I suspect that most academic libraries struggle with similar problems, limited permanent staff, multiple locations, extensive hours of operation, and many part-time student employees with frequent turnover, and schedules that do not overlap with supervisors. The work consists of customer service, technology support, providing directions, basic research assistance, and building security. Our part-time employees consist of traditional age undergraduate students. Colby is a highly selective liberal arts college – accordingly our talent pool is a good one. However, these young adults have little previous job experience, and while they have good work ethic developed in schoolwork and sports they often struggle to transfer that to the workplace. While we have tried hard to make “workplace expectations” more transparent we still have more work to do in this area. One way to do this is to move a portion of our training to our Learning Management System.
Online instruction and e-Learning tools are increasingly being used in the academic setting for faculty to deliver course content; however, most libraries have yet to apply the advantages offered by these tools to employee training. This case study from the University of Arizona Libraries (UAL) presents the challenges of sustaining traditional training approaches and the steps to develop an online training program, including identifying specific competencies needed to create effective online training, an approach to prioritizing where to start your program, and requirements for training platform selection. (See and Teetor 2014)
Therefore, the project for this course is to create a blended learning environment for our training purposes. While online presentation is important, what is really at stake is creating a multiplier effect that significantly increases our training contact hours with our employees while not increasing the number of our supervisory staff nor significantly increasing their workload. An important technique is creating a “flipped workplace” so to speak. The Flipped Learning network website offers a straightforward definition on their homepage. “Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.” There is however, the question of how much content and what type of content moves to the “individual learning space.” Likewise, what are the expectations, and motivations, and reasonable limits to pushing workplace training into the “individual learning space”?
Since the workplace already consists of a “dynamic, interactive learning environment”, there is an inherent logic to this configuration of employee training. “Transformative learning involves ‘reflectively transforming the beliefs, attitudes, opinions, and emotional reactions that constitute our meaning schemes or transforming our meaning perspectives” (Ally 2008). In the case of our professional demeanor unit, the question becomes — what behaviors, performances, or changes in performance and behavior would convince me that learning occurred because of employee’s interaction with the resources in the unit?
In this unit, employees learn skills and practices of workplace professional demeanor. First, what do we mean by “professional demeanor”? A definition of “demeanor” lists, conduct, behavior, appearance, and deportment as key elements — we modify that by setting it in the professional circumstance. Really, these skills and knowledge are assumed in many workplaces but we have learned over years that we cannot assume this; we have to make these expectations explicit. Therefore, this unit will cover:
- library mission, vision and values,
- work ethic,
- workplace appearance,
- basic workplace communication
- basic customer service
The selection of Moodle for a presentation format is because it is the college’s LMS. Alas, I cannot simply link to this presentation as it is behind Colby’s security protocols. So instead I have provided a screen-cast “tour” of the unit, linked here.
Where Moodle is Colby’s LMS, our student employees are already familiar with it. The use of our existing online training/reference manual linked from within the LMS creates a feedback loop for our employees reinforcing our instructions to use this resource as they try to answer customer questions or engage in review to reinforce training. The use of “question and answer” forums is also an important tool within the LMS. Specifically this type of forum requires a participant to post before they can see co-workers posting. I am hopeful this will help us avoid superficial engagement, for example, “I agree with Sally.” Another tool used in this unit is Lynda.com this because of our campus subscription to this resource. Leveraging this reduces the amount of content we have to create from scratch. Certainly, there are costs and benefits to outsourcing training in this way. We will seek feedback to understand these tradeoffs. We will pilot the content with our seniors this year. From this, we learn about the usefulness of the content and about the assignments themselves. Indeed one possible scenario is after our seniors “take the course” we give them the keys to the kingdom, give them “teacher” status, and ask them to help us re-write the weak sections. We will also implicitly certify that they do not leave us without exposure to these key workplace skills/knowledge.
A recurrent question both from my direct reports and from the instructor of this class has to do with — what gives us some teeth? — “teeth,” meaning both requiring participation and assessing learning outcomes. One way to give the online instruction “teeth” is for me as the Assistant Director of Customer Service and Administration to be the main instructor. Another is to grade the course like a graduate course, A, B, F. This has some logic because although this grade will not show on their transcript “grading” is an experience this demographic is familiar with and driven by. Once we have all employees, returning and new hires, through the training the number of participants will drop to between six and twelve. Frequency will be at the start of fall and spring semester. One element of this is simple participation — does the employee do what is asked? If they refuse to participate, they are showing a withdrawal from the workplace much like absenteeism. Absenteeism is addressed, though progressive disciplinary procedures. Probably, I might weight non-participation in online instruction differently from missing several shifts, none-the-less both are unacceptable behavior and addressed with the same protocol. Additionally, each year employees receive evaluations. One aspect of this is participation is training. Our move into the online environment simply provides one more piece of evidence for these conversations.
I see two opportunities for assessment. First is in the LMS as they work through the assignments; second in the workplace as they do their work. I care most about their demonstration of learning in the workplace. I think that constructivist theories are also important in thinking about the learning we are encouraging and our assessment.
Inquiry and community were at the core of John Dewey’s educational philosophy and practice. Dewey (1959) believed that an educational experience must fuse the interests of the individual and society, that individual development was dependent upon community. He believed the essence of community was the organic fusion of the public and our private worlds. He also believed that the process of inquiry went to the heart of the educative experience. For Dewey, inquiry involved the generalization of the scientific method to practical problem solving and worthwhile learning. It defined the relationship between thought and action. For Dewey, inquiry was also an essentially social activity. Dewey believed that through collaboration that respected the individual, students would assume responsibility to actively construct and confirm meaning. It is this collaborative constructivist approach that is worthy of further exploration in online learning. (Swan 2009)
This online presentation creates a site for community and practice of peer feedback. This is important in all workplaces simply because learning occurs at all levels of the organization. If this learning is not shared, the organization is vulnerable. However, it is very difficult to create a culture of trust and respect in the workplace. There is no single right answer to creating trust and respect just many approximations. I hope that forum discussions in the LMS about shared learning can be part of these approximations. Another element of using the forums as a public display of learning and requiring peer-to-peer commenting is practice with accountability (“teeth,” as it were) to each other, not just to the supervisor.
Regarding the mission, vision and values section, I am looking for employees to understand themselves as part of a larger organization and part of an important mission. Another aim for this section is to create some context for our work. I think such understanding makes the work meaningful rather than rote. Regarding the work ethic unit there are specific behaviors that could change because of this learning, for example, timesheets completed with greater accuracy and timeliness. This section as drafted has eleven learning outcomes hence our hopes for it is significant (in truth, some of these outcomes may have to move to other instructional activities). Some of this is about reliability creating trust and respect between employees. Some of it is about accountability creating self-awareness about performance and knowledge in the workplace. Finally, some of it is about choosing to do the right thing in the workplace. Regarding the appearance section, first, we are not requiring a particular dress code instead, rather we are suggesting one, by setting the mark for business casual, we will likely achieve smart casual. That said assessment could be defined in behavioristic terms – that is if we see employees more frequently in appropriate clothing and less frequently in inappropriate clothing then we have achieved a change in behavior. For our purposes in the workplace that could be enough. Finally, all of these issues and matters pertain to the last section about workplace communication. If we have done a better job of creating knowledge, we will see among some of our employees an improvement in how they answer the phone and transfer the calls. Some will require additional feedback as they develop skills and some will require additional motivation for us to see this improvement. For us the improvement will look like answering the phone and transferring calls professionally and correctly. In addition, notes left for us regarding customer problems that the student employees had to refer will be more complete and legible.
In conclusion, I think we have made some progress in identifying skills and knowledge we all too often take for granted and assume that our student employees will value and demonstrate. I think there is a coherence to the content and sequence of the instructional unit. However, it is only through usability testing that that will be confirmed. Rather more likely is that some sections will be modified significantly after testing. As mentioned, we will pilot this unit with our seniors this spring. One of the open questions is do we march through the unit, five weeks, at the start of the semester? Alternatively, do we spread the unit across the entire semester? The former solution has the possible problem of overwhelming a new hire, the latter runs the risk of losing impact as the students shift to doing their schoolwork and losing efficacy in the workplace – we need the employees to do the work well immediately. I am not as worried about requiring participation as some of my direct reports. Nor, am I worried about having the employees doing some or all of the work during their regular shifts. That said I perhaps should be listening to them more closely – only practice will show. I have felt distanced from the student employees as my job responsibilities shifted to an administrative nature. I am hopeful that I can reconnect with them through “teaching” this unit and helping them see that these workplace fundamentals are important to us, but more to them.
Ally, M. (2008). Foundations of educational theory for online learning. In Anderson, T., & Elloumi, F. (Eds.). The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed.) (pp. 15–44). Athabasca, AB, Canada: Athabasca University.
Andrew See & Travis Stephen Teetor (2014) Effective e-Training: Using a Course Management System and e-Learning Tools to Train Library Employees, Journal of Access Services, 11:2, 66-90, DOI: 10.1080/15367967.2014.896217, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15367967.2014.896217
Swan, K., Garrison, D. R. & Richardson, J. C. (2009). A constructivist approach to online learning: the Community of Inquiry framework. In Payne, C. R. (Ed.) Information Technology and Constructivismin Higher Education: Progressive Learning Frameworks. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 43-57.