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Give your technology program a little class!

Are traditional libraries being forced to change due to the demand for modern technology? What if I say to you that in today's society, technology is the key to the success and growth of traditional libraries? That is true for the Orange County (Fla.) Library System (OCLS), where I have worked for more than 5 years now. As the library's technology training manager, I oversee the design, development, implementation, and evaluation of the computer training program for classroom and online delivery for both the public and staff. My greatest passion is for technology and teaching others how to use it.

In this article, I would like to enlighten readers on how OCLS has given its technology program a little "class" and how other libraries can do it too!

At OCLS, Computer Classes Begin, Improve, and Expand

First, let me tell you how it all started. The Orange County Library System began to offer basic technology classes in July 2000. The computers were funded through a grant awarded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The first classes were offered in Computers 101 at no cost to Orange County Library District cardholders. The classes were all 1 hour and covered the basics, from how to use a computer to applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

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Over time, the library staff noticed that the demand for the classes increased, so the offering of classes also increased. Classes were also offered throughout the other 13 library locations.

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Structure eliminates overlap: When I arrived at OCLS, my main focus was to enhance the training program and to centralize the creation of computer classes. With my experience in corporate training in classroom delivery and curriculum development, I found the library's training program was not conducted in a systematic, structured way. Staff members at each branch created their own classes and handouts specifically for their individual locations, and this information was not shared among the other branches. For example, there were various handouts for Word Resumes, and Word classes were all taught differently. In the Computer Resource Center, my challenge was to make the clerks into specialized trainers, teach them new technologies, and prepare them to accept change. Then I needed to centralize the creation of the computer curricula and ensure that the branch trainers were given the opportunity to review the material before listing the classes in their monthly schedules. Centralizing the creation of classes gave patrons the option of taking a class at any library location and still receiving the same quality of instruction. In fact, now patrons can repeat the same class at other locations as many times as they like and still achieve the same learning outcome.

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Meeting patrons' needs: As is always true in meeting patrons' needs, the key to providing appropriate computer training is to target the population, identify their needs, and offer what they want.

For example, Orange County has large numbers of Spanish and Haitian residents. As a result, the library began to offer computer classes in Spanish and Haitian Creole. This was because the library made it a priority to connect with these diverse audiences through technology training, as well as to offer other services and resources that can best meet the needs of the region's growing Spanish and Haitian communities. Based on demographics, these computer classes are offered in library locations with higher percentages of Spanish and Haitian clients.

Then there are our children. At OCLS, we realize that young people in the community are the future. We strive to support, encourage, and educate youth of all ages with mind-stimulating and fun-filled computer classes and programs. During the summer break, the library offers a series of computer classes called Camp Savvy that are designed primarily for kids and teens, and we offer the classes at all library locations. Some locations continue to offer these classes after school hours or during the weekend throughout the year. Classes range from Microsoft Word and Excel to Internet Safety, Digital Photo Editing, and Podcasting. All computer classes are hands-on and are taught by experienced trainers. (In addition to computer classes, there are a wide variety of library programs--such as Battle of the Rock Bands, story times, and mind-stimulating contests--offered to the kids and teens throughout the year.)

The Orange County Library System has seen great success with its computer training classes. What began with a department of six, one training room, and an offering of 35 classes a month has become a team of 14 using three training rooms to teach more than 165 classes each month--and that's just at the main library location! In addition, systemwide in fiscal year 2008, there were approximately 40,000 computer-class attendees, representing a 40% increase in attendance from the previous fiscal year.

Teaching Technology: Start Small

Whether you're a librarian thinking about starting a technology program or just enhancing your current program, there may be some constraints in terms of hardware and software. Budgetary restraints are also a factor. The downturn in the economy has kept many library systems struggling to provide customary services and resources to their communities. Here are a few things to consider that are low-cost and a great way to start:

1. What are the needs of your community? Are you surrounded by businesses, residential homes, or schools?

2. Do you have staff members who love technology and are eager to teach others to use it? Classes can be scheduled at 1 hour in length and offered a few times a week.

3. What technology do you have? Two to four computers are enough to start. Consider free applications such as OpenOffice or free downloads such as Scribus (compared to MS Publisher), GanttProject (compared to MS Project), and GIMP (compared to Photoshop).

4. Do you have a budget for technology? If not, how about applying for grants? Use the grant money to enhance library services by starting or expanding a technology training program.

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Doing a needs assessment of the library community will give you a head start on what it is that your patrons are looking for. This can be done through an online survey or a paper survey. Gathering feedback is essential.

Start off with the basics and work your way to more classes as your patrons demand more and as your library becomes more prominently known for technology training.

Teaching Technology: Start Smart

There are three kinds of training tools to consider: in-person classroom; live, online classes; and self-paced, interactive, online tutorials. Each method of training is designed based on instructional models and theories.

The following theories and models are currently implemented in the creation of all learning materials. I find that like most instructional designers, combining grounded instructional theories and methods is more effective than just following one. You'll also find the results and feedback of your classes worthwhile and productive.

The ADDIE model: Let's go ahead and walk through the process of creating a new computer class on internet safety. Using the ADDIE model, you will be able to determine whether this training program best suits your customers' needs and expectations. There are five phases in the ADDIE model: Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate.

* You must first analyze the training needs of your community and determine the goals and objectives that establish why the training will benefit your audience. In this example, internet safety touches a wide range of audiences, from students to adults and seniors. Internet safety will be beneficial for businesses and their employees as well. So as you can see, everyone can benefit from this class.

* In the design phase, it's ideal to first outline your ideas on paper. Create flowcharts and see how they define the steps in the learning process. This way you have a visual look and feel of the flow of the class and its content.

* Once the class passes the analysis and design phases, it's time to start the development of the training materials. In this phase, you can have a subject matter expert (SME) determine specific content requirements.

* Next you want to implement the class with a live audience. I recommend that you perform a formative evaluation first where you may have one or two staff

members go through the class exercise step-by-step. If there are any questionable areas then you can fix them before presenting it to the public.

* Lastly, to see whether this class was effective, ask for feedback. Ask questions during class to determine if the information is being retained. Part of the evaluation phase is observing and gathering feedback from your students. Review questions are a good method of assessing retention of the class materials.

BSCS 5E instructional model: Let's say you would like to create a class on mail merge using Microsoft Word. In designing this class exercise, you must design hands-on exercises to make it as engaging as possible. This model, created by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) has five phases--Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate--and the concept is quite easy to follow. Let's take a look.

* Engage your students by telling them the reason why mail merge would be beneficial to them in their everyday lives. Give realistic scenarios. For example, during the holidays they may want to send greeting cards to friends and families, but it can be time-consuming to handwrite the addresses. If they have a list of all the names and addresses saved in MS Word, each year they can print the labels and even select from the list the ones they do not want to print.

* Explore the application by having your students become familiar with the application's environment. Have them click around the screen. Have them become familiar with the terminologies.

* Explain the concepts by sharing your students' previous experience with the application, and then have them explain back to you what it means to them.

* Elaborate on the core skills by encouraging your students to follow along with you as you perform a mail merge.

* Evaluate your students' progress by asking questions or giving them self-guided exercises. Using the ADDIE and 5E models, "learning by doing" can be integrated into each phase of your computer training classes to ensure that your students obtain hands-on experience with the applications.

Conclusion

Over the years, I've watched computer usage increase and the attendance in computer classes soar. There are thousands of people in need of technology training and thousands still without a computer at home. With the job market having plummeted in the past couple of years, the average person whose life was at one job for 20 years now realizes that no one will hire him or her without technology experience. Libraries must help our communities and our youths prepare for the future. The answer? Technology training.

Two of the newest technology programs to be offered by OCLS were in response to our population. Both were funded with grant money, and both began in 2008.

One focuses on services to prenaturalized residents of Orange County (now numbering more than 100,000). Using technology and collaborative learning, OCLS will empower immigrants in central Florida to be fully prepared to pass the U.S. Naturalization Test and become full citizens.

The participants in this program are formed into cohort groups that attend a weekly class for 6 weeks. We believe ourselves to be pioneers among public libraries in the use of this type of cohort training.

The second program focuses on children--teenagers, to be exact. A game-design course was developed targeting teens who may be interested in a career path in game design. The eight-session course involves the creation of a pitch document (game proposal) and the development of a prototype of a game using the Unity software.

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Ormilla Vengersammy (venger sammy.ormilla@ocls.info) graduated with a B.B.A. in computer information systems and is pursuing an master's degree in instructional design for simulation. With more than 10 years of technology training experience and 7 years of curricula development, she now leads a team at the Orange County Library System, Florida, in the analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation of its technology training programs for both face-to-face and online instruction.
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Author:Vengersammy, Ormilla
Publication:Computers in Libraries
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2009
Words:2032
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