As the Director of a small museum and through my work with similarly small-sized nonprofits, I wear many hats and need to know a little bit about a lot of things. This need is particularly true in the area of digital technology and social media where I have come to rely on resources such as Heather Mansfield’s Nonprofit Tech for Good website and her books that I have reviewed.
In addition to developing a social media strategy, I also need the skills necessary to implement the plan. I tend to get this type of technical support by Googling the need. I am often frustrated to find instructions that assume starting skills beyond my level of expertise. I value a step-by-step approach that assumes little substantive prior knowledge of the process. This week, I found two resources that are excellent examples of that type of instruction.
The Hour of Code
I know nothing about computer programming, but have always thought I should. As blog creation and other digital processes become more drag and drop, that need is less pronounced, but I do find situations where knowing code or language is either necessary or at least very helpful. For example, on another blog I write/manage, The Ancash Advocate, posts are bilingual and require inserting anchor points to jump between the Spanish and English translations. This process requires entering the text editor and inserting html code. A colleague performed this task initially. For the past year, I simply copied the bit of code they created and inserted the different titles into my subsequent posts. I did not know the meaning of what I copied but simply played around with it until I got it to work.
When I have Googled and looked for training, I found an html for Dummies book. At over 1000 pages the book was a lot more than I wanted. But last week I got an email from Khan Academy marketing their participation in the global Hour of Code project. The idea is that if you invest one hour in the process you will learn something about coding. On the Hour of Code webpage tab one could “Learn how to make webpages with HTML tags and CSS, finishing up by making your very own greeting card.” The age grade for the hour was listed as 8 and up, so I figured I would understand the presentation. Through instructional video and real-time input, within one hour, the code I used for the bilingual anchors on the Ancash Advocate blog was explained. I learned the meaning of the html coding I had done by rote. Further, at the end of the one hour exercise I was linked to another Kahn Academy page for more training on html and related css coding, if I so desired.
Here is the bottom line on this experience. For a cost of $0.00 (although donations to Kahn Academy are certainly accepted – which I recommend) and one hour of my time, I learned more about html coding than in my previous efforts over the years. In a very straight forward approach, mysteries about coding were resolved. The 8 year plus age-grade proved ideal for me. This experience reminded me of the brick wall I hit when taking genetics in a Biology for Majors class during my undergraduate days. I overcame that problem by reviewing the All About Book on Heredity that my mother bought me when I was in grade school. Starting with the very basics proved essential then and now.
A second example of implementing technical skills is a Photoshop tutorial I came across this week. The 10-point tutorial covered many of the Photoshop skills that my students or staff who are often just getting their feet wet in the software typically need to know. The tutorial also links to the Marketers Crash Course in Visual Content Creation download – a very useful introduction to best practices in the visuals of website and digital content creation.
The Good and the Bad of Quick Intros
The perspective offered by individuals such as Andrew Keen in his book The Cult of The Amateur likely think little of the types of resources I discuss above. Their objection is that these simple resources provide folks with the basic tools to edit code, work with photos and so forth without a rigorous and complete training in the area, thus letting the amateurs run amok. And fair enough, a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous, but also useful. Part of the learning process is knowing the limitations that a bit knowledge brings.
Having taken the Kahn Hour of Code, I am anxious to complete the rest of the introductory course on html and css coding. In addition to understanding the anchor points I create for bilingual posts, I also see how several formatting issues that have bedeviled me for years on this blog are readily resolved with some simple html code adjustments. In this regard, I come back to my opening statement for this post – as the Director of a small museum, I wear many hats and need to perform a diversity of tasks that in larger institutions might be the responsibility of an IT or social media specialist. I do not have that luxury or the funds to outsource the work. Kahn Academy and other training discussed in this post form a valuable part of my small museum toolkit that allows me to function efficiently and effectively with limited resources.
What online training helps you to do your job?