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Technology Brown Bags: Learning Web 2.0 without the Stress

April 14, 2009

So, yes, this is a little like cheating on a blog post because I had this written months ago. But I just got notice that it won’t be published so I figured I would share it on my blog and write something else for “mainstream” publication.

So for all of you that are excited, overwhelmed and just want a little more guidance on Web 2.0 fun, I give you technology brown bags. And, for those dear readers who are really sharp, you’ll notice that the brown bags talked about here correspond to the podcasts that can also be found on this blog. Enjoy, and as always, if you have any questions feel free to contact me or leave a comment below. Happy Tuesday!

Technology Brown Bags: Learning Web 2.0 without the Stress

Blogs, wikis, virtual worlds, social networking, widgets, gadgets, and podcasting: if this list of tools and technologies sounds like Greek or maybe Geek, you are not alone. Just because we work in a Web 2.0, hyperlinked, global world does not mean that anyone gave you a Matrix-like download on how to code, program and use these new tools. But luckily, there is a simple way for you and your colleagues to learn and to apply Web 2.0 tools, even if you have not completed the famous 23 Things challenge. So take a deep breath and I’ll tell you how holding informal technology brown bags to learn Web 2.0 without the technology stress helped my library and can help yours too.

When I started working at Cal State East Bay, I noticed that while some librarians had begun incorporating Web 2.0 features into their courses (we all teach a section of a two-credit information literacy course), the majority of the librarians had not. Most wanted to use Web 2.0 tools but felt that they did not have the time to learn or the skills to implement tools such as blogs, podcasts and Twitter in their classes. As we moved toward teaching more courses online, this was a situation that had to be remedied without causing more technology anxiety. When I first proposed the idea of having tech brown bags, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Armed with the positive response, I moved on to scheduling the topics and times of the brown bags. I made a survey to let those who were interested in the brown bags decide the topics.

Topics and Scheduling
The online topic survey was very simple and made for free through SurveyMonkey (www.surveymonkey.com). The survey listed various topics that we could cover and had places for respondents to suggest other topics that interested them. I used SurveyMonkey because it is easy to use, you can easily see the results and the surveys are Section 508 compliant. Based on the results, we held brown bags in the Fall Quarter on: Web 2.0 terminology, blogs and RSS feeds, Voicethread, podcasting, creating accessible online resources, social networks, and virtual worlds.

After determining the topics, I had to figure out times for the brown bags. Again, this proved to be an opportunity to share another new tool before the brown bags began. Instead of emailing out possible times, I used TimeToMeet (www.timetomeet.info). TimeToMeet is a web-based service that allowed me to “paint” my availabilities on a calendar and then email a link to my painted calendar to others for their consideration. Recipients of the link then “painted” in their availabilities on the same calendar. Once everyone responded, TimeToMeet emailed me the date and time that would work best for the majority of people. Another nice feature of TimeToMeet was that I could go back to my calendar at any time to find other times to hold the other brown bags. This tool eliminated the need for lots of email messaging and scheduling confusion.

Brown Bag Preparation and Facilitation
A tip that will help when you start up a brown bag program is the Web 2.0 idea of perpetual beta. This means that everything can always be improved and changed. Thinking of facilitating brown bags in this way will free you from believing that you have to know everything about Web 2.0. Instead, think of these brown bags as a way of learning and sharing information and having fun. And, trust me, your colleagues will be so happy that you are sharing your knowledge and that you are all learning together, they will be forgiving of any mistakes and technological difficulties you run into during these brown bags.

Preparation for the brown bags is simple and consists of: preparing handouts, refreshing your knowledge of or actually learning the topic of the day, and remembering to bring in a microphone and laptop to record the brown bag. Because the brown bags are informal and interactive, you do not have to create a lecture; you just need to be supportive, enthusiastic and have all the URLs for the resources you will go over ready when you start the brown bag in the computer lab. Enthusiasm is definitely the most important element in the technology brown bags.

Even though you will be playing with Web 2.0 products during the technology brown bags, people still love to get printed handouts of the main points on the topic you will be discussing. I posted the handouts to my blog and the library’s wiki so everyone would have access to them. This is especially important to provide access to information for those who could not attend the brown bag. I highly suggest making your handouts available online, who knows who else outside your library you might help.

Another tip I have is to start the brown bags with a cartoon or silly YouTube video. This serves two purposes: it will make everyone laugh and it will introduce the topic of the day in a humorous way that relieves anxiety about learning new tools. Try starting with a comic from xkcd.com, or use the Internet Overdose Song. Remember that the technology brown bags should combine learning with fun so that there is little to no technology anxiety in learning these new tools.

After the laughter has died down, just start in on the topic of the day and make sure everyone is comfortable with interjecting and asking questions at any time. In brown bags, it is perfectly okay to go off on tangents. In one of the brown bags I facilitated, there was a discussion about ways to improve the library catalog with Web 2.0 applications that bled into talking about tag clouds that led to a demonstration of Cooliris (www.cooliris.com, which is awesome by the way) and circled around to Wordle (wordle.net) before coming back to the possibility of using tag clouds in the library catalog. Tangents let you explore connections you might have missed otherwise. Just make certain that everyone understands where you are going—do not ever think you are explaining too much. Remember this is new ground for a lot of people, so explain everything and then explain it again.

Podcasting: Reaching Beyond the Brown Bag
Thanks to the ease of podcasting, people who missed the in person brown bags can still listen and benefit from the brown bags. Podcasting, in its basic form, is really quite simple; you record, edit, upload your mp3 to a server and provide a link to your podcast. You can get a microphone very inexpensively and you can use free, open source software for the recording and editing. For example, I use Audacity (audacity.sourceforge.net). I recorded every brown bag and later edited them, which was the fun part because I could take out all the awkward pauses and “ums.” Then I uploaded the podcasts to the library’s server and made them available via my blog and the library’s wiki. In addition to making handouts available online, I highly suggest podcasting your brown bags as the podcasts are great resources that anyone can access anytime from a computer with Internet access.

Take Home Message: Have Fun and Share Knowledge
You too can help your colleagues learn new Web 2.0 technologies and tools. All it takes is a little planning, a little knowledge and a whole lot of enthusiasm. Informal brown bags are a great way to ease the technology anxiety that surrounds implementing Web 2.0 in your library. So whether you are a digital native or a reluctant technology newbie, you can help facilitate learning in a supportive environment with your colleagues. Remember, the idea is to play, to have fun and to learn. Who knows, it might even make you want to go further into the wild world of Web 2.0. If nothing else, it will give you a great opportunity to share your knowledge, connect with others and brush up on your techie skills. Because that is what it is all about in the end—sharing and growing together in an online world.

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