Wednesday, April 25, 2007

In the Newspaper: MyDeathSpace

I am something of a newspaper addict. Many people now get their news online, I know, but I still like to read the old fashioned paper copy that appears on my front walk every morning. Like the crazy guy in "Heart of Darkness," I am ritualistic about how I approach my daily friend. First I scan the front section, and even read the articles that catch my eye, time permitting. Next I look at the editorial page, which is in the 2nd section. I allow myself to read the editorial cartoons, but just look at the headlines of the columns and put the section aside for later. Then I briefly glance at the local section, checking out columns there and maybe glancing the TV guide. The rest is saved for later when I continue with my orderly march through the paper. I will spare any readers that progression....All this is to say that every single day I see things in the paper related to technology that are worth exploring or discussing. Often I then mention them with students via Blackboard Discussion Board. It occurred to me to sometimes mention things gleaned from the paper in this forum as well.

Here is one: Much has been made of the way young people reacted to the Virginia Tech shootings by going to MySpace. This, to me, is one way that social networking can be beneficial. Yesterday I read in the paper about a sub-group of MySpace called MyDeathSpace. I got the feeling that this subgroup was well known, but I had never heard of it. Wikipedia explains that this site offers information about MySpace account holders who have died. I paid it a visit. While this site might sound a bit macabre, I found it to be in good taste. Not only did it offer links to MySpace users who were killed, which includes most of the students, but also to pages for other victims. I was interested in Dr. Liviu Librescu, for instance, and clicking on his picture took me to his faculty web page. Since I often pay visits to professors' web pages, seeing his somehow made him more real to me. I read about his publications, awards, and courses taught. Even though he was clearly a senior faculty member, he was pulling a full load with four classes this spring. Of course this led me to think about those classes, and how all his students must feel.

Next I moved on and visited a student's page. I was taken by the ebullient picture of Erin Peterson, just 18 and a VT freshman. Her page reflected the outgoing personality displayed in her picture. Reading her bio and the comments posted there was a touching reminder of the fragility of life. For some reason, even more moving than the tributes were the "normal everyday" comments that she probably had read shortly before her death as she and her friends communicated via MySpace.

I can certainly see how Internet places like this serve a special and valuable role in helping all of us, and especially young, technology savvy people, remember and grieve lost loved ones. If you have not paid a visit to MyDeathSpace, here is the link:

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Non Cookie-Cutter Site

I have been grading papers this morning and one of my students shared a school media center site that I like so much I am stopping grading and recommending it immediately. It is very attractive and should appeal even to those who previously criticized another page I liked for being too busy. This one is very clean and attractive, with ORIGINAL CLIP ART, something I really like. Here it is:
I will notify the staff that I bragged on their site.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Cookie cutter pages again...

I had a number of emails about the issue of library pages being forced to fit in standard templates, as discussed in my earlier posting. After posting about this to LM_NET, EDTECH and TLC, I received around twenty responses, in addition to the comments offered here. Many people reported that they had recently put up pages that were part of the school's framework, or that were offered by their library automation software. Several people said that they were specifically told NOT to use existing pages that they were designed and furthermore that they were not allowed to link to an original page posted elsewhere. I received quite a few messages from people who said things like: "Oh how in agreement I am about your discovery. I have sadly watched the demise of creativity and the development of template pages for several years now" and "I couldn't agree with you more! I designed and maintained my own web site at two different schools over a period of 9 years. Then, last year, my school decided to outsource our school website and everyone was put onto a standard template."

Several people did point out that, because they were at a independent or private schools, all web pages were considered marketing tools and thus were expected to have pages that were standardized to conform with all other school pages. Additionally, I did have one response from an individual who preferred the professional and clean look of template pages. She did not like very busy pages with large numbers of links, instead favoring pages that had a very clean, streamlined look. While I agree that pages should not be cluttered with extraneous images or distracting animations, I enjoy having pages that deliver a wealth of information all in one place. Here are some additional sites that were shared as a result of this posting:

Regardless of your choice/option for the pages you put up, there are several things everyone should remember:
1. Adhere to good basic design tenets. There are websites out there that can help you with this. In general, busy backgrounds, distracting images and sounds, flashing lights, etc. are not recommended.
2. Be mindful of safety when using student images and names. My opinion is that they should be avoided even if parents' permission is given.
3. Do not put up a page if you are not willing or able to keep it current, with working links.
4. If you MUST use a template, take it as far as you can with original ideas and features to make it unique.
5. For inspiration, visit outstanding library and educational websites.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Good News or Bad??? Cookie Cutter Library Pages

Alas, my blog has languished a bit. I was afraid of this happening. The truth is, my reasons for slacking are not so much difficulties I have encountered as good times I have had. The end of Spring Break week brought a visit from my daughter, who lives in Oregon. She was here for about 10 days and that is when I fell behind in, well, everything. Mea culpa, and here I am trying to catch up.

Today I have been visiting school libraries. Not physically, but from the comfort of my lounge chair on my screened-in porch. Ahhhh spring in Texas! It is a lovely mild day, and I am enjoying working from my backyard world. One of my class assignments asks students to visit two school libraries via their online pages. They are to critique the pages as well as the automated systems they encounter. When I grade their work, I visit the schools as well. One thing I have been noticing over the last year or two is the increasing trend toward cookie-cutter pages. Librarians are putting up their information using templates provided either by their automated systems or by school management systems such as FirstClass. I can certainly see the advantages:

1. Such sites are professional in appearance.

2. There is continuity from one school page to the next.

3. Posting there is easier than posting original pages.

4. There is a great deal of control over the appearance and likely the content of these pages on the parts of technology staff or administrators.

The above listed advantages can also be faults, though. What is lost with cookie cutter pages is creative spark. The businesslike appearance may look polished and professional, but I am not sure it captures the imaginations of the true target audience, students. I feel a bit sad to see fewer and fewer sites that are lively, colorful, and creative. I also see less, if any, student work presented on the look-alike pages. And I have to wonder as I do about so many things that educators do to be more “businesslike,” is this the direction we really want? Here are just a few pages where the cookie cutter police have not yet prevailed. At the tope of the list I have to mention Peter Milbury’s Chico High Library pages. He gets so much information in to his collection of pages, and does it HIS way. What a shame to see any of the pages below get molded into cookie cutter templates. Kudos to all those folks out there who are still willing and able to row their own cyber-boats!

Chico High Library Pages:

Grandview Elementary Library:

Springfield Township Virtual Library:

I could go on and may add a few sites, but right now the dog is in serious need of walking. I would love your suggestions of additional great pages, and also any comments you might have about how to withstand the forces of rampant templatism.