Sunday, October 25, 2009

Internet Librarian 2009: Saturday

This year, the Salt Lake City Public Library saw fit to send me to the Internet Librarian 2009 conference in Monterey, California. Because this would essentially coincide with a vacation I had already planned to take in the region, I elected to drive from Salt Lake City to the destination in Monterey. That journey is outlined in my blog, "Well, I made it," which you could read, should the mood strike you. Suffice it to say that it was a long journey, but I was able to do the drive without any serious discomfort.

Initial impressions:

Upon first blush, Monterey is a scenic, old style town by the sea. It is certainly a great departure from anything in the nearby environs of Salt Lake. Most of my experience with coastal towns is centered on the northwest coast, so this is somewhat of a new experience for me.

It should be said that Monterey's street layout is, ahem, interesting. That is to say, it's a bit difficult to navigate without getting lost. At least for me. Many streets near the water are one-way, and may others travel a circuitous course. In some periods when I was fruitlessly searching for my hotel in the dark and fog of the night, it seemed that the whole town was created as a series of concentric rings. It should also be noted that there is no acre of flat ground anywhere nearby. Oh, and there are about six Best Westerns within about ten miles, each seemingly unaware of the next's existence.

I finally found the hotel, and the next day, though the convention hall was only around two miles from my hotel, I managed to get lost a few more times. Nevertheless, I had budgeted about an hour to go those two miles, and so I was fine. It turns out, if you memorize all the streets and features by rote, you'll have no difficulty finding your way around.

The Saturday Workshop: The Accidental Technology Trainer

This workshop's title perfectly describes my experience in learning to teach technology classes. It was an accident. Because no one at the City Library had ever run or worked in a computer lab before we started, we were left to create the whole entity in an organic, "let's see if this will work," fashion. Yes, we had some help and support from the Gates Foundation (as we still do), but we had to craft many elements of policy and training out of whole cloth. I was lucky enough to get in on the ground floor of this work, occupying one of the now-defunct "lab+computer services" positions.

Since then, I've become a full-timer in Computer Services, and I've helped Gwen Page, the lead trainer for the lab, to continue to diversify and deepen our classes. Now, as I'm deep in the soup of creating a large curriculum of classes for remote locations (and perhaps a mobile lab, in time), I find that I can use all the help around to make sure the classes are well structured and effective.

Hence, the workshop. Taught by Stephanie Gerding, an independent library consultant whose credentials include the luminaries of the tech-learning business, this class was designed to give us ideas and tips for making our classes better, more fun, and more widely applicable to a variety of learners.

The other attendees were from places as close as San Jose and as far away as, I believe, Zimbabwe. There was even someone else in the class from Salt Lake--a representative of the Bureau of Reclamation regional library. It was a fun, diverse, dynamic group, and we had a lot of fun with our discussions.

Though it's impossible to go over all of the neat stuff that we talked about, one of the topics we covered were the "rules" of teaching tech classes to adults that we learned (some from the instructor and some from each other). Here they are:

1) Don't be afraid to make mistakes. This goes for both the students and the instructor. A mistake is just a teaching opportunity. What did you do? How do you get back where you need to be? Why didn't your strategy work?
2) Ask all your "stupid" questions. Don't let pride, fear, or being shy keep you from really understanding the topic when you walk out of the room.
3) It's okay to "cheat" with other students--collaborative learning and asking for help and clarification is GOOD.
4) A class outline is there to be IGNORED. It's just a basis from which you spring. Never cling to the outline if the class needs you go go in a different direction. Every class will go in a slightly different way. Embrace the spontaneity!

We went over a heck of a lot more than that. Learning styles, skill assessment, challenges to learning, necessary qualities for great trainers, and more. One of the great things we did as a class exercise was what the instructor, Stephanie, called a "snowball fight". When we were given a chance to respond with some of our observations about a few topics that came up, we wrote our nuggets of wisdom on our notepads, balled them up, and proceeded to wing these "snowballs" at each other for a few minutes. At the end of the "fight" we were to pick up one of the "snowballs" and straighten it up. When we discussed what had been written, we each had someone else's paper. That way, we could talk candidly about either what the other person had written, or what we had. No one knew one from the other. I'm told that this allows the reluctant participators to get in there and raise their voice without the supposed fear of repercussions. I don't know about that, one way or another. Throwing balls of paper at other adults, though...that's fun.

I had a pretty good grasp on many of the concepts we went over, and felt good about the structure of many of our classes, but I did pick up some great tips, as well. They'll pay dividends as we create and renovate classes in the future. It was a great, laid-back beginning to the conference. I'm jazzed to be here. Thanks, SLCPL!

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