5 ways to deliver collaborative digital skills support online

As libraries and museums (rightfully) close in order to keep people safe during the global pandemic, attention has shifted to how we can best support our communities and users solely online. New digital services are emerging, and existing digital service touchpoints are being brought to the fore. What does this mean for digital literacy support and makerspaces? And how might we continue to provide these important services in new ways?

In this post we aim to share some examples of what others are doing and bring you some practical advice on tools you can use to provide your own remote services.

New kinds of service delivery

Libraries have reacted quickly to reach out and provide services to their communities and beyond. Many libraries have turned to video streaming to continue to offer Rhyme Time and Storytime sessions, and Kingston library is a great example of this, running live events on their Facebook page.

Some libraries are finding new ways to provide reading services, including using social media and increasing digitisation of available books. Reader Advisory services via social media is one example of this new digital-first approach.

With the library being the only access to broadband for many communities, many libraries are ensuring their WiFi provision continues, including a proposal to use mobile libraries to provide WiFi hotspots.

Museums are also stepping up digital provision by moving collections and exhibitions online where possible. For example, the V&A has a YouTube channel with exhibition highlights and interviews.

These and other examples demonstrate that, while the building may be closed, the library as a community hub remains very much open. And libraries, museums and other cultural heritage organisations are continuing to adapt as fast as they can.

What about digital skills services and support?

Some services are easier to transfer to online delivery modes than others. Libraries have taken an increasingly important role in digital literacy and skills training, so how can we continue these services during these difficult times?

Digital skills support ranges from one-to-one and group sessions for people wanting to learn digital skills and improve their digital literacy to creative and collaborative learning environments such as makerspaces that provide access and training for new and emerging technologies.

Not all services can be delivered remotely but there are tools and approaches you can use to continue to offer support to library users even when the physical library space is closed.

Here are 5 suggestions for how digital skills events or services may be delivered online, including the tools and approaches that can help make this happen:

1. Offer remote digital literacy support appointments

As digital literacy sessions involve working with groups with varying levels of experience and confidence in online working, you understandably want to deliver these sessions with as few barriers online as possible.

For example, one to one support for over 50s can be offered online. This is particularly important as so many other services now require online skills (government alerts, prescriptions, grocery shopping).

London Libraries have started offering free online IT support sessions using Skype or Zoom.

We’ve found Jitsi Meet the easiest way to schedule a video call (particularly if you don’t have a Zoom account). It’s free and users don’t need to sign up or have an account. This means that you can send an invite and the recipient can just click the link to join the meeting – no unnecessary barriers or confusing registration required. You can also schedule Jitsi Meet appointments in an Outlook or Google calendar.

Any video chat platform can work but ones that are easy to use (with minimal fussing with account registration and extra software downloading requirements) and provide easy screen-sharing are preferable.

You can also share a calendar that lets people know when you’re free and allows them to book a video appointment with you. Simply Book and Appointlet are two apps that let your users schedule appointments with you.

2. Maker and digital skills challenges

Challenges and prompts via social media can be a great way of encouraging self-directed and collaborative learning. These also give participants freedom to personalise projects and build things that reflect their own likes and interests.

We like what Gloucester County Library (US) has been doing with their Social Distancing and Minecraft Challenges on Instagram.

And of course the Getty Museum offered the mother of all challenges on Twitter recently.

Hertfordshire Libraries (UK) has also been issuing Creative Challenges on Twitter.

As you can see, these kinds of skill-building challenges can be delivered via social media but you can also engage with learners via email newsletters and on your library website.

3. Digital making and learn-to-code events online

Makerspace and other creative computing events in libraries are not designed to be formal lessons, they tend to be more collaborative or peer-led learning events where communication is key. With this in mind, you probably want to be providing a discussion space for people to ask and answer questions, and otherwise learn new things together, rather than delivering instructional, teacher-led sessions.

After school activities like Code Clubs can be held online, as a Code Club librarian in Australia recently demonstrated.

As with the digital literacy support, it’s possible to schedule a regular meetup for co-learning activities. Continuing to keep your volunteers or code club facilitators and participants connected and involved is vital.

If you are using Zoom, you can now use zmurl.com to quickly create a website for your event.

Resources to help you get started supporting digital making remotely include:

Glitch collection screenshot
Learn to Code collection on Glitch

Once you have set up your digital provision, it’s a good idea to showcase what people create on your social media or website. This has the dual purpose of motivating learners and keeping them engaged, while also helping others find out about these digital activities and events.

4. Learn together – collaborative learning online

There are also a range of new tools available for streaming videos together, which can be utilised for collaborative learning events. This can involve watching educational videos on services like YouTube together using synchronised, social screening apps like https://sync-tube.de.

The Coding Train channel is a particular favourite of ours.The Raspberry Pi Foundation also has an active YouTube presence.

Another approach is to create a co-learning group for those learning new technical skills such as coding either via books (with a dedicated online reading group) or via an online course such as Free Code Camp or Future Learn.

Collaborative learn events can also be project based such as making a podcast together – Anchor has recently launched Record With Friends 2.0 for remote podcasting.

Game making can also be a collaborative activity using tools such as Twine and Minecraft.

5. Online digital skills CPD for staff

This is not just about service users – staff digital skills learning is an important part of any digital transformation strategy. The current pandemic has thrown many of us into unfamiliar territory, however if we do find ourselves with more free time it could also be a great online learning opportunity.

Leaving staff alone to learn new skills isn’t necessarily the best way (and can be difficult and alienating right now), but collaborative learning can help both with motivation and with outcomes of the learning itself – here’s a couple of suggestions:

  • Informal learning meetups for staff can take many forms. ‘Journal clubs’ like #HILJClub are already moving to a new format via Twitter and others are rapidly adapting their CPD offer for staff. Read about how the Digital Research Team at the British Library have been converting their Digital Scholarship Training Programme into an online resource for staff working from home.
  • 23 Things is an inspiring, long-running self-pace learning initiative for library staff. You can use an existing 23 things curriculum (like this one from The University of Edinburgh) or create your own.

You can find more free, self-paced learning resources on libraryskills.io

Finding new digital skills and creative learning touchpoints

Though libraries and other cultural sector organisations are rapidly adapting to be able to continue delivering support to their users, not all services are easy to adapt to online remote delivery. We hope that the tools and examples listed here help inspire new types of services and support channels for users. Please let us know if you have any questions or would like advice about digital tools and platforms.