Sunday, March 30, 2008

RICE 2008, 10 & 11 March (part 6, or "Ideas for School & Public Library community-based learning partnerships")

[From PART 5]

I'd intended my previous post to be the last of my RICE 2008 series. Somehow it felt something was missing.

Then Siva hit the nail on the head when he emailed me that the post lacked concrete ideas for school and public library community-based programmes.

He felt I'd written a long post with only one line hinted at possible ideas (indeed, I'd mentioned in that post how I was still thinking about possible ideas).

But I took his point that the vagueness of possible school-public library projects was a symptom of why teachers have not consider working with a library. It wasn't clear what could be done.

He suggested that I start with a clear idea, and let it be modified or even completely changed after discussions.


So here five ideas listed (not necessarily in order). They may or may not work but that's not the point. The point, as Siva rightly pointed out, is to start with concrete ideas as the basis for discussions:

IDEA #1: Student-initiated Reading Survey & Campaign for their own school
  • WHO: School and public library

  • WHAT: Students to conduct a study of reading habits and trends for their peers in their own school. Follow-up by implementing a reading promotion campaign in their school. Measure its effects.

  • HOW: The study can be limited to a class, or a cohort (depending on complexity and scale). Librarians will guide students in designing the study (the students might already know how to do this via their Interdisciplinary Project Work). Librarians will advise students how to implement reading promotions and campaigns (online and/ or off-line) in their schools, as well as provide a modest budget if required.

  • OUTPUT: A pre and post programme report on the findings, outcomes and learning points of the student-initiated reading campaign. School also gains insights to the reading habits of its students.

  • LEARNING OUTCOMES: Students will be able to apply research methods to actual practice, as well as promotion and marketing techniques. They will learn about target setting from implementing the reading campaign. They will personally experience the issues in implementing reading campaigns. The librarians may likely learn, from the students, of innovative ways to promote reading in schools.

  • HOW LONG: Between five to eight months, thereabouts.

IDEA #2: Adopt-A-Book Programme [this idea is an off-shoot of a discussion with my colleague, Li Sa]
  • WHO: School and public library

  • WHAT: Students to adopt a book, get it circulated as many times as possible in a given period. Also to obtain as many comments which would be posted to the library book blog (one permalink for each book). This could culminate in a competition to see which book gets circulated the most and attract the most comments.

  • HOW: Students can work in groups, or an inter-class activity. They will "adopt" one to three books and be able to explain why they chose those books (e.g. research in to author/ subject/ current reading trends). They will track the individual book(s) on a regular basis. They are encouraged to develop creative ways -- using physical means or social media -- to "push" the book and obtain comments. The library will host the blog posts and manage comments. Librarians will advise students how to track the books, and implement online/ off-line reading activities.

  • OUTPUT: Post-activity report by students. The report includes their reasons for choosing the book; their comments on Expected Vs. Actual results; learning points of promotional activities and results; reflections of issues and considerations in promoting reading using online/ off-line means.

  • LEARNING OUTCOMES: Students will exercise teamwork and creativity in the project. They will also be able to learn (with guidance from the librarians) on effective or not-so-effective ways to promote books. The librarians may also learn, from the students, of innovative ways to promote reading in schools.

  • HOW LONG: Between five to eight months, thereabouts.

IDEA #3: "Person-in-the-Street" Oral Histories
  • WHO: A three-way partnership with a school, the public library, and Yesterday.SG

  • WHAT: Students to interview their parents, grandparents, or strangers (who will be vetted by the library/ Yesterday.SG). Do this via video/ audio/ photos/ text. Interviews based on thematic questions like "What was school like for you?", "How did you celebrate the holidays when you were a child", "What was life like when you were 10 years old?".

  • HOW: The library/ Yesterday.SG to facilitate with information/ media literacy skills, including searching for related documents to supplement the content and research process.

  • OUTPUT: Blog posts/ Audio recordings/ Videos posted to YouTube. Content to be featured in the library Youth blog and Yesterday.SG

  • LEARNING OUTCOMES: Students to apply writing skills, as well as creative & digital skills in planning, editing and producing the content.

  • HOW LONG: Four to Six months (including training in information/ media literacy skills; student-interviewee meet-up sessions)

  • RELATED IDEAS: Kelly, Lissle, [would anyone like to interview my dad? :)]

IDEA#4 - Student-designed Library programme
  • WHO: School and the public library

  • WHAT: Students to design a library programme (including detailed plans for implementation) that imparts information literacy and/ or media literacy skills, with their peers as the target audience. The programme should not exceed 30-minutes, and would be held in the public library. At least one session is to be carried out (by the librarians, if not the students themselves).

  • HOW: Students to work with librarians in designing the programme.

  • OUTPUT: At least one session, to be conducted in the public library. The students may not necessarily be involved in the conducting of the session, but they will observe and report on the outcomes and effectiveness (e.g. participant's satisfaction survey)

  • LEARNING OUTCOMES: Students to apply creative skills in planning and producing the content. They may exercise presentation skills if they are asked to carry out/ assist in the actual programme.

  • HOW LONG: Between four to Six months to plan, implement, and report.

  • RELATED IDEAS: Read this earlier post

IDEA #5 - Students Post-Secrets Project
  • WHO: Schools, Public Libraries, International Partners

  • WHAT/ HOW/ OUTPUT: This has been elaborated at this earlier post.

  • LEARNING OUTCOMES: Students to apply their planning and organisational skills for a project that involves global participants. They will experience what it is like to work with adults and young people from different nationalities.

  • HOW LONG: Between eight to 10 months

As mentioned near the start of this post, these ideas can be totally changed in scope. The intent is to give educators an idea what can be done.

If any educator in Singapore keen to discuss, I'd be happy to arrange a meeting with your school and my colleagues.

OK, this is probably the last of my RICE 2008 series.

But the start of schools-public libraries partnership in community-based learning projects, I hope :)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

RICE 2008, 10 & 11 March (part 5)

[From Part 4]

Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008Public Libraries = 'Other Organisations'?
On Day-one, I heard a teacher use a chart to explain his school's workflow for identifying, selecting, partnering and evaluating community partners.

His chart had boxes that represented various organisations, classified by type, e.g. Welfare organisations; Tourism Industry; Seniors-related...

There wasn't a box for "Public Libraries".

I went up to the teacher after his talk. Introduced myself. Said I worked for the Public Library Service. I said, "I noticed Public Libraries are not on your school's radar screen."

The teacher replied, "Oh... [laughs], public libraries are in the box labeled 'Other Organisations'."

Why aren't Public libraries seen as potential community partners?
His response drove home the stark point that some teachers (or maybe many of them) don't see our public libraries as possible community partners.

It wasn't just that one teacher.

When I chatted with teachers at the conference and said I worked for the Public Library Service, a few of them asked why I was attending the conference. They'd assumed I was a teacher, and that only teachers would be interested in a conference on Education.

This isn't a criticism of teachers. I'd already mentioned here that initially, I felt little could be done to truly involve public libraries as part of the schools curriculum.

At the end of Day-one, I'd changed my mind. I sensed possibilities, but there weren't very concrete.

And then there the realisation that public libraries weren't on the schools' radar screen as potential community partners.

I sought to understand why.

A possible reason revealed on Day-two
That the morning, I asked a teacher if their school would consider the working with the public library for community-based learning initiatives.

That teacher said, "But what do you offer? We're looking for more than just our students shelving books at the library for six hours".


Public libraries = Volunteer-stint = Shelving?
I'm guessing that most teachers tend to associate "volunteer opportunities" in public libraries with "shelving of books". In reality, our public libraries offer many types of volunteer opportunities.

But that wasn't the point.

Community-based Learning, as I understood it, was more than the volunteerism angle.

I learned there are usually two aims:
  • Academic: To reinforce school lesson plans, e.g. students taking Biology are attached to labs where they get to handle actual plant or animal specimens
  • Social: To reinforce social values in students or to let them understand social issues, e.g. working with aged or children

For public libraries to go in as partners in Community-based Learning initiatives, we're essentially involving ourselves in the education of a student. Which requires learning goals to be clearly defined as outcomes from that partnership.

Predictions in Community-Partnership Learning initiatives
I predict that School and community partnership initiatives will only increase. They must, since more and more teachers (as I was told) recognise the need for Education to be more than just 'Passing Exams'.

More schools are likely to implement their own brand of Community-based Learning initiatives, i.e. there's no one best way.

Also, more organisations (including public libraries) will recognise the value of participating in such initiatives. The typical resources offered by partner organisations would be funding, or resources like venues/ physical infrastructure, and staff expertise (administered via mentoring students).

In that light, schools will be spoilt for choice in their selection of community partners.

Which means public libraries will have to "compete" with other organisations in that sense.

But can or should we?

Why and How should our public libraries respond?
To me, the Why is simple -- if public libraries are partners in Education, then we're making ourselves more relevant.

As for the How, this may sound simplistic, but I think public libraries (and librarians) must first believe that they can be partners -- not merely service providers -- in the Education system.

Speaking for myself, I had to shake off the notion that public libraries have nothing to offer. Or that what we can offer isn't as "attractive" compared to other organisations.

To paraphrase Ranganathan's "Every reader his/ her book", we must also believe that "Every student his/ her Cause".

Somewhere out there, a school and/ or students might be interested in "working with the public library as a partner" (i.e. more than just being a volunteer).

What are public libraries and librarians good at?
During the conference, I heard examples of community-based learning projects that had to do with overseas trips, or projects with grand and noble aims like "Saving The Environment".

My first thought was that compared to those examples, the public library's business of promoting reading (e.g. writing book reviews, or *gasp* shelving) isn't appealing at all.

But I realised we do not have to apologise for what we're good at.

And we should see the business of public libraries as more than just promoting reading. In a larger sense, we are about promoting information and media literacy.

This could be what we're good at.
Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008

If we're not there yet, then we can aim to be.

I'd also argue public libraries should promote "Social Literacy" or even "Global Literacy". [Note: I'm still reading up on this concept, for instance blog posts like this and this; this website; this PDF article. Currently, I define "social/ global literacy" as one's competency in relating to society/ the rest of the world, and being a productive member in it -- online and offline].

Practical steps for public libraries
Logically speaking, public libraries should be able to approach a school and explain the "What" and "How" in being their partners in Community-based Learning initiatives.

But no, I don't think that approach will work without an understanding of what schools need.

We should start by asking what are the school's community-based learning objectives, i.e. the Academic and/ or Social aspects.

Then ask schools what their students are good at. What's been the school's focus for community-based learning? Look at the school's past community projects, which ought to be on the school's website.

Only then do we think and re-think how public libraries fit into the picture. Particularly the learning outcomes that a public library and school partner will result.

Learning outcomes from public library + school community-based learning partnership
I can't elaborate much on this yet. I'm still thinking about it. [UPDATE, 30 Mar 2008: Some concrete ideas].

But I do know it's not about "reading" or "books".

As I learned from RICE 2008, it's outcomes like "self-awareness", "teamwork", "civic responsibilities", "cultural competencies", "authentic problem solving", "a sense of community", "deeper understanding of social issues", and "diversity in learning".

Start with basics?
While drafting this post, I was thinking about ideas like students working with librarians to set up a library for charity organisations.

Or starting tuition/ homework help club that utilises public library materials to make lessons more interesting. Or buddy-reading programmes to younger children.

But my mind went back to the teacher who thought that public libraries only required students to shelve books.

Shelving, by itself, cannot be called "Community-based Learning". Neither do we want to turn a simple task like shelving (that some volunteers are happy to do) into something complicated.

Maybe we can expand the idea of shelving to include academic and social outcomes. Learning about the DDC, about it's origin and limitations, and then to the way the world of knowledge is classified, and extending that to an understanding about the world...

Perhaps it's not so much What is done in a Community-based Learning project, but How it's being structured and managed, so that desired learning objectives are achieved.

Maybe we can start with shelving after all.

[Next: PART 6 - "Ideas for School & Public Library community-based learning partnerships"]

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

RICE 2008, 10 & 11 March (part 4)

[From Part 3]

Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008 Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008

Dr. Chris Yapp (Head of Public Sector Innovation at Microsoft, UK) was the keynote speaker for Day-two.

Chris asked how many in the audience thought technology could transform the experience of education.

I thought almost everyone raised their hands.

Then came his punch line: "So when do you think this is going to happen?"

His point was the experience of education has not been transformed yet, in spite of all the IT investments in schools (he spoke as an authority about the UK public school system, but his talk easily applied to just about any country).

What has happened so far, he went on, was the application of technology to traditional educational. But it hardly transformed it in terms of experience for the child or young adult.

Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008"It's not about putting computers in classrooms or teaching teachers how to use IT. It's about changing the organisation."

In his talk, he said there was no evidence that IT spending link to performance (and he quickly reminded the audience of where he worked).

It was the organsation culture, the utilisation of IT, and leadership that leads to performance.

"You cannot throw IT to a badly led sch and expect results."

He suggested a "re-engineering of the education infrastructure, curriculum and assessment, and teaching profession" to "put the learner in the heart of the system".

But he quickly added: Where will we find the time to do this? (which I thought earned him some credibility from the largely teacher-audience, whose reality was that they had very little discretionary time outside of the formal curriculum).

Chris thinks the solution is to automate as many of the "routine, low-grade" administrative tasks, so as to free more time for teachers "to think, plan, and network".
(I'll add that once routine work is removed, one mustn't slap on new stuff that ends up plonking the teacher back to square one).

Says if students leave schools thinking that learning stops, then educators and parents have failed.

He suggests that the future may belong to the small-sized countries like Scandinavia and Singapore. 'Small' tend to mean it was easier for the whole country to react and adapt to global trends.

Also, education needs to move from mass approach to personalised one. Granted that this would be very expensive but he believed that "people and persistence" would ultimately make this a reality.

To reinforce his point that the ability to do well in exams did not necessarily mean "doing well in life", he said Britain has more Nobel prize winners with third-class honours degree than First-class ones.

Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008 Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008 Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008 Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008 Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008 Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008 Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008

Education is the most conservative industry, according to Chris.

Near the end of his talk, he joked that surgeons and train drivers from 100 years ago would be stupified if they stepped into our hospitals and trains today. But a teacher from 100 years ago would walk into our classrooms and find that nothing has changed (same for libraries?)

It would take at least 30 years for any education system to be transformed, in his opinion.

He'd consider the education landscape to have been transformed if he saw:
  • A culture of lifelong learning
  • Access to lifelong learning
  • Content to support the individual lifelong learner
  • A social context for lifelong learning (a social process, not technological experience)
"If they can use a word processor but have no stories to tell, that's not education".

He asked why reading cannot be done in libraries, but have to be taught in schools (well, I like his idea but there are practical constraints -- like, Librarians aren't educators, and you'd need many libraries and librarians. Still it raises an interesting possibility that I might think about further).

Education should be:
  • Lifelong (more of work)
  • Lifewide (more than work)
  • Lifedeep (about community & meaning)
Chris didn't talk much about Web 2.0. in the context of Education. But he did mention something about providing content and the technology to teachers. And that the tools should allow them to teach better.

Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008

By the end of his talk, I had this thought:

If we really want to transform the education system, perhaps schools need to rethink about their "customers".

I mean, shouldn't schools also teach parents, in addition to teaching their child.

If parents enroll their children in schools, there should be a way (or even compulsory) to have parents enroll themselves as part of the school.

Parents' failure to attend classes would literally mean failing their child.

I haven't thought about what the parent's curriculum should be (maybe someone might want to pick up this train of thought). But I thought perhaps such a system would ensure that Education is not something outsourced to schools or teachers, but something that involves the family.

[Next: Part 5]

Saturday, March 15, 2008

RICE 2008, 10 & 11 March (part 3)

[From Part 2]

There were a few exhibition booths at the conference venue. This one from the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity and Research (they're based at the NUS campus) got my attention.
Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008

The four young people in the photo were NUS students (the Toddycats Public Exhibitions team, to be precise), who volunteered to man the booth. Incidentally, "Toddycat" is another term for the Common Palm Civet (here's a live wild specimen at Pulau Ubin).

The chap on the extreme left, Alvin Justin, gave me a quick tour of their exhibits.

Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008

You couldn't fail to miss this, a Manatee Dugong foetus (about 20 years old, if I remember correctly 100 years old!)
Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008

Alvin Justin enthusiastically shared how manatees Dugongs were the likely source of the Mermaid legend. I remember him saying: "When you have men out at sea for extended periods, and then when they see something that has a human form..." :)

There was a pangolin specimen. Alvin Justin explained how most people were surprised at the natural gloss of the scales.
Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008 Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008

Alvin Justin asked if I knew what this was. I said "Horseshoe Crab" and added that it was considered a living fossil (Nature documentaries were one of my favourite shows when younger).
Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008

"Ah, but do you know how it looks like underneath?" asked the young Toddycat guide.

He flipped it over and yeah, I was surprised to see how skinny it was.
Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008

He went on: "Most people may know that it's a living fossil, but few are aware that it's related more to spiders than crabs".


I learned something new.

And I became acutely aware of the relevance of the educator, standing in front of the student.

There are plenty of information sources out there. The fact that a Horseshoe Crab is more closely related to spiders than crabs is something mentioned in the first paragraph of this Wikipedia entry. One simply had to point the student to a few of such information links if all that's needed was to let them learn facts.

Ah, but when a teacher weaves a story into the lesson. Or displays enthusiasm and passion (as Alvin Justin did).

That makes a world of difference.

[Next: Part 4]

Thursday, March 13, 2008

RICE 2008, 10 & 11 March (part 2)

[From Part 1]

I had an epiphany of sorts from Day-one:

Education is about instructing students. And also about inspiring students to learn on their own.

What is 'Education'?
Professor Deborah Eyre, keynote speaker for Day-one, observed that as she travelled from country to country, there seem to be more common issues in education. Like the question of how the education system can maximise the potential of individual students.

Education, said Prof Eyre, is about Social and Emotional development.

I thought this slide summed it up pretty well: POTENTIAL + OPPORTUNITIES/ SUPPORT + MOTIVATION = HIGH ACHIEVEMENT
Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008

Prof Eyre also showed a slide, citing the Singapore Educational milestones 2004/ 2005 (which incidentally I remember reading from this book): "Our education system seeks to help our students to become creative thinkers, life-long learners and leaders of change."

The problem of Classroom Teaching
Which reminded me of a criticism (where I'd read from somewhere) about how typical classroom education didn't adequately prepare students for real-world problems.

The criticism went something like this: In schools, problems are handed to students to solve, with the problems having known answers. In real-world situations, we have to know how to identify problems, which may appear fuzzy. And solutions to problems are often fuzzy as well.

Now, I believe the "Here's-A-Problem-Please-Solve-It" approach still has a place in schools. You need to simplify such things in a classroom setting.

The thing is not to just rely on that approach alone.

Day-one of RICE 2008 convinced me that many teachers recognise this. And something is being done.

Some schools have done it through contests or competitions, to allow their students to experiment and explore academic subjects deeper (rather than just dictated by a strict schools curriculum). Some schools do it through Service Learning or Community-based Progammes.

Nan Hua High School's Community Programmes
I attended the presentation from Nan Hua High School, where they shared their approach and experience in implementing their Community Programmes. They've set up a Partnership Committee, whose approach is to tap on partners' resources and expertise, while they focus on pedegogy (makes so much sense, doesn't it?)

They have also moved from just a Community Involvement Programme (CIP) to what they call a Community Leaders Programme (CLP). I wondered if their Community Partnership progammes have resulted in attitude or behavioural changes among their students. Would be an interesting study, I'm sure.

I was impressed by their "International Immersion Programme", where they aimed to "prepare students for a global community" and to develop "cultural intelligences" in their students. Students get to travel overseas, on supervised trips planned by the school. Upon returning, the students write a report and present their learning points to other students.

Their International Immersion Programme started in 2003, with a long term goal of enabling every student to have gone for at least one overseas learning programme, within their four years with the school. And they said the school has recently achieved this goal.


During Q&A, I asked if it meant every student had a chance to go overseas. The teacher said, Yes. They send students in the third year (our of four). I think they have been able to do this with some funding scheme that paid half of the expenses.

Nan Hua High also host camps in Singapore, attended by international students. They've set up a Tourism Club, with their students conducting local heritage tours. When overseas dignitaries visit their school, some of their students get to plan and execute the event, even writing speeches for their school principal to deliver.

More than Exams
The teachers I met at the conference recognise that 'education' does not stop with exams or is something that's only achieved in schools. I was told that some schools are moving away from using examination results as the main benchmark.

The flip side, I realised, is that school-life is no longer as simple as it once was.

Students are not only expected to do well not only for exams, but also to do well in non-examinable areas like co-curricula activities, and taking part in community work. Hence the cause for complaints by some that students in Singapore have no time for themselves outside of school.

But I say life tomorrow is never as simple as it was yesterday.

Besides, I think the fault lies with some parents who continue to emphasise solely on exam results. I was told how some parents would hound the teacher if their child does badly in the exams.

I digress, of course.

I suppose one way to educate parents is to make them partners in the child's education. I know teachers have meet-the-parent sessions. But I'm thinking about something even more structured, like the Community-Partnership model.

Maybe each school should set up a Parent-Partnership Committee.

You not only give the child an education, but you also educate the parent in the process.

What is 'Education' again?
While reflecting on Day-one, I went back to the equation from Prof Eyre:

There's no "Exam" in the equation. Implied in "Achievement" perhaps. Which means "Achievement" is more than just good academic results.

The Singapore Education System is something that some Singaporean armchair critics like to take pot-shots at. Not that there isn't any legitimate cause for complaints. Our Education System isn't perfect. But which system is?

Hearing from, and speaking to, the teachers at the conference, I'm convinced change is in already in the air.

It's gradual. But it's there.

One question I had was, "How can public libraries be an integral part of that change?"

It's a question that I intend to address in a subsequent post.

[Next: Part 3]

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

RICE 2008, 10 & 11 March (part 1)

Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the conference.

RICE 2008 - Raffles International Conference on Education. The "Raffles" part being the name of the Junior College organising the two-day event (10 & 11 Mar 2008).

Two months earlier, Adrian and I chatted online about what he did in school as a teacher, and what I did with my projects in the public library. Both concerned youths.

Adrian then pointed me to the conference website. Said I should submit what I'd shared as a paper for consideration.

At that time I doubted if what I had to share had relevance to the conference theme of "Interweaving Curriculum and Community".

Our public libraries worked with schools for outreach events, visits to the library, information literacy workshops etc. But to date (at least in my last 12 years), no school ever weaved their curriculum with the public library service.

Years back, I remember discussing with some teachers on the possibility of doing so. To cut a long story short, that sort of integration never happened.

I accepted it as the reality of the education system in Singapore. The teachers simply had no time. The school curriculum was too jammed packed. Teachers moved in and out of schools too frequently to establish any long term understanding and relations.

My doubt about the conference was also from my lack of feasible ideas on how public library services could be integrated with school curriculum (schools in Singapore generally have their own libraries -- well funded and supported too).

I was skeptical, I even told Adrian. Probably a futile exercise in submitting the paper, I'd thought.

Still, he was adamant that I send the Abstract in. So I checked with my boss. OK, go ahead. I submitted the Abstract* (barely meeting the submission deadline and giving Adrian grief in the process, heh). A week later, I was told the abstract was accepted.

But I had doubts, both in my capacity as a presenter and a participant.

Doubtful of whether my presentation could make a connection with the teachers. And doubtful that I'd learn anything new from the conference.

It was one of those instances when my mind was closed to possibilities.

(Reflecting upon it now, I'm reminded of this bumper sticker I saw in SF: Minds are like parachutes. They work best when open.

I should've known better).

I was jaded, perhaps. From too many lackluster and superficial networking sessions at conferences. The kind where people would say "We Must Meet To Discuss More" but will eventually and conveniently forget after the event.

But after Day-one of the conference, I was glad I'd signed up.

For the first time in a long while, I'd actually enjoyed myself at a conference.

Where I met and got to know new kakis like Thomas and Cheng Puay (we hit off right away, leading me to call us The Bacteria Boys... sounds childish but hey, the best form of Education is Play!)
Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008

After we'd all gone home on Day-One, Siva had already blogged about it. I was tempted to do so, but I needed time to organise my thoughts properly.

I was tired. But happily so.

The 30-minute presentation format worked quite well (although the downside was I'd missed the presentations by Thomas, Siva, Adrian and Cheng Puay 'cos we were presenting at the same time slots for concurrent sessions. Wished I was there when Adrian whipped out his Mer-dog drawing in a midst of his presentation).

I'm not sure what the participants thought about my presentation. Personally I was happy with what I shared. The room was full. I might have made some sense to at least two or three teachers (out of maybe 40) in the classroom.

My presentation covered how the public library experimented with Instant Messaging and blogs for Teens Programming. The learning points from infusing IT, the idea of "Global Connectedness", and the concept of "Teen Expressions". I gave examples from events that started in 2005, continued in 2006, and refined in 2007 (I should blog about that soon). And I invited teachers to work with the library on possible projects hopefully in the near future.

Hanging out with Siva, Cheng Puay, Adrian and Thomas during break time was like comedy hour between the seriousness of the speeches.

Raffles International Conference on Education (RICE) 2008I walked away with a positive attitude from each presentation by teachers. I believed they were representative of a shift in thinking in schools -- on what is Education Vs. Instruction.

Day-two came and went.

At the end of it all, after everything was packed and the conference venue deserted, Adrian gave me a lift in his car. We stopped by a cafe. I treated him to coffee.

I didn't tell him why. He probably thought it was a buddy-thing. Which was.

But in truth, it was a quiet Thank You.

For presenting a chance for me to learn something new.

And having fun in the process.

[Next: Part 2]

* The Abstract of my presentation at RICE 2008:
"Changing the World, One Friend At A Time: Infusing Digital Media and "Global Connectedness" in the Public Library Teen Programming" Teenagers (13 to 19 years) are an important user segment to the Public Library. They are also one of the most challenging user groups to reach, as the typical delivering modes for programmes ( e.g. talks and lectures) do not appeal to them. Since 2004, the Public Library has experimented with using digital mediums like blogs and Instant Messenging as part of the programmes and activities for teens and young people. The strategy was to leverage on teens being IT savvy, as well as infusing the element of "Global-connectedness", so that programmes for teens are genuinely appealing, relevant and meaningful. In addition, the library also actively publicised and sought to involve teens overseas, though various overseas partners. The paper will include case studies that involved Singaporean teens and those from other countries. For example, the "Pseudo Book Club", a reading group managed and facilitated by teens. Another example would be a Teen Online Chat event, where 57 teens from Singapore and Germany participated in online chat sessions in their respective countries and timezones. Singaporean teens were able to showcase their creativity and multimedia skills by presenting the Singapore sights and sounds to their German peers. The paper will share the practical aspects of using digital/ new media as part of the programme, as well as learning points from implementing events that cover different time zones. It will also share some future plans on using this particular programming approach for teens.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Alphabet books from

From the Internet Archive blog:
This selection of alphabet books spans a hundred years and is probably of more interest to adults than children. Two of the more unusual books are the Anti-Slavery Alphabet published at the height of the American abolition movement and Little People: An Alphabet which could as easily be titled ‘An Alphabet of Racism’. This popular form of educating (and sometimes indoctrinating) children has endured for over two centuries. The form has also been used to amuse adults as can be seen in An Alphabet of Celebrities.
The blog post features a list of the 12 digitised books, from "The Royal Alphabet" published in 1808, to "A Peter Pan Alphabet" published in 1907.

Here are two screenshots of "An Alphabet of Celebrities" published in 1899, or 109 years ago.
Open Library: Details: An alphabet of celebrities Open Library - sample page: An Alphabet of Celebrities

This item record says: "LC copy the gift of Mrs. Peter Grant, May 22, 1952".

I'm guessing it's a copy from the Library of Congress, donated by Mrs. Peter Grant on 22 May 1952.

From its content, I'm pretty sure the book was published more for adults than for children. The "A" entry has Albert Edward, King Arthur, Alcibiades and Aphrodite!

Fascinating stuff.

To me, each book is a work of art.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Flickr for Good! (or, "TechSoup, Maintaining IT and Social Software")

My friend in SF, Sarah, informs me of this initiative called Flickr for Good, where Flickr has partnered with TechSoup to donate 10,000 one-year Flickr pro accounts for good causes.

Meaning, if you're a public library or non-profit organisation registered in the USA and/ or Canada, you can buy multiple accounts at a reduced price. More details at TechSoup's Flickr Donation Program page and the Maintain IT Project blog.

Which brings me to blog about TechSoup.

Techsoup visit Techsoup visit Techsoup visit Techsoup visit

While I was in San Francisco, i.e. speaking stint at USF, Sarah arranged for me to visit her workplace at TechSoup (where I shared with her colleagues, Kami and Chris, on what Singapore's Public Libraries were doing with New Media).

From this page, it says TechSoup provides a range of technology services for nonprofits, including news and articles, discussion forums, and discounted and donated technology products.

They do much more.

Like NetSquared (, whose mission is to encourage non-profits and NGOs to understand and use social software and web tools.
About | NetSquared, a project of

There's also the MaintainIT Project (, a three-year project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They work with public libraries to identify best practices of technical support for public computers.
About Us | The MaintainIT Project, a project of TechSoup

Here's what I learned from Sarah via email (it's fascinating stuff to me, which I'll recount here):

Techsoup visitSome 20 years ago, CompuMentor (the original, parent organization) was formed in an attempt to use The Well (an early message board) to connect techies with struggling non-profit organisations.

The idea was that techies with an interest in the social mission of an organization would "mentor" the non-profit organisation, and help them use technology to achieve their organisation's goals.

This continued for some time with various off-shoots.

About seven years ago, started as an online community to help non-profit organisations use technology to meet their needs, with forums, articles, and trainings.

Soon TechSoup Stock started, for large companies to use TechSoup as a donation stream for their software products. Which was a win-win situation 'cos the donating organisation could obtain tax breaks and a non-profit organisation or a public library could buy, say, a donated Windows XP upgrade for USD$10 instead of the USD$280 original price.

Maintain IT project
The MaintainIT project is part of all of that -- an attempt to focus on American public libraries, gathering tips and techniques from the field on how to support public computers so that the librarians could learn from their peers.

[NOTE: At this point, Singapore librarians may wonder, as I did, why their public libraries didn't have their own technical support. Sarah explained that "many, many, many libraries don't have any tech support, and just rely on the kindness of friends and relatives and volunteers to help them out".

I realised that being such a large country, with different states and counties, cities and suburbs, and communities, the funding and priorities for public libraries in North America isn't homogeneous as I once thought it was].

What keeps TechSoup staff awake at night?
I asked Sarah this question. She replied that currently they're kept awake by trying to figure out how to sustain technical support models.

As I understand, money from the Gates Foundation isn't forever (it's a three-year grant). By the end of that time, the public libraries have to learn how to be on their feet without outside help from large foundations (read this related post by Jessamyn West, who sits in the MaintainIT project steering committee).

New Media
I asked Sarah how much of "New Media" is part of what TechSoup does.

She replied that they are starting to promote and increase awareness of Web 2.0 technologies (like through NetSquared). But it's just not something they are focusing on yet, although they recognise that many small libraries could benefit from Web 2.0.

When I first learned of the MaintainIT project, I asked Sarah, "Why would librarians maintain your own computers? Don't you have tech support"?

Thinking back, it was a silly question. When I joined NLB in 1996, we didn't have tech-support either (more on this, in a future post).

On the part of Web 2.0, I'm not sure how it's perceived by librarians in the US. How much do they understand (or misunderstand)? I'd recommend this article by O'Reilly (the term came from them afterall) but then again, it may be better understood by those who are using Web 2.0 that than those who have not.

I think initiatives like NetSquared are in the right direction. It's important to create awareness about Web 2.0 technologies. But the site doesn't seem to be for Web 2.0 newbies.

For one, the site looks too "techie" at first glance. From the main page alone, I see terms like "Mashup Challenge", "Hackathon", "RSS". The listings of projects tend to make more sense to programmers and coders rather than end-users. A Web 2.0 newbie is unlikely to explore the site further.

I feel it's important to have a dedicated site for Web 2.0 newbies, along with initiatives like MaintainIT.

Maybe call it "MaintainSocialMedia", i.e. the New Media equivalent of MaintainIT.

Maybe it should be called "What Chicken Tastes Like". This is an inside joke of sorts, if you've been to my talks. As explained at this post, the point was that trying to understand new media without actually trying it out, was like trying to experience what Chicken tastes like without ever eating one.

To get someone to try out tools like blogs or to sign up for a Flickr account, I think it helps if you hear from what others have done, and more important, the success stories (big or small) they've achieved.

If MaintainIT is about sharing best practices in maintaining computers in public libraries, then the sister-site should be about other libraries sharing their practices in using social media. And sharing their observed or recorded outcomes.

I'd avoid terms like "Web 2.0" and "Library 2.0" which frankly, are just marketing-speak and does little to explain what its about.

As Sarah mentioned to me in passing, using those terms may even achieve the reverse of turning potential adopters off, since they don't see themselves identify with it.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Documentary: “Radio Station Forgot To Play My Favourite Song“

[First posted at Yesterday.SG, 3 Mar 2008]

I'm not old enough to have experienced the vibrant Singapore music scene in the '60s. But I'm old enough (or perhaps "young enough"?) to identify with the rock/ metal scene in the '80s.

At least, I had some recognition of the songs, the bands, the musicians. I definitely got goosebumps as I sat mesmerised, reading Billy's post and watching the documentary (posted in three parts in YouTube):
Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

The title of the "rockumentary" has its namesake from a song by the Padres.

The film was a Final Year Project by a trio of NTU students five years ago. Billy's post has the details.

Growing up then, I remember hearing some -- just a few -- of the featured songs on radio (the interviewees featured in the video repeatedly said there was little support from local radio).

In truth, I wouldn't have bought most of the music then. 'Cos I didn't have much money as a student, and not all the music was my cup of tea.

But one's perspectives changes with time, I suppose.

If someone were to compile the music from that period and make it available as a CD, I'd buy it now without hesitation.

I'd listen to it.

And savour the music from that era in Singapore's (hidden) musical heritage.

Even the Death/ Trash Metal songs.

And my favourite track, without a doubt, would be the Padre's "Radio Station Forgot to Play My Favourite Song".

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Walter Lim, on "Surviving the blogosphere's social-list"

Walter was interviewed by (28 Jan, 2008) on his views about social media, PR and marketing.

I like what Walter shared at the last two paragraphs:
The best way to understand the new digital domain is to become one of them. Get your hands dirty, roll up your sleeves, engage in online conversations and blog away. Mingle freely way before delivering your first ‘key message'. It is like Relationships 101 all over again.

Most importantly be realistic about what you can or cannot achieve in the new media arena. There are certain topics and subjects that just won't cut it online, regardless of the amount of cultivation/ friendship/ bribery that you have done. Be happy with little successes in the initial stages and build on to bigger and better things in time to come.
The full article, here (Note: I find it ironic that the website calls itself "Interactive Marketing" but the site itself doesn't have things like a Comment feature or Trackback for its articles, heh).

Walter should know what he's talking about. He's a marketing guy who's worked in both the private and public sector (Yesterday.SG's one of his projects, including campaigns like this one -- mentioned by other bloggers actually). He's been invited to forums on PR and Social Media.

And he blogs as well.

His blog is a mix of personal (he's a nature enthusiast at heart) and professional posts (like this, this and this one).

Walter started his blog in May 2005. I remember telling him over a cup of coffee that he's one of those people who should start a blog. He said he had no time. I agreed that blogging takes up time.

But added that since he was clearly passionate about Marketing (while in the coffee shop, he was pointing out what the shop was doing right and what could be improved) and he clearly has intelligent things to say, starting a blog would be a fulfilling experience personally and professionally.

Two years later, judging from his blog, he's clearly done that.