California’s K–12 Online Content Project, part of the state’s existing partnership with education company Gale, made new science- and technology-focused resources available to California students starting in January 2022. I had the opportunity to interview Mary Beth Barber, project manager for the K–12 Online Content Project at the California State Library. Barber shared that it is a “joint program of the California State Library and the Riverside County Office of Education to provide online school-library content and tools to all public K–12 students in California.”
Seeing that those who want to access the resources only have to select their institution from a drop-down list, I wondered how the California State Library worked with Gale to reduce the barriers that are often associated with accessing information resources using the usual identification methods. Barber told me that this became possible with Gale’s geoauthentication, and it “essentially allows students, educators, and families online anywhere in the state of California access to the resources under the statewide contract.” In cases where “a student or educator is still faced with a log-in screen, the help desk and info pages from Gale can help with access, as can the State Library.”
USAGE AND IMPACT
Barber said that the two main places students start research are “search engines like Google, and the school’s or district’s learning management systems, particularly if students are directed to educational platforms by their instructors. It is more critical than ever to meet student users where they are with credible library resources that are easily accessible.” Besides, Gale’s citation tools are built in, making it easy for students to keep track of their sources.
With opportunities available from Gale Support to help students better understand how to use the resources, I was interested in usage and impact, especially after I learned that the program employs a scavenger hunt to increase the exploration of the content. Barber said that three platforms from Gale (Gale In Context: Environmental Studies, Gale Interactive: Science, and Gale Presents: National Geographic Kids) are new to the K–12 Online Content collection as of January 2022. It is too early to evaluate their usage numbers, but when it comes to other platforms that are part of the program, Barber says there have been “millions of searches and investigations in the three and a half years of the project.” Usage of the three mentioned resources is expected to “grow into the millions of hits as well,” according to Barber. As for the scavenger hunts, they were “created to give learners a unique way to process the information. Gamification gives educators a new way to present material and introduce research concepts.”
If you are involved with the selection and negotiation of resources for your library, you know that usage dashboards often provide data that’s essential to making purchase and renewal decisions. Since the project’s FAQ page states that its resources are paid via a statewide contract, I asked how the dashboards help information professionals. Barber shared that low usage isn’t a sign of lack of interest in the resources, but rather a lack of knowledge that the resources and access exist. The usage data will be utilized as a part of the outreach process to schools and districts to ensure that all local educational agencies know they have access to these platforms from Gale.
ADVICE FOR OTHER STATES
With this project in existence since 2018, I asked Barber what she would recommend to other states that may be interested in helping their students with a similar project. She said, “Outreach, communication, and streamlined access are key to the success for any school-library online resource like the platforms provided by the California K–12 Online Content Project. Project managers for similar statewide programs must also know and understand the rules, regulations, and infrastructure for their schools’ online learning environments. Eliminating barriers to access while keeping kids safe online is key to a successful program.”
In closing, Barber told me that school-library online platforms are about providing options for educators and schools. So, if you are someone who is involved with fulfilling students’ information needs, you may want to dig deeper into this example.