The Jam

One of my favorite things to come out of the work I do with my co-conspirators Cartland and Jerry is “the jam”. I believe credit goes to Cartland for the naming and codifying it into a Thing™, but it evolved out of many meetings where we would sit down and actively work on building something together. Whether it was revamping a presentation, figuring out work flows, or architecting a site we realized some of the best work came out of sitting down and hashing it out together. So, whenever we need to work on something like that we don’t call it a meeting, we call it a jam, and we go into that space ready to build, make, or blow up something. Additionally, in these collaborative moments we reveal and clarify our thinking and ideas (e.g. how do we talk about online identity to students?). I often come out the other side of those jams not only happy with what we’ve built but with a better and more nuanced understanding of the topic, idea, or purpose. It should be noted that at the foundation of all of this is trust. Even when we argue, sometimes vociferously, we all want to work towards the same goals.


Earlier this year Cartland and I were wrestling with better ways to scaffold our DKC student consultants to be better prepared for class visits. We had an explosion of class visit requests from faculty (seriously, we’ve done about double the amount of class visits than what we had done the previous two years). Some of these class visits required students to understand an assignment for a class and explain how to get started with technology tools. Many of our consultants had not done this kind of presentation and although we gave them a outline template to use to prepare for these presentations, they were not utilizing them in the way we wanted.

Sunset view up the Rappahannock river

Cut to an evening paddle along the Rappahannock river where many a work question has been pondered. As we paddled upstream Cartland asked the question, “What if we extended the jam model to our work with students?” As soon as he said this not only did I know we had a very viable solution, but a parallel musing that had been running through my mind suddenly found itself doing a hard right turn and coming together in his simple idea. You see, one of the most the valuable parts of my undergraduate experience was my time spent as a student employee in the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT). It wasn’t necessarily the projects I did (although I did learn things), what I really had access to was a seat around the table (and I mean this literally) and the opportunity to listen to people (really smart and thoughtful people) think through ideas and be creative. I got to see how people think. In retrospect it seems like this shouldn’t have been a radical practice, but my schooling experience was full of assignments and projects where I was expected to complete them on my own (and in fact perhaps collaborating could even be considered cheating) and I don’t recall any moments where teachers demonstrated how they wrestled with complex questions and ideas. Cartland’s simple idea of “why don’t we jam with the students?” brought together all of this. Why wouldn’t we share the process that helped us create better things?

The jam is not necessarily a defined protocol we follow, but I do recommend that for anything you are planning to jam on with student that having an outline or questions to work from is helpful. It gives enough scaffolding to have a conversation, but by going through it together, out loud, we can also have those clarifying conversations. My favorite application of the jam has been for our DKC workshops. We encourage our students to propose a workshop around a digital skill or topic and we work with them to develop it, name it, market it, and run it.

The naming is honestly my favorite part of the whole endeavor. Once we have established a topic we gather around the whiteboard with the student (and anyone else in the room that wants to be involved) and start to brainstorm. We strongly push the “no bad idea” part of brainstorming. If you say it out loud, write it down. I think students have been able to see the value of being generative in ideas and not self-editing so quickly. You never know what is going to inspire the next thought that will lead to everyone exclaiming, “That’s it!”

whiteboard with brainstorming words about designing graphics
The winner for this workshop was “Let’s Get Graphic! Designing for Social Media”

Not only have we come up with some terrific names, but I think student have a lot of fun with this process too. There are often silly suggestions that don’t lead anywhere but at least one workshop on building accessible websites was titled “Oops, I Made the Web a Better Place!”. This title jam is also an opportunity to make sure we all are on agreement about what this workshop is going to be about. If you are trying to come up with a concise title and tagline it reveals what you think is important and can help clarify focus of the workshop itself.

A whiteboard with brainstorming words about a storyboarding workshop
We went with “From Post-It to Production: Learning to Storyboard your Videos”

Combining an eye catching title with some snazzy marketing graphics designed by our students has led to some fairly amazing ads as well.

An ad for the DKC workshop series titled "Mixing it up with JMack: Launching your DJ Career on Twitch"

We have seen an uptick in our workshop attendance this semester and I think credit can be given to the combined effect of a good title that makes a compelling pitch, alongside pushing that marketing material everywhere you can get in front of students (more props to Cartland for taking the time to figure out a process for getting this distributed to all the places at the right time. He should really write about this).

One thing I’m eager to see is how the jams will evolve over time as students gain creative confidence and become more practiced in the process. While I can’t speak for my students experience I suspect that like me at that age their experience in this kind of collaboration is minimal. I hope they see value in it and I hope we can continue to make time to prioritize it. Honestly, we are lucky we can do this kind of work because it is time consuming (in the best way). I think the jam not only leads to a better “product”, but it lets us have real human connection and a shared experience building something great.

Time to Stop at the Inn

There are many in my RSS reader who never stopped blogging and have kept writing all these years, but there is something about breaking a silence that can cajole me out of my own blog silence just a bit.

I most certainly have a bit of fearfulness in putting my writing out there. This space has mostly been reserved for more personal writing so I’ve worried about the violation of a random person (or even someone I know) eviscerating my writing in the form of a comment. I don’t desire to “build an audience” or be well known outside of my little quadrant of life. I count myself lucky to have never had a reason to turn off comments, but I understand why people have had to turn them off once they started gaining a larger readership. People on the internet can be less than nice at times.

So why even write in a public way? Why not keep it all in a journal? I suppose there is something about seeing other people around me write and share their insights, experience, and themselves that makes me think I should give back a little too. When one is in community with people there is a desire to have some give and take, a bit of “I see you. Do you see me?”. Even at a time when the power of the individual creator on the web seems so large it also feels like the vast majority of technology is designed to drive consumptive and addictive behaviors. I still see this medium as a refuge from the compulsive refreshing and stream of thoughts.

I’ve been trying to find more ways to build in reflection time in my life. I’m fairly decent at making space in my life and not filling it was busyness, but there is still something missing for me in the equation and I am fairly certain a regular writing habit is it. I’m a classic infrequent pen and paper journal writer (although I managed to keep a pretty decent gratitude journal last year). The unwinding of thoughts and connections made when putting pen on paper or letters on screen still feels like a kind of magic. I want to spend more times doing things that make happier long-term, even when they are hard. I don’t run because I love running. I run because I love “having run” and the rewards that come from persevering. In much the same way writing can be a struggle, but it generally ends up be a satisfying way to have spent time. And like running I find I do best when I have accountability and a community of people writing is one of the best. So, thanks to you all who keep that going and keep me going as well.

The Internet Community that Formed Me

In October of last year I started a new job as the Associate Director of the Digital Knowledge Center at UMW. Lots of crazy things had to happen for this to become my reality, but I’ve been beyond grateful for the opportunity to take on a new challenge and I have loved my new job so far.

It is funny to find myself back in the unit that brought me in to the conversation in the first place. As I’ve been reflecting back on the journey I’ve been thinking about that early twitter/blogging community that hooked me in to the world of technology and education as a young undergrad student working for the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT).

It meant a lot to me as a student to get to know people who worked outside my University. That community was due in large part to the staff members at DTLT cultivating those relationships and inviting me in to those conversations. Going through my earliest Twitter followers I find people like Brian Lamb, D’Arcy Norman, Scott Leslie, Tom Woodward, Gardner Campbell, Laura Blankenship, Barbara Ganley, Alan Levine, Mikhail Gershovich, Luke Waltzer, Matt Gold, Chris Lott, Barbara Sawhill, Leslie Madsen, and Mike Caulfield.

Is that not a ridiculously awesome list of people to know as an undergrad student??

These voices, along with the staff and faculty at my University, helped shape my thinking around what it means to be engaged in the world. Over the years I’ve gathered more and more voices and have been pushed to think in new ways (forgive me for not having the room to list them all). Yet, I still think about 19 year old me, and how incredibly lucky I was to have access to that conversation at all. That is why it pleases me to see many people blogging again (and why I’ve felt called to dust off this blog) because seeing the work people are doing is incredibly important. Of course some people never fell off the blogging wagon and if there is a Web 2.0 heaven, there is a special place for you there.

So, thanks for the conversation and the continued conversations. I’m glad there are so many people for me to continue to learn from out there.

There, I think I managed to blog about not blogging without really calling attention to it…oh wait.

Grabbing the Moments

I worry I don’t do a good job of talking with my tutors about the “why” of the ThinkLab. I seldom have explicit conversations about my philosophy around teaching and making. I still haven’t figured out a way to have those conversations that don’t come across as “let me randomly start talking about philosophy and possibly lecture you about things”. Sometimes a moment happens organically and I try to grab them as they come up. This week held one of those moments.

Recently we’ve been working with a class that does a 3D printing assignment. I’ve struggled to make this assignment a meaningful exercise (at least meaningful in my mind). After a tutor had started another print he said something along the lines of, “I don’t really care for assignments where people come in and 3D print one-off things and we never see them again. I like to see people work through a project.” Yes, this was a moment! Another tutor also hopped in to the conversation and we began discussing the purpose of this space, the value of making things, and where a makerspace fits in at a small public liberal arts university. They could articulate ideas, even in their first semester working in the ThinkLab, that told me they already understood so much about this space. I know I should have not been surprised since they are both the kinds of students who valued the ThinkLab as a creative space before I even hired them. I spent the rest of the afternoon beaming. This is why I do this work.

Now, how do I create more moments and opportunities like this?

Tell About It

I received a birthday card in the mail today.

Hand written card. Text of card:
As Mary Oliver wrote
Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention
Be astonished
Tell about it.
An unexpected card. A moment of pause.

I try to pay attention and find joy in stumbling upon a penny. Talking about it all, especially in written form, seems to elude me though.

Last year I attended the Digital Pedagogy Lab and had the opportunity to spend a week writing. It was the most I had written in years. I wrote for me and I wrote without fear. Time passes though and I fell out of the practice of writing and inevitably over the course of months fear has crept back in again. Today though, after receiving the unexpected card in the mail, I felt convicted again. I’ve come back to the paragraph from Audre Lorde’s “The Transformation of Silence in to Language an Action” that gave me the courage to write last summer.

In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light, and what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid?

Most of my writing spaces are silent. I have been afraid of the permanency of ink on a page or words on a blog and for me that is a poor reason to be silent. I need to write because I have stories I need to share and my voice matters too. I want to have a say in the narrative and that means speaking up, even when I am afraid.

What To Support When You Are Making It Up As You Go Along?

Cleaning up the 3D printer. CC-BY Shannon Hauser

One of the many questions I continue to struggle with when trying to figure out where to navigate the ThinkLab is what kinds of things should we support and at what level should we support those things? There are already some things that the ThinkLab is known for, 3D design and printing, that we’ll continue to do but many things are undecided at this point. In looking at other makerspaces I realized there is so much variety. Being housed in the library this thought keeps running through my head — we wouldn’t fill our stacks with the same books as Virginia Tech so why would our makerspace have the same tools and technology as theirs? How does a makerspace meet the curricular needs of a public liberal arts institution? How does a makerspace reach out to disciplines that don’t typically associate themselves with spaces that are like makerspaces? I find myself worrying about becoming pigeon-holed as a space. I worry that as the ThinkLab’s exposure increases we’ll fall in to a cycle of supporting a very narrow area to the expense of exploring possibilities. I don’t want to hear, “Only [fill in the blank] majors use the ThinkLab”. Much like our library supports a wide variety of disciplines I want the ThinkLab to support a varied student population. And just as the library makes strategic investments about what curricular needs it can support (no, we can’t buy that niche $1000 encyclopedia set, sorry) I want to make sure I don’t over commit to some disciplines. Sure we’ll show you some basic 3D modelling software, but you’ll have to figure out that advanced 3D modelling software for yourself. But am I placing limits in ways that are thoughtful of what is sustainable or am I placing limits because I fear what I do not know? (And I certainly don’t know a whole lot). I’m constantly thinking about what we currently have to offer and what I think we should offer and and the balance between what I know at the moment and what I think would be possible. I worry about offering to support something only to later realize that it is going to be beyond what we could sustainably support.

Luckily in the fall every single faculty member I worked with was willing to take risks with me to see what the limits of space may be and the semester went off fairly well. I am very lucky to have hired student aides that brought in their own background knowledge in areas that I don’t know a whole lot about who were able to pull off projects I wouldn’t have been able to do myself. There were times though that I asked my student aides to stretch in ways that may have been taking advantage of their general excitement to be working in the space. Over the course of the semester it became quite clear I needed to establish some solid structure about what we could definitely support and what would be experimental. I have spent a bit of the winter break working on actual tutorials that I can expect my student aides to take students through as well as rolling out an online scheduling tool. This has alleviated some of my worry about providing sustainable support, but I know there is more work to be done.

In writing this post I realize I don’t hate all these tensions, but they make  me uncomfortable (uncomfortable, but not paralyzed). There is no one right way to have a makerspace (despite the commodification of the maker movement). This is both liberating and terrifying. At times I wish I could stick my head in the sand and copy what so many other spaces do, but that wouldn’t make the space meaningful and useful to anyone in the long run. I want the ThinkLab to evolve with the needs of the school, but also be a source of inspiration that points in a direction. It is in this tension where people are working together and even disagreeing that some of the best stuff appears. I have a vision for the ThinkLab (maybe I should blog that one day?), but I know that some faculty member is going to show up one day and go, “I have an idea for a class” or a student is going to come in and say, “There is no place on campus that supports this, do you think the ThinkLab could?” and I’m going to be blown away and do everything I can to try and support that despite all my thinking about sustainable practices. I’ve already seen it start to happen.

How does one support wildly brilliant ideas?

 

 

On Learning In and Out of College

This post is for the younger version of myself who struggled to care about schooling and to the the current students who feel the same way. It is no solution, but perhaps some consolation.

One of my biggest struggles as a student was sustaining the energy to learn something through an entire semester. I would start out most semesters with great gusto, but a few weeks in to the semester my enthusiasm for the topic  would wane and I’d inevitably fall in to the disillusioned questioning of, “Why am I learning this? Why does it matter? What is the point of learning this stuff?”. I distinctly remember during my sophomore year reading Yeats under a tree outside my dorm instead of doing work for a class. If my memory is correct  my attempt to decipher “Among School Children” was inspired in some way by Gardner. It may seem overwrought to say, but in that moment reading Yeats was the most important thing I could be doing because I had a sense that it would mean more to my life here on earth than working on the school assignment.

A Serene Scene

For a long time I’ve felt guilty over how poorly I performed at times during my academic career. There are times when I still feel that way, but I know that I can’t live with that regret forever.  I wasn’t very good at achieving decent grades in college, but it doesn’t mean I’m a failure. The structure that schools use to set up a curriculum, dividing things up in to disciplines and semesters,  is one approach for making sure that society as a whole has a similar baseline of knowledge. It isn’t the end all be all of educating. I’ve known this all for a long time, but it wasn’t until fairly recently I felt it to be true.

I’ve been out of college for almost 5 years now and I’ve continued to grow and learn new things since then. I recently read some older entries in a journal I sporadically keep and it was rewarding to see that many of the things I wanted to accomplish and learn about I’ve managed to do in two years since the date of the entry. The enthusiasm I have for learning is still there and I can come at topics with great fervor and deeply involve myself in an idea. The upside is that when my momentum begins to fade there is usually no major consequence to laying that topic to rest for awhile. I can pick up the idea a day, a week, or many months later. Nothing prevents me from going back to that topic when I’m ready to dive in again. Iteration. The time scale at which I learn things in is much longer than the semester. In fact it seems that there is no discrete unit of time to learn things. How freeing!

I will admit there is value in sustaining focus on a topic even after the initial enthusiasm begins to fade. There is something about pushing past “getting stuck” (or is that “uncomfortable, but not paralyzed”?) that is really good for the brain. I’m definitely not advocating for avoiding the hard things, but  in college many classes and many semesters felt like pushing past a wall of boredom not because a class was hard but because my brain was just done thinking about the topic. I found it incredibly frustrating to not have control over my head space at times. During my post college life I’ve discovered that there are times when I need to push past the “stuck” when I don’t have the energy, but for the most part I’ve found that I have the time and space to allow an idea to breathe. Sometimes all I need is a week off from thinking about something. A week is something not afforded to most college students. If you get a week behind in college it tends to snowball out of control until you limp across the semester finish line hoping the avalanche doesn’t outpace you.

20150715_111135

Now that I’ve had time outside of college to learn and grow I’ve noticed that besides some content sticking with me a lot of what has stuck with me are the soft skills that are so hard to quantify: critical thinking, how to break down difficult ideas, write about ideas, talk about ideas, be curious about the world, and so much more. I know how to learn and teach myself things and I’m always learning how to get better at that too. I’ve found so much joy in learning post college and I’m learning all the time. I’m lucky to have a job that gives me the freedom to challenge myself to learn new things and try out new ideas.

I’m not sure what the future holds for me (besides the terrible feeling that I’ll be going back to school sometime in the future), but I have confidence in my ability to learn and grow. Heck, who knows, maybe by the time I need that masters I might find I enjoy being in school again…or maybe not 🙂

 

 

Thanks, For Everything

I’ve been struggling to write this post over the last five weeks. It was originally going to be part history and part “thank you”, but I had trouble writing a post about Andy and Jim that didn’t also include talking about Jerry and Martha. These four people (and the families they represent) go far beyond being DTLT to me. So, I dropped the history part (that was taking way too long) and made it strictly a thank you post to Andy, Jim, Jerry, and Martha.So really, this post isn’t for anyone but me and the four of them.

 

A Look Down Campus Walk
Photo credit to shauser

It is hard to believe that 2006, the year I started at Mary Washington as a freshman, is nearly ten years ago now. I’m sure 18 year old me would be surprised to find out that ten years down the line she’d still be in the same town because she found family here.

If I were to write a book about my journey over the last ten years it would be impossible to not talk about a few members of DTLT and their families because they are so thoroughly intertwined in my life’s story. There are so many moments that I could talk about I don’t know how I could recount them all in a single post. And how can I ever express enough gratitude for helping me get to where I am today and for all the wonderful memories? This post won’t do it justice, but it as an attempt to say a few words of thanks. For your consideration, both serious and silly thank yous.

Magic Bottle
Photo credit to cogdog

First of all thank you for hiring me as a student aide all those years ago. I didn’t know what I was getting in to, but thanks for seeing something in the quiet and timid freshman student.

Thank you for bringing me in to the conversation. Sitting around the bullpen in DTLT allowed me to hear some of the smartest people I know talk about big ideas.

Thanks for being there for me through my darkest college days.

Thanks for the hundreds of meals you have fed me over the years. Whether it was taking me out to lunch or having me in your home for dinner. I owe more meals than I can ever repay. I plan on paying them forward.

Thank you all for letting me get to know your children. It has been an honor for me to watch them grow up. I know many of you think you aren’t perfect parents, and you’re not, but the secret is no one is, and as it turns out you are still great parents without being perfect.

Thanks for all the blog comments.

Thanks for inviting me to your kid’s shows, to outings near and far, to family gatherings, birthday parties, mother’s day and father’s day celebrations, and even family vacations. I always felt like I was part of the family when I came along.

Thanks for all the moments I laughed so hard I cried. There were many of them.

Thanks for letting me sit in DTLT at all hours of the day as a student aide. Being there often meant more to me than you knew. Although I think the times when I came in and promptly put my head on the desk was probably a sign.

Thank you for listening to my story.

Thank you for sharing your stories with me. You all come from different places and hearing your stories about where life has taken you (both the good and the bad) taught me there are many paths to fulfillment and happiness.

Thank you for all the patience you’ve shown me over the years.

Thanks for all the drinks: beer, wine, but mostly the marthinis. Okay, this is really a thank you to Martha for educating me on the superiority of gin.

Thanks for all the times you pushed me to reach further than I thought I could.

Thank you for being a friend.

Thanks for helping me through my mistakes and failures. Especially when those failures felt like the end of the world. You all reminded me life goes on and the best thing to do is learn from my mistakes.

Thanks for helping me after I graduated. Whether it was helping me edit a resume, listening to my fears over what comes next, or even convincing your spouse to let me work at her clinic 😉

Thanks for setting the bar so high.

Thanks for being the biggest influences on my young adult life. I am so incredibly blessed to have had so many amazing people in my life over the last ten years. I think I won the mentor lottery when I came to Mary Washington.

Thanks for probably be unsurprised that this blog post has taken so long to write. Hey, at least I finished it before Jim left!

Thank you. I love you all.

 

 

 

Mucking about in databases and giving it all over to google

Shelves and Book Cart_9556678137_l

As mentioned in my previous post one of the projects I wanted to complete over last summer was digitizing as many of the paper processes that I could. One of the largest challenges was finding a way to digitize a major task my student supervisor performs. In the library the student supervisor takes time each week to spot check some of the shelving of the previous week. In order to do this the paper process was as follows:

  •  When a student assembled a “ready to be shelved” cart they filled out a slip of paper and wrote down 6 random call numbers that appear on the cart. This slip of paper went in to a bin near the computer workstation.
  • They would also write their name, date, time and cart number on another slip of paper. This slip stayed with the cart until the cart was completely shelved. Each student who worked on a cart would write down their name on the slip of paper. If one student shelved the entirety of the cart they only had to write their name at the bottom. If multiple people worked on a cart there was a field to indicate where they stopped on the cart.
  • Each time a student would head up to the Stacks to shelve they had to fill out their name, date, time and, cart number on a log also kept by the computer workstation.
  • The student supervisor would have to match up the the various pieces of paper to figure out who shelved what and then they’d take the slip of paper with the 6 call numbers and go do the spot check. During the spot check they’d write down anything that was out of order and if they did find an error they’d put the slip of paper in a binder that had the various student aides names so they could go back and correct their mistakes.

How do you even begin to digitize this process?

During my first year I had been introduced to Navicat which is piece of database management software (like Microsoft Access). My supervisor had shown me some queries she had built because the reporting tool that comes with our ILS (Integrated Library System) is not very robust. So, while I was thinking about ways to digitize the process it occurred to me I probably could put together a report of some sort. Every time a cart is assembled by a student the cart gets a second check-in. This ensures that all things have been checked-in and catches other statuses a book may be on that need to come off before they head back to the Stacks. Knowing that all these second check-ins were being recorded by the system I was able to build a query based on the items checked-in, the computer they were checked-in on and, a date range. Now, a lot more than just carts get checked in on the computer in the back so I needed a way for the student supervisor to sift through the items relatively easily. I created a google form for my students to fill out:

This form gives the student supervisor the barcode information they need to easily find the carts that have been made. In, addition I’ve made my students scan a barcode before and after they check-in a cart.  This helps speed up my student supervisor’s process even more by giving them an easily identifiable number to search for in the report that is generated. After the student finish shelving they also fill out an after-shelving form:

The input from these forms gets dumped in to google spreadsheets that both my student supervisor and I have access to. My student supervisor then has to match up the corresponding information.  They look at when carts were made and choose the date range for the query (which they are able to run themselves using some nice and free software that allows you to run basic queries) and then they run the report. They then take the database query output and import it in to our shared google drive folder where they can identify all the carts that are made based on the information in the “Assembled Carts” spreadsheet. After they have identified carts they pull up the “After Shelving” spreadsheet to see who shelved the cart and write their names down. For this last part I let my supervisor choose how they wanted to format things so that when they went spot check it made sense to them. My student supervisor this year color coded the spreadsheet and came up with a system of naming when identifying errors and that seemed to work for them. All that was left to do was grab a tablet (or their phone) and go upstairs and spot check. An, additional advantage to this system of spot checking was the student supervisor now has a complete list of everything on the cart. Rather than leave it up to person assembling the cart to pick 6 random call numbers the student supervisor can be more targeted in their checking. We know certain areas of the Stacks have more problems than others so it makes sense to check those places more often.

In order to get the information back to the student aides about what errors they need to correct  I gave them all individual pages on umwstacks.org (which are hidden behind a login) and on each page is an editable spreadsheet so that not only can my student supervisor record the errors, but my student aides could grab tablets and head up in to the Stacks to correct their errors and mark that they fixed them while they are up there. Many opt to write down call numbers still, but quite a few adopted picking up the tablet and heading upstairs to check. This is one part of the process I’m trying to figure out how to make more easily accessible so that more student feel inclined to pick up the device rather than write down a bunch of call numbers on a piece of paper.

We’ve done this new way of spot checking for one academic year and the experiment has been very successful and few fun side benefits have come out of digitizing this process. My student supervisor now spends half the time doing the spot checking that it used to take and now I have the opportunity to expand out that positions task to include more variety and higher-level activities. One of the more fun side benefits that I had not given much thought to is the massive data collection that is a by-product of this process. I now know on average how many carts each week get shelved, when are our busiest weeks, how many items have been shelved, who had the highest accuracy (did I mention my student supervisor was keeping an on-going spreadsheet of student aides accuracy rates?). It was very cool to tell my student during the last week of school that they had shelved over 12,000 items during the semester.

Now that I have all this data it has my brain going about a new approach to student supervisor spot checking and on an even larger scale it has me thinking about the best use of student aide time while they work. I’m going to spend the summer sifting through the data a bit and spend time thinking about better ways to record statistics, do proper analysis (finding rates of accuracy on uneven sample sizes? Got to figure that out) and figure out what data is meaningful to keep recording. I’m excited that the experiment went so well and hopefully with a few more tweaks the system will be even better for this upcoming academic year.

Just the start of things

Sayers Books 2

I’ve been working at the Simpson Library for almost two years now and I have tried several times to blog about the work I’ve been doing, but for several reasons I haven’t been able to bring myself to share what I am doing. I won’t say that this post is going to be a trend, but I’d like to talk through what I’ve been doing a bit more and try to let go of some of the fears that have held me back from writing.

When I hit my one year anniversary mark at the University it was summer and I took the opportunity of the summer time lull to revamp the procedures of my job. The biggest goal was to digitize as many aspects of the job as I could to not only reduce the amount of paper waste, but to also streamline the process and perhaps have a better way to collect data of what is going on.

Many of the digitization tasks were fairly straight forward. I wanted to put the handbooks and student aide training material online. I had been inspired by the work done by DTLT where they used a combination of GitHub and DokuWiki as the hub of the documentation for Domain of One’s Own. I liked this framework because content re-use is very easy in the wiki. If I have a set of procedures on a page and those procedures are used in multiple project instructions I’d only have to write the procedures once and easily embed them in other parts of the site. Additionally, if I had to update the procedures because they changed I would only need to change the original source of the procedures and that would get pushed to everyplace I had embedded those procedures. I also imagined if my wiki experiments were a success that this could extend to other departments within the library. If we shared a collective wiki we could all be on the same page for the various procedures. I ended up not using GitHub as the backbone because between all the things I wanted to accomplish over the summer I thought learning how the heck to use GitHub would take up more time than I wanted, plus I figured at this point I’d be the only one needing to update the content so the power of forking my content wasn’t necessary.

I had a volunteer (a student aide that had just graduated) take the Collection Maintenance Handbook and format it to work within the wiki markup. It was also a good opportunity for the two of us to update the manual to reflect current practices (wow, did I really change that many things in my first year?). The volunteer also helped put the training guide together and to help me think through what items I wanted to include on an introductory questionnaire. Traditionally student aides receive a training guide pamphlet that they go through with the supervisor each time they  work a shift until they are fully trained. Going from paper to electronic format made me rethink how I even wanted to approach student aide training which has led to lots of different experiments (a blog post for another day).  Additionally, if I was going to use parts of the Collection Maintenance Handbook in the training guide I had to make sure the handbook was broken up in ways that I could use those pieces in the training guide and that they were written in a way that would explain enough to student aides how the task is accomplished. It mostly came together, but it was a bit messy.

This summer I’ll be spending time looking at how well the digitization process of handbooks and training manuals went to figure out how I can tweak it further to make more sense to my students. I’ve also been doing plenty of reading on managing student aides in an academic setting and plan on taking some of the ideas and implementing them in training.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of what I’ve been doing and it didn’t even cover the biggest and most challenging digitization of the shelf checking that my student supervisor does. I’ll leave that for another post.

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