Practice by Any Other Name

March 8, 2008

There are several ways people learn, but few are both as effective AND reviled as role playing. Sure, you might find one or two people in any classroom willing to act out some improv in front of a group, but volunteers are usually hard to come by. That’s unfortunate because experiencing a scene first-hand lets the learner feel it inside. Her motor skills function and her brain processes subtle aspects of a concept she wouldn’t pick up reading or a listening to a lecture. Even an audience watching a role play learns more because it can identify with the colleagues on stage.

I was thinking about this Friday when I attended a crisis prevention class at the Renton Public Library (WA). The class, which I’ve taught many times myself, was this day led by Mary Ross and Kate Laughlin. Their interactive exercises fostered a lot of participation and follow-up discussion.

(The scenario shown above: Mario answered a cell phone call in the library and proceeded to speak much too loudly. Mary tried to get his attention, but Mario kept spinning away so she wouldn’t bother him. In this photo she had finally made eye contact. His finger phone and their circular dance were fun inventions they discovered together during the exercise. It was a bit of comedy for those of us watching, too!)

In my experience as a library trainer, there are a few strategies that tend to get good role play results whatever the topic might be.

1. Don’t call it a role play! Call it practice (as Ross and Laughlin did) or exercise or interaction, but mention the “role play” term and your students will immediately drop beneath their tables hoping you won’t see them. Fearing that you’ll recruit them, some might become too anxious to learn the lesson.

2. Involve everyone …or as many people as you can. It’s easier to engage everyone in a practice activity if they aren’t the only ones on stage. Have many stages at once, in fact. Break the class into small groups so everyone can participate in relaxed settings with fewer eyes watching them. It reduces the embarrassment factor.

3. Offer a realistic scenario. If you want a group to work through a scene, give them a setting and a situation that they can relate to. They will take more from the lesson and be more cooperative in the exercise if they see it in the context of their experience. That means they’ll connect with the material more deeply.

4. Make it fun. You’re giving them a realistic scenario. Great! Now be a stage director and tell them something juicy to give them motivation. Maybe you want them to show a certain emotion, imitate someone, or get a little melodramatic. A scene is just a scene, but an emotional hint breathes life into it. Most people, once they get into it, actually enjoy exploring a different character for a couple minutes. Sometimes practice can be packaged in the form of a game, too.

5. Keep it simple and short. Set up the scene in a few sentences. Target the lesson being taught and avoid complications. The actors will discover their own nuances and complications. End it before the fun wears off. Hopefully the lesson already started to sink it.

It’s usually good to follow up an exercise with a quick discussion, too. Each actor experienced the scene from a different perspective. Let them share what they saw from those angles.

Do you have other suggestions?


A complete dunking

November 29, 2007

Susan and I taught another Social Web Literacy class this morning. We’ve been doing this for a year now (that’s about two dozen times) and it’s becoming common for several students to come to class with a MySpace or Facebook or some other social networking site already in their name. It wasn’t like that when we started.

Some staff have had personal pages since college; some created theirs because family members convinced them to join this, that, or the other thing; others saw coworkers returning from one of our previous classes simply having waaaay too much fun with their homework.* Whatever the reason, it’s wonderful to see library staff already wading into the social web waters on their own and then coming to class for a complete dunking. We hope it continues. We’re aiming for a social web savvy staff.

*Class homework includes developing the site (Flickr, LibraryThing, Geni, Dogster, or a blog) they created in class for two weeks. Each student is expected to add more content, experiment with tools, explore, and socialize.


An intranet chock full of web 2.0

November 7, 2007

Time for a little show and tell. 🙂

Pierce County Library has had a vibrant StaffWeb for nine years and it has become integral in system communications and information. But nine years of patching and upgrading took a toll. The website and its software platform started showing its age. Last year we were moving full steam ahead in our Social Web Literacy classes when we finally got the permission and budget for a complete overhaul. Talk about great timing!

We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to build web 2.0 tools into the new intranet.

Our project committee discussed how social networking tools could enhance efficiency and communication. Staff would also get daily practice using these tools in the course of their work. It was a win-win.

The new StaffWeb debuted a few weeks ago. Here’s some of the fun new features:

Tags and tag clouds
One of the first things you see on the new home page is a tag cloud. Every page of the StaffWeb can be tagged by staff using their own words. They can then follow up on their tags, use tags from the aggregated tag clouds, or run a tag search.

Success story: We have a travel expense reimbursement claim form that, despite past efforts, people have at least a dozen different names for. Now everyone can call it what they will and still find it.

Tabs for adding widgets

The tag cloud sits on a tab, but it’s only one of six customizable tabs waiting to be put to use. Staff can add widgets to the tabs on their home page.

Widgets
We currently have 32 widgets to choose from, including feeds from Flickr, iTunes, and email. If staff need a quick connection to the bookmarks they’ve stashed in their del.icio.us account, they can reach them using a widget on their home page. Common work tools like Google documents and Remember the Milk, and feeds from blog, weather, and traffic websites make this a well-rounded collection. We may add to the 32 flavors of widgets as everyone begins to use them and seek out more.

Blogs and RSS
Then there are the blogs. Each department and branch can have their own blog now. A few have already started. We envisioned the blogs as a “here’s the latest news” clipboard for people who work in those locations, but it might morph. Supervisors can add quick notes and routine updates for regular staff. Substitutes can tap in and read them from other work sites … or home.

Every blog has an RSS feed so a “need-to-know” staff member can subscribe to whichever he/she chooses.

Staff wiki
Dozens of staff are already adding content to the regular StaffWeb pages, but the system collaboration will increase yet again once we unveil a staff wiki later this month. We honestly don’t know where the wiki will lead us (that’s a wiki’s nature!), but we suspect reference staff will share tricks at pulling gems out of the catalog, circulation staff will elaborate on workflow practices, and IT will tell us how best to unjam the printers. But don’t count on it to be that well-defined! Who is to say that reference people can’t enlighten us on printer jams or circ staff don’t know the best way to limit action DVD searches by language? We’ll see how it works out. It could be messy, but worthwhile.

Other neat stuff and the future
Since many of the tools are customizable, we’ve created a personal log in. Once signed into the StaffWeb from work or home, staff can see their tags and widgets, comment on the blogs, and (when a new payroll installation is complete) call up their own HR information.

We’re just settling into this vast playground of web 2.0 tools. Once staff become old pros at their use, they’ll have no problem relating to patrons navigating the same tools on the social web.

We already have public blogs and a wiki, but don’t you think we’ll want to move more of these cool tools over to the public side, too?


Learn More: Flickr

November 5, 2007

[This is one in a series of self-paced discovery exercises for library staff venturing into the social web.]

Last week we had some fun but kept to ourselves. This week we’ll venture into a true social networking site and start mixing it up.

At Flickr, people can upload photos, label them, and share with others. Using tags and sets, Flickr members can organize their photos and retrieve any specific picture quickly and easily anywhere the Internet is available. Sounds productive, right? It is. But let’s not overlook the social networking magic!

Let’s say your family or friends live far away. Rather than email pictures to everyone, why not simply post them? Once your family knows your Flickr address, they can check in at any time and see what you’re up to. Post vacation photos, pictures of your craft project, the new puppy, and the last birthday party. You can add descriptions beneath any photo and your friends can leave comments when they visit the page.

If your friends join Flickr, you can browse and comment on their photos, too. Carry on a daily or weekly conversation using pictures for ice-breakers. But you’re not limited to existing friends and family. You can browse the world’s photos. Interested in dogs? Search “Yorkshire terrier” and choose from more than 14,000 pictures (like the one shown here). Pick favorites. Comment. Find other photographers who share your interests.

Meaning for libraries

Oh, my! Where do I start? The list of library possibilities using a photo-sharing site like Flickr could run pretty long. Here’s a few to consider.

  • Patrons might want to upload photos from a CD, a flash or USB drive, email, or digital camera cable. Will your library’s workstations let them do that? Do you make photo editing software available?
  • Many libraries have their own Flickr accounts. Some post photos of facilities, people, and public events (think marketing!). You could take pictures during an event and encourage attendees to visit your Flickr page and comment. Get some interaction going!
  • Pictures uploaded and organized on Flickr can be mashed into a library’s website or blog.
  • Some libraries display their collections using Flickr. Maybe you have historic community photos you’d like to make available. There’s ample description space to give details for each picture.
  • Brainstorm fun projects. Let kids or teens submit photos. Get them involved.
  • Libraries and librarians interact with each other on Flickr. It’s a great way to share ideas.

Learn more by participating

Set aside 15-20 minutes and try to do steps 1 and 2 in one sitting. On another day, try steps 3 and 4. Return on a third and fourth day for step 5 (and maybe a little more of steps 2, 3, and 4!).

  1. Open a Flickr account. It’s free for the first 200 photos you upload, but you should get a sense of the Flickr community long before that. (Hint: Be sure you write down your login name and password so you can get back in later.)
  2. Upload a few digital photos.
    * Add titles and captions. Be as vague or as specific as you’d like. Just let your personality come through.
    * Add tags. Type in words that give the photo meaning to you. Examples: beach vacation baby sand castle ocean. Tags will help you retrieve photos later.
    * Set permissions. You can decide who sees each photo. There are settings for you, family, friends, and anyone. Most people choose “anyone” most of the time (it’s a sharing site, after all), but make some family shots a bit more private.
  3. Browse. Enter a word or a place in the search box and browse any photos that come up. Then try another word. You might also explore the best of the best: interesting Flickr photos from the last seven days.
  4. Make friends. Connect with other Flickr people whose photos you like, or invite family and friends to open accounts and connect with them. (Hint: give them your Flickr page address.) You’ll find the “add as a contact” option on other members’ profile pages. You’ll be asked whether they are friends, family, or just contacts. That determines which pictures of yours they’ll see.
  5. Interact. View your contacts’ photos and comment on them. They might comment on yours, too. The ongoing dialogue you might foster is one of the wonders of social networking.

Have fun! It’s your web now.


A self-paced discovery series for the social web

October 25, 2007

A few goals were clear when I was mulling over the concept of this blog last month. One was to contribute to the discussion of training, social software, and library issues in general. Another goal appealed specifically to the trainer in me: provide a resource for library staff beginning their own exploration of the social web and its tools. I’ll start working on that second goal next Tuesday with a series of self-paced discovery entries that I’m calling “Learn More”.

Each week or so under the “Learn More” banner, I’ll post a short introduction to a different social website, tool, or concept. It might not be ground-breaking information to veteran readers of the blogosphere, but I hope each brief summary will act as a gentle nudge for the uninitiated on your staff. If they read the posting and join/browse the suggested site a few times during the week, they might find value in the various tools and online communities. Maybe they’ll find a niche and enjoy a particular site enough to set up camp there and explore indefinitely. Most of all, I hope experiencing the social web at their own pace might offer a better understanding of the needs of our patrons and the services a library can provide them.

I teach a social web literacy class for my library system. It’s a fast-paced four hour introduction to web 2.0. But the class also has an online component to encourage exploration and participation beyond the classroom. That’s what I hope to do here for anyone — whether they can come to a class or not. Must they do every activity, every week? Heavens, no. Not every site will be to their liking. This will be self-paced and self-motivated.

Most of my Library Stream blog posts will continue to be random observations, commentary, and sharing. But I hope the “Learn More” series will serve as an ongoing learning opportunity and resource.

Finally, I want to give a nod to Charlotte & Mecklenburg County who last year began 23 Things, a thriving curriculum for the social web. “Learn More” is intended neither to supplement nor compete with 23 Things, but I hope — like the PLCMC program — it excites library staff about the social web and new technologies.


If you stumbled upon this blog…

October 2, 2007

Welcome. I’m not quite ready for regular postings yet, but you’re welcome to snoop around while I set up the site. After I return from the Polaris Users’ Group conference next week, I’ll launch this blog for good.

My plan is to use this blog to follow the course of social software in general and its value to libraries specifically. I’m the system trainer at a large public library system in the Pacific Northwest, a social web participant, and an avid reader. I hope I can marshall all those hats into an interesting blog. The two postings just below this one link to recent articles I’ve written elsewhere.

Why call it “Library Stream”? It has to do with the flow of ideas. I suppose there’s a kinship to Flickr’s “photostream” and technology’s “streaming” audio & video, too. But there’s one more thought the “Library Stream” name conjures up for me. It’s the idea that change has become so common in the modern library that — like a stream — you’ll never set foot in the same library twice.

Please visit again. I hope to swap stories with you in the future.


Social web classes

October 2, 2007

More groundwork as I prepare to start this blog …

WebJunction published two of my articles last month.