What does technology bring to the table?

One of my pet peeves as a kid was having to do lessons with poorly integrated technology.  It seemed to me to be akin to being forced to use a certain formula to solve a math problem, even when you could get to the answer in other ways.  At the time, I didn’t really grasp that gaining technology proficiency was one of the goals – all I saw was technology getting in the way of tasks that I could easily complete on my own.

Technology has come a long way, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a waste of time if used incorrectly.  I now know the value of requiring students to acquire technology skills as a part of their work, but I’m still leery of frustrating them, and of being that librarian that sticks technology into situations where it doesn’t quite fit.

I had to really look at what I was doing today.  As one of my major practicum projects, I’m developing a new, self guided library orientation.  The plan was for students to use the library’s Ipods to scan QR codes which would launch webpages describing challenges at different stations throughout the library.  At each station, they would either submit an answer through an HTML form, take a photo to prove they completed their task, or scan a QR code that wouldn’t be given to them until they finished the challenge.

I spent the first week of my practicum writing the questions, applying standards, and brainstorming how the stations would flow from one to the next.  I wrote to other librarians who’ve created similar programs, and wrote to a company that licenses an Ipod app for such scavenger hunts (no reply from them, btw).  Meanwhile, my host librarian attempted to track down the Ipods, which as it turned out, very few people were keeping tabs on.

The ipods were finally located.  The wireless router was finally configured.  Today was the day I actually sat down with a device, planning to begin writing HTML and testing pages on it.  Today was the day I learned: these are scaled down educational versions of the Ipod.  That is, where the camera should be, there is a piece of plastic.  No camera.  No QR reader.  Fudge.

Yeah.  Back to the drawing board.  My host librarian suggested (with a bit of well deserved bitterness; she is not happy with the functionality of these devices) that maybe instead of the Ipods, we could use the library’s laptops, which do have webcams.  A little searching revealed that although it’s a little unusual, some dude had indeed developed a QR reader for laptops.  Awesome.  Let’s download it and test it!

Nope.  Turns out you need an administrative login to do that!  I typed up a description of exactly what we need to do, and my host librarian sent it off to the person she says is most likely to help.  So I was left considering what this tour would have to look like in order to work on either device.  On the Ipods, it would have to be entirely link based, with task completion assessed by a multiple choice question or form submission.  On the laptops, we could stick with our original ideas.  However, the excitement of the project dropped a notch as I pictured students lugging laptops around instead of the newer, sexier devices they would prefer to use.

I started wondering: what are we accomplishing that the old paper-based library orientation didn’t?  I really had to think about it.  Thankfully, the more I think about it, the more I am realizing the potential benefits of using the laptops.  Instead of text prompts for all the challenges, I can use embedded video.  It will probably be easier to write the HTML or modify a template.  Students can actually complete the challenges that require them to use the OPAC and databases on their own computers.  Okay.  So if I do a good job, the technology is serving a purpose.

I will admit that today was a frustrating day.  The project is basically at a standstill, as anything I do for one device will be a wasted effort if we end up going with the other.  These are the nuances they don’t teach you in library school…

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