Unsucking Online Education, Part One

By Michelle Boule |
Full Disclosure:5 Weeks to a Social LibraryI am currently working on an Emerging Leaders' project that will propose a scheme for cheap or free online education to be offered by LITA or ALA and I am in the group that built Five Weeks to a Social Library. I have a vested interest in this topic.

This post is part of a small series that I will be writing about online education for librarians. The series will discuss current methods, alternatives, how to go from nothing to something great, and why you should care. People who have talked to me in the last six months have heard me talk about online education and why I think our current methodology to approaching it is problematic. Frankly, I think our current model sucks. Though there are more and more tools available on the Web, our organizations, big and small, continue to build expensive structures with mostly proprietary software that they then must charge large amounts of money for people to attend or view. With conferences becoming so expensive and many librarians unable to travel, is it finally time to re-evaluate our way of doing business?

Unsucking Online Education, Part One
I want to start at the end, the end result of the idea that started me along this path—the idea that more librarians should have access to technology training. I know that may not make a lot of sense, but there is something very exciting going on right now that you should know about; it is something I believe could change the way we build and experience online learning.

Course content for Week 2 of 5 Weeks to a Social Library online CE course.Five Weeks to a Social Library came about because a few of us saw a need that our organizations were ignoring. We were determined to build a place that would enable a group of librarians to learn about Web 2.0 tools in an open atmosphere. We wanted people to learn using tools they could take with them to their libraries. We wanted people who had little opportunity, but great desire, to be able to participate. We wanted everyone's voice and opinion to matter.

We wanted it to be free.
If we could not offer it for free, we were not going to do it. We all had server space and enough knowledge of various tools that we decided we could build it. We planned everything over Meebo and on PBWiki. We collaborated on Google Docs. We found a lovely intern who donated time to give our Drupal site some structure and a unique look. We used MediaWiki. The only thing we spent was time. The largest hurdle was the Web-casting software. Most of it is expensive and problematic. We lucked out when Tom Peters, on behalf of OPAL, offered not only to host our Webcasts, but also to archive them. Problem solved.

How did it work out?
Five Weeks to a Social Library started on February 12th. The first week we talked about blogs. Each participant has his or her own blog that is aggregated to the main blog page. The posts range from balancing an online life, the possibilities of blogs, motivating a small staff about technology, and a little of everything in between. Most of the participants have little or no experience with the technologies they are learning about, so it is especially rewarding when I see them getting excited about the things they are learning. This week we are covering RSS and social bookmarking.

The Social Library Lurkers Wiki, where people can discuss social-software uses for libraries.The best thing about Five Weeks to a Social Library in my opinion? All of the information is archived and available to the world at large. Nothing is hidden behind walls. All of the content is free for everyone, regardless of whether you are a participant or not. We welcome everyone in the conversation. Comments and the wiki are open to all. There is even a place on the wiki for communities that have gathered to discuss Five Weeks to a Social Library or communities that are modeling the idea.

What does this mean for the rest of us? It means that we can no longer continue to view online education in the same manner. Five Weeks to a Social Library is proving that quality, effective education can be offered online for free. The conversations surrounding online education efforts can be open, unguarded, and meaningful. Students learn. Teachers rejoice. Five Weeks to a Social Library has become my manifesto; it's proof that it can be done.

Library 2.0 means having a conversation and learning from each other. Michael Stephens calls that "steal this idea." Five Weeks is an idea waiting to be stolen. We keep getting asked if we are going to do this again, but the beauty of this is we do not have to. All of the content is there, ready for people to use. Have a technology training problem at your library? Use PLCMC's Learning 2.0 or Five Weeks as a model. If you cannot build your own program, use the content and have your staff members set up blogs to track their progress levels. This method could be used for many different training topics.

As always, problems of incentive and follow through will be the hardest issues to overcome. How to do you keep training relevant after the classes and workshops are over? But that is a topic for a different post and maybe a different blog altogether.

Stay tuned for Unsucking Online Education, Part Two, which will be all about some of the unique tools that make free and cheap online education possible.

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