Information Literacy in Cambodia: Training/Workshop Recap

Last weekend I had the extreme pleasure of co-facilitating a workshop on information literacy in Cambodia. For the general overview of the training, you should check out co-coordinator’s Kolap Mao’s summary, and you can view other pages on this blog for access to training materials. Overall I would argue the training experience was very successful, though it did have many challenges.

Spending a Quarter Designing Training

Designing training takes time. It’s actually one of the most difficult skills I’ve worked on, and I’m by no means an expert on it after this quarter, but I’ve seen so many questions and challenges in front of me throughout the training process that it’s one of the most invaluable experiences I’ve seen through. Training takes time because there is so much in assessing the learning needs of a group of people and a cultural landscape that’s potentially endless and you-as-trainer has to have a handle on when to stop.

Learning outcomes need to be established from the get-go and, as we saw multiple times during the design process, sometimes you just don’t know what the outcomes are, because you aren’t entirely sure of your audience, your body of learners. In our case, we were going to be teaching information literacy concepts to library staff throughout Cambodia, staff whose skills and abilities were not certified by certificate, standard educational backgrounds, or pre-determined cultural norms. We did not know who we were instructing (outside of their interest in the library profession), and though all training has its ambiguities in terms of participants, we felt particularly in the dark.

The process of the design started with goals that included first training  (primarily academic) library staff but ultimately training university professors and, even further down the road, university students in general. Like American universities and their own library instruction requirements (where undergrad kids need to visit the library and learn about appropriate research tools and processes during their first term), the Cambodian Library Association seeks to instill a sense of vigilance and vigor by doing the same here in Cambodia. But at this point Cambodia’s far from that goal.

After we figured out our audience, we decided on delivery: creating online training materials and then delivering them through the workshop. It took some figuring out how to best create a workshop and, to be honest, it was a bit last-minute in arranging the training (I believe only three weeks or so in advance was the schedule finalized). In between the time of the workshop and the beginning of the academic quarter, I worked closely with Kolap to figure out what could be taught for IL in Cambodia. It helped that I was learning all about IL through another course (taken at the same time) on IL, taught by Lorraine Bruce.

Kolap was the seer when it came to topical material and the overall scope of content, as she knew the Cambodian culture, particularly the library staff knowledge. She is, after all, the head librarian for PUC, one of the more prominent academic institutions in Phnom Penh. After she provided an outline of needs to be addressed in the training, tools were chosen. Despite being in the same city, most of the work was conducted asynchronously, with me writing content (or using content from authoritative sources) and sharing the work with Kolap via Google Drive and Dropbox. After several degrees of editing, the working draft was complete.

Process-wise, a couple of additional tasks took significant time: 1) finding high quality and low quality student papers to use as examples of research in Cambodia; 2) writing an example paper (which ended up being on LGBT and, unfortunately, was never used in the training due to time constraints) of high quality research; 3) creating a citation guide with example citations of many Cambodian-centric resources; 4) creating an appendix describing many major types of resources. Unfortunately many of these took a significant time (even if some of the info was from cited sources) and may not see any use from the participants. Fortunately it was a great learning experience for me and the first time I’ve been flooded with academic work in some time. After the content was written it totaled over 100 pages, a staggering body of work when considering the 2-month time frame. I still remember being positioned in front of my laptop night after night doing research and trying to keep my head straight through the duration of the training.

The process for uploading the files to this site (which serves as a temporary home until the Cambodian Library Association website is finalized) was straightforward, and preparing the materials (including the Powerpoint) was the last step. There was some minor scuffling and final edits one would expect immediately before the training, but the only imposition standing in the way was the heat and the mosquitoes invading my apartment on a regular, nightly basis. Hot season in Cambodia is treacherous and damaging to the psyche in its choke-hold.

Recapping the Workshop

In the end, hard work paid off. Kolap and I actually saw 26 people enter our training (one snuck in!) and everyone but two stayed until the end of the training. What’s more, everyone was generally on time throughout the four parts of the workshop: day one morning, day one afternoon, day two morning, and day two afternoon. To be clear, the participants did have to pay to partake in the workshop: the fee was to pay for the costs of the materials, and also contribute to the Cambodian Library Association. In most (if not all) cases, attendees from both Phnom Penh and the other areas of Cambodia had their way paid by host institutions, which isn’t unusual or surprising, but also is important when addressing attendance and retaining participation. What about the training itself? How did it go? Was it smooth or choppy? It was my longest, most enduring educational moment yet, with two full days of concentration, summative evaluation thrown in there for fun, and lots of discussion. It was also me being the lead speaker/presenter (aside from maybe one or two moments of dialogue) presenting the material.

Sometimes the hardest part of instruction is being adaptive and understanding how needs change throughout the educational process. Whether activities take significantly longer than expected, or activities one has designed before the training started soon seem irrelevant or inappropriate, being able to change the process on the fly is important. And yet it’s not ideal, as a lot of the learners seemed to depend on schedule rigidity and being able to rely on what was to come in the curriculum. But at this stage in the instructional process, it’s hard to provide a training that is perfect and perfectly arranged. The broadness and lack of time for training was a major barrier: how to cram as much content in as possible without missing anything. And how to cover concepts adequately? If we learned anything on the planning and design end, it’s that 2 days is too short for a training of the scope we covered.

To cover (even on the surface) information literacy generally and in all its sub-components (research process, citations, resource discovery, analysis, etc) is nearly impossible to do well in just two days. I would argue, and Kolap and I discussed this after the training was over, that 5 days would be an ideal number. In fact, 2 days would be more appropriately for any single component (of the six or so) within the training we designed. You’re probably wondering about language. Several attendees did not know very much English at all, and despite the requested qualifications of the attendees, one did not know any English. Rather than having the entire training translated line by line, we relied on localizing translation to other attendees who knew English. This system is far from perfect, but is practical and thus effective for a lot of people. Going forward, Khmer instruction is going to be necessary.

Translating the materials and then having the training taught exclusively in Khmer should be a goal for the Cambodian Library Association in the near future, but will take some time and effort. For our training, there were several moments (especially during prompts of activities) where Kolap stopped me and spoke to the class in Khmer. There are those individuals who know both languages and have some experience as translator and some who have not much experience. You can tell by how concise the translations are. In the case of Kolap, she’s an effective translator who can get across ideas in a fast and direct way, which is extremely beneficial t he training participants. What’s more, we went with a “less is more” approach, effectively offering more translation help when needed on a one-on-one basis.

Successes and Failures

Evaluation has to occur on a qualitative level going forward. One thing I didn’t mention yet (but which can easily be seen when looking at the training materials) is our administration of a test to assess the skills of the participants. We had a pre-test and a post-test and both were the same. A couple notes: the pre-test was administered and the participants definitely did not have enough time to complete the test (the tests were seven pages and the average page reached was under 4). We extended the post-test time length and saw significant improvement with completed tests; however, we did not grade either test, and we did not even review the tests taken the second time. We did, however, go through the tests through a slideshow and had students provide the answers through the training.

One thing I would like to have seen was a test that addressed more of the theoretical and value-oriented IL content, since much of the workshop’s materials were driven by these ideas. Time has already been addressed and I’ll comment on it one more time: there needed to be more time for this workshop, as it was designed, and I would argue for smaller workshops, perhaps one day each, centered around specific IL concepts. Time for processing and engaging students through activities was extremely limited. I look back and I should have asked for a second homework assignment asking students to, on their own terms, reflect on the experience of the workshop and submit statements through a formal process.

All that said, here are a couple other points I should mention: 1) one of the students, someone I knew prior to this workshop through another project, created translations of information literacy and shared them on Facebook after the event; 2) a Facebook group for academic librarians saw a spike in membership after it was encouraged for all the participants to join the group; 3) the majority of the attendees had either a laptop or table to use and take notes with; 4) participants all created Powerpoints for the one group activity of the workshop; and 5) at many times I broke away from the material on the screen, and that is something I should have worked on, particularly making sure the Powerpoint was aligned in a literal sense with the content in the training booklet.

This post could go on forever, and as much as I’d like that, I don’t have “forever” to write this post. So instead I will end it here. A final couple of notes, though. First, any questions or feedback should be left in a comment on this blog or sent to me by email at gbem419 [at] uw [dot] edu. Second, if anyone is interested in getting involved with the Cambodian Library Association for a similar or completely different internship or volunteer experience (some of which may be achieved online and from abroad), email Kolap at kmao [at] puc [dot] edu [dot] kh. I can guarantee any help you provide will be invaluable to the library universe Cambodia and unforgettable to you.



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