Beyond Google: The UQL Cyberschool enhances the search for information in the online electronic world
Ask your students (and teachers for that matter) where they start their research when set an assessment task, and inevitably they will reply: 'Google'. Google, the world's best known search engine, is here to stay.
Most students head for the Internet first. This is where they reconnect with their friends only half an hour after leaving them at the end of Period 6. The Internet fulfils many needs of Generation Y / Millennial students raised in a post industrial world, who respond to pictures, visual stimulus, metaphors and testimonials and who consider multi-tasking and multi-experience as a given (McCrindle 2003).
Libraries, transformed into cybraries, are meeting these students' educational needs by providing access to search engines and to more authoritative Internet search tools, as well as the traditional material of books and other physical resources. School libraries play a key role here, with recent research (ASLA 2003) confirming their positive impact on student learning.
Librarians and teacher librarians have the skills and resources to direct information seekers and researchers to vast digital repositories of information, some of which is not available in any other form. Rather than feeling threatened by the advent and popularity of the Internet, librarians and teacher librarians can assist learners to locate, process, evaluate and synthesise information directly relevant to their research purpose. Librarians become 'web pilots' (Hough 2004) who develop learners' information literacy across all areas of the curriculum.
In this context, the UQL Cyberschool provides a unique service to schools. It is an outreach program of the University of Queensland Cybrary and its major focus is to provide access to authoritative online electronic resources to secondary schools in Queensland. The service is facilitated by qualified and experienced teacher librarians. There is currently no other program performing this service in Australia, or elsewhere in the world.
The UQL Cyberschool has three major functions: to negotiate discounted access to commercial subscription databases available for schools; to maintain its website as a gateway to selected, authoritative Internet sites for use by secondary school students; and to provide training to both teachers and students on the information literacy process and the integration of electronic resources into the school curriculum. Each of these roles will now be considered.
Database access for schools
Database subscriptions for schools represent a major investment of scarce financial resources and are not undertaken lightly, however, it is no longer feasible to argue that they are not necessary. Students and teachers need access to these quality resources and also need to learn appropriate skills of electronic information retrieval as part of their lifelong learning. Free database trials offered through the UQL Cyberschool website allow teacher librarians to try before they commit funds. They have time to evaluate, to demonstrate to colleagues, to familiarise themselves with content and to ensure they are considering the best purchase option for their school. A simple calculation based on school population and the number of times a subscribed database is accessed can quickly show how cost effective a subscription can be.
The range of databases offered by the UQL Cyberschool consortia include full text journals that are rarely available to schools in printed form. Other databases cover full text of newspapers, reference tools, and subject specific resources.
A gateway for schools
The UQL Cyberschool website provides a free gateway for schools to selected and evaluated online electronic resources for use in the curriculum.
Training and teacher professional development
The UQL Cyberschool provides training for teachers, teacher librarians and students to empower them to access online electronic resources more effectively and efficiently. Training is tailored to the needs of the particular groups seeking information and is conducted in hands on workshops.
Teacher Librarian Network groups have also undertaken training in Advanced Information Retrieval offered by the UQL Cyberschool. Teacher training in the use of subscribed databases is conducted in schools. Students researching a specific assignment are guided through the Information Literacy process using a full range of electronic and print resources. Teachers are provided with strategies for integrating electronic Information Communication Technology resources into the curriculum.
The resources and services of the UQL Cyberschool provide an essential and readily accessible learning gateway to support students, teachers and the curriculum. These services are generally provided at no cost to schools, apart from payments to database vendors through the UQL Cyberschool consortia.
In recognition of the value of the program, the UQL Cyberschool has received two major awards for innovation and excellence - the Australian Library Association Award for Innovation in 2001, and the inaugural International Association for School Libraries / Softlink Award for Excellence, in 2004.
Australian School Library Association (2003) Impact of School Libraries on Student Achievement: a Review of the Research. Australian Council for Educational Research, Camberwell, Vic.
HOUGH, Michael (2004) 'Cresting the Waves: Thinking Strategically About Libraries and the Future of Schooling', Paper presented to the Biennial Conference of the School Library Association of Queensland, Southport, 29 June to 1 July, 2004.
McCRINDLE, Mark (2003) 'The ABC of XYZ: Generational Diversity at Work, Quay Appointments website, accessed 7 July 2004
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)