Thursday, May 28, 2015

Library For All: Bridging the Education Gap across the World

by Shalen Lowell
Spring 2015 Intern

New efforts are always being forged to bridge the education gap between developed and developing countries—including the idea of a digital library. While helping to rebuild Haiti after a major earthquake in 2010, Rebecca McDonald noticed a palpable lack of access to books in schools all over the country. She decided there and then that something had to be done, and thus the nonprofit Library for All (LFA) was born.

McDonald and Tanyella Evans, who had previously worked in Haiti as well as Uganda, launched LFA in 2013 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. LFA is a cloud-based digital library with thousands of books now potentially accessible to schoolchildren across the globe and in developing countries. What is McDonald and Evans’s goal? They plan to make their digital library platform accessible to the 250 million children worldwide who lack proper resources or access to a basic education.

LFA’s pilot program took place at Respire Haiti, a K–12 school near Port-au-Prince; the nonprofit’s efforts have since expanded throughout Haiti as well as in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In its efforts to increase global literacy, the program’s goal is to reach over 5 million schoolchildren by 2017. Its services include both a digital library and an education platform that provides lessons and materials for teachers. What’s great about this platform is that it is not tied down to one type of electronic device, because the platform can be accessed from a variety of device models and brands. And while print books, whether used or new, will likely never go out of style, this digital platform cuts down on the cost of collecting, sorting, shipping and distributing books. LFA also encourages students and teachers to get involved in their Peer Advocates for Global Education (PAGE) campaigns by becoming ambassadors of a sort—students and teachers can join and host events that help inspire their peers all over the world to be empowered through reading.

So far, major US, local and international publishers have provided digital books to LFA as supplements to those materials that are free via Open Educational Resource providers. LFA also has help from local governments and non-government organizations (NGOs) in acquiring tablets and devices for classroom use. The books and materials are now available on any Android device, and so far over 1,200 cloud-based ebooks have been made available in English, French, Haitian Creole and Spanish. Not only is Library for All bringing underprivileged kids the joy of reading, but LFA’s efforts also aim to increase literacy in these children and provide them with more advanced education and career opportunities.

Did You Know?
Ever want to borrow ebooks but don’t want to make the trek to your local library? There’s an app for that! The Overdrive app allows you to borrow ebooks for free if you are a member of a participating library. Over 30,000 libraries worldwide participate, and you can even borrow audiobooks and stream videos! Overdrive is available on a wide variety of desktop and mobile platforms.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Musicians can Carry a Tune, and Now an Instrument

by Dakota Damschroder
Spring 2015 Intern

Traveling is a hassle no matter how you do it, but trust me, it could be so much worse. You could be traveling with an instrument.

Throughout middle school, I played a cello nearly my size that I lugged back and forth to school, often by school bus. It was unwieldy and obtrusive and could never decide if it wanted to fit in the small cars my parents owned. My sister was smart enough to choose a much smaller string instrument, the viola. When I recently heard she was going to fly to Florida this fall to play on a cruise with her school orchestra, I started to worry. I’d heard horror stories about musicians having to check their instruments and getting them back destroyed, and I just knew that would be my sister.

As it turns out, I don’t have to worry as much as I thought. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) recently issued a final ruling that will put in place new laws requiring airlines to honor musical instruments as legitimate luggage. The laws will go into effect two months after official publication in the Federal Register and look to make travel by plane infinitely more convenient for the thousands of professional musicians and millions of students in the country.

For the past year, the DOT has been working with representatives from the musicians’ union and airlines to create a dialogue about negative shared experiences and how to prevent these problems in the future. Previously, although musicians were not always required to check small instruments like guitars or violins, flight attendants could still remove them from the overhead storage bin to create space—something not allowed for other types of carry-on items. Musicians who did check their instruments risked coming off the plane to instruments severely damaged. Furthermore, many musicians faced personnel who were not understanding and unwilling to help accommodate their needs because the airlines had no specific precedent.

The new requirements by the DOT change everything. Small instruments will now be treated with the same first-come, first-served rule as every other carry-on. Flight attendants will not be allowed to remove them, even if they take up space that could fit several smaller types of carry-ons. Additionally, airlines will no longer be able to charge an extra fee for carry-on instruments. Airlines must accept instruments weighing up to 165 pounds; for a larger instrument such as a tuba, however, a musician will either need to check it or buy a second cabin seat.

Perhaps most importantly, the DOT is requiring uniformity among all airlines. Airlines will be required to train personnel with these new rules and regulations, a task that is well worth the estimated $474,000 it will cost to do so.

It will be interesting to see the effects and amount of success these new regulations will have upon both airlines and travelers. But one thing’s for sure—I feel much better about my sister’s (and her viola’s) Florida travels in the fall.

Did You Know?
There is a category within many musical instruments that includes a contrabass instrument—one that is below the register of the bass clef for that instrument type—and they can get pretty big. A contrabass clarinet is nearly 9 feet long; subcontrabass flutes are even longer!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Why We Never Outgrow Children’s Books

by Maria DiPasquale
Spring 2015 Intern

Like many kids in my generation, I grew up on Harry Potter. My mom read the first few books to me at bedtime until I started reading them on my own. She continued reading the books too, and we talked about them together as I grew up. Until I came to college and heard criticism from writing professors for citing the series as a favorite, it never occurred to me that some people think adults shouldn’t read Harry Potter. The series’s categorization as children’s—or young adult (YA), depending who you ask—literature diminishes it in some adults’ eyes. But children’s books are for adults too!

Many children’s books are written with the general understanding that they will be reread. Neil Gaiman, an author who writes for all ages but is known for his children’s book Coraline, says he writes with rereading in mind: “When I’m writing for kids, I’m always assuming that a story, if it is loved, is going to be reread. So I try to be much more conscious of it than I am with adults.” Children keep coming back to their favorite stories, unlocking new layers and themes, even once they’re not quite children anymore.

There is a reason we can’t resist cracking open our childhood books every once in a while. These books are the first pieces of literature we’re exposed to, and they influence the way we see the world. Nostalgia has a powerful effect. A Guardian article likens favorite children’s books to favorite songs: “They become part of our emotional autobiographies, acquiring associations and memories, more like music than prose.”

Most children’s books also have deeper meanings that are impossible to unlock unless we come back to them as adults. In a list compiled with the help of the New York Public Library’s Betsy Bird, Business Insider features over a dozen children’s books worth rereading. “It just so happens that there are a lot of important life lessons, conspiracy theories and hidden messages in the books we loved as children—we just probably didn’t pick up on them back then,” the article explains. For example, Eloise, a beloved picture book about a little girl who lives in New York City’s Plaza Hotel, is full of jokes that make sense to more mature audiences. And dystopian YA fiction like The Giver seems more powerful and real-world applicable when revisited.

So why not seek new children’s literature as adults? Many in the field say there is no good reason not to. While some view children’s and YA literature as simplistic, good children’s literature does the same thing that good adult literature does: It addresses universal themes like identity and mortality, evokes emotion and makes readers think. A good book is always multi-layered, no matter how seemingly simplistic or outgrown.

So spend some time in the children’s section of the bookstore. You can pick up an old favorite waiting to be rediscovered, or you might even find a new piece of children’s literature to cherish.

Did You Know?
Studies show that children’s storytelling can improve attitudes toward those who are different from them. A study conducted among students of various ages in Italy and the UK found that students who read Harry Potter had more positive viewpoints toward stigmatized groups.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Nanodegrees Offer Career Skills to College Grads

by Maria DiPasquale
Spring 2015 Intern

It’s no secret that college graduates are entering a competitive workforce. Seniors spend their last semester polishing resumes, scouring the internet for job listings and preparing for interviews. However, many employers are beginning to notice a substantial gap between the knowledge with which graduates leave college and the skills that are required for entry-level positions. A new slew of programs offering nanodegrees, a kind of specialized certification, has been created in an attempt to bridge this gap.

Udacity, one provider of these nanodegrees, have “programs, typically four- to six-month certification courses, [that] are aimed at bridging the gap between what college graduates know and what companies actually need.” Participants do not leave the program with a traditional degree but with a certificate and an arsenal of job skills specific to a particular field.

The concept was popularized by Udacity, which offers nanodegree programs in the field of technology. To stay up-to-date in the ever-changing technology field, Udacity teams up with tech employers like Google, AT&T and Cloudera to ensure the programs are teaching the skills these employers need. The programs consist of hands-on projects to help students build portfolios and add skills to their resumes. They are also flexible and short, allowing students to balance classes, jobs and other obligations.

A similar group of programs that are referred to as boot camps has also emerged. These are short and intensive but do not result in a certificate. However, boot camps teach valuable career skills and are designed to culminate in a job. They originated with software coding boot camps but have since branched into the fields of data science and healthcare informatics.

Although this concept is clearly on the rise in technology, it is not entirely new to the publishing world. Columbia University’s Journalism School has hosted a six-week intensive publishing course for college graduates every summer for over 60 years. Students learn hands-on skills in all areas of publishing and network with professionals to prepare for entry-level positions in the field.

As these programs become increasingly popular, some are questioning where they fit in the overall scheme of higher education, especially considering their lower cost and flexible scheduling. Some have even suggested that such programs could replace the four-year college degree altogether as the cost of student debt continually rises. Matthew LeBar, a contributor to Forbes, suggests that “for many, [nanodegrees] could provide a way to avoid a prohibitively expensive college degree” while still gaining access to viable career options. On the other hand, he acknowledges that nanodegrees cannot completely replace four-year liberal arts degrees, which provide students with skills applicable to a countless variety of jobs.

For now, it seems safe to say that nanodegree programs and traditional four-year college programs will continue to peacefully coexist. Wherever nanodegrees find their place in education, they are becoming invaluable fixtures as they prepare employees to find good jobs.

Did You Know?

Distance learning programs have roots in the Chautauqua movement, an adult education program popular in the late 19th century. Originally consisting of only summer lectures on religion, the program soon expanded to a year-round correspondence program on many subjects. This allowed students in remote areas to learn from home.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Discovering School Days around the World

by Annemarie Tompsen
Spring 2015 Intern

For the fall of 2014, 49.8 million students were predicted to have attended public elementary and secondary schools in the United States.  Of these students, all were expected to be absent on the same day: Thanksgiving. In other countries, of course, this was to be a normal school day. But different holidays aren’t the only variances that can be seen between school days in America and school days in other countries.
An average day in the American classroom starts at 8 a.m., with about 40 percent of schools starting earlier. For many school districts, the day ends around 3 or 4 p.m. But for many students, it is the beginning of the school year that truly sets the stage for a school year’s experience—on average, schools in the United States start around the end of August and let out around June.
This is what students, parents and educators have become accustomed to. But how do international schools compare?
In India, students in grades 1–5 attend class for about 200 days a year, with an average of 800 hours of instruction required. For those who are in grades 6–8, these numbers are higher, with 220 school days and 1,000 hours of instruction. But in comparison, despite being in session an average of only 180 days per year, American schools are able to match or exceed the number of instructional hours offered in India.
In the results of a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 33 countries, including the United States, are found to have an average of 790 hours of instruction per year for primary schools. This consists of a range between 470 hours for Russia and 1,007 hours for Chile. For middle school students, the average was higher, at 925 hours per year. This range was between 741 hours for Sweden and 1,167 hours for Mexico. While some countries have exceeded the average amount of instructional hours, this doesn’t imply that the increase in hours is tied to success in the classroom; for example, Finland averages about 608 hours and is one of the top international performers.
When it comes to the international school systems, number of instructional hours is not the only difference. Some schools around the world experience a school week that’s different from ours. For example, primary students in France only attend school four-and-a-half days a week; this includes a half-day on Wednesdays. On the other hand, some schools in Japan have school five days a week with one Saturday class a month.
How students in the United States experience their school day is perhaps unlike that of other students around the world. But it is different for any student, regardless of location. What matters is how we choose to approach the school day. Of course, two-and-a-half days off does sound wonderful!

Did You Know?

The 70-acre main campus of Institut Le Rosey, a boarding school located in Switzerland, includes commodities like tennis courts, saunas, a 30-horse indoor equestrian center and a private sailing center. Having a yearly boarding and academic fee of about $110,000, Le Rosey—the “school of kings”—is considered the most expensive school in the world.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Intern Spotlight: Meet Maria!

by Maria DiPasquale
Spring 2015 Intern

I owe a lot of who I am to Maplewood, New Jersey, the small town where I grew up. A 30-minute drive from New York City, this diverse, artistic and socially conscious community fostered my passions for creative writing and social activism. I loved to read at the library a short distance from my house, listened when friends with different experiences of race and class told me about their struggles and wrote down my emerging ideas in countless notebooks.

When I started looking at colleges, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to study writing in an urban setting. I spent weekend days in New York with friends through middle and high school, loving the fast-paced environment. But I also knew the difficulties of surviving financially as a writer. When I found out Emerson College’s Writing, Literature & Publishing program would allow me to study writing and learn about publishing while living in a city—Boston—I was sold.

Once at Emerson, I immediately joined the fiction-only literary publication Stork Magazine as a staff reader. Now a junior, I’ve moved up to the managing editor position. I’m also a member of a labor solidarity group on campus. I’m usually quiet, but I’ve found that I am more outspoken when it comes to issues I care about. The confidence I get from standing up for my core beliefs and the rights of others is the same feeling I’ve known from putting pen to paper since I started writing short stories in elementary school. Writing and social justice have helped me find my voice.

Although I’ve always incorporated social justice into my fiction writing, I wanted to find a way to combine my passions into a career after college. When I started researching, I realized there were entire publishing houses devoted to social advocacy and publishing underrepresented voices. Eager to build my skills toward getting such a job, last May I started interning remotely for Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit that publishes hybrid genres. I proofread their books, keep track of publicity articles and research mailing lists from home.

My hunger to continue developing my skills and knowledge of the industry brought me to PSG. During my internship so far, I have seen all sides of the publishing industry come together, from sitting in sales meetings to assembling marketing materials to fact-checking. I have honed my professional writing skills as I write blog posts about educational publishing and related topics. My time at PSG has also acquainted me with how an office in the publishing industry runs on a daily basis. At PSG, I am eagerly learning about the multifaceted world of publishing and the place I can find for myself within it.

Little Known Facts about Maria

Maria has helped countless shoppers find gifts over five consecutive holiday retail seasons as a sales associate. The first four were spent as an employee of a locally owned gift shop in her hometown, and last holiday season was spent working at her current job at a jewelry store in Cambridge’s Harvard Square. She has done more than enough gift wrapping for a lifetime.

Maria has also had the same hairstyle for (almost) her entire life. She wears her dark brown hair long with full bangs. She went on a brief hiatus in her early teen years when she tried to pull off the then-trendy side bangs, but it didn’t stick.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Smithsonian's Educational Program Celebrates Its 50th Year

by Maria DiPasquale
Spring 2015 Intern

Most of us know about the famous Smithsonian Institution, which includes a collection of 19 museums and galleries, most in the DC area, that house countless artifacts from American and world history. But did you know the Smithsonian also has a renowned education program? In 2015, the Smithsonian Associates celebrates 50 years of successful educational programming.

The Smithsonian Associates offers museum-based education on a wide range of topics that match the diverse collection of the museums. Their adult education center hosts evening courses taught by experts. The numerous upcoming events include a performance of English music from Shakespearean times and a course about the Italian region of Le Marche. For children of various grade levels, there are also weeklong summer camps that include educational lessons and visits to Smithsonian museums. For example, students from grades 5–7 who participate in the Playing with Printmaking program will visit the Smithsonian American Art Museum and US Botanic Garden. The Smithsonian Associates also hosts studio art classes, film screenings and guided conversations with fascinating people—from actors to politicians. They even partner with George Mason University to provide a master of arts in the History of Decorative Arts with “behind-the-scenes access” to the museums.

For their 50th year, the Smithsonian Associates are rolling out even more interesting and new programming. In January, they launched a new World Art History Certificate Program, in which students benefit from the Smithsonian’s diverse art collections as they take a personalized course load at their own pace. Also introduced was Smithsonian NewsFlash, a series of expert speakers who provide “context and insight on breaking news.” The topics are announced up to three days before an event, ensuring that the talks are timely and relevant. Some topics so far have been Cuba, the Future of Putin’s Russia and the Economics of Higher Education.

In addition to launching exciting new programs, in February, the Smithsonian Associates hosted a sold-out event featuring Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, known for their friendship despite ideological differences on the bench. The event was moderated by NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg and included discussion about the two justices’ differences in constitutional interpretation. It is just one example of the educational cultural events hosted by the Smithsonian Associates.

As we approach the midway mark of the Smithsonian Associates’ 50th year, it’s clear that it will continue to provide enriching, timely programming that makes the Smithsonian’s vast collections accessible to people of all ages.

Did You Know?

The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, located in Manhattan, reopened in December 2014 after three years of being closed for renovation. Visiting the revamped museum is an interactive experience that includes provided stylus pens that allow visitors to save information to their personal museum collection as well as interact with touchscreen tables that can project digital images for a visitor’s perusal.