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Chilias' goal was to develop, during its two year duration (1996-1998), a multimedia virtual simulation of a children's library on the WWW in six languages, English, Finnish, German, Greek, Portuguese and Spanish, for children aged 9 to 12 (the age goes up to 14 for the libraries of the HAEF). What brought together the forward looking libraries involved in the project was the genuine desire to design new learning environments that would offer their children users the ways and means to information literacy; to expose to this new learning process the professionals involved in the effort, the librarians and the teachers; and to advance as institutions in order to meet and implement the new technological and educational developments. The main objectives of the project were to:
In the case of the three libraries of the Hellenic American Educational Foundation (two elementary and one secondary school libraries) great emphasis is placed in integrating and combining the effort with the school curriculum.
Module "Lib", a virtual representative digital children's library, with digitized materials -parts of books, photos, maps, images, videos, sound samples, text, children's products- to selected library topics.
Module "Net" a communication network for the exchange of ideas and the sharing of experiences of children and professionals. "Net" may take the form of an e-mail communication, or of correspondence through the provision of a "guest-book".
Module "Act" an interactive library service encouraging children to express their creative skills by generating their own materials and disseminating them through the medium of advanced telecommunications.
Module "Skills", an information package, that assists the information skills acquisition process in young learners.
The digital library that was created and includes the elements of all four modules is called "Infoplanet", subtitled "A journey into the unknown". The metaphor of space exploration used, suggests a challenge to those kids that want to explore the world of information provided, travel in a virtual context and discover in the process, available resources, different cultures, the possibilities of networked telecommunications and the pleasure of becoming a skilled navigator.
The Parts of "Infoplanet"
Based on the guidelines of the four modules, the parts developed in the context of Infoplanet were: content for selected topics, a story-builder, a guest-book and a skills component called Infoton.
A. Content for selected topics: An elaborate user needs analysis based on questionnaires and interviews and on the objectives of Chilias to promote reading and writing, literature and the library use determined the content. It was developed on the following topics: the place where we live, the library we use, literature, music, sports and animals. Due to copyright constraints the content on the topics could not be a systematic source of learning material. It is more like a magazine providing information on selected topics. Involving children in researching a topic and producing their own material was highly encouraged, since it gave them the opportunity to use the new technologies and learn in a new context. Children can find in the digital library:
B. The story-builder: The story-builder offers children various possibilities for writing and publishing their writing on the web. The software is flexible enough to accept future further additions and variations. Right now three options are available: a picture story, a story that needs to be recreated and a story to be continued and finished.
The picture story offers the student the possibility to write a story based on a selection of open or secret pictures. The student selects a picture and writes his/her text on the basis of that picture. A minimum of three pictures need to be selected before the writer can publish his/her story. Before publishing the students have the possibility to edit their text and make the necessary corrections. The picture story structure gives the additional advantage of use irrespective of language. So far, stories have been written at all partner sites both in the national languages and in English. The best stories written in English appear as a separate selection in the story-builder.
A story to be recreated and a story to be continued and finished. During the development stage of the project, Eugene Trivizas, a popular Greek children's author was contacted and was asked for a contribution to the story-builder. He offered two stories: "The secret of the land of darkness" and "Stephanie and the enormous wedding cake". In the first selection children are asked to "enter the dark dark contest" and give their own version of why a firefly found itself in a dark room. In the case of the second story children are supposed to read it and continue it as they like.
C. The guest-book offers children, either as an independent activity or incorporated in the various topics, the possibility to write, to comment and get feedback and to communicate among themselves on the national, the European or the international level with the help of a new medium. A language option, national language or English, is supplied for more flexibility.
D. Infoton, the skills component of Infoplanet aims with the help of specially designed interactive exercises to develop the information seeking skills of children. Learning of specific skills like alphabetical and Dewey classification, question formulation and identification of information is acquired while "playing" and interacting on the web.
For all partners involved, working together to reach the goals set by the project and becoming familiar with the different work and educational environments in each country, has been a great educational and cultural experience. It represents the invisible success of the project, but one highly valued by the participants.
The use and application of Infoplanet in the context of the school library
The three libraries of the Hellenic American Educational Foundation (HAEF) were the only school libraries that participated as partners in the project, all the other partner libraries being children's sections of public libraries. Undertaking the Chilias project has been for these three school libraries a challenging but also a rewarding and beneficial experience. Librarians, teachers and students joined their efforts in the development and use of Infoplanet, in getting to know the Internet and in taking advantage of its many educational opportunities. To accomplish the goals of Chilias and the heavy workload it involved with only one additional librarian, required the mobilization of all the resources available in the school community. The following actions taken were essential in that respect:
Training of librarians in scanning and web authoring
A necessary action in order to enable librarians to become independent in their new role and to assist in their turn the effort of teachers and students. Training of interested faculty members will take place next year since Infoplanet will continue to be developed even after the end of the project.
Involvement of librarians, faculty and students
A great part of the content of "Infoplanet" represents the work of students produced under the guidance of the librarians or the teachers. Projects like "my neighborhood", the "so stories", "endangered species" were the result of a collaborative effort. Students were delighted to see their work published and participated in the projects with great pleasure. Cooperation among teachers and challenge has prompted new creative ideas. An important part of the content of Infoplanet is the authors' gallery where most children's authors and their work are presented. In the regular practice of the elementary school libraries authors were invited to present their work, meet and discuss with the students. During the project this activity was reinforced and better organized. The students with the help of their teachers and the librarians prepared questions and interviewed the visiting authors. The interviews, the students' comments and recommendations on books by Greek authors, together with the biographical information and lists of books supplied by the librarians, were contributed to Infoplanet. Soon there will be a complete database on the web with all the Greek children's authors, their biographies and their works. Another part of Infoplanet, the story-builder proved to be very successful in the educational context. It became a useful teaching tool to all the foreign language teachers. English, German and French classes of all grades used it to practice writing. The experience was positive and rewarding for both teachers and students. Students were delighted to write on the web. Several teachers, until then computer illiterate, crossed the obstacle that technology presented to them and became "unafraid" and eager to do more. The guest-book offered more writing opportunities and the possibility to communicate with the children from the other European countries. Children were asked to recommend favorite places for summer holidays in their countries. In doing so they researched their topic, collected material and practiced their information, computer and writing skills. The Infoplanet philosophy and features gave birth to a new learning process that will continue and will become an integral part of the library and school practice.