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Emerging Technologies Planning

Emerging Technology Planning: Community Help App

Introduction

I was trying to think about a technology or service that would be both plausible and useful at a community college library. I work as an instructional assistant for learning resources in the library at Cosumnes River College (CRC), and I would like to propose a service that utilizes an app to allow library users to assist each other by answering questions and providing information to each other anonymously.

My job is to help students use the library’s resources, whether they be printers, specific software, connecting to WiFi, databases, or even help learning to use a smartphone. Many of the questions I receive as part of my job are very similar and can seem simplistic. For instance, students often have questions about how use the printers or some aspect of Canvas. Because of the nature of these kinds of questions, I have encountered many students who felt embarrassed to ask for help because they felt like they should be able to do it on their own. I would like to provide a service where students can anonymously ask and also answer questions about library services and technologies, and which can eventually be expanded to include questions about other services around campus more generally.

Goals for the Community Help App

  • Provide students with platform to ask questions anonymously and receive answers from other students who have experience with the same issues
  • Give more experienced students an opportunity to help newer students learn about library resources, technologies, and class and campus information
  • Encourage a community of participatory service within the library and around the campus
  • Promote engagement in student learning and success on the student end
  • Opportunity to implement web 2.0 services on campus, and to open the door to more participatory services in the future
  • Allow the library to branch out by offering new campus-wide services and to become more involved in assisting the day-to-day experience of students

Target Community

 I hope to engage students at Cosumnes River College by giving them an accessible opportunity to support each other and actively participate in the campus culture. I see the Community Help App beginning in the physical library on a screen that people can see, so students can see the questions and the answers (remaining anonymous) on display. However, I would like to develop the app aspect of the idea if it shows some success in the library because it would allow students to interact with each other in a positive way while contributing back to the campus.

Action Brief Statement

Convince the Dean of Library and Technology Services that by 2021 they will approve the development of the Community Help Application which will foster the development of a more participatory culture because students will have a stake in the success of the app and the campus.

Live chat, remote tutoring, and “Ask a Librarian” services are common at libraries across the United States. However, these functions tend to require appointments. In order to make an appointment, one must indicate name, email, and sometimes other identifying information even if the question is meant to be very quick. For instance, Purdue’s “Ask Us – Live Chat” feature works perfectly fine. But one’s question may not warrant filling in multiple fields in order to get a response. The same can go for tutoring. Many tutoring centers, like the one at UC Davis when I was an undergraduate, do offer drop-in tutoring sessions, which works well for those quick questions and answers. However, not only have many programs like Davis moved to appointment based sessions, but online tutoring like that at Arizona State University is also by appointment. Drop-in sessions are quite rare, and even still can involve waiting in a physical line or online queue.

My proposal involves creating multiple open chat room-like forums where students or even staff and faculty can ask and answer questions pertaining to a wide range of topics. For example, there could be a forum about campus events where students can ask where or when a certain event is happening that day. Likewise, there could be a math subject-specific forum where students can ask math questions to be answered by tutors or other students who know the answer. The possibilities for growth are quite extensive, as one could foreseeably include a purely social chat room, ones to which only tutors or staff would be allowed to post replies, etc. This service could also be extended beyond the CRC to incorporate the other members of the Los Rios Community College District.

Policies, Guidelines, and Implementation

It will be important for the librarians to play a central role in setting policies and guidelines for use of the app, but instructional assistants and other library personnel will play a bigger role in monitoring the responses. With an app like this, it is of the utmost importance that students be respectful of one another. We can actually use classroom etiquette concepts that students are likely to be familiar with. Students are often required to interact online already via systems like Canvas, so we can take advantage of this by applying the same policies and guidelines that students know and even by enabling the Community Help App to be embedded in Canvas sites by faculty. Following already established guidelines for online conduct makes sense, and students will know that the forums are monitored by staff. An app like would be easy to take advantage of in terms of leaving intentionally wrong, unhelpful, or harmful remarks. The two-way anonymous nature should help discourage this kind of behavior while also enforcing existing policies about cyberbullying and misconduct.

I spoke with one of the head librarians at Cosumnes River College about my idea and she seemed receptive to the idea, except that someone would still have to develop the app, jokingly saying “If you’re going to make it.” This indicates that the main barrier to implementing a technology like this will be raising funds to design and develop a working mobile application that meets the required specifications. Developing an app can cost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars for even relatively simple functionality. For this reason, it is important that we test the design with something more readily accessible, such as a live virtual help forum available through the library’s website and physical space, using display monitors and computers already in place.

Should the preliminary model of implementation be successful, it could be worthwhile to pursue the development of a standalone mobile app. Some options to generate funding or create the app include fundraising and donations, but I believe that a grant may be the most promising option. There are numerous grants awarded to both public and academic libraries, specifically in the area of technology innovation. The Librarian and Researcher Knowledge Space (LARKS) offers resources for those looking to learn about library grants as well as those seeking to write and earn grants. I believe it would be possible to successfully earn a grant should it be geared towards transitioning an already successful existing service into something more widespread.

It is very important that we prototype this service before pursuing a campus-wide app, although this or even a district-wide live help forum may be the ideal end goal. We must make sure that this concept can succeed at a very local level by implementing similar features in existing, accessible locations such as the CRC Library website in addition to physical computers and displays in the library. A live help forum could be implemented into the website in several months, which could then be easily displayed on one of the television displays in the library. To implement something on this level would mainly require the approval of the faculty librarians, but it would be helpful to get support from the Dean of Library and Technology Services. This early prototype would also be made much easier to implement due to recent changes and additions to library services given the remote operation status caused by COVID-19. Should the prototype be successful, it would then be a matter of determining how successful and worthwhile a more fleshed out project of a similar nature could be. This would involve several months of letting students know about the new service and eventually generating surveys to get feedback from students and staff.

Fortunately, this new service would require little in the way of additional staff. Instructional assistants and student workers already fulfill many technology help duties on campus, and monitoring these forums could be added to their existing job duties. This is a major positive because it minimizes the amount of increased expenditure for offering a new service. On the other hand, this service could also serve as an opportunity to offer new student worker positions who would like to work odd hours monitoring and responding to posts later into the night or early in the morning. The same ease of implementation also applies to training, especially considering experiences with remote work in the latter half of this semester. Most Library and Technology staff have already gained experience working online and working with the library’s online resources to some extent.

Promotion & Marketing for this Technology or Service: (How can the new technology or service be promoted?  Brainstorm some ideas to promote within your organization. Brainstorm more ideas to promote outside your organization.)

In order for the Community Help service to be effective, we need students to not only be aware of it, but also participate. The success of this service relies on students knowing that it exists and seeing the potential for it to have a positive impact on their academic careers or wellbeing. As I briefly mentioned earlier, linking this service with Canvas and the library website will help students get exposed to it. Like we already do with course textbooks on reserve every semester, we can make an effort to reach out to faculty to share information with their students. One way for this service to become ingrained in the culture of the campus and move beyond the walls of the library is to share this concept with other libraries in the Los Rios Community College District and potentially get them on board. Many of our students take classes at more than one campus in the Los Rios system, and this is the kind of service that could help bring the institutions together. Each college could have its own section for questions and responses, but allowing students from all campuses to come to the same place for this kind of information would be a major key for success.

Conclusion

The room for growth for this kind of live, communal help service is huge, and the impact it can have on bringing the CRC campus and potentially the Los Rios colleges closer together cannot be understated. Should enough services come to be offered by this app, it could have a significant effect on the culture of campus and district as a whole. It is important to start small because some good can still come from implementing a prototype service in just the CRC Library and its website. We will be able to gauge by the number of queries on a weekly (and hopefully daily) basis how successful the app is at capturing student attention and in determining its perceived effectiveness. My goal is for any student to be able to post a question or even comment and be able to get a response in minutes from someone who knows the answer. The student who had their question answered will hopefully wish to reciprocate the quick and thoughtful response by actively seeking to do the same for others.

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