The following is a guest post by Barrie Howard, IT Project Manager at the Library of Congress.
This interview is part of a series about digital preservation training inspired by the Library’s Digital Preservation Outreach & Education (DPOE) Program. Today’s interview is with Sam Meister, University of Montana-Missoula, who is a DPOE Train-the-Trainer Workshop instructor and is also an instructor for the Society of American Archivists Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) Curriculum and Certificate Program.
Barrie: Sam, you attended the inaugural DPOE Train-the-Trainer Workshop in Washington, DC, correct? Can you tell the readers about your experience and how you and others have benefited as a result?
Sam: I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural DPOE Train-the-trainer workshop in September 2011, very soon after I began my position as Digital Archivist at the University of Montana. This was a very valuable and timely opportunity as the experience kick-started my thinking and practice around digital preservation in the context of my new institutional setting.
When I recall the experience of those two days in September I think of a group of professionals who were excited and energized, eager to learn how they could play a role in sharing and building community of digital preservation knowledge around the United States. While some of us were coming to the workshop with less professional experience than others there was a feeling of collaboration and mutual benefit and respect amongst all of the participants. Additionally, we had an amazing opportunity to learn directly from leading experts and practitioners in the digital preservation field. The two workshop days were filled with exercises, conversations and debate, and by the end I felt ready to return to my corner of the country and share my new knowledge and skills with others in my region.
I feel I have benefited from my experience in a few different ways. Through workshops sponsored by the Montana Historical Society I have been able to present the DPOE curriculum to representatives from multiple cultural heritage organizations around the state of Montana. The workshop opportunities provided an opportunity to better understand the particular needs and concerns of smaller institutions, grounding and solidifying the importance of educational materials such as DPOE to encourage and empower individuals to take some action now, even if small. Additionally, I believe that education is integral to the sustainability of digital preservation, whether that is at a small historical society or a national digital preservation network. The DPOE experience has provided me with a set of materials and approaches to continue to further my own educational activities in the digital preservation arena.
Barrie: Since becoming an official DPOE Trainer, you’ve taught SAA DAS courses and helped revise the DPOE Workshop Curriculum. Did your DPOE training inform the development of the SAA DAS course(s) you teach?
Sam: Yes, my DPOE training definitely informed my approach to teaching in the SAA DAS program. There is some crossover in the type of audience, made up of professionals who have been in the field, but may be in the beginning stages of developing and implementing local solutions for the long-term management of digital content. In that way, I have drawn from my experiences teaching DPOE workshops and applied this in the SAA DAS settings.
I would say that the approaches I have utilized have more to do with form and structure rather than the course content itself. In a one- to two-day workshop setting with around 20 people there is an opportunity to find a balance between presenting the course content and making room for a more conversational atmosphere. I have found that workshop participants desire real-world examples of the concepts that they are learning about, so I attempt to ground the course materials in my own experiences as a digital archivist. This may sometimes lead to slightly tangential conversations, but often these end up being very valuable to attendees.
Some of the desired outcomes for either the DPOE program or the SAA DAS courses are to instill in the participants the skills, knowledge and confidence to return to their institutions and start doing something, even if small, to tackle the digital preservation challenges they face. Learning about how others have dealt with similar situations helps to strengthen and build this confidence.
Barrie: Have you developed any other training materials from the DPOE Curriculum?
Sam: I have started developing a set of training materials drawing from the DPOE Curriculum that could be utilized in a workshop or training event on personal digital archiving. I’m in the early stages of developing these materials, but am excited about the potential of the DPOE Curriculum applying to this type of audience.
Barrie: Regarding training opportunities, what do you think are the strengths and challenges of traditional in-person learning environments versus distance learning options?
Sam: To date, I have only presented training opportunities for in-person settings, so I can speak to my experience as instructor in that regard. As a student, I have had experiences with both traditional and distance learning environments. Drawing on my experience as both an instructor and a student I would say that one of the challenges in a distance learning setting is creating an environment for meaningful exchange and dialogue between the students and instructor and amongst the students themselves.
While digital preservation as a subject may not be post-structuralism or philosophy, I have found that the opportunities for direct and immediate exchange, whether as an entire group, small groups, or as pairs, clearly benefit students by allowing for a deeper engagement with new, unfamiliar and seemingly abstract concepts. As an instructor, I know what parts of the course content may be difficult, and I can sense via body language or facial expressions if I need to spend additional time on a particular section to clarify. Additionally, as an audience that is primarily practicing professionals, the sense of community and support that results from attendance at in-person workshops is a very valuable outcome that will be of assistance well after they return to their particular institutions.
That said, digital preservation is a global challenge, and distance learning technology is steadily advancing to improve the experience of both instructors and students. While at this time we may not be able to fully replicate the in-person setting in an online environment, we should continue to make any and all efforts to expand the knowledge and skills needed to develop sustainable digital preservation solutions around the globe.
Barrie: What are your plans as a digital preservation training instructor for 2015?
Sam: I’m looking forward to an initial opportunity to participate as a instructor in a train-the-trainer workshop sometime in 2015 to help educate a new set of trainers to expand the digital preservation education network even further.