Innovation


For several years now – at least since the advent of Second Life – learning professionals have been intrigued by the prospects of constructing immersive 3d worlds (metaverses) for training.  It’s easy to understand why: one of the first things I learned in communication theory in undergrad is that aesthetics are powerful.  Even the most astute and discerning among us form initial impressions from outer appearances.  Ooh!  Shiny, shiny!  Let’s go buy the new tech-toy.  I’ll hand it to those wily coyotes at Linden Lab – even this roadrunner was attempting to fast track a Second Life implementation at my library.  Instead of diving off the cliff with nary a look, I decided to hold a magnifying glass up to the app first.  Well, the bloom fell off that rose pretty damn quickly.  I won’t air a laundary list of complaints here, although Wapedia does a decent job summing them up for me.  

 

I’m not here to skewer Second Life, or any of the myriad pretenders to the throne, such as There, IMVU, or Kaneva.  I firmly believe that immersive 3d worlds are a viable learning medium, especially when good rhetorical practices are utilized.  For example, I love the art gallery critique that Michael Connors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison set up a couple years ago.  Beyond teaching in a traditional sense, 3d environments add more interactivity to e-learning experiences, and we know that fully engaged students walk away better equipped to do their jobs.

 

If 3d training is indeed the way of the future, as experts have been extolling for the past few years, why aren’t more organizations taking the leap?  In my opinion, there are two fundamental flaws to most 3d metaverses: the clients needed to run the applications and the metaverse structure itself.  A typical metaverse requires that a client be downloaded and installed on the user’s computer.  For instance, Second Life requires a 21MB client download and then a PC that is decently equipped for gaming.   And let’s not forget that these 3d spaces are bandwidth hogs.  As students of Web 2.0, we have come to expect instant access, simplicity, and portability with online content – things that are conspicuously missing from online 3d worlds.

 

Aside from the technical issues associated with fat clients, the sprawling, unregulated structure of a metaverse is not congruent with fostering an environment for learning.  I acknowledge that you can restrict access to your piece of a metaverse, but the idiocy of a virtual world gone mad is still out there.  Seriously, who wants their 3d library orientation on ABC Island interrupted by some perv bunny rabbit avatar wanting to cyber???  In my estimation, the ideal 3d training environment needs to be self-enclosed and completely removed from a larger world. 

 

There are flickers of hope piercing the matrix.  Big brother Google made strides in tackling the fat client/wide-open world conundrum a little less than a year ago with its ephemeral Lively experiment.  Lively operated as a thin-client, strictly through a web browser.  There was no software to download to participate in this 3d world.  Simply sign in, customize an avatar, and hop into a room if you weren’t inclined to spend five minutes making your own.  If you constructed your own room, you could close it off and make it available by invitation only.  Finally, you also had the option of embedding your room into your webpage.  While Lively is offline (and sorely missed!), Vivaty is a thin service that allows users to create 3d chat rooms that can be embedded in other webpages.  Finally, VastPark has an open source toolset that empowers moderately savvy users to author self-contained 3d environments that can be accessed exclusively through a web browser. 

 

The products that have come from Google, Vivaty, VastPark, and their ilk demonstrate that significant changes have occurred  since Second Life launched six years ago.  Maybe in another three, 3d learning environments will be reality in many organizations.

 

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Or How to Get Stuck on Lifelong Learning.

Duct tape always gets my attention (must be the craftsperson in me). So a blog post featuring a giant roll of duct tape and titled Sticking it to Instruction was successful in diverting my attention from my over-crowded schedule.

This is a librarian’s review of the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. The book is about successful marketing, but reviewer Ellie Collier found enough library- and learning-related stickiness to write over 2500 words about it. (Maybe I won’t have to read the book now.)

The book identifies 6 major qualities of sticky ideas:

  • Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness
  • Concreteness
  • Credibility
  • Emotions
  • Stories

The one quality that really resonated with me and my thinking about internalized lifelong learning for library staff is emotions. The emotional component in successful learning is huge. I’m a natural learner, and I suspect most of my fellow trainers are –that’s what attracted us to this arena. I have a large appetite for new information. I get excited and I’m sure my heart rate increases when I’m learning something new. But not everyone shares this impulse. The big challenge for trainers is to stimulate that level of emotional engagement in their learners.

[The authors] discuss Maslow’s Pyramid and comment that most self interest appeals invoke the physical, security, and esteem layers. We need to come out of Maslow’s basement.

We often try to communicate the “what’s in it for me?” to learners in order to motivate them. This quotation makes me realize that maybe I have always set the WIIFM? bar too low. Now I really do want to read the book to gather ideas about appealing to the transcendant levels of Maslow’s hierarchy.

by Maurice Coleman, Technical Trainer at Harford County (MD) Public Library and blogger at The Chronicles of the (almost) Bald Technology Trainer

I am pleased to announce to the all in the ALA CE Buzz/CLENE community a new podcast called T is for Training UPDATE: Here is the link to the Episode 2: How I Stumbled Into Training mp3.

The podcast was started because I did not find a podcast that spoke to me or my colleagues about training issues with a library slant.  In fact, it found almost nothing out in the podcasting world there that talked about training at all.

So, with the encouragement of some library cohorts, I started the podcast T is for Training.

Episode 2 is coming up on Friday September 26th at 2 pm Eastern and we would love to have you listen live or subscribe to our feed. For those into social networking, we have a delicious tag (tisfortraining,) a FriendFeed page, a Facebook Page and a LinkedIn Group.  Network with your fellow trainers at any of these sites.

Here is what we talked about on the first episode:

Dealing with Information Overload (Article by Sarah Houghton-Jan) ;
What is a/your personal learning environment? (Article) and Dealing with your staff personal training needs;
What tools do you use to transfer your small burst/Just in Time Trainings?
What kinds of skills do we need to teach in library school to encourage quality training?

The second episode’s talking points like this:

Undercover Training: How do you handle those “outside of your system” training opportunities;
Do you want to go to ALA? Or CIL or LITA?
Qualify and Certify: Trainer Certifications, Qualifications and Organizations.

We also will begin each show with introductions and close the show, as time permits, with From the Back Room a space to find support and ask for help.  The posts after each episode will be annotated with links to resources discussed in the podcast.  I want this podcast to be dedicated but not obsessed with training in libraries.

So please join us live, on our feed or on the blog!  See you there!

Special thanks to Peter Bromberg, at South Jersey Regional Library Cooperative (SJRLC), for extending the invitation to talk with all of you about T is for Training.

An interesting thing is happening in the San Francisco East Bay area: a local chapter of the American Society for Training & Development is becoming the trainer-teacher-learner’s version of a literary salon, and its community of members has increased by nearly 33 percent (from 62 to 82 members) in less than six months.

 

Here’s how it’s evolving: Three of us who work on programming for the ASTD Mt. Diablo Chapter’s monthly two-hour dinner meetings at the Crow Canyon Country Club in Danville decided to build off of the Chapter’s tradition of bringing in the best available speakers on the interrelated topics of training, leadership, and human resources; we encouraged presenters to use engaging, cutting-edge presentation styles while playing off of the camaraderie which existed within the small group of 10 or 15 repeat attendees.

 

Chapter member Steven Cerri, presenting on the topic “Why Most Training Isn’t Sticky and What to Do About It” at the Chapter’s April meeting, didn’t just cover the topic effectively; he frequently called attention to the techniques he was using and, as a result, kept the event lively, personal, and sticky for the audience he was addressing. And that’s when the magic began: the regulars had never been shy about engaging speakers and each other throughout the monthly formal presentations, but they upped the ante—and made the experience memorable—by being part of the discussion rather than sitting back, listening passively, and politely asking questions while Steven stood before them. And when the hour-long formal program was over, people didn’t quickly empty the room. The discussion continued informally for at least another half hour.

 

Daren Blonski, VP of Leadership Development for Sonoma Learning Systems, inspired an equally engaging exchange the following month on the theme of what trainers need to know to function effectively in multigenerational workplaces. We worked together, as he prepared his PowerPoint slides, to incorporate a Cliff Atkinson Beyond Bullet Points style to his presentation—creating a visual narrative flow from slide to slide without using much text. The level of engagement between Daren and the other participants—it would be inaccurate and unfair to refer to them as an “audience” in this context—was electric. Daren didn’t even use all the slides he had prepared; he took advantage of the lively interactions to cover the material, and the discussion continued informally for almost 45 minutes after the monthly meeting was formally adjourned.

 

Provokare Presentations Founder Roberto Giannicola, at the Chapter’s June meeting, took the process over the top. With visually stimulating slides, a puckishly engaging sense of humor, and a presentation virtually free of bullet points (except when he was using them to show how ineffective they can be), he set an enormously high bar for all presenters who will follow him at Mt. Diablo Chapter dinner meetings. He facilitated a very lively discussion on how the combination of  imagery and storytelling creates effective learning experiences, and it was again with reticence that everyone parted ways nearly an hour after the meeting ended.

 

It hasn’t taken long for the word to spread. That small community of regulars in March has quickly expanded so that the Chapter’s meeting last night, featuring ASTD Senior Chapter Coach Scott Wilson (based in Washington, D.C., but traveling under the auspices of ASTD to serve as keynote speaker for the event), drew 32 participants—nearly half of them first-time attendees, and two of them returning after at least a few years away from the Chapter. One after another, they confirmed that they were drawn to Scott’s presentation on “Current Reports and Best Training Practices from ASTD’s National Office” because colleagues have been telling them about the “incredible energy” that is coming out of the Mt. Diablo Chapter presentations and discussions. And, of course, it was no surprise to find two people standing outside in that warm summer evening weather 90 minutes after Scott’s formal presentation ended last night. Which suggests that we may not be far from seeing after-meeting discussions which exceed the two-hour time frame for the formal dinners and presentations themselves.

 

For more information about the Chapter’s activities, please visit its website.

There is clapping, cheering, and laughter from the audience for this TED talk, in which innovator Johnny Lee demonstrates how to turn a Wii game remote into a trendy teaching tool. Lee is highly motivated to bridge the divide between those organizations that can afford to experiment with the cutting edge of technology and those who can only sit back and watch.

In this video, Lee demos how to create an affordable interactive whiteboard by taking advantage of the “high-performing infrared camera” that is in the tip of a Wii controller. He combines the motion-sensing camera of the Wii with a $50 infrared pen (available from Radio Shack)—you just have to see the video to appreciate it.

Since posting this idea on his website, there have been over half a million downloads.

“Teachers and students around the world are already using this.”

Check out Lee’s website for other “little great ideas.”

I posted on BlogJunction about the Dangerous Ideas session at PLA, where a panel of “dangerous” thinkers* posed a series of “what if” questions about the future of libraries, and the audience responded with their own “what ifs.” I saved the staff training thoughts for CEBuzz.

  • What if ALL library staff were required to have expertise with technology?
  • What if we learned to embrace mistakes?
  • What if the tech-savvy library staff owned the responsibility for bringing everyone else up to speed?
  • What if all training was based on the premise of our shared passion for library service?
  • What if continuing education was required at a national level?

Are you feeling uncomfortable? Good. Do you have any dangerous ideas lurking in your head? Good. The panel suggested that every library should stage “Unthinkable Thought Days.” Gather, brainstorm, and ask your group these three questions:

  • Why does this thought make me uncomfortable?
  • What are the opportunities in this idea?
  • What actions can be taken to pursue the opportunities?

Get into the dangerous mix at whatiflibs.wetpaint.com.

*Panelists: Deirdre Routt/Omaha PL, Stacey Aldrich/California State Library, Brian Auger/Howard County Library, Amy de Groff/Howard County Library, Rivkah Sass/Omaha PL

Familiar with alternate reality games?  Basically, players interactively participate in an in-depth story that is revealed as a series of puzzles in the real world.  ARGs are usually open-ended as the players create the content and influence the development of the story arc.  One person or a small group serve as the puppet masters who steer the game that other players happen into through the rabbit hole – the game’s conceit.  Read a whitepaper on ARGs here and even check out one of the best “serious gaming” ARGs, World Without Oil, here. 

Alternate reality games, in my opinion, are the natural evolution of simulations, which have proven invaluable in learning environments.  We know that simulations provide learners safe contexts in which to practice real-world skills.  Now imagine the level of immersion we could provide our learners if they were involved in a larger story, while simultaneously learning and developing those new skills.   

Recently, I experimented with alternate reality gaming here at the library using one of our bi-monthly Quality Book Discussions as fodder.  Here is the situation: 

Thirty staff members signed up to discuss the book, “Branded Customer Service: The New Competitive Edge.”  The staff members were expecting the same let’s-gather-together-in-a-circle-and-discuss-the-book format, but what do you really take away from that kind of discussion?  Nothing.  Instead, I, acting as the puppet master, sent all 30 participants an encrypted email message from the character I would portray in the game, Dr. X.  Over the next few days, the staff members deciphered the code, which ultimately sent them to a hidden discussion board inside our intranet, Sharepoint.  During the course of a week, participants (now dubbed “field agents”) gave themselves silly pseudonyms and contributed to discussion questions I rolled out every other day. 

When the actual face-to-face discussion occurred a week later, Dr. X met with the field agents and instead of me leading an unguided discussion about “Branded Customer Service,” I had the participants complete a series of creative exercises to stimulate further discussion and to maximize transfer. 

I had two-fold learning objectives for this ARG: to have staff members demonstrate on-brand customer service behaviors at several touch points in our branches and to have staff members utilize the web parts of Sharepoint 2007, which we just implemented about two months ago.  While I have not formally assessed the learning goals, the early signs seem promising for this pilot project. 

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