Online Northwest post-mortem

I presented on Friday at Online Northwest, a regional Pacific Northwest conference for libraries and technology. It was my first time at the conference, although when I worked in Oregon it was always on my radar. It’s a relatively small conference, a single day and about a hundred and fifty attendees (?), but the sessions were interesting and it was a nice change from the madhouse of ALA.

My presentation was on creating online library tutorials using Macromedia Captivate, since this is a topic that’s currently near (if not always dear) to my heart. I came prepared to talk briefly about the software itself, mostly to ground the conversation in something concrete, but more interested in talking about those more amorphous “soft” skills and processes that surround a successful, sustainable tutorial project. It seemed to me that the software, which is available for a thirty-day free full download, was going to be less interesting as a topic of extended discussion, since people could try it out on their own any time, and some people were probably already using it. I was wrong.

In retrospect, I should have seen this coming: people are generally interested in the concrete than the abstract, and seeing how software works is more concrete than talking about how a given institution might handle the time, resource, skill, and vision hurdles of an emerging online instruction program. People had concrete questions about how much the software cost, how it worked, whether you could do x or y with the editing suite, how long it took to create a good tutorial, etc.–and they weren’t shy about asking.

I was happy to reshape the talk on the fly to spend more time on these kinds of concerns, but near the end of the hour I found myself declining questions and rushing through my slides to get to what I’m most interested in–culture change, buy-in, and project management. Maybe everyone else already has these issues sewn up at their institution, but I feel like these are the big issues for me, and they’re the ones I find hard to source in library literature. We have a strong literature of collaboration with faculty, but so far I haven’t really been able to find much about fomenting culture change in the library itself. (And by extension, in related instructional units.) I may need to look more into management literature, since these are sort of management issues, albeit horizontal ones. But all that aside, I found it interesting and amusing and sort of troubling that although the real point of my talk (explicitly, from the outset) was that I think we need to think critically about these so-called “soft” issues of support, vision, sustainability, and buy-in, most people at the presentation were more interested in how to make the software roll over. Either everyone else is way ahead of me on this, or we’re loading one more thing onto our plates that we’re not well prepared to support in the long term.

All that said, the feedback I got on the session was positive and the general consensus (repeated over and over) was that we needed more time. One hour, with lots of time for questions and discussion, just wasn’t enough to cover all the bases. A few folks suggested a half-day preconference or workshop on the topic, and I think that’s a great idea. It would be interesting to see if someone could pull together a workshop like this with computers for all attendees, using the free thirty-day download of the software. I’d have welcomed a session like that when I started out. It would have cut my learning curve way down, and given me a ready group of colleagues to contact in case of future need. Definitely worth considering–though I’d have to think about who might sponsor this sort of thing, and whether it might go better online or in person.

I collected names and emails of attendees who were interested in being on an informal Captivate email list, since I’m always trying to build community around online library instruction. And I had to sit on my hands during Anne-Marie Deitering’s session on web 2.0, because she showed some great social software tools that made me feel like there’s GOT to be a better way to do online library instruction–static, proprietary software like Captivate feels so clunky next to the new mashups and sites we’re seeing on Tech Crunch every day now…

Link to Anne-Marie’s presentation slides coming soon; this post brought to you by the free wifi at the Eugene airport, and I can’t find my handouts at the moment…


2 thoughts on “Online Northwest post-mortem

  1. Anne-Marie says:

    I suspect that everyone else hasn’t already figured out those bigger picture issues you describe. Just thinking about our experience with Captivate here at OSU, we would have been all over a basic tutorial type intro to the software when we first started out, but by the end of our first year working on learning objects we were much more focused on “how can we make these tools work for us in a strategic and pedagogically effective way.”

    I didn’t even think about the implications of the tools I was showing for online library instruction until you brought it up – shows how easy it is to get focused in and miss potential linkages to the other things you’re doing. I agree with the people who told you that your work would be very well suited for a longer preconference type thing. I hope you figure out a way to make that happen!


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