians often taught in their schools and Claire suggested that we should be rooted in our libraries - controversy indeed and I took the opportunity afterwards to explain how part of my taught element can be statistically proven to raise grades.
There followed another panel debate chaired by Barry Cunningham of Chicken House and readings from fellow panellists Melvin Burgess and Lucy Christopher. I was interested in their views on the need for controversy in young adult and teen fiction and in particular the way they felt it had to be portrayed from the teenager's viewpoint not an adult's reflection back to a mispent youth.
I'll return to the evening later but want to include here the final talk I attended by Aidan Chambers. Despite the early hour (for me, not him as he assures us that as an ex monk he gets up at 5.30am for 3 hours of meditation) he gave a thought provoking speech about how we engage with story. He emphasised how being exposed to literature can change our lives no matter how seemingly bleak the prospects.
What intrigued me about all these sessions was the emphasis on power of speech in conveying information. Having conducted some small scale VARK research on my own students I am aware that the proportion of Auditory learners today is high - even in students you might have expected to be Visual learners. A recent visit to a series of lectures for the gifted and talented in London underpinned this as the students we took were most engaged by the lecturer who spoke for an hour on the relevance of James Bond in society today minus any props, gimmicks or slide show - he merely leaned against the balcony and talked. Has the time come when we will revert back to the spoken word? Will technology allow us to record this for posterity via digital audio, voice to text and simultaneous translation? I would dearly love to research this idea further.
The evening's entertainment consisted of a very nice dinner and a quiz by Barbara Band. Fiendishly difficult at times. I chose an appropriate table to sit at only to be dismayed by people leaving for an early bed rendering us one of the smallest teams. This withstanding we did have the students from Heanor Gate thus ensuring we knew the answers to questions such as the meaning of YOLO. We came a credible second and I won't make too much reference to the winning team having twice our number and undertaking some dodgy mobile thumbing which they insist was Twitter. Nuff said ! All forgiven we retreated to the bar with the left over wine for further librarian issue debates until the midnight hour.
Following Aidan's speech I delivered the first of two seminars on collaboration with the Surrey Libraries service and shared with a small but select group many of whom also attended my second seminar after the coffee break. I stepped in for Helen Cleaves of Kingston Grammar School who was unable to deliver her talk on using modern technology to engage readers. She had used Skype (and I was lucky that two delegates she mentioned collaborating with using Skype in their schools for a link up attended the session). She also used Fakebook which I had been unaware of before but which I will now definitely use to encourage empathy and discussion between characters in a book or even characters from different books. The final application was Aurasma which I have also used a lot in my school but Helen had used t far more professionally by involving her media studies and IT departments to make videos of students acting out their favourite scenes from fiction reads. To judge by tweets and general comments this was a popular session.
I was disappointed not to be able to attend some of the other fabulous talks on offer but following lunch I had to head home for a band gig. It was a great event and the committee of SLG worked hard to make this such a successful and inspiring conference....and when I arrived home my euphoria was enhanced further as the final draft of my book for the SLA School Libraries and Mobile Technology was waiting on the mat - guess what my next job is?