and a recipient of a 2019 MA Super Librarian Award.
As Loertscher et al. conceive of the VLC, it is not only one tool to engage students through exploration, experimentation, and collaboration--it is a school’s digital focal point for these teaching and learning activities. However, in a large, complex urban school district such as Boston, the landscape of available tools for these activities is rich and varied. Much of the student-student and teacher-teacher collaboration here occurs in Google Apps for Education. For a suite of digital learning activities and professional development, the BPS community is often directed to the Clever Software Company’s Digital Backpack. This district and school-controlled resource has the advantage of offering single sign-in access through students’ Google accounts into tools as varied as Book Creator and Code.org. The BPS maintains a robust district website that highlights innovative and exciting teaching and learning across the city. One could not be faulted for wondering what the role of a district-wide VLC would be in such a busy environment. Another key attribute of the BPS is the uneven distribution of school library services throughout the district. Some schools have full or part-time certified librarians, others have full or part-time paraprofessional librarians; some schools have unstaffed libraries, and others have no library at all. One function of the BPS VLC is to provide a semblance of library services, particularly in online research, to all schools in the district.
Although most of the conceptual categories of Loertscher et al. find a place in the BPS VLC, our user-oriented approach necessitated a shift in their terminology. Thus, “Information Center” became “Research and Information” in our scheme; “Literacy Center” became “Reading and Listening,” and “Experimental Learning Center” became “Professional Development.” Loertscher’s “Knowledge Building Center” was simplified to a “Knowledge Building” website section. Each of these sections were built with an eye toward the particular district conditions outlined above. The “Research and Information,” “Reading and Listening,” and “Knowledge Building” sections are further variously divided by grade level ranges K-5, 6-8, 6-12, and 9-12. Finally, a “Design Hall” showcases the best of BPS students’ creativity and learning products.
The “Research and Information” and “Reading and Listening” sections’ content adheres closely to Loertscher et al.’s VLC ideals. “Research and Information” is organized by general and subject-specific categories and contains library databases, research websites, royalty-free image databases, and helpful resources for citation of sources. “Reading and Listening” contains all that K-12 students need for pleasure reading and listening. There are links to both subscription and free ebook and audiobook websites. Alternatively, instead of reading, VLC users may choose to listen to a selection of K-12 appropriate informational and story podcasts. Finally, “Reading and Listening” offers an array of bibliographic tools, such as book award websites, with which users can discover new reading material.
The “Knowledge Building” section may be the most substantial departure from the original VLC concept. Loertscher et al.’s website states that it is “the place where the learning commons interfaces with the great learning experiences across departments, grade levels, and the faculty of the school”(“Virtual Learning”). In a school-level VLC, this would be a go-to section across the learning community for both undertaking and showcasing online collaborative work. However, in the BPS, there are many competitors for this function, including Clever’s Digital Backpack, Google Apps for Education, and the district website. This section is certainly a work in conceptual progress. Our hope is that it will eventually showcase the best of creative, engaging, and collaborative student work from across the district, particularly projects to which library resources contributed. Divided by subject and grade ranges, the BPS VLC’s “Knowledge Building” section contains links to a select group of free online tools for teaching and learning. Finally, this section includes a number of online educational games organized by the state’s learning standards. This seemed to be an appropriate location for such a popular and engaging method with which our students go about building their knowledge.
“Professional Development” is another section that is significantly affected by the BPS district environment. For signing up and tracking in-district professional development, BPS teachers use TeachPoint--an evaluative system purchased by the district. Each BPS academic department has its own websites from which they promote relevant PDs. What remains to be done by the VLC’s “Professional Development” section? One answer is that it is an ideal place to promote non-BPS PD opportunities that emphasize inquiry and project-based learning. Another answer is that it is a good place to locate excellent online resources for teaching and learning that do not fall under any particular subject category--and thus do not easily fit into “Knowledge Building.” The VLC should be a resource for teachers looking to progress and self-innovate professionally. Links to all BPS academic department pages, and thus more PD information, can also be found in the “Knowledge Building” and “Professional Development” sections.
The foregoing has outlined the ideas behind and the present content in the BPS VLC. However, the BPS VLC is far from complete, nor should it ever be “finished.” One can see numerous places throughout the site where the idea for content is noted, but no pictures or files have been contributed by the BPS community yet. Moreover, as a resource that should be highly responsive to the BPS learning community, there may yet be further structural changes to the VLC as not only use but also community participation in its construction and maintenance increases.