Overdrive – downloadable ebooks and audiobooks: now a part of our Networked School Community

Overdrive Logo
Image by South Carolina State Library via Flickr

I wrote this in March 2010.

We have three Kindles, and will begin lending them out for a week at a time next term. We’ve decided to not invest in more of them and are awaiting the release of the iPad to see how that looks. But really, the reader device is not our big issue. I don’t see us purchasing these devices in bulk and borrowing them out. I see our clientele having a device (their own computers can fulfill this purpose!) and we as a library lending out a file…

Our big issue is, how is the publishing industry going to respond to the rollout of a device like the iPad, and how will we as Libraries be involved? My personal opinion is that I think the iPad is going to be the start of the revolution that will see an ereader device have a major impact on the way people read. But the tricky question for libraries will be, how do we become a part of that revolution??

Unless I’ve missed something somewhere, I’m not seeing this essential question being answered in the networks I inhabit or by the publishing industry. I did discuss it with the developer of the library system we have just moved to, and he was talking about having the ability to encrypt files so that they could be transferred to a device, but they would only remain on the device for a two week period. When that time was up, they would once again appear as a file available for borrowing. Now that made sense to me; in fact, it was the first time someone had presented an idea that I thought was even feasible.

…Are there answers out there to these questions? If there are, point me in the right direction, because I want to make my library relevant to the kids we teach. I want to see them able to borrow files like these and not have to fork out money to pay for everything they want to read on an ereader or listen to on an iPod or other MP3 device. I want my library to fulfill the function libraries have been performing for the last century or so; ensuring access to information.

The way information is accessible is changing; the way Libraries lend content will change with these new ways of receiving information. Let’s work out how we’re going to go about doing it.

I don’t know how long it was after writing this post that I started reading about Overdrive,  a company providing an option for libraries to lend ebook and audiobook files that will stay on a device for a specified period and then return to the library’s collection for borrowing again. I do know that what I was reading held my interest. Here was a company doing what I had envisaged as possible.

What I did do was discuss Overdrive with our Library team and the school’s Technology committee. Every discussion I had was met with enthusiasm for the idea that our students and staff would be able to download ebooks and audiobooks to their computers and ereading and listening devices. But still, I hesitated. I asked myself questions like:

What if a better option presents itself?

Is it sensible to tie ourselves into platform delivery for ebooks and audiobooks?

Will this company become the frontrunner as an ebook/audiobook borrowing solution?

I think they were good questions, and I thought about them long and hard for at least 6 months. I looked out for other options, but nothing as fluid as Overdrive had presented itself. I was reluctant to tie us into a platform for delivery, but I did want to see our school library move into the ebook/audiobook arena in a serious way. We’re a 1:1 laptop school, and we have some voracious readers who absorb content at a rapid rate. I wanted to see us have an option that would allow a student sitting home at 7.30pm, thinking they might want to read a book, be able to sign into our system and download it to their device. I still don’t know if Overdrive will emerge as the frontrunner as the library ebook/audiobook solution. Nobody knows the answer to that question. Eventually, after more discussion with our library team, we decided to make what we think is going to be a significant and positive change for our library, and we subscribed to the service.

We began working with Overdrive in July 2011, and the system was launched with our staff at the end of the 2011 school year (that’s December in my hemisphere). We probably could have got things going earlier, but if your library is anything like mine, plenty of things get in the way, not the least of which was the work that was going into the development of the Information Fluency program I outlined in my Moving to a Networked School Community post recently. We also decided to begin working with Libguides at the same time (I’ll write another post about that soon) and that took up time as well.

If you’re interested in the nuts and bolts questions about how Overdrive works, their Frequently Asked Questions page is worth reading. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the system fees; I’ve found that’s what most people want to know first. Here’s the answer to that question (from their FAQ);

System Fees

How much does School Download Library cost?

Pricing for the School Download Library service starts at just $4,000 per year (including $2,000 worth of eBooks and/or audiobooks) for an individual school or a district of up to 2,000 students. For pricing for a larger district, please contact the OverDrive Sales Team at 216-573-6886 Ext. 4, or sales@overdrive.com.

Here’s what the Toorak College site looks like.

We were able to customise the header and were grateful to our Media Studies teacher who helped us come up with a design we were happy with . We’re using the same header for our Libguides site, but that is entitled ‘Library’ and not ‘Digital Collection’ (obviously!). The tab on the Digital Collection site for TC Library will take our students to the Libguides site. We had to make decisions about the look and feel of the site, and what terms we were going to use in the check out process of a book. We opted for using the term ‘My Cart’ for the check out process, because we thought it was a term commonly used on sites and would be familiar to students and staff, even if it does sound like they’re shopping. They are shopping, but the books coming to them are free!

There are some things you need to be mindful of. We are a dual platform school, supporting both Macs and PCs, but the vast majority of students in Yrs 5 – 8 have Mac computers. Many of the audiobooks that are available will not be available to download as an MP3 file on a Mac computer. The vast number available are WMA Audiobook files, and need to be downloaded to a PC before they can be transferred to an iPhone, iPod or iPad. We are going to set up and Overdrive Download Station in our school library to assist students who don’t have access to a PC at home.

Another thing to take note of is the fact that not everything published is available to add to your library content. Publishers make a decision to work with Overdrive, so you’re limited to publishers who have made that decision, and to the content they are offering for  purchase as a digital file. There isn’t a huge raft of Australian content, and hopefully we will see more titles make their way to their marketplace store in the future.

I’ve spent time over this holiday period downloading titles to my iPad via the app they have available in the iTunes store. It’s been incredibly easy. I even managed to impress my hard to impress daughter one morning when she said she’d like to read a book. I got the iPad, opened the app, accessed our library, found a title, added it to my cart, proceeded with checkout, and downloaded it then and there. Within a minute or two she had a book to read. She raised an impressed eyebrow at that one, and that’s no mean feat!

We are going to have to do quite a bit of work with our students when we return to school educating in them in how to use the platform. They’ll ‘get it’ easily, I have no doubt. They need to sign up to Adobe Digital Editions to use ebooks, and download the Overdrive Media Console to use audiobooks. I created a couple of screencasts to demonstrate the steps they need to follow on a computer and through an iPad, and they will be uploaded to our school intranet to help them out. We found a very helpful document created by Adelaide City Council City Libraries explaining the process of downloading audiobooks to PCs and Macs, and how to transfer these books to ereaders and other devices like iPods and iPads. Natalie, our wonderful Library Technician, morphed it to suit our library  – I hope the Adelaide City Council is OK with that!

Our budget has been designed this year to reflect purchases for a print and digital collection. We will still be purchasing printed fiction, and there will be duplication in our print and digital collections. Obviously we will need to monitor usage, and see what the adoption rate is like for the digital collection. It’s going to be interesting to see how things pan out.

I feel comfortable with the decision we have made to go down this path. We have made contact with other school libraries in Australia who have purchased Overdrive, and it’s been extremely helpful knowing that some advice from others in our country is only a phone call away. I’ve been pretty impressed with the support offered from the Overdrive team. Obviously they are in the United States, and the time zones aren’t all that friendly, but our questions are usually addressed in a 24 hr turnaround. They have provided promotional material using our Library header image, and we’ll be circulating that around    our Library and in classrooms on our return to school.

What it comes down to is that we are providing another avenue for our students to access fiction and non-fiction reading and listening material. This year is the National Year of Reading here in Australia, and we aim to do whatever we can to help our students discover the joy that can come from immersing yourself in a good book. We also see this as part of our Networked School Community model. We are providing our community with a way of accessing our collection from anywhere, at anytime. That’s got to be a good thing.

I’ll keep you posted as to how things pan out as the year progresses.

Moving to a Networked School Community using ISTE Standards, Australian Curriculum and an Edublogs platform.

It’s been a busy year. Really busy. Not only have we opened a new library, and dealt with moving and fitting out new learning spaces, but we have been leading change in our school around information fluency understandings and enabling our students’ growth as digital citizens.

What’s become apparent to my staff and I, is the pressing need for our students to become information fluent for the age they are living in. This means addressing all of the traditional information literacy understandings we have always concentrated on, but also helping our students have an understanding of new technologies and how to use them effectively, understanding the ethical use of digital resources, and knowledge of the importance of creating and maintaining a positive digital footprint. It’s not only the students who need this knowledge base; our teachers need to be well versed too.

So, what are we doing about this?

At the end of last year, with the support of our Head of Learning, we presented what we called an Information Fluency Initiative to our Heads of Faculties and proposed we begin the introduction of this for 2011. First up, we introduced to staff the idea of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge – the TPACK model, developed by Koehler & Mishra.

Source: http://tpack.org/

When using this with staff, I see a lot of nodding heads. They understand the need to integrate technology to support their content knowledge and pedagogical practice. They don’t always know how to do this using new technology tools that support meaningful learning, and aren’t just gimmicky add-ons. As Teacher-Librarians, we work hard at staying on top of new ideas in this arena. We have committed to work closely with our staff, both in the library and in classrooms, to help staff and students come to grips with new ideas using technology to support their learning.

When looking at existing and new ideas for curriculum offerings, we are encouraging our staff to use the SAMR model to inform their planning. I first saw this last year at the AIS Conference, where Martin Levins was leading a sandpit group talking about how to use it to modify learning tasks.

Again, when explaining this model, I see heads nodding in agreement.  Teachers ‘get it’ when you use models like this, and they pay attention to models that have a research base. SAMR was developed by Ruben Puentedura, and from my perspective, it, along with TPACK, should be the basis of any discussion in schools about the use of technology in the development of learning tasks.

The next layer of our Information Fluency initiative was the development of Information Fluency certificates for Year 7, 8 and 9. These have been created using the ISTE NETS for Students as the basis. Key understandings and skills they introduce as critical for today’s students are the following:

  • Demonstrate creativity and innovation
  • Communicate and collaborate
  • Conduct research and use information
  • Think critically, solve problems, and make decisions
  • Use technology effectively and productively

We have used ISTE’s NETS.S curriculum planning tool to help us identify skills we think students should have acquired by the end of  each year.  We were looking to develop an identifiable skill set that we could measure in terms of acquisition. I’m not a strict proponent of a ‘tick the box’ measuring scale by any stretch of the imagination, but I did want something concrete that we could use with our students and staff.  We recognise the need to address the upcoming Australian Curriculum and looked to ACARA to see what was being developed there. What is contained within the General Capabilities underpins meaningful teaching and learning, and is really quite closely aligned with the ISTE NETS for Students. What we have done is to tag each skill within our Information Fluency Certificates with the appropriate General Capability it addresses.  As our staff plan curriculum, we feel these certificates will help them to identify how they can embed new technologies and practice into their delivery of curriculum, knowing that they are addressing aspects of the General Capabilities that ACARA have identified as necessary.

What has taken up considerable time this year, has been the introduction of an Edublogs platform to enable all students from Years 7 – 10 to have an ePortfolio as a means of documenting and demonstrating their learning. In the early stages of planning this Information Fluency initiative, I could see we were going to need some means of sharing the learning that was happening in classrooms. We investigated a WordPress Multi user setup, but felt that the management of this would fall on individuals already tied up with full loads, and our under the pump IT team who already work tirelessly to maintain a robust network. An Edublogs platform that costs, but allows for blogs to be set up with our school’s domain name and comes with support, was decided to be a more workable option. The initial creation and linking of blogs to home page class blogs took some time at the start of the year, as did the work that took place in classrooms teaching students how they managed their blogs/ePortfolios. We have allowed students to select their own themes and customise sidebars with widgets. One of the critical elements of the set up was having students create categories within their blogs/ePortfolios. We recommended they set up a category for every subject they were studying, and other categories that reflected key school directions and co-curricular involvement. Students were taught how to write their posts and add a category or multiple categories to each post. This has made it easy for subject teachers to check into student blogs and click on their subject category, seeing all of the posts written by that student for their subject area.

We have encouraged our teachers to use these these blogs/eportfolios for formative assessment, and students have been encouraged to use them on their own initiative to write about what they have been doing in their classrooms and in co-curricular activities. Over the course of the year we have seen some wonderful ePortfolios created, supported by teachers who can see the positive benefits for our students as they create their own digital footprint. When you see a student’s blog as Google’s top result for a search for Yr 7 Unit of Inquiry, it’s pretty impressive. (One of our staff members was conducting just such a search, and sent me an email excitedly relaying what she’d found!) Students have embedded Clustrmaps in their sidebars, and have seen the reach they have by writing in public spaces. We’ve even recently had the author Susanne Gervay leave a comment on a student’s post that was discussing her novel, ‘Butterflies’. Not every student ePortfolio is brilliant, and some year levels are working much better than others, but we are in our infancy still. It’s accepted that this is part and parcel of the pedagogy now, and we will continue to develop the platform in 2012 and onwards. What these blogs do is provide terrific feedback for students, something that has been a key focus area for our staff as we explore elements of John Hattie’s research. It’s also really encouraging to see students providing feedback to one another  – they are remarkably supportive of one another. We’ve also seen parents and grandparents leave comments. It’s this critical school/home nexus that is seeing our school move closer to a Networked School Community, the type proposed by Associate Professor Glenn Finger and Mal Lee.

Our Edublogs platform has seen many of our students develop skills identified on the Information Fluency Certificates we created. We do recognise the need for the certificates to be fluid documents responding to new technologies as they arise and present our students with new opportunities and challenges. 2011 has been a year of development, and 2012 will be a year of  implementation. We need to map our curriculum to ensure all faculty areas take on board the skill set and understandings we have identified as being critical for the development of effective citizens in our world today. This is not easy work, particularly as it often means teachers need to accept the idea of working in a co-teaching capacity when they themselves don’t have the necessary skill set.

Something I would like to look closely at next year is the AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) National Professional Standards for Teachers and see how the work we are doing aligns with these standards. Helping teachers see the connectedness between school initiatives and their professional development is an important part of this process.

As a Teacher-Librarian, this is critical work. We are working as change agents in our school, and in the process, doing the best kind of advocacy we can for our profession. This is the work of a Teacher-Librarian today, if you are prepared to stay abreast of change and develop the skill set that can move your school and student population where they need to be.