Mlibrarian Badges

Introductory comments

Thank-you for the opportunity to present at OE4BW. I’m very sorry not to be there with you in person in Vipava. My family and I are on holiday in France this week. This has been a valuable mentorship experience. I’m grateful to Sandhya Gunness and Lance Eaton for working alongside with me. We made a good team. Acknowledgment and thanks to Mitja Jermol and Tanja Urbancic for bringing us together.

The project that I am going to talk to you about can be divided into three phases.

  1. The production of a mLiteracy toolkit intended as a basis for interventions in public libraries.
  2. A series of two day professional development workshops for librarians who want to enable better use of mobile devices in their library community.
  3. A set of mLibrarian badges to acknowledge and reward the community of librarians who implemented projects that involved the use of mobile devices.

Today I’m going to be presenting about the third part of the mLiteracy project – mLibrarian badges.

I’ll tell you a bit more about the process that we went through in producing these badges, the challenges that we faced and lessons that were learned. But before we get into this, a bit of background.

Introduction to the project

MLiteracy is a project that was initiated almost 3 years ago by the Goethe-Institut in response to the new opportunities for reading via mobile devices. Across the developing world, hundreds of thousands of people are reading full-length books on mobile phones. Reading in the mobile era, a UNESCO report, explored how mobile technology was advancing literacy and learning in under-served communities around the world.

Brigitte Doellgast, Goethe-Institut’s Head of Library & Information Services in Sub-Saharan Africa identified the possibility of combining this growing mobile trend with local social publishing projects. We conducted ethnographic research into libraries. We observed how the combination of mobile devices and free WiFi had attracted a new set of patrons to libraries. We also saw how some librarians had recognized this as an opportunity. They recognized a need to promote a positive use of mobile devices among their current and new patrons.

We also looked a reading initiatives that we driven by a mission, rather than profit. These projects (we refer to them as “social publishers) offer access to open access reading materials via the web. Those who are concerned about literacy and reading, but have limited access to print books, can practice reading skills with these materials. African Storybook, Bookdash, Fundza and Nal’iBali are some of the local organisations that distribute open reading resources in a digital format. Stories are licensed under Creative Commons They are often available in the local language or can be translated online. The materials are also contextually appropriate with local characters in recognizable settings.

The mliteracy project was not intentionally aligned with UNESCO’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). But as I revisited the project, I saw how it might contribute towards at least three of the SDG targets, namely innovation, quality education and equitable development.

Target Audience

The target audiences within libraries were

  • mobile enablers, interested in preparing libraries and their services for a connected world,
  • workshop facilitators, responsible for structuring a professional development workshops and
  • librarians, wanting to be able to better connect with children and their care givers who have access to a mobile devices in their library

We asked ourselves “how might we assists our target to leverage the use of inexpensive mobile devices to facilitate story telling and reading, particularly among children”. The first two parts of the mliteracy project went well. 40 activities were included in the toolkit and almost 200 librarians attended the workshops.

The big challenge was what happened after the workshops. I wanted to find a mobile friendly route to recognize the application of learnt skills and acknowledge the work of librarians who took what they learned in the workshop and implemented it.

Why Open Badges

Recognition is often paper based. Certificates are extremely popular in the local training circuit. Since this was a course about learning new things about mobiles, reading on mobile devices and the use of apps and sites on the internet,  I decided to avoid glossy cardboard and use web-enabled credentials.

I thought that an interesting possibility was open badges. The idea of micro learning in a workplace setting appeals. Open badges allow for micro-credentials, the have an infrastructure that is inter-operable and the open badging approach is widely understood and the backpack can be shared across different technology platforms. Open badges also contained meta data (a concept all librarians understand) baked into the badges, which meant that each credential could be interrogated.

 Developing Open Badges

I applied to join the OE4BW project and Lance Elton (USA) and Sandhya Gunness (Mauritius) were the two mentors selected by OE4BW for our team. We took the project from an Excel spreadsheet to proof of concept that contained  a structured collection of missions and reflections that led to three mLibrarian badges.

To explain the idea to librarians, I looked at Scouts, their badges and used the process of earning a badge as an analogous concept to explain how mlibraian badges would work. I explained that in a badge system, the organization

  • Creates a badge and issues the criteria that accompany the badge,
  • Judges the evidence that has been collected,
  • Endorses the effort and validity of the efforts of the individuals and
  • Issues the badges

The challenges

The challenge facing the whole mLiteracy project was how we would implement the this initiative where WiFi is erratic and and many employees adopt a  “train me” mindset to any technology intervention. To address this challenge, we opted to use What’sApp as the main channel of communication (most librarians had this app installed on their mobile devices and many were able to use it without incurring additional data costs). What’sApp groups were formed, so that even those who had a passive “train-me” approach could see what was being learned. Those who wanted to know more information could request assistance.

Open badges were developed in way that took cognizance of the limitations of free Wi-Fi and the widespread use of Whatsapp. Textingstory, a chatstory app that can be used for writing and recording text based communications, was used to author a scenario. These “chat story” conversations were intended to be sent to the mLiteracy WhatsApp group members. A copy of the text story conversation was also posted onto YouTube and accompanied by transcripts on Google Sites.

Communicating about mLibrarian badges (as a concept) was straightforward. Finding a way to explain how these badges can be displayed was more difficult. As far as I am aware, there are not many examples of open badges issuing via any messaging service. The Whataspp platform does not have an API that intersects neatly with the open badge infrastructure (OBI). The idea of a badges “backpack” does not translate easily into a mobile environment. The backpack concept might work well in a LMS or on a widescreen, but the concept of the badges “backpack” does not translate neatly into a mobile device.

The badges that you see in this presentation and online are at present, an expression of an idea. Collecting evidence, submitting it and the assessment of the evidence has yet to be attempted. The main reason for not implementing the badges with librarians yet is a lack of any formal endorsement. This endorsement of mlibrarian badges depends on an outside body, and until this endorsement is secured, the value accorded to these badges will be limited.

Lessons Learned

Mlibrarian badges require broader organisational legitimacy. Without the backing of management or the endorsement from a professional body that is recognized in the library community, the amount of effort taken to earn a badge will not match the reward.

MLibrarian Badges are primarily about demonstration and acknowledgment. They are premised on the relationships developed during the mliteracy process. The open badge infrastructure (OBI) offers a structure for the issue, validation and display of badges. The process associated with helping librarians become mlibrarians is far more important than earning a credential. A tangible reward, whether they be paper based or web enabled, is important. But a badge or certificate is not the key to being mliterate.

Conclusion

I learned that the mlibrarian badges need to be located within a community of librarians who are already familiar with using mobiles for reading. Becoming mLiterate is already a challenge. Getting librarians to the point of understanding open badges and the OBI requires even more effort and time. MLibraian badges cannot stand alone. They will need to be re-framed as a part of the community of practice. The badges and the activities around them need to be seen as an opportunity to continue with the the  conversational approach to professional development that was initiated in the face to face workshops.

The Mliteracy toolkit and workshops were well researched, formally conceptualized and refined. The mLibrarian badges are an attempt to demonstrate the feasibility of using digital badges as a reward system. But the mLibrarian badges have not been piloted. Open badges have potential to be used in the project, but are at present still a proof of concept.

Six Social Publishing Challenges

Social Publishing Challenges
Social Publishing Challenges

Getting books into the hands of children is vital if kids are to learn to read. But there are many significant challenges facing those who wish to build a nation of story-readers and story-tellers. Five of these challenges are:

  1. Affordability – the average storybook in a book shop is expensive and many caregivers / parents find that children’s books are priced beyond their means.
  2. Diversity – storybooks often don’t reflect the multiple cultures, different family types and range of heritages.
  3. Home languages – when children learn to read, the should be doing so in their home languages but storybooks are not published in all the vernacular languages
  4. Distribution – making storybooks available, especially in remote areas, is a logistical challenge.
  5. Emerging writers – if we are to address some of the above challenges, then we also need to grow our own young authors..

Social Publishers are publishers who create reading materials for neglected audiences. Rather than operate on a profit basis, these publishers are driven by a mission. They see their books as a social goods, to be directed where they are most needed.

In South Africa, to make books affordable, accessible and available, social publishers like African Story Book, Bookdash, Fundza, Nal’i Bali and Vula Bula have adopted a range of innovative book production and distribution practices. Almost all have digital editions of their books available, formatted in PDF, ePub or as a webpage. Some of these storybooks are published under a Creative Commons licences. Sometimes they also have apps available for mobile devices are associated with these projects. Caregivers can freely install these apps, download the different books and store and read them from their mobile devices.

The above mentioned challenges are being addressed by social publishers in different ways. Below are a few specific examples of how certain projects are working with highlighted issues.

  • Fundza & the Author Challenge – Fundza are making it possible to become authors Their “Developing Young Writers” programme is intended to prompt young readers to become writers. Aspiring young voices can showcase their writing on the fundza.mobi site.
  • Bookdash & the Funding Challenge – Bookdash have a different book creation model. They generate publishable story books very rapidly. They facilitate an event and challenge multiple story production teams to create a storybook in 12 hours. Groups of four creative professionals (illustrators, authors, editors and designer) voluntarily combine their skills to create a complete creative commons storybook in one day.
  • Nalibali & the Distribution Challenge – Nal’ibali works to build a larger community of reading enablers across the country who are interested in storytelling, reading and writing with children. They distribute the message about reading by running high-visibility media campaigns (TV, Radio, Newspapers, Billboards), a network of reading clubs and also offer paprents and caregivers a library of multilingual stories and resources.
  • African Story Books & the Diversity Challenge – African Story Books have taken an open education resources approach to book production. This alternative model involves books licenced as creative commons materials that can be re-used and remixed. Their platform has a facility for users to alter, translate or create new stories and select different images. This has meant that their books have been translated into 111 languages
  • Vula Bula and the Language Challenge – Vula Bula is an African language graded reading series. Rather than translate books from English, they commission indigenous South African writers to write stories in their home language. These illustrated stories are contextualised to the young reader’s inner world and life experiences. The text within these books is based on the specific orthographical building blocks of each language.

The 6th Challenge – Obscurity

The one challenge that has not been mentioned is the inconspicuousness of these projects. Commercial publishing still holds most most of our attention, especially when it comes to storybooks. While these social publishing initiatives are as innovative as they are exciting, they need to also become sustainable. This is THE problem that requires immediate attention. If social publishing is to continue to offer new routes to entrench reading and writing habits in children’s daily lives, then broader uptake and ownership of such projects is necessary. Social publishing needs to become a mainstream player within the development of reading. Visible support, especially from those who access and use children’s books frequently, like librarians, teachers, social workers etc. Financial backing from the state, large multinational or corporates in required. Obscurity is their biggest challenge.

A 20 year celebration of Eiffelcorp

We toasted Eiffelcorp’s 20th birthday celebration at a function in Jo’burg. I particularly enjoyed the “fire-side” chat with Andre and Gwen van der Merwe. Among ed-techies like myself, Eiffelcorp is best known as the company behind Blackboard. I learned a bit more about the history of Eiffelcorp and its origins.

Welcome This “mom and pop” start-up was founded by two aspiring teachers. Gwen finished her teaching degree, Andre dropped out to start the business. He flew to Canada, connected with Murray Goldberg, an academic from the University of British Columbia who developed WebCT (Course Tools). They brought WebCT back to local universities like Wits, Pretoria and Free State. Later on Blackboard acquired WebCT. Eiffelcorp and Blackboard became synonymous, at least among ed techies.

By today’s standards, WebCT is clunky and unintuitive. Many LMS packages suffer from this malady. What Andre and Gwen “got” was that they were not only a software company, selling a platform. They recognized the need to create an ongoing partnership with their clients and provide a host of strategic and support services associated with the use of technology in an educational setting. Gwen did training and Andre support, many times over weekends and late at night. Their up-front sales and behind the scenes efforts added value and kept the business growing.

I prefer open systems to proprietary ones. I think that the costs associated with Blackboard are extremely high. The platform does have a tendency to wag the pedagogical dog. However, I also recognize that Andre & Gwen’s company (now with a staff of approximately 40), preceded “disruption” and the “future of learning” hype from Silicon Valley. They built up a loyal base of academic users who are typically very critical and often reluctant to expend effort in teaching,

This fact deserves celebration. Well done to Andre and Gwen. In the next decade, Eiffelcorp must contribute to the development of a community of African elearning practitioners. People, like Andre and Gwen, who were not only interested in sales but who are teachers, intent on the thoughtful and appropriate use of technologies in learning. In the next ten years, if Eiffelcorp can support a community of practice of “ed techies”, who want to enable learning via technology, then I’ll be very pleased to raise a 30 year celebratory toast.

[Disclosure: I am occasionally contracted by Eiffelcorp to assist with staff development and training.]

Blended learning enables…

It’s not always very clear why digital technology is adopted in an organization. But unless the rationale for adopting blended learning is widely shared, then it’s likely that the loudest voice will dominate and wide scale buy in to the digital vision will be limited.

The purpose of this activity is to surface among internal role-players the varied opinions about Blended Learning and what it should enable. While doing the exercise, participants will create some consensus around priority issues around the adoption of technology.

Each slide has a particular statement and then a scale below. Participants can respond to various statements and be offered the opportunity to respond to four particular interests (or stakeholders) and and reconcile the many value drivers .

Download the instructions & presentation: What should Blended Learning Enable?

“Open in order to…access and read”

To celebrate Open Access Week (October 23–29), I thought that I would shift my gaze from scholarly publishing (which normally gets most of the attention during this week) to social publishing

Social Publishers (SP) are “Open Access” publishers. They create reading materials for neglected audiences. Rather than operate on a profit basis, social publishers are driven by a mission. They see their books as a social goods, to be directed where they are most needed.

Social publishers are different from academic publishers in three main ways.

  • A social mission (and not the academic project) is the main driver behind their book production.
  • Instead of being found in academic spaces, they are at home in online networks, social media, word of mouth etc.
  • They are not subsidized by subscriptions or academia but rely on social subsidies / donations / grants / goodwill etc to support their efforts

Story books, when bound as hard-copies, become expensive because of the volume of books required to make the printing cost effective. Social publishers steer away from large print runs. They place digital versions of their books on servers for readers to download. They are a “non rivalrous” good that can be copied endlessly without significant cost. Some might even claim that these books could be a part of the new economy.

If social publishing books are purchased, they are bought in a print format. If you see them on the shelves, they are more affordable than a book that was produced traditionally because the cost that usually go along with print based publishing have already been covered.

Traditionally, commercial publishers offer a quality reading experience. They build their reputation on what they select and publish. Social publishers have adopted different mechanisms to ensure quality. Sometimes the book production process is crowd sourced. Professionals contribute their design, authoring, illustrating and editing skills for free. Other times, the book is editable on the platform, and corrections can be made to the digital text. Some social publishers only take popular digital texts to print.

Posting a book onto the web does not lead to reading. Neglected audiences depend on reading enablers in their communities who can show others how to access these stories and then prompt and promote reading. As we celebrate open access week, and the traditional focus on academic publishing, it might be appropriate to broaden the focus of our openness a bit wider and consider broader access issues.

A well rounded ed-techie

A well rounded ed-techie’s mission should be to enable / enhance teaching and improve learning using available technologies.  This broad mandate makes the potential scope of work vary wide and quite dynamic. Constantly changing tools and technologies regularly usher in change and create flux. Consequently, good ed techies are not always easily found, or they become difficult to identify. 

Many times, the actual job description of an ed-techie will be vague and unclear. A lack of consistent terminology in the literature and among the profession contributes towards this haziness. If the ed techie is working in a higher ed setting, its likely that the locations will differ, according to each local need. You might find an ed techie within the vertical silos of academic departments, schools and faculties. Or somewhere within the horizontal layers services run by administration, the network or academic development. Ed techies appearance within different spaces also leads to certain reflexive behaviours. If located at the centre, the likelihood of top down command and control culture is likely and the ed techie will follow orders.  Whereas if they are distributed across the institution and are closer to the target group, then needs are most apparent, because they are embeded within a context and agency and dialogue will be a feature of their working style. Maybe ed techies are on contract, remote and off campus entirely, and they can bring an external perspective that highlights how closed and insular campus can be to the part time student.

Three Expectations

The titles, roles and duties of an ed-techie can’t be abstracted and depend on the assigned responsibilities within the organization wherein they located. Whether the ed techie be in an administrator, support, training, instructional design or learning and development position, located in a central unit or working alongside departmental colleagues, there are at least three minimum expectations that you can have of them.

Expectation 1: An informed ed-techie must understand teaching, learning, assessment and administrative practices. He or she is comfortable interacting with subject matter experts (teachers, academics or professionals) and can guide them as they begin to apply their teaching practices to technology. If called on, they should be able to suggest a range of different patterns that might enable/enhance digital learning activities and make environment an active one.

Expectation 2: A knowledgeable ed-techie must be able to explain the rationale that lies behind their approach to technology. He or she can use one or several perspectives to explain or defend their approach. They can draw on dominant paradigms, such as behaviorism, constructivism and connectivism, and use these perspectives to unpack their own and other people’s use ed tech. They are also able to identify some of the theorists behind these traditions (from Skinner to Pappert to Siemens) and have read their work.

Expectation 3: A tech savvy ed-techie must be able to manage the use and support of current and new technology resources. He or she is often called into resolving complex issues, consult with vendors, identify ‘solutions’, make recommendations and liaise between all parties concerned. Sometimes they are given the authority and budget to reshape the typical practices of academics and students.

Seven Characteristics

You’ll find the informed, knowledgeable and tech savvy ed-techie in a variety of locations, called upon to do needs assessments,  talking about change, designing training programmes, distributing “how to” recipes and developing and maintaining  “why do we” explanations for colleagues. There are a range of titles to describe the functional roles associated with the work that they do. When hiring an ed techie to fill a role, instead of  trying to match titles to responsibilities, check for common characteristics of a person involved in the intersection between teaching, learning and technology While the post has thus far highlighted the many differences, there are certain attributes or characteristics that seem common to well rounded ed-techies 

  • Practical. They are able to apply their knowledge about technology and pedagogy to address a  particular challenge.
  • Grounded. They can articulate (or at least point to) some of the theories or frameworks  that inform their approach.
  • Up to date & informed. They remain current and interested about a range of emerging and ongoing themes that pertain to digital capability and teaching excellence.
  • Connected. They are either participating in or building their own personal learning network. They lurk within or contribute to a community of practice.
  • Inclusive. They are aware of the digital divide and the make choices that promote inclusivity, diversity and equity.
  • Reflective. They are critical about their own and others’ practices and processes and share their reflections with others.
  • Busy. They are juggling multiple roles. From help desk to researcher, they have their thumbs in many pies

Educational technology is becoming ubiquitous. But ed-techies who are comfortable “working in a ‘third space’ that crosses complex boundaries – between the pedagogical and technological, and the academic and professional” (Mitchel, 2017) are not as frequent. The rapidly changing landscape of digital higher education compounds this problem. The result is a disconnect between ed-techies titles and the actual expertise, attributes, abilities and knowledge needed. This frequently results in confusion and tensions.  Addressing this disconnect is necessary to  improve the relationships and collaboration between ed techies and other people who they work with. If ed techies are to make significant contributions to technology and education, then they need to be valued, supported and empowered. 

References

Intentional Futures (2016). Instructional design in higher education: A report on the role, workflow, and experience of instructional designers. Intentional Futures. Retrieved from https://intentionalfutures.com.

Mitchell, K., Simpson, C. & Adachi, C. (2017). What’s in a name: the ambiguity and complexity of technology enhanced learning roles. In H. Partridge, K. Davis, & J. Thomas. (Eds.), Me, Us, IT! Proceedings ASCILITE2017: 34th International Conference on Innovation, Practice and Research in the Use of Educational Technologies in Tertiary Education (pp. 147-151).

Library – Gamebox – Hub.

The library-gamebox-hub

My girls and I attended the opening of the Goethe Institut’s newly refurbished Library – Gamebox – Hub last Saturday (29 July). The space is as beautiful as it ever was with books, magazines, films, music and children’s literature in different languages. But as the name implies, the existing library has two new additions.

The first is a “Gamebox” This room allows visitors to try out the latest from the world of video games. Currently seven computer games that won a gaming prize in Germany, as well as a variety of gaming consoles, an ultra-high definition screen and Virtual Reality equipment are available. I tried the VR set and chose a shark attack experience that put me inside a shark cage with beautiful sea creatures swimming around and also a rather scary bar biting bit

The second major addition is the ‘hot desk’ hub. Situated above the issue desk and offices, on a gallery, this area has eight fully equipped workplaces for creative entrepreneurs, who are working on tech-driven creative start-ups, to work in. Until 31 August, interested individuals and collectives can apply to move into the hub for a defined period of six months. Applications for the hub can be handed in on Deadline is 31 August 2017.

My girls and I enjoyed the opening. This refurbishment is impressive. The library has been augmented.  None of the reading and information resources have been replaced. But a clever re-arrangement of structures and better use of space has introduced the new opportunities that patrons can take advantage of when visiting the Goethe library. We are looking forward to popping in again.

Disclosure: I work in conjunction with the Goethe-Institut as a consultant.

Our first mLiteracy Workshop

I spent two days on the east rand, working with Ekurhuleni librarians and running a pilot workshop about mLiteracy. We set out to explore what is enabled by the combination of free WiFi and mobile devices. We wanted librarians to become comfortable with using their mobile devices in a library setting. Connecting devices is not always easy. Digital skills are required Our focus was on accessing early reading resources that were produced by social publishers. We wanted to show them how these digtitized and freely available story reading materials could be accessed and then used in their library programmes. Entry to the workshop was open to anyone from the region. All they needed to do was fill in a form and take a “shelfie”.

 

Working alongside this group of librarians was very satisfying. They were very interested in using mobile devices within their scope of work. Participants seemed to enjoy the experience. Comments about the workshop included “I’ve learned a lot of things I didn’t even know about”; “the Workshop was excellent”, “liked the informal and fun way the workshop was presented” and “this workshop should be done regularly to keep us updated.”

A large part of the programme was focused on making librarians comfortable with change that accompanies any innovation. While many workshop participants welcomed the introduction of new technologies into a library, there are some who are wary of the unintended consequences of a mobile friendly library space.

The workshop was designed to allow space for questions, opinion and doubt. Activities like “Emoji Tracker Cards” – an ongoing feedback exercise that offered participants to express their reactions,  “Hopes and Fears” – a process of articulating both positive and negative sentiments about technology and “Shades of opinions” – a set of opinions about changes in the library, allowed participants the opportunity to become comfortable with each other and the workshop programme*.

The workshop was a pilot. I’m hoping that senior management within library services will see the value in it and offer #mLiteracy learning opportunities to more librarians. If you are interested in keeping up with the project, please find us on Twitter or FaceBook. If you are interested in attending, please join our mailing list.


*A participants workbook will be available to all participants.