You could say that every grant project we embark on at WebJunction is an ambitious reach to explore new library learning territory that takes us beyond our comfort zone. A notable difference with the Strengthening CE Content for Libraries grant (funded by IMLS) is that we invited twelve top-of-their-game CE providers along for the whirlwind ride.
In what felt like zero-to-60rpm acceleration, project team members from WebJunction and Infopeople designed and piloted a CE Training Institute curriculum that challenged this elite group to form collaborative teams, agree on topics of priority to libraries and work together virtually to create self-paced elearning courses using the Articulate Storyline course creation software—all in the space of four months. Whew!
“Everything was new, a new team, a new software, we just had to jump in there and do it.” (SCEC participant)
Behind the scenes, the project team felt the pressure of developing a blended curriculum that would make productive use of live online sessions, self-paced tutorials, supporting resources and discussion forums to prepare participants to maximize precious in-person time at the two-day workshop in Seattle in early May. Working groups were formed around broad topics and learning objectives were drafted before the convening. In the three months following the workshop, there were more online sessions, more resources shared, and live tech support sessions with a Storyline expert to help ease everyone’s climb up the technology learning curve.
As much as we immerse in an online world and champion the strengths of elearning, we recognize that there still is no substitute for face-to-face human interactions, especially for cementing relationships and understandings for working together on a project. The most echoed comment in participants’ feedback about the Training Institute is that they wished they had more in-person time together.
“The face to face really paved the way for how we worked together.” (SCEC participant)
One of the criteria for selecting Institute participants was their prior experience and comfort with virtual collaboration. Layered on top of having to learn self-paced instructional design and a course creation tool was the complication of tackling a complex project with team members from around the country. Since a key intent of the project was to create learning content with broad application across the library field, the combination of working group members was deliberately dispersed across types of library institutions and across geographies.
Participants just figured out how to make it work. Collaboration tool preferences leaned heavily toward Google Drive, Adobe Connect, and Dropbox. As seasoned as this cohort already was in virtual collaboration, there was a statistically significant increase in how they rated that skill before and after the Institute.
“I learned so much from working with a team that was focused on the same mission on the same path and across geographies.” “The collaboration was really the highlight of the grant for me.” (SCEC participants)
In addition to working out the logistics of distance collaboration, the roles and working relationships evolved organically over the course of the project. Although individual strengths emerged, roles did not become rigid; even if one person was quicker to dive into Storyline, other members also explored the tool rather than designating one person to do all the technical work. Of course, there were obstructions and vexations and the overwhelming sense that there was not enough time.
Despite all that, our adventurous cohort surmounted all their trials and frustrations and they all delivered their completed self-paced courses on or before the August 15th deadline.
Asked to locate themselves on this continuum from “I can’t wait…” to “never again,” not one arrow crossed the center line toward the ice bucket.
“We’re a cloud of leaders, there was never a leadership vacuum in this project, so there was no need to ever jump in and say, you know what, let’s get this puppy rolling, because we all got this puppy rolling.” (SCEC participant)
This was a rich learning process for everyone—for the project team as well as the Institute participants. WebJunction and Infopeople did their own exploration of the self-paced course territory, getting first-hand experience in producing two courses. The project team learned so much about what worked and, more significantly, all the ways we would like to refine the curriculum in the future. The Institute cohort took the basic information and ran with it. Everyone stretched well beyond their comfort zones. And this is how we grow and become stronger, and how we inspire others.
Please look at all of the five amazing courses that are the beautiful fruit of the Training Institute teams and be inspired.
Courses produced by the SCEC grant:
- eReader Detectives (Infopeople)
- Extreme Customer Service Every Time (WebJunction)
- Building a Positive Social Media Presence
- Coping with Change
- Encouraging Early Literacy
- Having Fun at Work Again
- Providing Constructive Employee Feedback