Point of Need Teaching, in a Database, to Make all of Our Lives Easier

And in the spirit of quick posts for my 20 days of blogging plan….

We’re working on a project right now, at my place of work, to develop an online learning platform. We’re early into the project, but it reminds me, so much, of the work I did at my previous institution on a very similar thing (only we called it The Toolkit). We’re currently looking for other institutions with similar “toolkits,” databases, or other content management systems. (Is that you? Let me know in the comments or an email or something!)

We’re struck by how rare these platforms are, because it makes a lot of sense to us. All we’re talking about is a searchable database of online teaching materials. These might be PDFs, websites, slide decks, or videos. They’d hopefully be to-the-point and relevant to our users. Of course, we’re dreaming up all kinds of features to make this system even more useful in the final version, but to kick it off we’re just looking to make a container to house all of our online instructional content in one place.

What I find really interesting is the genesis of these projects is different though they have some basic DNA in common. At Wake I was trying to update the linear tutorial that the library had, which was very representative of the late 90s/early 2000s instruction modules like LOBO and TILT. The Toolkit was based on research I was turning up about what students would want. At Tech the idea started with others before I even arrived, but it’s clear it’s rooted in the fact that the library is trying to meet teaching demands as well as make it easier to find the vast collection of teaching materials that have been created and hosted at various places on the website and open web. Two different scenarios that led to a very similar conclusion!

When I worked on this project at Wake, with my partner-in-crime Kevin Gilbertson, we ended up with this presentation to the library staff to help them understand what we were doing:

We designed The Toolkit to meet the needs of our students according to generational trends:

  • bite-sized media,
  • non-linear learning,
  • self service,
  • 24/7 access, and
  • the ability to personalize their learning plan.

We also knew it would appeal to faculty:

  • they could incorporate library instruction without losing valuable class time,
  • they could refer students to basic modules for things that they should know before a project or a research session, and
  • they could request we design modules specifically for their class.

I had great hopes librarians would like the system:

  • modules could be sent in chat sessions or in email responses from reference,
  • modules could be embedded in course and research guides to make them instructional objects rather than just resource lists, and
  • it would provide us with a rich source of content for use in online education.

I really have a strong belief that this project is a powerful one and useful for our users. I believed this so much that I wrote about the design of the videos  for Computers in Libraries and I presented on the idea of small scale repositories at a LITA forum, based largely on this work.

So it’s fun to do this again, about six or seven years later. Some of the technology has changed. The things we can expect out of a system like this have changed. The potential for impact is greater.

My main lessons learned from the original project were (and I am putting them here for anyone considering something like this):

  • Everyone needs to feel ownership of the project. Buy-in is not enough. A comprehensive system needs ownership of all the contributors, at least at it’s initial development.
  • There must be a plan of action in place to ensure the content is current. Nothing is worse than a system looking nice, but having false information. One video that misrepresents something, and trust in the system is lost.
  • People must have time to be involved with the project. That plan mentioned above? You have to ensure people have time to maintain the content they created, or at least have some plan in action to pull content once it’s no longer current. And it’d be even better if that plan notifies people who are using it since faculty might be referring students to the content without your knowledge.
  • It will be successful. We didn’t market it at all at Wake, and it was one of our most viewed pages, and students would watch videos to completion with low bounce rates.

The original Toolkit? That ball is now in someone else‘s hands. I had great fun with it, and am looking forward to the project we’re working on here. And it’s only one approach to the question of higher demands for teaching load, online students, “flipping” the classroom, and streamlining workloads. What are others you have found as useful?

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