INF537 – Libraries as the Tardis – Assignment #2

Can a secondary school library be ‘the Tardis’ to building digital scholarship in secondary schools?


Followers of Dr Who would be aware of the catch cry whenever a newcomer enters the Tardis, that ‘it is bigger on the inside’. What these newcomers fail to understand is that the Tardis is not a physical space, that is bigger inside than it appears to be outside, but rather it is a doorway to other worlds. It is this concept that is the consideration for the role of libraries in our digital age.


There are many who question the role of formal education in the preparation of students for the 21st century (Robinson, 2016; Fullan, 2004; Fisch, 2014). The exponential growth of technology in the world of work and play (Fisch, 2014) is placing considerable demand on the role of schools in addressing concerns such as digital citizenship, copyright, and digital scholarship. With the plethora of digital technologies and tools increasing on a daily basis, rather than focus on a single trend, this discussion is focussed on how libraries can build a reputation for providing the foundation to support emerging trends and technologies for teaching and learning. Digital disruption is already here, and it is no longer necessary to strive to predict where it is going next; simply looking at the immediate past and the present is sufficient to determine what needs to be done now (Messaris & Humphreys, 2006, p.98).


Digital scholarship needs to become embedded in teaching and learning for life, in ways that are often, according to Lee (2015) not apparent in Australian secondary schools. Assessment tasks are still set, with the primary viewer a single teacher, and feedback is rarely beneficial to ongoing learning, other than improving a final draft. Our students rarely connect with each other, let alone the world when they produce assessment pieces, and the ability of secondary schools to change is impaired compared to primary or tertiary institutions (Lee, 2015).


As discussed in the colloquium presented by Jo Quinlan, Yvonne Barrett and Chantal Hochstrasser, based on the work by Katz (2010); this perspective of digital scholarship encompasses three vast, interrelated areas of scholar, scholarship and institution.


Each of these areas has a considerable role to play in the context of interdisciplinary knowledge and research, a term commonly used to refer to the students’ ability to demonstrate understanding through the integration of knowledge and modes of learning from two or more disciplines to ” create products, raise questions, solve problems, and offer explanations of the world around them in ways that would not have been possible through single disciplinary means.” (Boix-Mansilla & Gardner, 1996).


For the purposes of this discussion, the terms digital scholarship and interdisciplinary knowledge and research will be applied to the secondary school context, with a focus on the apparent chasm that exists between the future direction indicated by research and the way in which secondary institutions actually operate. This position is based on the observations of the author, and the research of Boix-Mansilla (2007), Gardner (1983), Jacobs (1989), Paiget (1972), Dewey (1916) and the gap hypothesis suggested by Haddow & Klobas (2004).

This essay will focus on the role of the institution, specifically the library, in the development of digital scholarship. Consequently, it is the view of the author that the term digital scholar needs to include teachers, as well as students; digital scholarship needs to include all aspects of eLearning and digital citizenship, embedded within the curriculum; and the institution needs to consider the role of the physical and virtual spaces offered by secondary schools, to support scholars and scholarship.

Hammond and McCallum’s paper (2009) on the role of teacher education courses that model an interdisciplinary approach provide a starting point for the role of the learning of the scholar in bridging the gap between research and application in the field. In a secondary school setting, where the common model is for faculties to operate in isolation, often teaching units with little variation from previous years; the ability of a new or newly qualified teacher to have the level of autonomy to teach this way, is highly unlikely. In order to facilitate such change, a school wide pedagogical and cultural change is necessary, and while the research on the need for a multidisciplinary, participatory approach exceeds 50 years, the reality is that this approach is not the norm (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012, p.770) in Australian secondary schools, particularly independent schools.


The influx of digital technologies into daily life has led to schools striving to close down access to participatory technology and/or embed Information Communication Technology skills (ICTs) into the curriculum, either through isolated classes or by incorporating digital requirements into faculty assessment tasks (Lee, 2016). This results in schools needing to consider (amongst others):

  • The skill set of teachers and how to support those who are not familiar with the emerging technologies;
  • The relevance of the technologies to the required tasks, as shown through TPACK or SAMR;
  • Who decides on the new pedagogy and how is it implemented?
  • What professional development is offered to ensure that all staff are on board and supported in the development of the curriculum;
  • Who is involved in the development of the new curriculum and its’ delivery?
  • How do we overcome the fear of openness and issues of privacy, particularly with regards to providing students and their work the opportunity to collaborate and share online? If we close access in schools, how do students learn digital citizenship skills outside the school network?
  • What facilities are required to support the emerging technologies and new ways of approaching teaching and learning?


It is this final question that provides one opportunity for school libraries to build a place for themselves and redefine their role within schools, in much the same that way that universities have; by including the customer as collaborator (Casey & Savastinuk, 2006). The Emory Centre for Digital Scholarship is one of many universities (including University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology, University of Melbourne, Brown University), providing physical and virtual spaces, and access to new technologies and to experts in the library; to support the development of research questions, analyse data, publish findings, and digital mapping to transform courses and projects (Emery University, 2016).


UQ, QUT and James Cook University have all made use of the Pedagogy-Space-Technology Framework (Radcliffe, Wilson, Powell & Tibbetts, 2009) to help drive a change in the teaching and learning culture, pedagogy and use of digital technology, by redesigning the physical and virtual spaces in their libraries; using design-thinking, consideration of space as the third teacher (Darragh, 2006), and educating staff in the new ways that the spaces can be used. UQ made the booking of these new spaces dependent on teaching staff attending a number of professional observation lessons and training first (Radcliffe et al, 2009, pp.45-52). This move toward fourth generation libraries, designed upon pedagogical principles, (Radcliffe et all, 2009, p.34) is one way that libraries can demonstrate and pave the way for changes to digital scholarship and scholars.


Davidsen & Goldberg (2009) suggest that, despite digital already having happened, our institutions of learning have moved far more slowly than the inventive, collaborative and participatory modes offered by the internet, social media and mobile technologies. A brief survey, completed by the author, of the digital tools used by the school versus those used by students highlighted that while the school uses email, a digital newsletter and a Facebook page to communicate information, the students are using Snapchat and Instagram and consider the former to be ‘old’ technology and for the middle-aged.


The provision of zoned library spaces (Thornberg, 2013; Radcliffe et al, 2009) based on student learning requirements, an interdisciplinary approach and pedagogical principles can provide opportunities for teaching and learning experimentation, collaboration and cross participation in ways that collection centred spaces and insular classroom spaces cannot (Jacobs, 1989). The restrictions of 20th century library and learning spaces can result in teachers and students reverting to the Sage on the Stage model by default (Whitby, 2013); failing to tap into the more participatory opportunities of digital technologies, in a 21st century curriculum.


Emory University Digital Scholarship Centre invites students and staff to work with them, offering the provision of expertise, consultation, and technical assistance for those wishing to incorporate digital technology into teaching and learning, research, publishing and exhibiting scholarly work (Emory University, 2016). This example of staff collaborating to share and provide expertise can be duplicated in secondary schools through the development of digital scholarship teams, comprising of eLearning and Library staff, as well as Heads of Curriculum and members of the school leadership team. O’Connell & Groom (2012, p. 28) draw attention to the need for students to learn to bring their social technologies into their learning; and for teachers to learn to work with these emerging tools to promote creative and reflective learning. More importantly, learning in context, over time, in our work setting, can produce the best results (Fullan, 2004, p. 193). If secondary school libraries can become hubs for this type of learning, by moving beyond the restraints of current classrooms, they could provide the opportunity to scaffold the digital scholarship of both teachers and students, through collaborative experimentation. One such example is the work of Buffy Hamilton, whose article on Art History and Art in inquiry (August 28, 2016) clarifies that teachers sponsoring SOAR inquiry topics do not need to be experts in the field, as lack of expertise can allow students to step into the role of expert and position teachers as co-learners.


In his work, Open, David Price (2013) refers to the messy, non-linear, chaotic phenomenon of learning and working openly, socially and digitally (p.5), as opposed to the linear structure of formal education and curriculum, that leads to a job.  Wesch (2009) refers to the disruptive digital environment impacting on not only teaching and learning, but also on how we view knowledge and literacy, as well as how we communicate socially, culturally, and historically. Digital technology is no longer a tool for learning, but rather a driver of creative, critical, media and information literacy; and school libraries are perfectly positioned to support and drive this ‘change on the edge of chaos’ (Fullan, 2004, p.186). We do not need to be at the forefront of the next technology or trend, all of the time; rather we can provide teachers and students opportunities to learn, by applying what they know, using technologies we may not be familiar with yet, and learning together.


If we walk through the door of digital scholarship, as one would the Tardis, we would find not a single room, where one can focus on a particular subject specific topic; but rather a plethora of worlds, each in a different time and space, that require us to identify and apply new and old knowledge, technology and understanding to the situation, at that point in time. This is the role of the 21st century secondary school library, in a world that values digital scholarship. We are no longer the sole doorway to knowledge and the holder of information; we are instead a Tardis…an opportunity for scholars to take today’s knowledge and digital technology and identify, create, repurpose and reinvent an infinite number of problems, solutions and opportunities, through a multi-disciplinary approach. The emerging trends will come and go. It is what we do with them, as they cross our path that is important.


There are those who would argue that experimenting with collaborative, participatory, multidisciplinary learning is just another fad or trend, which will fade in 7-10 years (Elder & Paul, 2007), and that the only genuine change to education would involve substantive, reflective thinking and genuine assessment (pp. 12-22).  Despite this, our students and the world at large eagerly adopt new technologies and academic research is moving comparatively quickly to identify the role of these trends in education. It is time for secondary schools to allow the research to guide and drive our digital scholarship path.


As Richard Riley, Secretary of Education under Clinton said, “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist; using technology that hasn’t yet been invented; in order to solve problems, we don’t even know are problems yet.” And if the illiterate of the 21st Century are those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn (Toffler, 1981), then we need to ensure that those who work in education institutions are not so fixed on the methods of the past that they become the illiterate of the future.





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  2 comments for “INF537 – Libraries as the Tardis – Assignment #2

  1. Yvonne Barrett
    September 7, 2016 at 7:52 pm

    I have already bookmarked some of your references for further reading. Thank you. Powerful discussion paper that provides both a glimpse into what is and what can be, especially for school libraries. In some ways your discussion makes me want to jump into university libraries as a ‘brand new world’; in other ways, despair the ‘ linear structure of formal education and curriculum’ of what we see in education, especially K-12. It makes me wonder, will my granddaughter (8 years old now) as she walks into her ‘university life’ feel as though she is stepping back in time, through the Tardis? Lots to think about!

  2. September 11, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    Thanks for sharing Chantal. I like the analogy of the school library to the tardis. The ideas/”worlds” of digital scholarship you presented and applied to school library services were really interesting. I agree 100% that secondary schools must allow research to guide the path to digital scholarship.

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