Beyond 23 Things: mobile skills for Library staff

One of the common barriers preventing implementation of mobile technologies is staff awareness and familiarity. A number of different methods have been used to assist in this area of skills development, and 23 things programmes have been developed to support development of mobile skills – see for example the open 23mobilethings course.

University of Glasgow have developed a 23 things style course for introducing their staff to mobile devices and technologies, and their experiences are shared in this guest blog post by Kay Munro and Karen Stevenson. Kay Munro is convenor of the University of Glasgow Library’s Mobile Technologies Group. Kay is a College Librarian providing support to the College of Social Science. Karen Stevenson is a member of the University of Glasgow Library’s Mobile Technologies Group. Karen is the Library Systems Manager and a member of the Digital Library Team.


23 Things Mobile is a self-directed training course, designed to introduce Library staff to mobile technology and its applications that has been developed by the University of Glasgow Library. The 23 things concept has been widely adopted in recent years and, when looking for an online training model to support a Library staff skills initiative on mobile technology, it was an obvious one to consider. However, because of the dynamic nature of the topic, we wanted to provide staff with a fun and interactive experience which incorporated opportunities to come together to try out devices, apps and activities using the wide range of devices and facilities available in the Library’s Live Lab. So a hybrid model, based on the 23 things idea, was developed.

Course structure

Glasgow’s 23 Things Mobile course is made up of three elements: VLE content, a private blog and group sessions in the Live Lab. The majority of the content is delivered via our VLE, Moodle, which allows us to create visually rich and interactive content. The dedicated blog hosted on WordPress allows participants to engage with each other and share their experiences and thoughts about the course content or related aspects of mobile technology. The Live Lab concept, established at an early stage in Glasgow’s mobile strategy, had been developed to provide Library staff with the opportunity to use a wide range of mobile devices in a dedicated space within the Library, or to borrow for use at conferences or at home. The Live Lab sessions for 23 Things Mobile took place half way through the course and brought participants together in small groups to try out a range of devices and a series of fun, but related, tasks which covered all aspects of the course content.

Course content

A decision taken early in the process was that the focus would be on mobile technology in general and not specifically on its application to libraries. The aim was to develop skills generally to increase confidence and familiarity with all aspects of the mobile environment. The course content was created in-house, but did incorporate content from external sources, such as the websites of the major device manufacturers and software developers as well as blogs and other social media outputs from the technology and academic communities. The content was a mixture of text, images, video, audio, presentations and quizzes. Using the 23 things model, the course was structured around a number of themes with several ‘things’ grouped together in each theme.

  • Devices: phones, tablets
  • Networks: wifi, 3G/4G, the cloud
  • Applications: mobile web, apps, QR codes
  • Communicating: blogs, text/instant messaging, email, Facebook, Twitter
  • Library stuff: ebooks, ejournals, mobile databases
  • Fun stuff: Live Lab, music, photos/videos, gaming
  • Other: introductory session, mobile futures, 23 Things round-up quiz

The order of the main themes was determined to ensure that the course was progressive, allowing participants to build on knowledge from week to week. We also tried not to make any assumptions about the skill level of participants. The course was therefore designed to be introductory but with opportunities for discovery of more technical aspects via optional ‘Geek spots’.

Pilot study

The first version of the programme was tested with a small pilot study of 23 participants. This gave us the opportunity to test both the content and the administration of the course. It ran for 10 weeks during late summer 2012. Fifteen participants (65%) completed the whole course. Of the eight participants who failed to complete the course, two only failed to complete the final week but four completed less than 50% of the course. Evidence gathered from post-pilot interviews with participants who failed to complete the course and analyses of the Moodle logs suggest that making time each week proved difficult for certain grades of staff. The reasons for this appear to be varied, but holidays, illness and the pressure of work all seemed to be contributory factors. It was clear that some individuals struggled to motivate themselves to complete the course once they had slipped behind with the weekly programme. A few participants also reported that they felt that they already knew a lot about mobile technology and/or had no interest in certain aspects of the course.

Reassuringly, 100% of participants who responded to the post-pilot survey said that they would recommend the course to a colleague and in response to questions about course content, 90% indicated that it was pitched ‘just right’. The most popular element of the course was the Live Lab session, “I like the idea of getting mixed groups of people together and letting them have the space to play around”. Several respondents asked for more of this type of activity during the course, while others recommended that more support should be available during the Live Lab session.

Course roll-out

Following on from the pilot, the course was approved by Library senior management and has now become a mandatory training requirement for all Library staff. The course is currently being rolled out in a number of tranches, with 40 per tranche, to all daytime staff in the first instance. On the basis of pilot feedback, the course structure was reduced to 8 weeks plus an introductory session, which also gives participants the opportunity to meet each other. Where necessary, participants who are not in positions which allow them to manage their own working day are timetabled a 1 hour slot each week specifically for this activity.


The amount of time and commitment to delivering a staff training programme of this size and complexity in a large academic library is considerable. The course is currently administered by 3 members of the Library’s Digital Media Skills Group. The expectation is that, in the future, colleagues who have been through the 23 Things Mobile course will be able to contribute to its ongoing administration and provide support for current participants. Some of the pilot participants have already taken the opportunity to become ‘Geek buddies’ and are actively engaged in the 23 Things Blog and are also providing invaluable support during the Live Lab sessions. We hope that as the pool of staff completing the course increases, more ‘Geek buddies’ will emerge and will contribute not only to the administration and support for 23 Things Mobile, but will become involved with updating content.

The end … so far

The first tranche of 40 staff, post-pilot, are coming to the end of the course, and the second tranche is just underway. It looks like we are heading for 100% completion rate of tranche 1 participants, and there have been high levels of interaction in the blog about the course and other aspects of mobile technology. Here are just a few comments from the group who are just finishing:

I’ve just completed the quiz and feel genuinely deflated that my 23 Things experience is over; 8 weeks have just whizzed past! Good luck to the recently enrolled newbies, I hope you enjoy as much as I have and learn lots of new things…or 23.

I can’t believe it is 8 weeks since we started 23 things mobile! I suppose time is really fast when you are having fun? I have learned quite a lot during the course, and I can now show off to my friends when they ask what does that mean? or how can you do this on your mobile?

The course was well paced, extremely informative, varied, interesting, thought-provoking, and, ultimately, somewhat scary (Week 8 and the future!). But above all it was FUN, as promised at our induction! … And may I ask if former participants are still allowed to blog occasionally should the desire seize them?

Access to the Moodle and blog remain open to all previous participants. This allows them to refresh their knowledge as content changes and keep updated with the Library’s mobile initiatives, and hopefully, to continue to support their colleagues as they embark on the 23 Things Mobile adventure. For the course administrators, delivering the programme to our evening and weekend staff will be the next challenge!

A longer version of this paper will appear in Issue 58 of SCONUL Focus:

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