February 2008

… the widespread use of Post-it™ notes and cheat sheets reveals a lot about the way people learn and how they apply that knowledge to their jobs.

This is from an intriguing post by Tom Kuhlman on the Rapid E-Learning Blog: What We Can Learn About Instructional Design from Post-it™ Notes. I have to admit that I recognized myself in the description of a typical e-learning designer, who has a tendency to include “more information than is necessary to learn the task.”

After reading it, I did a quick tour of my office to see how many people had post-it notes scattered around their desks. Fourteen out of sixteen desks had visible post-its or equivalent note scraps. Why is the Post-it note such a winner?

  • Its small size forces you to record the bare essence of a thought or instruction. In Kuhlman’s words, a note does not contain all you need to know, but what you need to do.
  • It can be stuck on things to easily catch your attention.
  • It can be grouped with other Post-its and rearranged as needed.
  • Only the most immediately relevant bits of information stay within view, limited by the area of your desk.

I’m not going to convert all my training materials to Post-it notes, but I could do more to apply the “what you need to do” filter to instructional design. Along the same lines, Presentation Zen tells us we need to choose between deep or wide scope. “How much can I cover today vs. how much can my students absorb today?” Why not think of a PowerPoint presentation as a series of Post-it notes? Pare each slide down to the shorthand essence of what you want to convey.

Think Post-it! This is my new mantra. I have a Post-it on my laptop to remind me.


THE FIFTEENTH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON LEARNING The University of Illinois, Chicago, Illinois, USA, 3-6 June 2008: http://www.LearningConference.com

The International Conference on Learning is for any person with an interest in, and concern for, education at any of its level – from early childhood, to schools, to higher education – and lifelong learning in any of its sites, from home to school to university to the workplace.

Main speakers include James R. Gavelek, Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Illinois at Chicago; Juana M. Sancho Gil, Educational Technology Professor at the University of Barcelona; Susan R. Goldman, Chair of the Governing Board of the Society for Text and Discourse; Fernando Hernandez, Professor in the Unit of Art Education at the Fine Arts Faculty of the University of Barcelona; James W. Pellegrino, Distinguished Professor in Psychology and Education and Co-Director of the Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Salim Vally, Senior Researcher at the Education Policy Unit, School of Education, University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.

The Conference will also include numerous paper, workshop and colloquium presentations by practitioners, teachers and researchers. We would particularly like to invite you to respond to the Conference Call-for-Papers. Presenters may choose to submit written papers for publication in the fully refereed International Journal of Learning. If you are unable to attend the Conference in person, virtual registrations are also available which allow you to submit a paper for refereeing and possible publication in this fully refereed academic Journal, as well as access to the electronic version of the Conference proceedings.

The deadline for the next round in the call for papers (a title and short abstract) is 13 March 2008. Proposals are reviewed within two weeks of submission. Full details of the Conference, including an online proposal submission form, are to be found at the Conference website – http://www.LearningConference.com

If this were the early twentieth century, we might be sitting in a Parisian Left-Bank café. If this were the late twentieth century, we might be sitting in Caffè Puccini in San Francisco’s North Beach District—as many still are. But the early twenty-first century has swept us up, and we’re finding new places to meet and talk and share ideas. And dream.

Which is exactly what happened in the OPAL (Online Programming for All Libraries) Auditorium yesterday when Tom Peters interviewed Michelle Boule, a librarian, blogger (writing under the name “Jane” in “A Wandering Eyre”),  Infopeople instructor, and mother-to-be. The session, part of OPAL’s “Casual Conversations” series, was not so much the sort of session to be taped and played back later (although the session soon will join the archived interviews on OPAL’s site) as it was a chance for 22 of us from all over the country to gather in a virtual setting.

We listened to Peters and Boule discuss a variety of topics ranging from temporarily replacing work with motherhood to why trainers (and others) leave large library systems and other organizations to seek more rewarding challenges. And we joined the conversation by typing electronic notes back and forth with colleagues like fellow “CE Buzz” author Peter Bromberg—sort of like passing slips of paper in an elementary school classroom, but this time the teachers were included. That meant that if we weren’t listening to what was being said and reading what was being written, neither part would have made sense since the aural and written conversations were completely intertwined.

Boule was explicit in talking about what has prompted her decision to leave her University of Houston position; she wants to spend time with the child who is about to be born, and she plans to seek more rewarding work doing what she loves to do: “teaching people about technology and teaching people about stuff.” The day-to-day responsibilities of trying to do multiple disparate jobs, she noted, wore her down and kept her from accomplishing what she knew she was capable of doing—not a foreign concept to many of us who have tried to effectively run library training programs while also being expected to handle numerous other unrelated tasks. So Boule is joining those of us who have recently decided we can be more effective in providing first-rate training experiences for library employees by working in a larger venue rather than staying with one library system.

Wouldn’t it be better for everyone, Boule asked, if libraries became better at sharing resources, including trainers? Perhaps establishing groups of traveling trainers who served everyone much more effectively?

The Northeast Kansas Library System has people who do things like that,” one participant in the conversation offered.

Infopeople does the same thing throughout California, I noted, and I’ve heard from colleagues in other states that similar programs would be highly in demand if someone were to offer them.

“Might we not be looking at informal connections (like this discussion group) to help spread and advocate for what so many people obviously want to see?” I asked.

“That sounds like a job for the Library Society of the World,” Joshua Neff responded, and it was only after the session ended that I had a chance to do a quick online search and discover that he wasn’t joking, that he actually has, from Kansas, started that group to further the role of librarians, archivists, information professionals, and information educators through communication and collaboration.

So here’s to thinking outside the physical and virtual walls of large organizations, classrooms, and cafes while remaining actively involved with them. We have role models in the form of the Northeast Kansas Library System and Infopeople, and we have resources such as the ALA Continuing Library Education Network and Exchange (CLENE) Round Table itself. Perhaps one of the best roles we can play as trainers is to train ourselves in how to better use the resources at our fingertips to help our colleagues gain what they need to thrive in twenty-first-century libraries.

Working with and watching a trainer as talented as Edmond Otis in action offers lessons far beyond the topic on the table.

Edmond, presenting a recent Infopeople webcast on “Setting Boundaries With Library Patrons,” offered guidance to library staff members on a variety of interrelated topics, including how to deal with library users who are problems because they are so nice. Faced with the nice person who is taking up more time than we have to offer, we are not without options, he reminds us in the webcast. Edmond first suggests that we ourselves are culpable in letting the situation persist, then offers tips on how to professionally—and humanely—resolve the problem: be honest and tell them that we have others who need our assistance; be nice since those who are nice deserve reciprocal treatment; and value the magic of the rapport we can develop and maintain by treating others with respect rather than lashing out in frustration. He emphasizes the need to consistently apply the rules, policies, and procedures we are expected to follow. And he reminds us to be empathetic, attentive, warm, respectful, engaged, flexible, and responsive—which pretty much describes how Edmond himself operates as a trainer.

The presentation, at that level, can serve as a trainer’s manual for other trainers even though it is as far as one can be from the Beyond Bullet Points approach which Cliff Atkinson is so justifiably popularizing among those employing PowerPoint slides in their workshops, webcasts, and webinars. One of Edmond’s viewers, in fact, took the time to write and thank Edmond for effectively incorporating his slides (viewable from the page where the webcast is archived) into his presentation. It’s not, as we can see, just about the way the slides look; it’s as much about the trainer’s ability to engage an audience and leave it with a lesson to be treasured and employed to everybody’s benefit.

A fully integrated presentation—in this case, the sound of Edmond’s well-modulated voice, the sight of him speaking during the webcast, and the presence of slides which provide a simple roadmap to the presentation and also serve as printable hand-outs to be retained and used as a handy cheat sheet—do not require lots of fancy graphics; if it is from the heart and meets the audience’s needs, it’s going to be effective.

The reminder here for all of us involved in staff training is that there are numerous ways to approach learners onsite or online. The wonderfully creative way Atkinson approaches PowerPoint is, in fact, very attractive, and I’m among those who are experimenting with it and enjoying it. This doesn’t mean that any of us need to see this as an either-or, to-bullet-or-not-to-bullet, choice. Bullet points can be effective and attractive if the presenter is as engaging as Edmond is in this webcast, and students will, as we have seen, respond appreciatively. And the more tools we have and employ, the more we’re going to have to offer those who want to learn from us.

Helene Blowers (LibraryBytes), points us to a wonderful post over at the Twopointouch blog. In his post, Sit and Listen, Author Ian Delaney makes a number of great points including:Dunce

  • Employers also tend to confuse training and learning. Training gets done to you. Learning is something an individual does themselves. Companies tend to think of training as their responsibility, rather than learning.
  • Educationalists have identified at least 37 different types of ways in which we learn stuff, from reading a book to playing simulations. Each individual will have their own preferred and most effective learning styles. In-house training tends to focus on one – sit in a room with a bunch of other people and get talked at.

Delaney suggests that part of the problem is tied in with many organizations’ dreadful appraisal/evaluation processes (and I heartily agree.)

The entire post is well worth a read, as is Helene’s post, where she writes:

The best learning happens by self-discovery, when two very important elements are present. In order for anyone to truly learn, they must be

a) engaged in their own discovery process and
b) be motivated to learn.

and neither of these really require a “trainer.” :)

Sharepoint 2007 has five templates for building sites on your organization’s intranet: team site, blank site, document workspace, wiki site, and a blog.  Each template has obvious uses.  A team site is useful for organizing, authoring, and sharing content.  A blank site is completely empty and highly customizable.  Document workspaces are used for teams that need to co-author a document, and the site supports various project management functions native in MOSS, such as task assignments and issues tracking.  A wiki site is for brainstorming and sharing ideas.  Finally, the blog site is utilized for sharing observations and allowing for others to comment.

While each template presents advantages for workflow, I want to take a few minutes and share how the blog site in Sharepoint can be harnessed for more creative purposes.  When I think about corporate blogs, I think of them as online journals in which the blog’s author is typically ranting to the ether.  We all know that corporate blogs often suffer from low use, even though they are implemented to open up dialog.  Many employees could care less about someone’s musings from a conference.  We duly note their indifference when we look at site usage statistics, or more obviously by the lack of comments under each post:)

So, how can we encourage better participation with blogs on Sharepoint?

1.  Aesthetic appeal: The Site Designer permission group in MOSS allows you to change the look and feel of your site.  Change the Theme of your site to something befitting your content.

2.  Get dynamic: Web parts are your friend.  Use the Content Editor Webpart to add images, tables, and embeddable content like video.  Remember that most videos on Youtube, or popular podcast sites like PodBean contain embeddable source code. 

3.  Redux: Remove from the template any webparts your users won’t need and DO NOT add unneccesary webparts because they look cool. 

4.  Stop playing “Mother May I”: Sharepoint is intended to share content and ideas.  Don’t construct your blog permission sets in such a way that discourages participation.  Ideally, the blog’s administrators should at least have Design permissions, and everyone else should have Contributor permissions.  The Contributor permission set will allow all staff members to start new posts (with publication pending approval from the site’s admin) and also freely comment on existing posts.  Making your blog Read-Only isn’t cool!

5.  Experiment: Your internal blog can be so much more than an online journal.  Build a blog as an organizational FAQ and allow staff members to post new questions.  Build a blog as a virtual book discussion.  Build a blog for sharing best practices with your organization’s new technology.  Your users will appreciate your creativity.

Below are images of two Sharepoint blogs I’ve constructed based on these simple, yet effective design principles.