Library Gazette

ZSRx Digital Publishing: The Reckoning

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 5:24 pm

Back in the Fall of 2013 (when we were all young and innocent), a young librarian named Billy was approached by a nice library dean and asked if he wanted to conduct a MOOC of his own. He agreed, under one condition: pro humanitate. As such, our (normally shy) hero enjoyed complete autonomy and/or academic freedom re the content of the thing. This is his story. This is history. This is the dramatic story of ZSRx Digital Publishing.

Our friend Kyle had a platform, but needed content. Billy happened to have content, but needed a platform. Either way, Lynn had the “students.” And so the deal went down: Bill would record three modules’ worth of digital publishing-related content, provide external links and readings, conduct online (and “plausibly live”) discussions going for about three weeks, and promise to keep the distracting Tom Waits clips to a minimum, with Kyle massaging said content into the Canvas platform, all while Lynn would recruit some registrants.

Meanwhile, I used primarily the (free) screen-capture program called ScreenCast-O-Matic, and it was awesome, in that it recorded my yammering in front of PowerPoint slides and online websites in such a way that I didn’t really even need a firm script, and so the clips had the distinct feel of a loosey-goosey (who me?) lecture — complete with my incessant stammering and ill-paced cadences. (Honestly, ten minutes of that at time is plenty.) These clips were published directly to my YouTube channel (everyone has one, btw), which Kyle would then “embed” into the Canvas platform, so we didn’t need to bother with fancy/costly video production (or lighting (or makeup (though we probably could’ve stood some of the latter))) or other hassles regarding video storage or distribution. (And I was ready with a rejoinder if anyone might’ve complained about the homemade/rickety aspects of the clips: you get what you pay for.)

Anyhow, we sent come-hither emails in January to various listservs (ASERL, Library Publishing Coaltion, WFU Alums, etc.) and waited. I bought a press release, which got picked up by LJ online, and we waited some more. By the time the course started in February, we had about 400 students signed up — librarians, publishers, vendors, parents, friends, neighbors, homeless people — mostly from North Carolina and the U.S., but some international folks. And since there were actually at least one student each from the continents of Europe, Asia, and Australia, it’s fair to say that ZSRx Digital Publishing was a global phenomenon by the time it officially launched in February (right after the SuperBowl).

We rolled out one “module” a week, for three weeks, with each module consisting of maybe 1 hour’s worth of video (in maybe 6- to 12-minute segments) and links and readings and discussion considerations. I would send a jaunty “announcement” each week, and Kyle and I would prompt some “engaging” discussions based on that week’s module’s content. The discussions turned out to be a hoot and a half — we had a nice handful of maybe a dozen regular contributors, who helped move things along.

Speaking of moving along, I better get around to telling the dark side of my mini-MOOC: there was some distinct attrition, participation-wise. That is, though we had ~400 folks sign up, and though those folks consumed thousands of pages of web content, the course analytics indicated a pretty significant (if typical, according to Kyle) drop-off:

Still, and though the formal exit survey is yet to come, I did fashion a fun little “final exam,” wherein I left some room for “final thoughts,” and here’s where I’ll perk back up by quoting exactly what some students said therein:

  • I appreciate the time that was spent putting this together!
  • I did learn a lot, although I was definitely a passive learner simply because of other commitments for my time!
  • This was an awesome MOOC!
  • I learned so much about digital publishing that I never had an inkling about!
  • Every MOOC should be this much fun!
  • Very interesting course. Thank you for offering it!
  • Enjoyed the course; lots of good information!
  • For my first “online” course…I really enjoyed this!
  • Thanks for your time and effort to put this together!
  • Mindboggling – the amount of digital information and books available!
  • Thanks!!

Not gonna lie, the exclamation points got to me.

And so I’ll close now by just stone-cold declaring my personal and genuine feelings about the whole deal (minus any and all hint of irony or sarcasm or impatience (of which I’m sometimes accused)): my participation in ZSRx has been the highlight of my career at Wake Forest University (and maybe anywhere) so far. And I can’t thank Kyle and Lynn and everyone at ZSR Library enough for allowing me the honor.

–wpk

 

 

ZSRx: The MOOC that wasn’t a MOOC

Friday, May 10, 2013 1:37 pm

Remember that time ZSR offered an online information literacy course? No, not that one. This one. The one we designed to be MOOC-like, free and open to anyone, focused on general web literacy skills, in the hopes that *maybe* 100 people would want to sign up. No? Well, let me tell you about it.

Let’s start at the beginning. It was a little more than two years ago that Lauren Pressley designed and taught her online version of LIB100, the first online course of any kind at Wake Forest. She worked hard to create a “Wake Forest” feel to the course: lots of reflection, video responses, close contact. And it worked. She was asked to go before the College Board of Visitors to show them what she’d done, and they were impressed. I’m told that many came up to Lauren after her presentation to ask how they could take her class. This was all before I came to ZSR, of course, but I know enough about this place to understand that when the College Board of Visitors wants to take your class, you find a way to let them take your class.

So we found a way. We gave LIB100 the MOOC treatment: we generalized the content and learning outcomes, focusing on web literacies that are relevant to everyone. We curated third-party content from around the web, finding readings, videos, and websites that anyone could access and easily fit into their busy schedules. We set up a discussion forum and a community blog. We organized everything into thematic modules and built a simple website with free tools to hold it all together. We called it ZSRx: The Cure for the Common Web, and then we told people about it, focusing our marketing efforts on parents and alumni, hoping 100 or so would be interested enough to sign up. Then 700 people signed up.

Let me tell you, dear reader: there’s nothing more real in the life of an eLearning Librarian than when 700 people show up to your party. It was terrifying. I was ecstatic.

As people started introducing themselves on the discussion board, we learned that we had participants from 23 states and 10 countries. There were parents of current and former students, alumni from the class of 2012 all the way back to the class of 1954 (old campus!), and folks here on campus who were just interested in what we were doing. We had folks who had very little computer or web literacy and folks who had taught online for the University of Phoenix. I met an alum living in Florida who is close personal friends with the minister who married me and my wife. People started connecting to old friends, swapping stories of their time at Wake, reminiscing over favorite professors. Although introductions were coming fast and furious, it all felt very… small.

Each of the four modules focused on a different aspect of web literacy. Module One focused on being a more strategic web searcher, Module Two on advanced search tools and techniques, Module Three on privacy, filtering, and SEO, and Module Four on using free web apps to make life easier. For each module, there was more content and more opportunities to participate than I expected anyone to actually get to in a week. The idea, as I shared with participants, was not to try to learn everything the course had to offer, but to treat the course as one would a candy dish–to pull out the one or two things that look most appetizing, and be OK with leaving the rest. If they learned one new thing each week, I emphasized, the course was a success.

It’s strange, actually, calling ZSRx a course. It felt vaguely “course-like,” in that it had a beginning and an end, students and instructors, content that was organized to address learning objectives, and interactions between participants and facilitators. And learning was happening: that much was obvious from the discussions. There wasn’t any traditional assessment of learning, though: no quizzes or assignments. And I think that was a strength, as it forced participants to rethink what a course is and what a course can be online. Although ZSRx was modeled after MOOCs, it was certainly not massive, and it was definitely not impersonal. ZSRx wasn’t a MOOC: this was Wake Forest gathering around a collection of online content and using it as a tool to learn new things as a community. This was a community and a platform for informal learning, and it was awesome. If you’re interested in participation numbers and feedback, I’m working on making it look pretty, but you can see what I’m working with here.

I see offering courses like ZSRx–lightweight, informal, communities wrapped around a collection of content–to be a huge opportunity for libraries of all kinds. We have so much more to offer to the MOOC discussion than locating public domain images or providing copyright assistance for “traditional” MOOCs (if there is such a thing). Libraries have always been hubs of their physical communities–let’s start being hubs of our digital communities. I’ll be helping that process along in the coming months by creating a more robust template of the course with lots of documentation for getting a course like this running for your own community. For now, here’s a quick-and-dirty version of the template. Use it if you’d like!

Finally, a special thanks to Lynn Sutton, for trusting me enough to do this crazy thing, and to Roz Tedford and Hu Womack for being right there alongside me during the planning and running of the course. This isn’t the last of these we’ll be doing. Stay tuned!


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