Work Integrated E-Learning in Public Administration: The Portuguese School Libraries Network Case Study

Work Integrated E-Learning in Public Administration: The Portuguese School Libraries Network Case Study

Jorge Tiago Martins, Rosa Maria Martins
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3676-7.ch021
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This chapter describes the experience of the Portuguese School Libraries Network (SLN) – an agency of the Ministry of Education and Science – as a case study in the development of work integrated e-learning in Public Administration. In 2008, SLN developed the School Libraries Evaluation Model (SLEM), with the objective of collecting information about how school libraries (SLs) across the country operate and contribute to effective teaching and learning. Since 2010, schools have been invited to identify and self-evaluate performance across key domains, for which a set of critical success factors, assessment indicators, and performance levels is established. The application of SLEM implied that schools would have to deal with new management concepts and techniques, and become conversant with working methods that were until then unfamiliar to them. Two professional groups were pivotal in this process: (i) inter-municipal advisers (IMAs), and (ii) teacher librarians (TLs). These were the two sets of civil servants who benefited from the design and implementation of a work-based online training program specifically designed to familiarize them with the rationale and with the particulars of SLEM. The following sections of this chapter contextualize the operation of SLN, provide insight into application of SLEM, and discuss in more detail the key characteristics of the trainee-centered e-learning environment that has been established to facilitate the training of IMAs and TLs. Particular emphasis will be given to the issues of organizational support, instructional design, and alignment of instructional contents with performance requirements.
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Organization Background

The Portuguese SLN is a governmental agency affiliated with the Ministry of Education and Science. It was established in 1996 with a clear mandate: to equip primary, basic and secondary schools with state of the art SLs, therefore benefiting a student population aged between 6 and 17. The principles underlying the foundation of SLN place the school library as an essential resource at the heart of education system, where it plays a critical role in skills and literacies development, as well as in the preparation of the lifelong learner.

In terms of organisational structure, SLN is a network headed by a national coordinator, who oversees the operation of two vectors: (i) a steering committee, and (ii) a team of IMAs. The Steering Committee is a group of individuals responsible for general operating policy, procedures, and related matters affecting SLN as a whole. The committee is multidisciplinary by definition, being composed by specialists in school librarianship and cognate fields such as information literacy, knowledge management, educational informatics, etc. Some of the core functions of the steering committee are: (i) liaising with the Ministry of Education and Science’s central and regional directorates as well as with external partners and stakeholders such as Higher Education Institutions, Foundations and private sector organizations; (ii) collaborating with municipalities, public libraries and schools with a view to successfully equipping schools with state of the art facilities, equipment and resources, including information and communication technologies; (iii) providing and accrediting specialized training in school librarianship to key audiences such as TLs, teachers, supporting staff; (iv) producing and disseminating policy and guidelines. Finally, a team of IMAs ensures the establishment of local level partnerships. Their role is to establish a sense of proximity and dialogue between SLs and the steering committee, and to feed forward experiences of successes and failures from the field into the shaping of successful policy. At a more pragmatic level, they ensure compliance with technical and logistical specifications of school library management, such as accommodation, and equipment and documental procurement. Furthermore and because they are the first contact point for SLs, IMAs conduct regular situational assessments to detect training or specific support needs.

More than 15 years after its foundation and after a global investment that amounts to nearly 50 million Euros, SLN features an expressive coverage at national level, reaching out to the majority of students in the country: 100% of the basic schools’ student population and 92% of secondary education students benefit from fully equipped SLs, which operate in accordance with SLN’s guidelines and provide access to resources that stimulate intellectual growth and the development of critical thinking skills.

Furthermore, SLs are staffed with increasingly qualified professionals, due to SLN’s advocacy, provision of training, allocation of TLs to schools, and political advancement of a statutory that officially regulates the conditions of competitive appointment. TLs are formally qualified teachers who have received complementary specialized training in school librarianship through continuing professional development or postgraduate level education. With the entry in force of the statutory approved by the government in 2009, TLs became professionally recognized, and positions are tenured for a minimum period of four years. A detailed job description and person specification further ensure the appointment of TLs who are committed to integrating the school library into the pedagogical and curricular activities of the school, particularly in what concerns reading promotion, reading skills, information literacy and digital abilities. These connections between the school library and the curriculum are considered a key issue, since it is expected that teachers and TLs collaborate to improve educational success.

The figures mentioned above and the wider governmental acknowledgement of SLs introduced by the professionalization of the TL indicate that SLN is now confronted with a new developmental and operational stage. The core business is no longer expanding the already expressive network of SLs. SLN is instead focused on affirming SLs as an integral part of the school curriculum, and on demonstrating how SLs create rich learning environments and play an effective role in supporting students and educators in the development of teaching and learning. These renewed objectives require the creation of policy and instruments that help SLs to make a difference and achieve effectiveness, whilst assisting them to measure impact and continuously improve performance.

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