17 November, 2016: Learning to Code: The role of Communities of Practice to support Digital Literacies

This webinar, Learning to Code: The role of Communities of Practice to support Digital Literacieswas produced by Digital Literacies ANZ, a community of practice for professionals across Australia and New Zealand to share, learn and have ongoing conversations about digital literacies.  Matthew Davis, from the University of Sydney Library, presented the webinar.

In his presentation, Davis discussed:

  • the background and rationale of teaching library staff to code
  • the establishment of a community of practice as an approach to professional development
  • starting a Community of Practice
  • lessons learned from the experience.

Davis raised interesting points about the way learning programming extends the definition of creation in the ALA definition of digital literacy, and moves people towards being a participant, rather than only a consumer.  This statement reminded me of the philosophy of the current maker movement, which has a creator ethos. Davis discussed advantages of learning to code in providing library staff with an understanding of programming language which can allow conversations to occur between technical staff and library staff.  The intention is not for librarians to create programs, but to assist them with understanding and communicating with technical professionals.  Learning to code can allow library staff to assist with website redesign; i.e. making text more readable on a webpage by adding headings, hyperlinks, or bulleted lists.   Davis talked about how learning to code can help develop computational thinking, providing a different way to solve problems.

Davis’ idea of developing a community of practice (COP) in the library in the form of a coding club was to help meet professional development requirements.  Membership of the community of practice was voluntary. Codecademy, a free website offering coding tutorials, was used as the basis for the coding lessons.  Regular meeting times were established to discuss lessons, with an expectation that members would independently work through lessons.  Davis found that membership of the club waned over time, and the COP needed a leader to continually drive the process.  Upon review of the program, he implemented a virtual discussion group using Yammer, and found that this was a key tool in supporting the development of the community of practice.

I found this webinar really interesting.  I love the idea of being able to write simple code for websites.  I think that this skill would be valuable in any librarian role I have in the future in which I have the ability to do minor webpage editing.  This was a role carried out by a librarian at the Rockhampton Regional Library.  She was able to update the online library catalogue with the library’s new releases and current events.  We were introduced to HTML in IFN616 – Online Information Services, but did not do CSS.  I think continuing to develop skills using HTML, and learning CSS is the next step for me in learning to code.  Davis introduced free tools (codecademy) in his presentation that I had heard of, but not used myself, so my intention is to try out Codecademy, and develop my coding skills.  I can also take away Davis’ lessons learned in developing a community of practice should I attempt to implement one, or participate in one, in any future role I have as a librarian.

Image attribution:

Screen Computer Computer Code Monitor, by Max Pixel FreeGreatPicture.com, CC0 Public Domain.


26 September, 2016: Digital literacies in professional practice – continuing development

This 1-hour webinar, Digital literacies in professional practice – continuing development was produced by Digital Literacies ANZ, a community of practice for professionals across Australia and New Zealand to share, learn and have ongoing conversations about digital literacies.  Jane Cowell, Director of Engagement and Partnership, State Library of Queensland, was the presenter.

Jane Cowell began her presentation by talking about the future.  She set the scene for the importance of digital literacy now and into the future by quoting the following statistics:

  • 90% of all future jobs will require digital literacy skills
  • 50% of those will require advanced digital skills

She also quoted a study that found that:

  • 35% of 15 year olds are not digitally literate.

Cowell’s premise is that digital literacy is a mindset, not a set of skills.  She proposes that digital literacy is more than functional IT skills; it is a rich set of digital behaviours that must change across contexts and over time, because technologies are diverse and rapidly changing.

Jane Cowell’s presentation was powerful, motivating and inspiring.  It was a call to action for all librarians to become “digital thinkers”, and accept and adopt digital literacy as a mindset, not a set of skills.  She challenged librarians to continually challenge themselves to stay aware of, and learn new digital tools, so that we know what the tools can do, and can see the opportunities they present.  Cowell challenged librarians to adopt the new business model or die: to build libraries around people and their needs, not around a collection and the collection’s needs.  Cowell called for librarians to “put the oxygen mask on yourself first” (the oxygen mask being digital literacy), before helping others.

However, she cautioned librarians not to do it alone.  Collaboration was key in her presentation.  Collaboration with users to discover what they want and need; collaboration with other librarians to learn, share ideas, create and innovate.  Cowell offered opportunities and ideas for collaboration, including:

  • a “learning happy hour”
  • piloting something, learning, and “failing forward”
  • killing off ideas and iterating, because the first idea won’t be the best
  • sharing what you’ve learned on social media by blogging and tweeting.

The wonderful thing about webinars like these is that they provide a jumping-off point for further learning.  Cowell’s presentation was inspiring, and provided a catalyst for participants to share useful digital learning tools.  I found links from Cowell’s presentation post on Digial Literacies ANZ to:

  • 23 Things for Digital Knowledge, a self-directed program of digital learning that anyone can participate in to learn a wide variety of digital skills and technologies such as blogging, creating a digital footprint, using social media such as Twitter and Facebook, using digital collaboration tools such as Google Hangouts, digital curation, and much more.
  • Library Intelligence, a website created by librarian, Sally Pewhairangi,  which provides online access to short digital learning courses for library staff in Australia and NZ.

It was wonderful to see how willing librarians are to share their knowledge. I am amazed at how many resources are available for librarians to develop their digital literacy mindset.  I plan to work through the 23 Things, although I have a feeling that the subjects I have done within my current studies have covered many, if not most, of the 23 things.  This provides a demonstration of the future focus of the Graduate Diploma in Information Science I have just completed at QUT, in equipping future librarians with comprehensive digital literacy skills, and teaching us not to be afraid of technology. I have no doubt that I have received an excellent grounding in digital literacy during my course of study, and know that I will always be able to access continuing development in digital literacy now that I know about communities of practice such as Digital Literacies ANZ.

18 May, 2016: Digital Skills for Older Adults: Teaching Technology in Public Libraries

This 1-hour webinar, Digital Skills for Older Adults: Teaching Technology in Public Libraries, was produced by TechSoup for Libraries, a non-profit organisation that provides technology, resources and support to libraries and non-profit organisations.  TechSoup for libraries is a great professional development resource as it has an extensive archive of webinars that can be viewed for free, as well as articles and how-to guides to technology.  Guest speakers on this webinar included Steve Black, from TechBoomers, a free website that offers website and app tutorials directed at older people; and Kathy Faubion, from St Mary’s County Library, who provided tips and program ideas for teaching technology to older adults.

This webinar introduced me to new free sources of digital literacy resources targeted at older people, and those with limited digital literacy skills, such as TechBoomers, DigitalLearn.org, GCFLearnFree.org and Denver Public Library Technology classes.  TechBoomers, which was the main focus of the webinar I viewed, was interesting because its main focus was on teaching people how to use very popular websites and apps such as Skype, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon and eBay.  I think this may be a point of difference for TechBoomers, as many digital literacy classes focus on basic computer use, email and the internet, but few focus in such a targeted way on applications such as the ones I just mentioned.  Black also spoke about the importance of having library “partners”, and actively encouraged libraries to use TechBoomers’ courses for their own digital literacy and technology classes.

Kathy Faubion provided valuable insights into the teaching side of digital literacy for older people.  She noted that more and more older people are required to use the internet and the Web for basic needs; e.g. tax or social security.  Faubion challenged assumptions that people might hold about older people; e.g. that they are unable to learn technology.  Faubion discussed using a variety of methods to reach older people to let them know about what is on at the library, including the local newspaper, in the library, online, or by word-of-mouth.  Faubion listed community outreach as another great avenue for connecting with older people.  Faubion provided tips on different ways of working with older people, including one-on-one, small classes, a series of lessons; and discussed the importance of keeping statistics and evaluating programs.

The value of this webinar was in the sharing of information about free resources to use in creating and running digital literacy programs, and practical tips on actually running the classes.  PD events such as this are useful for any new librarian starting out in digital literacy instruction for older people.  It is useful to know that you don’t need to develop teaching materials from scratch, but can look at resources which have already been developed, and use them as is, or modify them to fit your needs, and the needs of your users.

14 February, 2017 – 6 March, 2017: Mature Matrix: Library Services for Seniors

Mature Matrix: Library Services for Seniors was a 3-week course offered by ALIA in partnership with Sydney TAFE.  It was provided completely online, through Moodle, a commonly used learning management system in educational institutions.  The course aimed to help participants understand the characteristics and needs of older people, the services that are available to them in the community, and how to develop and implement targeted library programs, services and collections for older people.  The course was aimed at people working in public libraries.

I don’t work in a public library, so I thought that I might have some difficulty completing the course.  I have recently completed a 2-week placement in a public library, however, which I found extremely beneficial to my ability to participate effectively in the course. The course content was more meaningful for me having had experiences of adult programming in my library placement; e.g. the home delivery service, the community technology classes, and the lively knitters.  Having said that, the strength of the learning materials and resources with which we were provided was such that I am sure a person who was not working in a public library would still have been able to participate effectively.

The course content consisted of three topics, released weekly, and participants worked through the material and tasks at their own pace.  There were frequent reassurances from the facilitators to let people know that the material would be accessible after the official end-date of the course, as many joined the course late.  I found that I fell behind during the course because we had house guests for 2 consecutive weekends which took away my time to work on the course; so it was a relief to know that the materials would still be available post-end date.  It was wonderful that the course was so flexible; important for adult learners with jobs, families and other commitments.

Course requirements were clear from the outset, and participants knew what was required of them to achieve a certificate upon completion.  In order to ensure that participants were engaging with the learning materials, tasks were set and participant submissions were uploaded to the relevant forum on Moodle.  It was made clear that submissions would not be graded; participation (as evidenced by submissions to Moodle) was the key requirement.  The fact that the submissions were not graded was a great relief to me.  I find it difficult to get started on something if I know it is going to be graded.  I tend to procrastinate and spend too much time worrying if my submission is good enough.  As a result, I found this experience quite liberating – I could just get in and start (which I did).

I thought this course was excellent, and I got a lot out of it.  I feel like I learned a lot, and have come away with many practical ideas and resources to assist me in future work with older people in a public library.  I will do more ALIA professional development activities in the future.

You’ve got a makerspace…now where’s your maker?

We discussed makerspaces in libraries in our Twitter chat #ifn614makechat  on Monday night.  It was a lively conversation! We talked a lot about whether the library is the right place for a makerspace, with many agreeing that if there was a community need, and it could be related to the parent body’s strategic plan, then yes, a makerspace should be a priority for the library to enable access to technology that many in the community would otherwise not be able to access; e.g. see Katie Ferguson’s tweet.

Not everyone agreed that the library was the right place for a makerspace; e.g. Sharee Cordes suggesed that creativity might be better supported by the art gallery.  Sharee Cordes went further to comment that if libraries were going to provide makerspaces, why only offer technology, and not also offer resources to support people’s interest in more traditional maker pastimes such as pottery?

It appeared to be a controversial issue, and so I wanted to find out what is currently happening in makerspaces in Australian libraries.  A web search on “libraries makerspaces” brought up a list of relevant results on the first page – 50% of the search results on the first page were from Australia, showing that makerspaces are indeed emerging in public libraries in Australia.


Screen shot of Google search results, retrieved 22 September, 2016.

One of the results was a link to a slideshare presentation by Slatter and Howard (2013) about makerspaces in public libraries. This led me to read their article, A place to make, hack and learn: makerspaces in Australian public libraries (2013)In their article, Slatter and Howard stated that many Australian libraries have adapted their programming models to incorporate makerspaces.  They observed that the general consensus of the literature was largely supportive of the library makerspace movement, although some opponents existed: e.g. See Hugh Rundle’s post from 2013  for an alternative viewpoint.

Slatter and Howard also noted that most of the research into makerspaces is from the United States and that there was little research on makerspaces in Australia. In their qualitative study, Slatter and Howard looked at makerspaces in Australian public libraries, interviewing a small sample of 3 information professionals who had set up, or were in the process of setting up makerspaces in their libraries.  They identified benefits, challenges and identified some possible strategies.

The search results from the United States showed how much further along they are with the development of makerspaces in libraries.  See Sharona Ginsberg’s website, which is a resource guide on the subject of makerspaces, maker culture, and 3D printing in libraries in the USA, and visit Maker Bridge,  the online community Ginsberg has created for people interested in the maker movement in schools and libraries. I read 3 articles on Maker Bridge, and each one highlighted an issue I hadn’t yet thought of.

A quote from this blog post resonated with me: “Makers make makerspaces”, bringing home the fact that libraries need to consider how they will acquire and sustain the expertise to make the most of their makerspace.  After dealing with budgetary considerations, resistance to change and proving the relevance of the makerspace, a library may well be able to provide the space and the equipment, but the programming and technical expertise considerations are significant.  As librarians, we must know our limitations. If we don’t have the skills, or the time to acquire the skills to use the equipment, and develop effective programming to teach the community, the equipment will not be utilised to its best capacity.  Does an unused makerspace represent value for money?  What consequences will this have for the relationship between the library, the community, parent bodies and funding bodies?  The issue of funding ongoing technical expertise will need to be carefully considered, and factored into budgets in order to create sustainable library makerspaces that will serve their communities into the future.

Digital exclusion – what is it and what can we do about it?

Digital Divide #4

Digital Divide #4, by Barry Dahl (CC BY 2.0)

On Monday night, the IFN614 class engaged in a thought-provoking and wide-ranging Twitter chat  on Information and digital literacy, which spanned many issues from digital exclusion to e-safety, to how much technological knowledge librarians should have.  The issue that resonated most with me, and which will be the focus of this post, was digital exclusion, and the risks it carries to individuals’ ability to participate in everyday life, as increasingly, services are moving online.

In answer to the first question of the evening “Why are information and digital literacy programs important?” I commented that:

More everyday and essential services are being moved online (Medicare, Centrelink, banking, looking for a new house)”.

This prompted a number of replies, including:

“@micheleas Wow, that is so true! Hadn’t even thought of that!” (Stephanie Harland)

“@micheleas so true! Lack of tech/ability to use it can mean being cut off from the outside world” (Katie Ferguson)

“@micheleas good point. It’s just essential” (Neil David McNaught)

“@micheleas So true! I often wonder how older people navigate essential services that seem nearly exclusively online” (Michelle Dare)

These replies highlight how access to technology and the skills to use technology is seen as essential in today’s society; pointing out the risk of being excluded from society, and also pointing out specific issues that some populations, e.g. older people, might have in accessing essential services if they are only offered online.  Kate Davis continued the conversation, specifically around government services moving online:

“Government services are moving online. What does that mean for people who aren’t technology literate?” (Kate Davis)

“@katiedavis they can’t really access those services” (Neil David McNaught)

“@katiedavis moving services online mean they are harder to access for ppl without access, or knowhow” (Michele Smith)

“@nlmcnght @katiedavis or it takes them forever to deal with things as they have to call or physically go to a govt branch” (Jasmine Darlington-R)

“@nlmcnght @katiedavis or they hope they can still access via older methods – or learn new tech to use those services” (Nura Firdawsi)

“@micheleas i feel like it’s a good way to further marginalise the already marginalised…” (Kate Davis)

“with governments movement, illiterate people will lose a lot of opportunities, employment for example.” (Ibtisam Al siyabi)

“Education and employment opportunities are online too. how do you apply for a job these days? online.” (Rebecca Mutch)

These responses highlighted the disadvantage and marginalisation faced by people who do not have technological skills.  Neelie Kroes, former Vice President of the European Commission, speaks persuasively about the importance of information technology skills, and  describes internet access as a utility that must be accessible to everyone, to prevent digital exclusion.  Ms Kroes describes the implications of digital exclusion as “exclusion from information, economic opportunity, social contact, health, education and government services”, and highlights that those most at risk of digital exclusion are often at risk of exclusion due to other factors, such as being elderly, less educated or poor.

Scott Ewing, a Senior Research Fellow at Swinburne University of Technology, writing for The Conversation in Feb 2016, discusses the digital divide in Australia, and reports on an ABS study examining the household use of information technology in Australia (2014-15)  which revealed that there are still a full 1.3 million households (14%) without internet access in Australia; and that you are more likely to have no internet access, and not be an internet user if you are from a low-income household, are less educated, unemployed, or over 55.  Jaeger, Thompson, Bertot, Subramaniam and Taylor (2014) in their book Digital Literacy and Digital Inclusion, also include people with a disability, and people in rural areas, as those who are likely to be digitally excluded.

Digital exclusion is a social justice issue. Everyone should be able to participate in, and reap the benefits of today’s information and technology rich society in every way; financially, socially, and educationally.  I think that libraries have a primary role in addressing this issue, are well-positioned to do it, and are in fact, already getting on with the job.  Jaeger et al, state that American public libraries are important providers of digital inclusion and literacy, providing physical, intellectual, and social access for members, and Australian libraries also provide these services.

During the twitter chat, there was a rich outpouring of ideas about the types of products, programs and services libraries could offer to support information and digital literacy, ensuring that programs were user-centred, and people had a reason to engage with them.  Many people discussed the need for programs to teach people how to use different kinds of technology; how to use applications such as the internet, email and social media.  e-safety emerged as an important issue to address in the provision of internet programs.  Targeted research and information literacy programs were also suggested. Others advocated for services such as free access to the internet and computers, and technology/device loans.

I am optimistic that with knowledge of the issue of digital exclusion, we, as future information professionals, will be motivated to implement appropriate programs, products and services, informed by user needs, to address the issue at a local level in our own communities and libraries.  However, Jaeger et al also point out that budget cuts and the possibility of library privatisation puts the provision of public library services at risk, so a broader advocacy of the need for digital literacy and digital inclusion for the benefit of all people is also required; through national and international library associations, human rights associations, the World Health Organisation, government and industry.

My Tech Learning Journey

I have so much to say about my experiences and learning in IFN612 this semester that it is hard to know where to start. So perhaps I will start at the end and say straight up that I think this may well have been the best subject I have ever done – a big call, I know, but there it is.

On Expectations and engagement:

I learned so much, and had the opportunity to play with a lot of technologies I would not have thought to explore on my own; e.g. editing Wikipedia, or making an infographic. Who would actually do that, unless, for example, it was set as a task in a university course? And this was deep learning, too, involving hours of my time immersed in these activities. I edited Wikipedia for so long, I didn’t get out of my pjs all day!

And I would never have found out about:

And I would never have come to terms with the phrase “personal brand”.

Now I might go back to the start, and think about what I was and wasn’t looking forward to in Week 1. I am sure I had a whole host of worries (because that’s what I do – I worry… a lot. I have had help for it though; so I guess you could say I am a recovering worrier, still subject to the occasional relapse). I was probably worried that:

  • I wouldn’t be able to do the play activities
  • I wouldn’t “get” the emerging technologies
  • I would be forced to join up with another social network that I had no wish to belong to
  • I wouldn’t be able to do the blogs
  • I wouldn’t be able to meet the community participation requirement
  • I wouldn’t be able to do the persona poster

But what was I looking forward to? (This may be a shorter list than my list of worries)

  • And, so it is. I can’t remember what I was looking forward to.

Well, as you can see from my first paragraph (that IFN612 was the best subject ever), the reality of the subject certainly exceeded my worried expectations. (I guess it wouldn’t have been hard to do that).

On the learning environment and assessment:

The learning environment worked for me.  This is what I liked:

  • I felt like this subject worked really well for online students.
  • I liked the mix of fortnightly lectures and workshops and the online learning resources and learning activities to do in our own time.
  • I thought that the learning resources provided good coverage of the topics and issues presented.
  • I loved the variety of resources, especially the video resources, as I could fold washing or do ironing while viewing.
  • I liked that there was always a variety of play and reflect activities to choose from. There were some that I would have liked to try, but didn’t get to (e.g. MOOCs – I have downloaded Coursera, just waiting until I have a bit more time to explore and enrol in something)
  • I liked the balance between practical tasks and thinking tasks.
  • I liked that the tasks we spent most of our time on, i.e. the play and reflect activities and blogging about them, made up the bulk of our assessment.

This is what I didn’t like:

  • I don’t know whether it was WordPress or my lousy internet connection, but WordPress takes forever to load on our computers at home, and sometimes loads only partially or not at all.
  • Group assignments:  difficult for all students, but I feel that there are additional barriers for online students, particularly when you don’t know anyone else in the course.  After doing some research on issues arising in distributed / virtual teams (for the group assignment, ironically enough), I found that Jang (2013)  cited the development of trust as essential to collaborative work. Trust develops with repeated interactions between participants, and lack of physical proximity makes it much harder for virtual team members to communicate and coordinate with team members and build the necessary trust relationship to collaborate well.

I collaborate willingly in my work life, with people I know and trust, who know me.  I know their strengths and weaknesses, and we work together just fine because I know these things. But it took time to develop those relationships. It is difficult to put people together who don’t know each other, and expect them to work together successfully.

That’s how I feel about online group work as a university student, but I do understand that it is probably considered an important learning outcome for graduates, and an important component in gaining accreditation for the course overall. I did have to do group work in my first degree as well.

These are minor criticisms. Overall, the positives of the unit far outweighed the negatives.

On challenging activities:

I found that designing the infographic was definitely the most challenging play activity I did. I didn’t set out to do the most challenging task; in fact I thought it was going to be easy.  I only found out after I was committed to the task that I was sadly mistaken. Despite the difficulty of the task, I was successful in the end, and I felt a real sense of achievement for wrestling with PiktoChart and coming out victorious. I felt like I really benefited from the experience, and learned a lot. You can read about my experience here: Playing with Infographics.

Another activity that I found really challenging was Week 2’s Reflect Activity, in which I tried to work out who I am and who I want to be online. Did I have a digital footprint? No. Did I want one? Maybe, but I’m not ready yet. There is still a lot l have to think about and work out – how much am I prepared to share online, and what will remain private? I am fairly confident that my personal online identity will remain private, but what of my professional identity?  Will I have separate professional identities for Michele Smith – Speech Pathologist, and Michele Smith – student / fledgling Information professional?  I am still working these things out. As I said in my blog post that week, “You can’t rush the evolution”. It will be an ongoing, developmental process.

One good thing to come out of my Week 2 reflection is that I have had a turn-around on the concept of “personal brand”.  I had a real issue with the concept, as the meanings I associated with “personal brand” were about selling yourself, promoting a product or business, and presenting something slick, commercial, and to my mind, fake.  Now that I have thought about it a bit more, I’m coming to an understanding of “personal brand” as the way you present your professional identity online.  Because you do need to think about how you are going to present yourself online, and you do need to spend time constructing that professional online identity.

I probably still won’t use the term, “personal brand”, because there is the risk that others will have the commercial product marketing meaning in their minds (as I did).  Perhaps it needs to be renamed “Professional brand”. I think I would be more comfortable with that. (I thought I just came up with “Professional brand”, but as soon as I googled it, a blog came up from Alison Doyle “How to create a professional brand”, so I can’t claim to be the first in line to come up with that gem. Are any thoughts original anymore? )

Ethical issues of the information age:

I found that the ethical issues of accuracy and access most resounded with me this semester, and I did think about these issues a lot. I’m not sure why I’m not as bothered about privacy and property.


Misinformation on the internet was the aspect of accuracy I found most powerful, and a bit scary, particularly in terms of the rise and rise of pseudoscience, and the psychological effects of confirmation bias that works to prevent people changing their misinformed beliefs.  I don’t believe that information literacy skills will help to change misinformed beliefs that people hold very closely, due to their distrust of science and expert opinion, or confirmation bias.


I thought that access was an important ethical issue, too, and mainly considered access to technology and the internet, rather than who has access to our information. As Kathleen pointed out to us, it’s not all about the advantages that the bright and shiny new tech will bring; the digital divide / digital exclusion is everywhere there is disadvantage, including here in Australia, a first-world country where most of us have a fantastic standard of living, but where almost 4 million of us are not online.

There are several aspects to the ability to access technology and online content:

There’s physical access in terms of people not being able to afford the technology; and also about people with disabilities (e.g. vision, and physical impairments) not being able to interact with the technology and online content because they can’t see it or use the keyboard/input method – it is not in an accessible form for them.)

Another aspect of access is intellectual access:  people may not have the skills to use the technology or access the content due to lack of education, literacy or learning skills, or technological skills.  I discussed the issues surrounding access in my “Playing with Infographics” blog.

Digital exclusion brings me to Manuell Castell’s theory of “informational capitalism”, particularly his words about countries and communities being excluded from participating in the global economy because they lack the infrastructure (social, cultural, educational, technological, and physical) to support the development of information technology to enable them to participate in the global economy.  This has the effect of delaying their development, and keeping them disadvantaged, poor and excluded.  I liked his wish for a “global solidarity” to bring everyone along to share the benefits of the information age.  I would love to see that happen.

Final words and thanks

I really enjoyed “The Game”, so thank you Katya for facilitating the activities for us.

And thanks Kathleen for providing us with so much engaging, current content. I was surprised how often something we had just covered in lectures and learning activities came up in the news the following week. You were really on the mark!

Reflection on my user research and persona creation.

Before studying this unit, I had never analysed my own use of technologies, or attempted to ask myself why I used the technology I do.  I simply took it for granted as part of life.  It is surprising how little time we spend in wonderment at the technology we use; a sure indicator of the pervasiveness of technology in our life.  There is very little, “Wow – how cool is that!”, and a lot of, “What can this do for me?” In my Quantified Self post, I analysed and discussed my health and fitness tracking, but I had still not examined or questioned my other uses of technology.  Doing this persona creation project allowed me to examine those other usages.

What did I learn about my own use of technologies?

I was interested to see that four major goals and needs for technology emerged from my user research. I discovered that I use technology to:

  • keep up to date professionally, and allow me to work more efficiently
  • make family life simpler, organised, and efficient
  • track, analyse and interpret my health and fitness data
  • keep in touch with distant family.

Family Organisation tools:

The need I was most fascinated with, and the one I will spend a bit of time discussing now, is the role of technology in my organisation of family life.  The use of organisational technologies in family life is essential to me, and I could not get by without them; specifically, Google calendar and Gmail.

I populate Google calendar with every possible thing we might need to remember; such as:

The obvious:

  • birthdays, public holidays, school holidays, uni holidays, student-free days, doctor’s appointments, children’s sports, etc.

My own activities and events, such as:

  • running schedule
  • what week of uni I am up to
  • when assignments are due
  • when lectures are on (I could forget).

I also populate down to the fine minutiae such as:

  • which uniform each child needs to wear each day (sports or day)
  • what day homework and library books needs to be returned (different for each child!)
  • what days swimming is on so togs are not forgotten
  • when we need to put out the recycling bin (really – this appears as a recurring, fortnightly appointment!)
  • what days I am picking up the kids from school.
  • When to start online shopping for Christmas (this appears in my calendar as “begin online research for assignment” because my daughter can see everything in my calendar).

Google calendar screenshot

(Do you think October is too late to start online shopping for Christmas?)

I share my calendar with my husband and daughter (my daughter has a strong need to know what is going on in the family), so all appointments can be seen (hence the camouflage for the Christmas shopping). My calendar is available across all my/our devices (phone, tablet, iPad, computer) so that notifications are always received, and appointments, activities and reminders are not forgotten: for example, Google Calendar notifications received to my phone this evening (for tomorrow) include:

  • “Ben sports uniform”phone_google notif_screenshot
  • “Emma show and tell – insects”
  • “8km run”

When I organise appointments, I “cc” my husband in to email correspondence with teachers; and even send calendar invites to my husband for parent-teacher interviews, birthday parties, and other activities.

I have found that if something is not in my calendar, it doesn’t happen.   Occasionally (very occasionally), this beautiful system might break down, due to user error. We had an example of this a couple of weeks ago, when my husband arranged a parent-teacher interview with my daughter’s teacher, told me when it was, and left it at that. Well, he assures me that he told me when it was, but I don’t remember him telling me.  Anyway, the appointment did not go into my calendar, and we missed the interview. Of course, we are now “bad parents”.  But that’s ok.  I don’t really mind if the teacher has low expectations of us.

My life is in my calendar. Sharing of my calendar enables other family members to know what is going on without me needing to remember to tell them; because the busier I get, the worse my memory is.  The more I can take out of my head and put into Google Calendar, the better.  It’s good for my mental health too; it prevents my mind looping around and around trying to remember everything that needs to happen, and worrying that I will forget something. This list of 25 ways to reduce stress and anxiety without medication    places getting organised by using a calendar as no. 2!

How I used my user research to create my persona:

During the creative process, I thought about my persona a lot while I was out running; particularly trying to work out a catchy tag line for her.  I didn’t come up with the “Running to keep up” tag while I was out running, funnily enough.  I couldn’t really get it all straight in my head, and found that I needed to sit down and start writing it all down, to see what emerged.  I started off with personal details and biographical information, and then wrote goals, needs, motivations and frustrations to try to get a sense of who the persona was.  Then I listed everything I could about all the technology I use, across my various roles, both personal and professional.  The poster of course only contains a fraction of what I wrote, and it is still too wordy, although I think I did capture the essence of the persona of “Laura, the busy mum. Running to keep up.”  I think Laura typifies a user that a lot of people would identify with; i.e. working mothers with young children, who need to be super-organised to fit everything in and get everything done.  Laura is not me, but she is based on me.  Laura sounds like she tries too hard, and I feel like I don’t try hard enough.

My understanding of user research and persona creation:

Doing user research using only myself as the subject felt like cheating.  The evidence-based practitioner in me would feel more comfortable with a larger sample size from which to collect and analyse data and come up with groupings and themes based on that representative sample. There is obviously a risk that data from a single subject case study will not be generalisable to the normal population. I could be a “unique snowflake”, in which case, my persona will not be useful as a tool to help understand users.

However, I do feel as if I gained an understanding of the process of user research by engaging in the exercise, and I did find it interesting to create a persona from that user research (even if it was a sample size of 1).  I didn’t do anything very original to come up with the tag-line, “Laura, the busy mum”.  I used this particular tag-line because it carries a lot of meaning in our society, due to its use/overuse in the media, advertising and marketing.  I capitalised on this cultural knowledge and used “Laura, the busy mum” in my poster, because I knew that the phrase had the power to immediately cue people in to whom and what the persona represented. The persona may alienate some, bore or engage others, depending on their political, ideological and philosophical attitudes, their education, race, cultural background, gender, and life experiences.

And I wonder if people are too “savvy” these days to be influenced by a tag-line like “Laura the busy mum”.  Will they just roll their eyes cynically, because the phrase has been so overused in the media? (I know that I have rolled my eyes when I have heard the phrase on yet another baby product commercial). I suppose that is a question that persona developers need to address during persona creation.  But there are genuinely many busy mums out there, so I think this persona has life in it yet.

I do think that much of the power of personas lies within the 3 or 4 word tag-line that is used to conjure in someone’s mind (perhaps a consumer’s mind) an image or sense of a person.  This makes personas a powerful tool in advertising and marketing.

Neilsen (2013) states that personas are also useful in product development, enabling all team members to have a common sense of the person they are designing for, and maintaining the team’s user focus.  However, Neilsen acknowledges that the use of personas is criticised by some who say that their use distances designers from real users.

I think that personas can be powerful and useful, as long as they are based on real data from real users, thus ensuring their credibility.


Nielsen, L., & Books24x7, I. (2013;2011;2012;2015;).Personas: User focused design (1. Aufl.;2013;1; ed.). DE: Springer Verlag London Limited.

Appendix 1. Attribution of images used in Persona Poster

Title Author Source License
My favorite model Mauricio Lima https://www.flickr.com/photos/minhocos/14301568756/ CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Computer Lab icon By PanierAvide (Own work) Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Computer_lab_icon.svg

File URL


CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en
Office room icon By PanierAvide (Own work) Page URL


File URL


CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en
Family -Symbols George Hodan http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=28515 Public domain
Runner pictogram ClkerFreeVectorImages https://pixabay.com/en/runner-pictogram-sport-fast-black-305189/  CC0 Public Domain

Free for commercial use
No attribution required

Conversation dialogue icon Josemiguels https://pixabay.com/en/conversation-dialogue-icon-1262311/  CC0 Public Domain

Free for commercial use
No attribution required

Smartphone icon Sebastiano_Rizzardo https://pixabay.com/en/phone-smatphone-android-vector-804792/ CC0 Public Domain

Free for commercial use
No attribution required

Tablet icon Dave Gandy Page URL


File URL


[CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
USB icon Mobius at en.wikipedia Page URL


File URL


[Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons