Why Three Perspectives? A human centred design approach to supporting digital dexterity: People, Design and Systems Thinking

By Kristy Newton (Digital Literacies Coordinator, UOW Library), Keith Brophy (Manager Digital Environment, UOW Library) and Donna Dee (Manager Workforce Planning & Development, UOW Library)


University of Wollongong (UOW) Library has a long-standing commitment to the professional development of our People through both informal and formal channels. The learning culture at UOW Library is fibrous and evolving, and our staff expect that ongoing professional development will be part of their journey. We have been building staff digital dexterity capacity for several years through an ongoing staff program, and in developing the most recent iteration of that program we have hit upon a valuable combination of staff skills and approaches that can be recognised as a composable team – a synergy of expertise that informs and describes the development of dexterity needs for our people.

Our composable team consists of three essential perspectives: Design Thinking + Digital Dexterity, People + Culture, and Systems Thinking + Integration. Forming working relationships that are based on the skills that each member brings to the group is far from a new concept. Nevertheless, over the past two years we have found the combination of these perspectives enables each of us to contribute our strengths and maximise the beneficial outcomes for the organisation. An attitude of open-mindedness and trust has been a key success factor, as much as the expertise that each of us contributes. It has been important for each of us to allow our ideas to be challenged, built on, and transformed by the input of the other group members. This can be understood via the lens of remix culture, in which the resulting outputs are born from existing elements and transformed via the remix process into something new. Researchers Yu and Nickerson (2011, in Flath et al. 2017) found that a human based genetic algorithm which functioned to combine existing human ideas, resulted in ideas which were “significantly higher in terms of originality and practicality” (Flath et. al, 2017, p. 309).

Putting People First: Design Thinking + the importance of Culture

Key to the practice of design thinking is the active practice of empathy with the needs of those you are designing for – in this case, the staff of UOW Library in addition to our strategic priority of the Future-Ready Library. Incorporating the design thinking perspective has meant that we have placed these two elements as twin anchors for our process. In empathising with the needs of the Library’s Future-Ready strategic direction, we understood that the reason for developing staff digital dexterity was greater than technical and immediately job-related skills and that the underlying need was to prepare staff for a rapidly evolving and digitally rich future work environment. This environment would change more rapidly than is practical for a structured skills development program, and so it was essential to empower staff to be quite autonomous in their own development and provide a supportive environment which removed potential pain points and encouraged them to contribute actively to this process. Practicing empathy with the needs of our people and understanding the areas of interest that drive them as well as their desire for a combination of group work and independent activity, has influenced the design of our current staff program which is underpinned by a series of communities of practice.

The Right Tool: Empathy + Collaboration + Functionality

Technology in and of itself is not going to change or improve how we work. As the adage says: If you apply digital to a thing that’s broken, you’ll have a broken digital thing. It’s been very important to recognise that an established culture of continuous learning, growth mindset and adaptive thinking is part of a holistic view of the potential system solutions. In evaluating potential tools and spaces, we have considered factors such as functionality, integration, and interoperability with existing and future systems within the environment, and combined the potential of the technical solutions with what we knew about our people and how they wanted to learn and grow together. Collaborative learning opportunities had been highlighted as valuable to our staff, as had the opportunity to drive a learning journey based on individual motivations. For these reasons, alongside the adoption of Microsoft Teams as a ‘virtual office’ during the rapidly evolving COVID19 pandemic, we chose to house our digital dexterity programs within the Microsoft Teams environment, creating channels for Professional Development and individual channels for each of the communities of practice.

Continuous Learning Journey: Growth Mindset + Ideation

We have also needed to be adaptable as the context in which we deliver our program evolves. This was particularly important as we moved into an extended period of remote or hybrid work in response to the pandemic. Our staff were variably in need of support, and then in need of space within the myriad of digital channels they now needed to monitor. Our mini composable team meets monthly to talk about how the program is progressing, and evaluate if we are making the best use of the tools and time that we have available to us. Part of this process has been to encourage and support each team in the evaluation of new functionality as the systems evolve – understanding that teams who actively identify the potential value in new system capabilities will enjoy a greater sense of ownership and autonomy in directing how they work. From promoting the use of online task trackers for project management to virtual whiteboards for brainstorming sessions to collaborative document editing, we further support and build an agile, growth mindset mentality – resulting in skills and outcomes that directly align with the Library strategic direction.

The agile asynchronous approach has also dictated the possibility for spontaneous groups to form elsewhere in the organisation. Staff were proactive in suggesting changes to the communities of practice that aligned more clearly with their learning goals, and we had enough adaptability built into the program to cater for that. By extension, we have also seen other composable teams form around shorter-term learning goals and components of strategic Library projects – groups of staff who have come together to tackle project priorities or explore a specific skill or interest area without formalising this as a community of practice.


If you are interested in adopting the principles of the approach we have outlined here, the following points are a good place to start in thinking about how this might work in your own context.

Ask yourself:

  • Who is it for?
  • What elements do we have in our institutional culture that enable learning and growth?
  • How can we link this to broader strategy?
  • How might we think of a holistic solution, placing our users and their journey at the centre?
  • How do we maintain engagement and a culture of continuous learning?
  • Rather than being tied to what has worked in the past, what inputs and the data do we currently have that help us imagine what could work for the future?
References

Brophy, K, Dee, D, & Newton, K 2020 ‘UOW Library: Embedding learning and development as part of our organisational DNA’, International Information & Library Review, 52(3), pp.250-252.

Flath, C, Friesike, S, Wirth, M, & Thiesse, F 2017, ‘Copy, transform, combine: exploring the remix as a form of innovation’, Journal of Information Technology, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 306-325.

‘I didn’t know the library did that’. Making Library work in curriculum more visible.

By Kat Cain (Manager, Digital Literacy Programs) and Craig Patterson (Manager, Faculty of Arts and Education Library Services, Learning and Teaching) – Deakin University.

It’s a shared experience in public, specialist and academic libraries – regularly hearing our community members amazed reflection, “I didn’t know the library did that”, when we provide learning services beyond that of collections. The fuzzy notion of the library as mostly just books and borrowing can even be a common idea that many librarians have before they start their degree and get into the field, and the breadth and depth of Library work then becomes evident. But how to get this message of Libraries as a teaching and learning service out to our communities?

Public libraries have experimented with different comms and different ways to share their offerings with their communities. The “Unusual Library Things” infographic, that visualised resources or services available in libraries across the world, was a great way of articulating libraries’ role in community building and lifelong learning. To launch their Inspiration Lab with its fabulous digital equipment and opportunities to build technical skills, Vancouver Public Library (Canada) strategised their communications as stories and creation. Their experimentation with live-tweeting and live streaming, bus shelter advertisements, digital signage, and beautifully designed physical advertising material was effective and award winning. Closer to home, New Zealand’s Invercargill City Libraries joyously engages with their communities through creative social media approaches that shine a very big light on their lifelong learning model. Do you remember their Kardashians riff of “Keeping up with the Librarians”? While Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries, took a personalised and incredibly effective path to reaching out to their senior community and connecting them to services and resources they needed. They got on the phone and called them. The communication impact of this approach was pretty clear – being interviewed by Leigh Sales, a these “legends are Librarians at Yarra Plenty Library” shout out by the Victorian Premier, and a jump in public awareness about how diverse and responsive to community our public libraries are. These are just a few examples of fabulous ways libraries can build awareness of their learning services.  

Academic librarian roles increasingly include teaching responsibilities

Academic libraries are often considered the heart of the university, central to the learning, teaching and research endeavours. Although we have strong service delivery and facilities management, modern academic libraries also prioritise pedagogical offerings and outcomes. In fact, academic libraries have moved beyond tentative concepts of contributing to student learning or as supporting learning. As Corrall and Jolly (2020) make clear, libraries and librarians have a major role to play in learning and teaching. Pedagogical principles underpin academic library services and engagement. Our information and digital literacy focused learning materials are amazing; and our librarians are wonderful teachers. What we haven’t done as successfully is make clear that librarians have an active, informed role in teaching and learning. We have a tendency to focus on the services, our collections, the spaces and equipment we provide. We are less adventurous in marketing librarians as teachers and libraries as learning hubs. Perhaps this emerges as an unconscious reflection of the contested and questioned role of librarians as teachers (Wheeler & McKinney, 2015)? 

People can debate whether librarians are teachers or not, but what we do know is that that people want to learn when they come to the library. And if people want to learn, everyone wins if that learning is well-designed.

As a learning and teaching focused team for Deakin Library, we have grappled with how to articulate and contextualise what we do. We found that teaching staff were often surprised that we run sessions on digital identity or offer digital literacy curricula mapping. Some of our library’s best teaching approaches and outcomes were also our best-kept secrets and we wanted to get the word out.

But how to do this? We spent time as a team discussing what we do and how we frame it.

Deakin Librarians work to develop the digital fluency and knowledges of our community, both staff and students. We do this through good learning design, which is not in most people’s conception of what it means to be a librarian, or what libraries offer. But it does make sense: if libraries exist to build communities and facilitate lifelong learning, there are knowledges and skills people in communities can develop to meet their goals. That’s where we come in.

We then needed to consider how we could shape a teaching identity for Deakin Library. That’s why we developed a ‘Working with teaching staff’ webpage rounding up our most impactful ways to partner with academics at Deakin. We knew that academics were unlikely to serendipitously find and explore this pitch page. Instead, we aimed for Liaisons to use this resource in their conversations and communications with academics, with explicit language around learning design and teaching capacities. To further support this self-framing, our team concurrently redesigned a whole suite of web resources focused on teaching needs. Again, rather than relying on our community stumbling across the messaging and learning materials, we proactively promoted it through both our Deakin Library blog (Article) and the broader university blog (Network).

Screenshot of Deakin Library teaching resources page, with resources grouped under headings.

Like all communications, there is room for improvement and changes. Continued conversations and putting new ideas on the board is needed. However, the value of consciously promoting our Librarians as teachers and continuing to self-frame as active in learning experiences is immeasurable.

We leave you with two questions – how do you frame yourself as a teacher and how do you communicate that identity? And we challenge you to put your teacher statement into the discussion space below.

References:

Corrall, S., & Jolly, L. (2019). Innovations in learning and teaching in academic libraries: Alignment, collaboration, and the social turn.

Wheeler, E., & McKinney, P. (2015). Are librarians teachers? Investigating academic librarians’ perceptions of their own teaching skills. Journal of Information Literacy, 9(2), 111–128.