Category Archives: E-learning

IT training for non-techies?

Idealare tactical tech planning cartoon

Let’s be honest: many of us are not good at managing money. Mention of forecasts, cash flow and accruals is met with grimaces, not exuberant glee.

Getting a grip on accounting basics can lead to resources being stretched further, and will ensure finances are prudently managed.

Some pain to learn how to get better at accounts is worth it. And fortunately, training on accounting for the non-financially minded is widely available. Technical terms are translated, and much of the arcane methodologies are stripped back.

I believe many organisations could benefit from access to a similar approach to training on the use of technology.

It’s not exactly an easy thing to boil IT management down into digestible chunks. Technology touches on so many parts of every organisation, and keeps changing. Fortunately, some others have created technology planning training for non-techies.

The recently released Tactical Tech Planning On Demand online course covers what Idealware consider the key areas for organisations to grapple with. As the name implies, the course focuses only on what you really need to know.

The training is broken down into 26 modules, which comprise short videos along with activities. The five main topic headings are:

  • Getting Started
  • Infrastructure
  • Data
  • Online Communications
  • Action Plan

The aim is “to help you assess your organization’s technology infrastructure and address your current and future needs.” A usable IT action plan is the result.

I can’t help think, as I have pondered in the past, that some training along these lines will help New Zealand organisations to get better at using IT to support their work.

Within the broad aspirations of the Ministry of Social Development’s Investing in Services for Outcomes capability building programme, released in January, technology is one of the areas highlighted for attention. The emphasis seems to be on responding to challenges within individual organisations.

Would some technology training, ala financial management for non-accountants, be useful for NZ community organisations?

Idealware’s On Demand Tactical Tech Planning – The Trailer from Idealware on Vimeo.

Better decisons, one napkin at a time

A photo of Dan Roam, autorho fo the Back of the Napkin, standing on stage in front of a presentationImagine if we could solve the world’s problems using a simple technique that truly comes from the back of a napkin.

That’s exactly what Dan Roam promises to help people with. He’s got a big vision: show people how to run meetings more productively and generate tangible results.

Speaking in April at the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) in San Francisco, which I participated in via an online mini-version of the event, meeting evangelist and raconteur Mr Roam shared his simple method to improve how meetings are run.

It’s simple. So simple, that it seems cheeky he has become a sought after speaker and run a business using napkins.

The core idea is this: use simple diagrams and pictures to help explain and discuss ‘problems’ or explore opportunities. That’s it.

I actually see this happening naturally when someone grabs a pen and strolls purposefully to the whiteboard to start sketching up excruciating bad line drawings. Or reaching for any scrap of paper. The writing is typically very messy. The pictures are crude. Ahem, yes that’s often me, when I’m not sitting with the other meeting participants groaning in agony.

Well, Mr Loam says if only this napkin drawing approach was more widely used, and poor drawers (so-called visual thinkers) received the credit they deserve. And maybe a few waverers were drawn into action.

His talks, like the one at the NTC, suite of books, and now an online Napkin Academy, seek to upskill people in understanding the power of drawing to solve complex problems. There’s a bit of psychology, a whiff of hype and lots of confidence buildings for poor, angst-ridden drawers and wannabes.

I’m still tossing up whether to enroll in the Napkin Academy as a cadet. Access to a series of videos for a year costs NZD$53 (on today’s tumbling exchange rate).

It’s tempting to join the napkin waving ranks. Yet I hesitate. Surely we can intuitively find the right way to use diagrams, models and pictures without having our hand held?

This is part one in a meeting series. Quite by accident in the past month or so I’ve fallen into talking about making meetings more productive, so I’m going to write about this stuff.

Photo credit: anitakhart

Announcement: register now for webinars for NZ NGOs

Group of people in seminar with questioning looks on their faces by Melbourne WSG

For webmasters and other people running NGO websites in Wellington there is an abundance of ways to learn about the craft. As well as fairly regular NGO focused workshops, conferences and networking sessions, there is a whole raft of opportunities for professional website designers, content producers and others.

This is of course fabulous for organisations based here. But if you’re running a website for an NGO in Gisborne, Greymouth or further afield, I’m not aware of there being many opportunities to access training or to connect with peers.

Of course, there is plenty of written material available. This is great, but you can’t really enter into dialogue with a resource manual, nor make connections with others.

If you are really keen there’s nothing to stop people from getting up early to join in online presentations from USA, UK or other far-flung lands. The content may be great but connecting with others across time zones isn’t easy.

In my mind this I adds up to something of a gap, and an opportunity. And to steal a phrase, I’ve been thinking.

So, without further ado, I’m delighted to announce that next month I’m offering two online sessions for NGO website managers working in Aotearoa New Zealand. These two hour long webinars* will deliver some advice on keeping your website up-to-date and accessible to all visitors. You can find out more and register on the webinar series one page.

Webinar 1: Three ways to get insights into what your visitors want. Presenter: Stephen Blyth, Common Knowledge. 2pm Friday 23 March 2012.

Webinar 2: Learn how you can ensure all your visitors can access your website. Presenter: Mike Osborne, AccEase Ltd. 2pm Friday 30 March 2012.

Along the way I would love to hear your feedback. This will help the team running the sessions learn how things went. We want to know everything from time of day, price, content and any technical issues you face.

If there is demand I’ll look into running further sessions later in 2012.

As well as running a series for NGO website managers, I realise many people will want to explore how to use different tools to support the work of their organisation or network.

To help get you started I’m offering monthly drop-in session focused on running effective online meeting and webinars, what tools to use, and so on. You can come along to a casual session for an introduction, with plenty of time for questions.

At this stage, I am using the Citrix GoToMeeting/ GoToWebinar platform which TechSoup New Zealand is distributing to NGOs at a discounted rate for the first years subscription.

Find out more and register for an upcoming drop-in session. The first one is on 2pm Friday 13 April.

Now that the brochures are in the post and adverts online, I’ll have to wait to see if my hunch is right about NGO webmasters wanting to learn how they can improve the quality of their websites. I’m looking forward to seeing what people think.

* A webinar is an online presentation with opportunities for participants to ask questions and make comments. Or according to Webopedia a webinar is “Short for Web-based seminar, a presentation, lecture, workshop or seminar that is transmitted over the Web. A key feature of a Webinar is its interactive elements — the ability to give, receive and discuss information.”

Update (4 April): Recordings, links and other resources are now available now.

Photo credit: Melbourne WSG

Staying on top of the information avalanche

Orange RSS logo made from fabric on jacketAt the end of my workshop I quipped “I hope you haven’t ended up more overloaded than when you began.” The participants in my workshop at the Engage your community conference on Friday smiled warily in reply.

Setting out to cover the main bases of how to fine-tune harvesting information online meant we had to cover a lot of ground.

During the 2.5 hour session we touched on email alerts, email filtering/ rules, twitter, url shorteners, social bookmarking, dashboards and folksonomies. The main focus was on using RSS to manage the information flow, and blogging networks.

The benefits of staying in touch and contributing to a virtual network of fellow bloggers can be very rewarding. The opportunity for interaction combined with personal reflection makes for a great way to learn. Fortunately I found an article on online that sets out the key ideas behind a blogging network, so I won’t expound on these here. (See “How do you build community?” by Denise on here Flamingo House Happenings blog.)

The utter lack of standardisation on the internet is no more apparent than with the RSS button. It appears on websites not only in standard orange, but also in blue, green, grey and other rogue colours. Try explaning why this might be to people new to using RSS.

Another challenge for me as trainer was explaining why an RSS feed one of the participants found couldn’t be imported into a reader. (I’d welcome any explanations about the offending RSS feed didn’t work, the URL is http://www.nrl.com/ajax.aspx?Feed=News.RSS&moduleId=114260).

The most important question that arose was, what is the best way of receiving updates?

My answer was: it depends.

Choices include: using online services, eg Google Reader, Bloglines, MyYahoo, PageFlakes; installing software on your computer eg RSSOwl, NetNewsWire, FeedDemon; using your browser, eg LiveBookmarks in Firefox, or Favorites in Internet Explorer; and I’m sure there are other ways I haven’t come across.

Each of the options has pros and cons. As I didn’t really get time to go into this in-depth on Friday I’ll cover this briefly based on my own experiences.

I use Google Reader as it means I can read feeds anywhere there is an internet connection (using my computer or someone elses). It also means I can add new subscriptions when I find them rather doing later, which l invariably forget to do. The tagging and sorting features are strong, plus there are ways you can follow people or explore sources of new feeds. Importantly, it’s moderately uncluttered so actually reading articles is fine.

At the same time I also use a desktop client called NetNewsWire (for Mac OS only). Fortunately this syncs with Google Reader so I get exactly the same list. I want a desktop client so I can scan, search and read articles (or excerpts) without needing to be connected to the internet. The sorting features and readibility meet my peculiar standards.

I’ve never been drawn to following feeds in my Browser (or Email client such as Thunderbird) as these lack the powerful sorting/ highlighting features of the others and updates don’t follow you around. I also don’t find lists in the browser easy to navigate or the most attractive reading option.

Now, I can imagine someone liking the reverse of what I do. Perhaps you’d like to have one place to look at all your updates, and if you subscribe to a few sources sorting is not so important.

Although anything goes, I’d suggest you don’t get stuck with the first option you come across (which is likely to be browser based as it’s obvious). Try it out another way of subscribing. Check first that you can export your subscription, as you can easily move if you can do this (something that’s important if you follow more than a handful of feeds). I’ve changed RSS clients 3 or 4 times in the last five years.

I’m not about to launch a campaign to promote recognition of the neglected RSS service (for an honour after an industrious career, in web years at least). But I will say that anyone who is serious about staying on top of the information avalanche should take a look at using RSS to stay in control.

PS For anyone who attended my workshop, I’m still waiting for a reply from the insurance company about whether my laptop is repairable, or if they’ll replace it. Unfortunately I had a Minities moment at the beginning of the session. A glass of water ended up on my keyboard. For those of you that we’ren’t there, this didn’t stop me.

Resources

Fine-tune how you harvest information slides
Fine-tune how you harvest information resource list on wikispaces
A list of RSS readers on AlternitveTo.net

Photo credit: Popoever.

A good time for a webinar

Just as I was about to sign-up for an hour long session on the new Google web analytics package, it struck me that I couldn’t make it.

The presentation by Avinash Kaushik, a Google Analytics evangelist and trainer at Market Motive, will cover new features of the web statistics tool. He reckons the new customizable dashboards, changes to naming conventions, new ways to report and more, will mean “this tool is even more powerful and flexible”.

As the webinar is being run at 9am Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) I’m going to miss out – I’m not willing to make the sacrifice to get up at 4am on Thursday 21 April.

It’s not the first time I’ve missed a session that I thought would be really informative. Most of the webinars I’ve heard about are run in USA, or Europe.

I actually think the way of delivering presentations and informal training over the web makes a lot of sense in New Zealand. As people working in the same field are widely dispersed by geography and because of the relative high cost of travel not everybody who could benefit from face-to-face sessions can actually attend them.

The online webinar format is somewhat of a halfway house. People can access live content and participate without having to leave their desk. It’s not fully-fledged online learning, which is possible, but short interactive sessions on detailed topics. Short and to the point. It’s not as good as being their in person, but does enable knowledge transfer.

Of course, you can often watch or listen to recordings of presentations. But these lack the edginess of live events, and of course there’s no chance of joining in, or asking questions.

For anyone involved in using the web to engage their community, I’m planning to run webinars later in the year. Topics tumble off my lips: choosing and using CMSs, accessible design, content strategy, usability techniques, and more.

As well as deciding on content and speakers, I have to select a platform to run the webinar. Rather than opting for the big corporate ones, such as Webex or GoToMeeting, I’ll probably use ReadyTalk. It has all the necessary features, is easy to use and as a NTEN member I can use it for a very attractive price.

I’ll also be doing Andy Goodman’s “Webinar on webinars”, which promises to teach in one hour how to run a successful webinar. That’s if it’s not being run at some crazy hour.

What I don’t know just yet is the level of demand for learning about specialist topics around use of the web from community organisations in Aotearoa New Zealand. If you’re interested, leave a comment. Or fill in my uber short poll on the right or link here: what is a good time for you to join in a webinar?

Offering webinars at a convenient time might help people to see the potential of this way of learning and sharing. Perhaps I can even get someone like Avinash to get up early to share with people working in community groups in our time zone.

PS Sign-up to my newsletter to be notified of details of my first webinar.


Yesterday’s webinar – learning the hardway

Stressed out bride to be, tearing her hair out

It wasn’t exactly hidden in the fineprint. The guidelines for running a mini-conference session clearly included something called a back-up plan. Most of my other classmates on the Facilitating Online Communities (FO09) course referred to some sort of alternative should things go astray during their session.

Based on intermittent access to Elluminate, the online learning environment, during the course and numerous technology hiccups with software on a weekly basis, I should have realised the importance of a back-up plan.

Yesterday, during the session I facilitated on using online tools for conservation planning I didn’t have a plan. So when things went wrong I was out on a perilous limb.

At 1.55pm I saw new people trying to enter the meeting room, but not gaining access I got a sense something was not quite right. Several emails alerted me to a message people trying to sign-in were receiving: the web meeting room is full.

Quickly searching the web I quickly realised I’d exceeded the limit of the trial account. How could I have not looked into that!! In hindsight, I know more indepth reading of the terms would have uncovered this basic condition.

Without a back-up plan I wasn’t really able to juggle the dozen things that needed to happen simultaneously. With some swift action by our tutor Sarah I did manage to find an alternative meeting space using Elluminate. My guest presenter Caroline Lees (co-covenor of the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group) not only was able to login in, but she very quickly adapted to unfamiliar software.

The supportive words from my classmates and Caroline’s insightful presentation meant I feel we salvaged something. A recording will be available soon.

However, without a list of email addresses I wasn’t able to contact people who hadn’t been able to join in. Unfortunately, I lost many participants along the way.

Somewhat humbled by the experience, wistfully wondering if perhaps I was somewhat overconfident, it’s a true understatement to say I’ve learned a few things. I’m going to note a few reflections here.

  1. Have a back-up plan. Not just some notional one, but a properly tested one. In this case having quick access to the list of email addresses so I could notify people would have helped.
  2. Try to have a second facilitator or support person. When things went wrong, I just didn’t have a enough time to send emails, communicate in the first software programme, set up Elluminate, coach Caroline on the new software, etc. This is a good idea even if when things go well. It’s quite a handful keeping an eye on the chat thread for questions, noting down URLs, contributing follow-up questions with a guest, and technical problem solving.
  3. Practice. Practice. Practice. Learning in this space takes more than reading or listening to good advice. Take every opportunity to learn.
  4. Have guidance on likely technical hiccups on hand, eg how participant’s can connect their microphone. An instruction document or screenshots would be a big help. If it’s really important to have all participants join in, coach people through this before the meeting proper through one-to-one sessions. This is something Caroline said was relevant to the mala online workshop process.

I’ve been really been fortunate to make a stumble running my first webinar within the supportive environment of the FO09 class. The encouraging comments and joint problem solving means a lot. A thread running through our discussions, made very visible last night during a session hosted by Catherine, is that making mistakes is a learning strategy.

Despite this rather stressful formative experience I still believe online learning has a lot to offer community and voluntary groups. I’m going to quietly look into running a series of webinars in 2010 about using technology powerfully for good causes.

Photo credit: Brittney Bush.