October 6, 2015

By K-Fai Steele

Niq Tognoni, of the Nashville Public Library’s YOUmedia Learning Lab Studio NPL, had a question. Their 3D printer had suddenly become very popular, and Niq realized that they didn’t have any policies about its use  - the amount of time a patron could use it, whether patrons would be charged for filament, as well as how to address any legal or copyright issues that might arise. When he searched for a 3D printing policy, he couldn’t find one that addressed day-to-day issues and legal considerations. So he brought his question to the YOUmedia Network Community of Practice discussion forum, and colleagues from libraries and museums began to respond, sharing their best practices and 3D printer informal guidelines, and gradually more questions and discussion threads began to arise.

The YOUmedia Learning Labs Network Community of Practice (“CoP”) is a free, open platform, dedicated to new kinds of thinking about what learning institutions can become in the 21st century. It is a place for any librarian, museum educator, or teacher interested in asking questions from the practical to the theoretical, sharing ideas, accessing and contributing resources, and working collaboratively to solve problems and improve practices. The CoP is managed by the National Writing Project (NWP) in collaboration with the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC).

There are several features that members will find immediately useful upon joining. The discussion forum is the area that Niq used to ask his question to the 150+ members, and can be used to share ideas, reflections, news, and more. The resource bank is the discussion forum’s companion feature, and is an area where members upload, share, and tag specific resources such as links to 3D printing policies that have already been developed by academic libraries. The resource bank has over 100 resources uploaded by members, and sifting through them all can take a lot of time and energy. In response to the desire to keep things easy and efficient, there are two curated resource sections specifically for curriculum and administrative-related resources. These include categorized resources that relate to questions both beginners and more established spaces and practitioners might have about STEM and STEAM activities. 

Other sections of the CoP include a webinar archive, with past webinars featuring various members of the Learning Labs network.  Webinar discussion topics have been as varied as “What are Your Favorite Tools and Materials?” and “How do you recruit and retain youth to your programs?” The site spotlight and its archive give members a glimpse into recent goings-on, events, and big ideas that specific sites are thinking about.

When developing the CoP, it was important to the NWP and ASTC team that the content and design originated from, and responded to the needs of the community. To create a strong connection to the “frontline” facilitator perspective, three Lead Contributors were recruited from sites in the network to coordinate efforts around the CoP’s design and content. These three “LCs” serve for a one-year term, meeting monthly to address site design and content planning. The LCs are AJ Almaguer (TechHive, Lawrence Hall of Science), Matt Baker (The MiX, Science Museum of Virginia), and Sari Widman (Maker Jawn, Free Library of Philadelphia).

The YOUmedia Network Community of Practice has become a place for sharing, learning, and collaboration far beyond the scope of the YOUmedia Learning Labs Network. The CoP team works hard to increase the depth of engagement for all CoP members, and on a more technical level, to make the site as useful and as easy to use as possible. One member wrote, “I use [the CoP] to stay up-to-date with what sorts of programs/questions/ideas other members of the community are working on. I also go there to find programming resources and ideas. I really appreciate that so many members are willing to share what has worked for them.”

Niq received a much larger series of questions and answers in response to his 3D printer policy query; it began conversations about which 3D printers “held up” better than others and the use of 3D printers in general as a teaching tool, which led to a Library Journal article. The YOUmedia Community of Practice emphasizes the word “community” and goes far beyond a website platform. It is a place where questions beget questions, enabling a deeper examination of educational practices and the ways that practitioners learn from each other.

The YOUmedia Learning Labs Network Community of Practice is funded through a generous grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. As an open community, it welcomes all educators and practitioners interested in working and learning alongside colleagues nationally. To join, visit community.youmedia.org/join

K-Fai Steele works for the National Writing Project and is the point person for the YOUmedia Learning Labs Network. She and the CoP team can be reached at youmedia@astc.org