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LibParlor Contributor Series

The story of SOL:AR- Collaborating with cross-institutional stakeholders to create an online postgraduate training resource, A Librarian Parlor Series, Part I

In a series post, Eleanor and Kylie discuss using the S.M.A.R.T framework to help build out a strategic project.

Eleanor Colla is the Research Relationships Manager at The University of New England in Armidale New South Wales, Australia. In this role she works closely with the Research Office, Faculties, and Librarians to implement, improve, and align institution-wide research strategies to Library services. Their interests include Open Scholarship, research management, integrating and embedding library services into the research lifecycle, and library advocacy.

Kylie Burgess is the Research Data Librarian at The University of New England in Armidale New South Wales, Australia. Her professional interests include data management best practice, supporting researchers and promoting Open Data. Outside of the library, Kylie is a keen gamer – she runs Dungeon and Dragons games in settings she creates herself and can often be found basking in the blue glow of her computer monitors exploring virtual worlds.

We began working together at the University of New England, NSW, Australia (UNE) in September 2019. Our roles are classified as strategic and project driven so we decided that a strategic project was in order! We began working on repurposing an established information research skills resource from a different tertiary institution to the UNE environment whilst adapting it into a broader training platform incorporating a number of other Higher Degree Researcher (HDR) resources and expertise. In this post, we will describe the collaborative project we are working on and how we have gone about forming a cross-institutional working group and how we are using S.M.A.R.T. goals to scope and implement the project. 

The gap(s) we identified

The majority of UNE undergraduate and postgraduate students are online. Since 2018 UNE Library has focused on delivering library classes, resources, and outreach online in a ‘born-digital’ model and running in-person sessions and consultations as a secondary priority. Content is delivered on a number of platforms, including LibGuides, group webinars held through Zoom, one-on-one Zoom consultations, and pre-recorded videos on the Library website. Now that born digital resources and training is business as usual for Librarians, we saw the need for a more narrative-driven resource that was on one platform.

How we started forming this project

Kylie’s experience in administering online information research skills credit point based unit (AIRS (https://airs.library.qut.edu.au/)) that is available under a Creative Commons license gave us the ability to use an established model. This product has also been used by other tertiary institutions across Australia. As UNE is a small, regional university, we also need to rely on our colleagues- both in and outside the Library- a lot more than in larger institutions. This has led us to want to work with other areas involved in delivery HDR training.

Pitch process

We had some initial conversations with our managers as well as managers within key stakeholder areas we had identified outside of the Library. When these department leads agreed there was merit in the idea, we began a formal project pitch to the Library Leadership Team (LLT) to create a resource entitled ‘Self-paced Online Learning: Advanced Research’ (SOL:AR). SOL:AR is a modulerised, entirely online approach to information and research literacy skills and is not discipline-based.

The pitch process involved writing up a Project Proposition Document (PPD) using the S.M.A.R.T. framework of project management, which allowed us to scope the project and set obtainable outcomes. This document outlined the issues, presented different ways these issues could be addressed, identified a range of stakeholders, and proposed a timeline for the project. This PPD was delivered to the LLT where they approved the silver (mid-tier) approach. The silver model means we will be repurposing content where able, making minimal new content, and delivering SOL:AR in mid 2020 as a pilot.

Expanding on S.M.A.R.T. Goals

When we initially began work on a PPD, our manager recommended we align with the S.M.A.R.T goals framework. Using this framework would allow us to better plan the running of the project, the timelines we would need to meet, and create a clear plan for how we intended to keep things on track. Whilst there are a number of different S.M.A.R.T. frameworks, we chose to use Graham Yemm’s (2013) approach, as our manager suggested.

Below is a table showing a breakdown of the S.M.A.R.T. framework objectives, general context for each objective, how we used this in the SOL:AR context, and an example of what we did:

ObjectiveGeneral contextSOL:AR contextWhat we did
SpecificTarget a specific area for improvement 
– What needs to be done?
– Why is this important?
Recognised that HDR training was dispersed, sporadic, and not strategically delivered. Thus, needed to update content and create a central, online point of delivery.Spoke with colleagues (inside and outside the Library) about what HDR training they offered, what they wanted to change, etc.Once the project commenced, we used a collaborative spreadsheet to audit HDR training across the institution. We highlighted where gaps, double-ups of content and delivery were.
MeasurableQuantify or suggest an indicator of progress
– How and when will progress be measured?
During the project pitch we decided key measurable deliverables would include;
– Finding an Open platform (not behind a log-in) by end of February 2020
– Pilot of the project to ‘go live’ by mid-2020
– Collect feedback by August 2020
– Implement improvements based on feedback by December 2020
– ‘Final’ product complete by February 2021
Spoke openly about commitments and duties. This was then organised, assigned, and tracked using GANTT feature in Excel.
In the initial working group meetings we scoped and established timelines for deliverables and were up-front about how our other responsibilities might impact our ability to work on the project.
We scheduled several ‘check in’ points throughout the project where the working group would measure the progress of the project against our proposed timelines/deliverables.
AchievableSpecify who will do it
– Is this objective within my control?
– Does it fit the timeframe?
Each member of the working group mapped their content for the audit and each member is responsible for amalgamating their content into SOL:AR by deadlines set by the working group.We are using Microsoft Teams to track meeting agendas, minutes, actions, and sharing documents.
RelevantState what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources
– How is the project relevant to my role?
Library recognised it wasn’t realistic to do this in isolation, so made the project collaborative. We approached relevant parties to join a working group and highlight how a project is relevant to their roles. For a 6 month ‘go live’ we needed to focus on amalgamating existing content, not creating new content.We are using a spreadsheet to map where existing content was to highlight overlaps and gaps so people could see the relevance and need for inclusion of their area.At key points in the project, the working group will take the pilot to the Research Committee to make sure it is institutionally aligned.
Time boundSpecify when the result(s) can be achieved
– When will this project be achieved?
A 6 month ‘go live’ was chosen because we could amalgamate content in this time, as well as evaluate before the end of 2020.

We are mindful that deadlines may be impacted by unknown unknowns, so timelines/deadlines may need to be flexible.
We are using Microsoft Teams and fortnightly meetings with standard agenda updates to keep us on track and meeting deadlines.

Establishing the working group and strategy group

Once the LLT had agreed to the project, we formally went about forming the working group. Our initial scoping, and knowledge of UNE training for HDRs, highlighted five other areas offering training to HDRs. We also knew we needed to include a learning designer for pedagogy. Given the relatively small size of UNE we knew people working in these areas from having worked with them on previous projects.

We began by approaching people individually and having conversations with them about the limitations of the existing HDR training on offer and our idea of repurposing AIRS whilst expanding to include content and training from their area. We developed a quick elevator pitch, and having AIRS as an example enabled people to understand what we were hoping to achieve. People were quite keen from the beginning as they too had recognised issues and were hoping to update their materials, content, and were mindful about not duplicating content or work that other areas and individuals at UNE had already done.

The members of this group are the two of us, UNE’s eResearch Analyst, a Research Integrity Officer, an Academic Skills Officer, a Learning Developer, a Senior HDR Support Officer, and an IT trainer. Together we represent six different areas from four different directorates, across two different portfolios. None of us are aligned with a specific Faculty or discipline area.

During the first few meetings, it became clear that the project would benefit from the working group having a team of people aware of the project who could provide advice at key points. We thus formed the strategy group, which is made up of people who represent secondary key stakeholders and are members of UNE’s Research Committee, academics, HDRs, and other Library positions such as Digital Experience Librarian and Copyright Officer. These people were contacted via email or phone by members of the working group. Their main concerns were the scope of the project being relevant to them and the time commitments required of them. The working group quickly adapted our ‘pitch emails’ to include information on scope and time commitments when we contact additional people for the strategy group. This strategy group is contacted when needed and provides feedback on content and presentation on the developing project. These individuals are both Faculty and non-Faculty aligned.

In a future post, we will reflect on how this collaborative project has gone and share what we have learnt when collaborating with individuals and departments outside of the Library to deliver online content, training, and support for postgraduate students.

Featured image by You X Ventures on Unsplash

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

The expressions of the writer do not reflect anyone’s views but their own

1 comment on “The story of SOL:AR- Collaborating with cross-institutional stakeholders to create an online postgraduate training resource, A Librarian Parlor Series, Part I

  1. Pingback: The story of SOL:AR- Collaborating with cross-institutional stakeholders to create an online postgraduate training resource, A Librarian Parlor Series, Part II – The Librarian Parlor

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