Our Cool Toys Group as a Community of Practice for Emerging Technologies (And What’s Next!)


It’s been seven years. Can you believe that? SEVEN YEARS! Cool Toys Conversations is definitely growing up, and it was time to tell folk so. I presented a poster on our group at the Medical Library Association Annual Meeting in Austin last month. I was swamped the entire poster session. Lots of questions, lots of great conversations. I was surprised by the parts that other folk found surprising.

What seemed to be the most important finding to others was the idea that to connect with a new audience that aren’t aware of what the library has to offer, it may be necessary to make yourself highly discoverable outside of your normal channels. This means social media, blogging, publishing, attending sessions on their topics, live-tweeting, and otherwise getting your name associated with that topic in a variety of locations. That way, while they might not think to look to the library for assistance, when they go do a Google search for people working in this area, you pop up. By being discoverable nationally, you are more likely to connect with your target audience in your home institution. It sounds counter-intuitive, but there were a lot of library directors stopping by, asking me about this part of it, and then sending their staff to talk with me. Very interesting.

The other logical-in-hindsight part that was really important was the value to the community of having a broad open-door policy with a broad scope of topics, combined with loose partnerships with other campus groups that share interests. It is helpful in building community to have a place where people can come and catch up beyond the narrow focus. For example, my official focus is on emerging technologies for healthcare. We have meetings that talk about those, but we don’t limit it to just those. We also look at technologies that support teaching, research, workflow, personal productivity, marketing and communication, and more. Ultimately, these “off-topic” themes connect back. A session on personal organization tools may attract a clinician supporting persons with executive function disorder. A session on wearable technologies for fitness draws in a researcher working on best practices for sleep. A session on iphone apps to make comics brings in nursing staff designing training materials. Conversations around social media best practices attract attention from hospital researchers wanting to market clinical trials. So, we keep the meetings open to anyone on campus of any level, and even people from the local community. We let the people who show up shape the topics of interest to them, and even though they may not be folk working in healthcare, it seems to work out to support a diversity of communities.

Recently, we had our first Cool Toys Conversations group meeting since my return, and we brainstormed ideas and topics for the coming year. Here is an alphabetical list of what we came up with.

* DIY Cognitive Rehab & Alzheimer’s ‘Prevention’ (Brain Training Apps)
* DIY Comics for Education & Outreach (Tools, Tips, & Fun)
* Design Thinking Walk Through
* The Home Front: Emerging Tech at UM
* Make Health
* New Tech & Student Retention (DIY U, Credentialing, DIY Badging)
* Online Identity Management (Privacy, Transparency, Safety, and What Else?)
* Reverse Innovation (Rural, Underserved, Global, Sustainable)
* Study Apps, Part 1 (Writing, notetaking/sharing, speed reading/writing, assignment management, time management, flash cards)
* Study Apps, Part 2 (Text2Speech, Disabilities, ESL students)
* Trends in Multimedia Consumption & Production, From Youtube to Stage-It to Archive.org

If you have other ideas, now is the time to share them! We are also talking about partnering on some of these with the Mobile Users Group, Health Design By Us, Global Health, Web Accessibility Working Group, and other campus groups. There is even the possibility that we might Skype in some experts from other schools. And then, in December we’ll have a bit of a party instead of a meeting. Don’t you wish you were here?

The other very interesting idea that was proposed was to repurpose the Cool Toys blog or create some other related online space as a way for sharing information about emerging technologies, resources, events, activities, projects, and so forth across the entire campus. This is something that would have to be brought up to other groups, but it’s definitely an interesting idea!

Links shared during the meeting

Companion – Your Personal Safety Service http://companionapp.io/
Cool Toys U: Calendar: https://cooltoysu.wordpress.com/calendars/
ETechLib: Tools for Learning: Flashcards? Really? https://etechlib.wordpress.com/2009/10/06/tools-for-learning-flashcards-really/
ETechLib: Tools for Learning: Flashcards Done Right, Video Tools, & Augmented Reality https://etechlib.wordpress.com/2009/10/14/tools-for-learning-flashcards-done-right-video-tools-augmented-reality/
Evernote https://evernote.com/pricing/
HealthDesignByUs http://www.healthdesignby.us/
Qualtrics: File Upload: http://www.qualtrics.com/university/researchsuite/basic-building/editing-questions/question-types-guide/file-upload/
Read&Write GOLD: http://www.texthelp.com/north-america/campaigns/attips
UM Mobile Users Group: December 5, 2014 Meeting: http://www.instructionblog.com/mobileusers/december-5-2014-meeting/

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