Faculty profile: Kristin Fontichiaro

Kristin Fontichiaro

Kristin Fontichiaro

Anyone who knows Clinical Assistant Professor Kristin Fontichiaro is not surprised to discover that the expressive, award-winning educator has an undergraduate degree in theater from U-M. She taught English in middle school and theater and drama in high school and was a professional stage manager for the San Francisco Opera and Spoleto Festival USA before she considered returning to the Midwest.

She moved back to Michigan to work for the University Musical Society on campus, then earned her master’s degree in Information and Library Science at Wayne State University. She now coordinates the school library media program at UMSI.

“I’ve always been interested in how we make learning more interesting,” she says. But it wasn’t until she was hired as an adjunct lecturer for UMSI’s Media for Children and Young Adults course that she realized she was home. “It was so much fun. It was the most joyful teaching I’d ever done.”

Encouraged by the school, she went on to successfully apply for a full-time job in UMSI as a clinical assistant professor. She’s been innovating with technology and education ever since.

Her current research interests include makerspaces, the productive use of all kinds of tech in all kinds of education (especially hands-on gadgets like the Raspberry Pi mini-computer, which she’s writing a book about with Clinical Associate Professor Charles “Dr. Chuck” Severance) and badging as a means of encouraging student learning. She sees makerspaces, where students are given raw materials for technology and the tools, community, and support to create, as a perfect fit for libraries.

“Libraries should always have been spaces for creating knowledge,” she says. “Libraries aren’t about fetishising these museum items known as books. They’re places to learn and grow, places to remove the barriers between information and people.”

The makerspaces allow school kids to innovate their way to solutions, making them partners in the learning process, she says. The wide availability of online tutorials means makerspace mentors don’t need to be expert programmers in order to be effective coaches.

Badging, an emerging movement of alternative credentialing, is another interest of Fontichiaro’s, because it can measure learning not captured in formal transcripts or grades. It awards recognition for acquisition and demonstration of new skills, behaviors and mindsets, either in physical badges or digital ones. (Watch a UMSI video about Kristin and her students’ recent badging project).

Fontichiaro has been named an emerging leader by the American Library Association, a Distinguished Alumna by Wayne State, and in 2010 she was honored with the Margaret Grazier Award for Contribution to the Profession by the Michigan Association for Media in Education. Library Journal named her a “Mover and Shaker” in 2012.

“The thing I’m most interested in is learning. Interesting learning. Deep learning. Enriching learning,” she says. “It’s not enough just to give kids a computer, if you don’t know how to use it to support learning.”

A prolific author, Fontichiaro is a series editor for books on makerspace culture and tools for kids, as well as the author of half a dozen professional books. She’s also written books for children on everything from podcasting to search strategies, and was a longtime blogger for School Library Monthly. Ebooks that she’s edited with contributions from crowdsourcing and from her graduate students on research and fieldwork on technology in libraries, education, and information literacy have been downloaded more than ten thousand times.

She travels nationwide, keynoting conferences and holding Webinars on technology, education and libraries for thousands of people.

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