Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Student Management: Setting Expectations

I have been the student staff manager at a college library for almost three years now. Since I have an undergrad degree in English Education and teaching experience, my management style has developed from a teacher's perspective.

It is important clearly communicate what you want from your student workers and not expect them to know what they don't know or haven't be taught. It would be like if the teacher gives the test before teaching the unit. I will go into more detail about teaching, training, and coaching students in another I don't want to put "the cart before the horse."

The first and most important step in being an effective manager is setting expectations for your employees. So, how do you set expectations and how do you know what your expectations should be? Well, a new manager should never come in and try to completely restructure a department or change employees' behavior or procedures in 7 days. This will never go well even if you see things that need to be improved! So, your first task should be easy, right? Just do nothing or appear to do nothing. Observe how things work. What is working and what isn't? Take notes without expressing your concerns. I did this for the first six months or so in my new position. I also took the time to get to know my student workers, staff, administrators, faculty, and regular patrons.

A student staff meeting is a great place to set expectations and guidelines for student behavior. This will mean that you will need to have a staff manual. It should include some guidelines or rules, a job description, a disciplinary procedure, a call off procedure, and anything else student workers need to know. Though it seems "elementary," I go over the entire manual each fall semester and review it briefly in the spring. I hit the highlights which is really my own pet peeves such as "I don't want to hear, see, or smell any cell phones." So, you ask, all I have to do is just go over the student manual with my students, and I'm all set?"

Oh, no...It doesn't work that way. Setting expectations is an ongoing process! This is one of the reasons I go over the student manual in detail ever fall semester. The message sent to the student is: "I care about these guidelines. I expect you to know them because they are important." How else can you "tell" students you have expectations for them? You have to practice what you preach and follow the rules that you set forth for your students. Sometimes modeling good customer service and appropriate behavior at Access Services can be a challenge, but you have to do it if you want to be an effective manager. You can't expect students not to be stuffing Hos Hos in their mouths in front of patrons when you are trying to swallow a Twinkie as the patron comes to the desk. Or, from my previous example, you have a tendency to text or call your significant other at the Information Services desk.

So, in review...two ways to set expectations for employees:

Have a student staff meeting and go over a student manual.

Model good behavior.

More about setting expectations in my next post! ~Steph

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Module 5 Curriculum Connections for Assistive Technology

I like the lesson plan that introduces students to different disabilities by requiring them to do some research. It really made me think about how little I learned about physical and cognitive disabilities when I was in primary and secondary school. What I know about different disabilities I have basically learned through my experiences by interacting with people with disabilities. I think that all health teachers should be requiring their students to learn about people's differences so that through knowledge students will be more compassionate and understanding of the challenges that some people face.

I still have much to learn about how to help student with disabilities but am thankful that this course and the CSLA modules have made me aware of the assistive technology that is available to level the playing field for students with disabilities. It is amazing how far we have come at helping all students achieve, and I am glad that technology is making life easier for those with disabilities.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Module 4 Disabilities Etiquette and Awareness

After reviewing the information from Module 3 on proper etiquette when meeting people with disabilities, I thought the information could be summed up very simply. Treat everyone the way you would like to be treated.

The section on hidden disabilities reminded me of my experiences with my ex-boyfriend who is an amputee due to a motorcycle accident. He has a "C-leg," and when I met him I noticed that walked a bit different, but many people often didn't notice and thought that he had both his legs. For the longest time, I thought a C-leg which mean computerized leg, was a sea-leg. Hee, hee, I thought that it was a waterproof leg like aquaman would have. I learned a lot about amputees and just about people with disabilities in general from my experience with my ex.

One of the most profound things I learned is that even though people knew that my ex was an amputee, they acted like he was "good as new" because of his amazing prosthetic. The truth is that it is a daily struggle both mentally and physically for him, and he really could only walk about a mile or so without discomfort, mainly because the friction from the prosthetic is hard on the skin. Of course, it seems that men/boys with a physically disability often have a hard time acknowledging their hardships. Also, I think many students (but, of course, not all) are uncomfortable being forthright about their learning challenges.

I guess what I am getting at is that it is important to keep in mind that many disabilities are hidden ones. Of course, I think the easiest thing to do is treat everyone with kindness and be observant. If a student is struggling, it is the right thing to ask if they are okay or if they need help just like you would for anyone. I think some people are afraid to address such things, but I see people with disabilities as being just like everyone else. I think everyone has different challenges in life.

Here are some websites on Assistive Technology that I think are useful. I was unable to get them to link in Blogger. This seems to be a consistent problem with this application.
“Teacher Tap,” professional development resources for educators and librarians, is an awesome website with tons of information/links on technology and special needs. This is a must bookmark site in my opinion!
Information and resources for children and adults with disabilities
SCATP (South Carolina Assistive Technology Plan) is federally funded by the US Department of Education of South Carolina. This is a well organized site with links to some great resources. I think this site is managed by a Janet Jendron who is Assistive Technology Program Coordinator at USC School of Medicine.
This webpage created by North Central Regional Educational Laboratory has tables that list the most commonly used AT devices for K-12 students. The table is divided into five AT categories: vision, communication, access, hearing, and learning/studying. NCREL is a nonprofit whose goal is “ improving our nation's schools to make them safe and productive places where children can learn and grow.” They specialize in the educational applications of technology.
Of course, Wikipedia provides a good introduction and has sections on hardware and software.

Module 3 Evaluating AT Software

Here is my comparison of three AT Software programs:

Software name: Inspiration

Company: Inspiration Software, Inc., founded in 1982, mission is to provide software that increase visual thinking and learning

Cost: Ranges from $70 for a single license to $895 for 20 licenses

Features: Allows students to plan assignments by graphic organizers, concept maps, webs, and idea maps

Pros:Has on-demand training videos, improves writing proficiency, helps students visualize difficult concepts

Cons: This technology would not be helpful to the blind or visually impaired.

Software name: Kurzweil 3000,a comprehensive reading, writing and learning software solution for any struggling reader, including individuals with learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder or those who are English Language Learners.

Company: Kurzweil Educational Systems, leading developer of reading technology for people with learning difficulties and those who are blind or visually impaired.

Cost:$395-$2695 (1-5 learning stations)

Features:can access any information, reads to students in a human-like voice, provides visual and auditory feedback, includes highlighting, text circle tools, bookmarks, voice notes,has audible spell checker

Pros: can access info. whether it is printed, electronic, or on the web,increases reading fluency, and teaches study skills

Software name: ICommunicator

Company: Interactive Solutions, Inc. (ISI), a subsidiary of Teltronics, Inc. since 1999.

Cost: $6500 with significant cost for annual support and upgrades

Features: Converts speech to text, speech/text to video sign language and speech/text into a computer-generated voice for those who are hard of hearing or deaf, built-in dictionary/thesaurus

Pros: enables the deaf to attend regular classes without a translator and independently communicate with others, encourages increased literacy, etc.

Con: very expensive

How can I implement technology in my school or library?

From working on my tech plan, it is apparent that implementing technology in a school library or in any setting should involve thorough planning. Collaboration and leadership are key to the process of implementing AT. I don't think that a SLMS should try to do this on their own, but need support and input from many different people. This idea is suggested in Jurkowski when the process of forming a tech planning committee is discussed. I would do a lot of research, visit other schools who are using AT, and discuss the needs of the district with many teachers, IT specialists, and with representatives from hardware and software companies. I think that to implement AT effectively, I would adopt hardware and software a little at a time and on a trial basis before purchasing a bunch of equipment.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Assistive Technology, Module 2

This is a pic of my chosen hardware, the Sara Reader/Scanner...

I am always inspired by the accomplishments of people like Leigh-Ann Tompkins who has been able to run her own graphic design company, despite the fact that she is wheel chair bound and can only speak through the use of a computer due to cerebral palsy. People who have to overcome such obstacles in life are truly amazing, and it always makes me feel fortunate and like I should never let anything get me down.

I just reviewed the Tapped In session from this week, and one idea mentioned was the cost of assistive technology. After looking at the adaptive keyboards, mice, and touch screens featured in Module 2, the cost doesn't seem too outrageous. Some of the keyboards ranged from $160-175 with the Intelli-Keys being on the expensive side at $345. The HeadMouse is $995,and the Magic Touch Add-on Touch screen $170-$439.

I think there are many less expensive ways for teachers to aim for universal design in their lessons, and I really like Jurkowski's suggestions for instructional handouts and online materials as a supplement to classroom instruction. Pathfinders and webquests do a good job of appealing to students with different abilities as do Powerpoint presentations that include audio and graphics.

In the Tapped In session, some of mentioned other techniques including using larger fonts, different color backgrounds, Smartboards, and interactive handheld devices. I think those "clickers" that teachers are starting to use to get students to be able to respond, provide their input to questions simultaneously are really cool. This form of getting student input/feedback would be greatly appealing to shy students, students who have speech or oral communication difficulties and can input their answers to the teacher's questions without having to verbally respond.

I would be interested in hearing more ideas about inexpensive ways to help level the playing field for students who have disabilities from classmates!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Module 1 Universal Design

Image by Bill Browning

Recently, I realized that my training program for my student assistants here at the library was not catering to different learning styles and multiple intelligences. My wheels starting turning as to how I could reach students who are more visual learners, and thus, make their training experience here more positive and effective.

I have always believed in hands-on practice whenever possible and that is still my main way of teaching students to checkout (and in) books, DVDs, laptops among a zillion other things that they need to learn (assisting patrons with lamination, checking in/out books from other libraries, and navigating our library catalog). The list of duties is a long one and can be overwhelming for the poor, underpaid college students especially the incoming freshman. ;)

Of course, I immediately recognized that in my circumstance here that my training program needed a redesign so I am hoping that I am moving towards a universal one that any student can become a knowledgeable and helpful student assistant. Certainly, I haven't had a student with a serious disability, but I do see all people as being different with different preferences, learning styles, and problems. As an effective student manager, I am always trying to find what motivates my students and realize how different they all are (even though several have the same major!). Okay, so I am going off on a rant, but basically, I am in the process of creating video how-to tutorials and other tech tools with the help of one my student assistants to strengthen my training methods.

I did explore the website that listed famous people with their corresponding disability. In fact, all of the websites and thinking about the concept of universal design basically made think that we are all so much more alike than different. Most people learn best with hands-on activities that appeal to a variety of senses. I also looked at the Job Accomodation Network and The National Center for Learning Disabilities website, but thank goodness that teachers have special ed teachers who create IEPs because I sometimes realize that some students are having difficulties, but I haven't always been able to figure out how best to help or what the underlying issue is. The JAN site is great for employers whereas the NCLD site has great guidance for teachers.

As for how I would teach introduce Braille to a class...I would get 5 or 6 of those Braille label makers and have students work in groups to labels items around the classroom. It would probably only take a class period or two to make labels for the blind student. Besides random classroom items, some students could work on label a skeleton, a map, or other models. Students could also create models out of common objects that could be used by the blind student (and the ones who aren't blind!) to understand different learning objectives.

Here's the 7 Principles of Universal Design...
1. Equitable Use
2. Flexibility in Use
3. Simple and Intuitive Use
4. Perceptible Information
5. Tolerance for Error
6. Low Physical Effort
7. Size and Space for Approach and Use

This URL has some great tips...

Definitely something to think about!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Week 9, Thing 23 My Classroom Learning 2.0 Experience

I Blog, Therefore I Am

Overall, exploring the California School Library Association's 23 Things was a great experience. It forced me to explore some Web 2.0 tools that I hadn't yet explored. Most notably would be my experimentations with Wordle, Flickr, and mashups. Also, it was a great "thing" for me to establish a Google Reader so that I can't keep following all the latest technology. It's something that any great librarian should be doing.

I am considering trying to keep up with my blog here and to focus it on "Using Technology for Improving Student Management." Perhaps I will even have the guts to post my PowerPoint presentation for Access Services 2009. Watch out, Atlanta, here I come! If you're wondering what I'm talking about and are interested, here's a the URL for the conference. ;)