Making E-Records Training Fun. Yes, Fun.

By Angela Ossar, Government Information Analyst

electronic records logo_2014 final

1010 is Electronic Records Day. Of course!

It’s E-records Day! Now in its third year, the Council of State Archivists’ Electronic Records Day is “an opportunity to share information about what you are doing to manage your state’s digital resources and to enlist help in preserving electronic records.”

What better day, then, to report on the success of our “Managing Electronic Records for Local Governments” workshop?

On October 1st, we welcomed about 20 local government Records Management Officers, records liaisons, elected officials, and Information Technology professionals to Austin for the pilot offering of our full-day electronic records workshop. Michael Reagor and I had six hours to impart the very essentials of e-records management for local government records managers.

It was really difficult to narrow down the scope of the class — what about records inventory? Social media? E-discovery? — but we felt like it was better to teach a few topics in depth rather than merely touch on a wide variety of topics. So we covered long-term digital preservation, email management, information retrieval, planning imaging projects, and policy implementation. And to ensure that everyone was on the same page with stuff like state records laws and records retention schedules, we required attendees to take a prerequisite: either our Introduction to Records Management class (online or face-to-face) or our Records Retention 101 for Local Governments webinar.

Making the Workshop Interactive

Rather than offer a traditional lecture for 6 hours (which is not only exhausting for us as instructors, but overwhelming for attendees), we wanted to experiment with a new teaching format: the facilitated class. A facilitated class turns the focus from the presenter (a subject matter expert who lectures) to the learners. We designed activities that would help the learners come to understand the material on their own, taking every opportunity to break up our PowerPoint presentations with discussions, group activities, interactive polls, and games.

How did we do that exactly? Here are some of the ways.

The Jeff Rothenberg CD-ROM Scenario


(Click to enlarge)

How did we try to teach the idea that digital records can be even more fragile than paper, and that preserving them takes a concerted effort?

We started with a discussion about the life expectancy of paper. We opened the discussion with this: “The life expectancy of a paper record is 1,000 years or more, if stored properly. What does ‘properly’ mean?”

Participants offered a long, robust list of proper storage and handling of paper: temperature/humidity control, pest management, protection from theft, keeping boxes off the ground, keeping storage facilities maintained (no leaky pipes or roofs), handling anything fragile delicately, and so on.

Then, we turned to electronic records. We asked participants to read a scenario (from a foundational publication about digital preservation, Jeff Rothenberg’s “Ensuring the Longevity of Digital Information” – available here) and list as many challenges as they could think of.

Then, we went around to each table of 4 and asked each group to share one of the things they listed. We went around the room until we’d created an exhaustive list of challenges — from hardware obsolescence to physical media deterioration to password protection. Michael and I were stunned by the breadth of answers the group gave!

The “Access Methods” Card Sort Game

The answers are: migration, recopying, microfilming, and maintaining a computer museum. Can you guess the answers?

Can you match the cards to the methods? The methods are: migration, recopying, microfilming, and maintaining a computer museum.

We followed the Rothenberg scenario with a brief lecture on goals of electronic records management: ensuring that records remain available, accessible, usable, complete, and authentic for their full retention period. Then, we presented 7 methods for ensuring long-term access when backward compatibility isn’t an option (i.e., when new systems won’t read legacy files).

To test participants on their understanding of these methods, we developed a card sort game. The game was inspired by a presentation on making RIM training interactive that was given by a City of Austin records analyst at an ARMA Austin chapter meeting.

We hung up 5 Post-It easel sheets in the back of the room, with headings like Migration and Recopying. Each group of 6 was given a set of colored index cards, one color per team. The team would choose the heading that matched the card and tape the card under that heading. To throw off the teams a bit, we threw in 5 cards that were “duds” (didn’t match to anything) and told teams that there could be only 4 cards per heading — so even if a card like “Relatively low-cost option due to inexpensiveness of storage media” might apply to “Printing to Paper” as much as “Recopying,” the team might have to pick “Recopying” because there were already 4 cards under “Paper.”

Once a team had sorted all of its cards, it would call “DONE!” and an instructor would go check their work. If any card was sorted incorrectly, the instructor would pull it off the Post-It sheet and make the team re-sort it. This was pretty exciting for the teams, because if another team called “DONE!” while the first team was re-sorting, they could steal the game.

This was a great kinesthetic activity — something to get people up and out of their seats, moving around, and talking to each other.

The Email Exercise and our cool new teaching tool

As at least one local government can attest, it is not easy to teach people how to keep emails according to a retention schedule. We try to teach people the following basic principles:

  • If it documents the transaction of public business, it’s a record.
  • If an email is not related to your job — if you’ve only received something as a CC or FYI, for example — then you are probably not the custodian of it.
  • However you organize your email, do it in a way that’s retention-conscious.

Now, how to translate that to an exercise? Michael and I batted around a few ideas. Maybe we’ll give participants a handful of sample emails and ask them how to classify them according to a retention schedule. But the truth is, there is so much context involved with making retention determinations for email, and therefore just a lot of gray area. So, you can click here for our Email Exercise, but know that we’re still considering it a work in progress!



One thing that was an unequivocal hit about the email exercise was the use of our exciting new teaching tool: the TurningTechnologies ResponseCards. We used the responders throughout the workshop to poll participants — questions to get them thinking (like, “Which of these recording media is specifically mentioned in the Texas Public Information Act?”) or to assess their knowledge.

For the email exercise, we showed them 5 sample emails, including a spam message, a CC, and something we’d consider general correspondence. Then, we asked them to “vote” for their guess by clicking on the corresponding button: A for Keep, B for Forward, and C for Delete.

The responses are collected through a USB receiver that plugs into our laptop, and the results can be shared through PowerPoint (we would share them as a bar graph). It was a great way for participants to not only get immediate feedback on their answers (and in a “safe” way — no one knew how any other individual voted) but to see how their responses stacked up to their peers’. It was also a great way for us, the instructors, to see what else we might need to explain or consider. Sometimes, the participants would give a “wrong” answer that actually had a very good explanation — like maybe you would forward the Nigerian prince scam email, because maybe your IT department has asked you to tell them when you receive a potentially threatening message. (See what I mean about context and gray area?)

To Scan or Not to Scan?

The last exercise we’ll talk about was our “To Scan or Not to Scan?” activity, which followed a PowerPoint lecture on the basics of planning an imaging project, the benefits of imaging, and whether to keep the source document after imaging.

(Thank you to Marianna and Erica for their lovely modeling!)

Action Cards

Just as we say in our “5 W’s of Imaging – Part 1 (What, When, and Why)” webinar, sometimes the most cost effective approach is a hybrid one. (I like to show a picture of a zedonk to underscore that point.) Sometimes imaging will produce a quick return on investment, and other times it would be more cost effective to just store the paper until it’s met retention.

We printed out four “Action Cards” — two of them are pictured to the right (thank you, Marianna and Erica, for your lovely modeling!) — in addition to the two pictured, there was “DON’T SCAN IT — Store the paper until it’s met retention” and “SCAN IT and toss the paper.” We asked participants to get in pairs, then distributed 10 “Scenario Cards” to them and asked them to match themselves to the Action Card that they felt was the best action by actually getting up and walking over to the right Action Card. The Action Card holders could tell them only if they were right or wrong.

One sample scenario. What do you think the PIO should do with the backlog?

One sample scenario. What do you think the PIO should do with the backlog?

We might change up the execution of this one a little in the future. We liked that it was another kinesthetic activity — after all, it was happening at 2:00 in the afternoon, so we had to make sure everyone was staying awake — but once everyone was all matched up, we weren’t quite sure how to go over each answer. We ultimately had them read the scenarios and then we all kind of talked about whether they agreed with the actions that we considered “right.”

Even though it’s another work in progress, we’re happy to share our 10 scenarios if you ask for them!

Reactions and Ideas for the Future

We had a fantastic time teaching this class. I think it may have been the first class I’ve ever taught that actually energized me (usually teaching just leaves me feeling exhausted). The feedback we received, both in the written evaluations and the group discussion after class, was overwhelmingly positive.

So what’s next? Here are some ideas for the future that we’re now considering:

  • Adapting the workshop for state agencies. We plan to offer the pilot “Managing Electronic Records for State Agencies” workshop in Spring 2015.
  • Surveying participants before every class. About a week before the workshop, we sent all registered attendees an email asking them to tell us how many years of experience they had (so we knew to expect novices, experts, or a mix), what their job responsibilities are (full-time records managers? IT professionals? support staff?), and one thing they wanted to learn from the class. We got much more helpful responses from that last question than we usually get when we just go around the room at the start of class to ask — I think it helped participants to have some time to think about their answer.
  • Add more content on building consensus and implementing policies. One participant suggesting offering this workshop as a “101” class and then offering a “102” class that was even more hands-on, with participants actually developing approval-ready policies together as a group or in teams. This is definitely something we’d like to explore more, and a facilitated workshop would be a great forum for that kind of work.
  • Continue to require “Intro to Records Management” as a prerequisite. It’s always a challenge for us to meet the needs of a very diverse audience: RIM and IT, full-time records managers and liaisons and employees for whom RIM is an “other duty as assigned,” elected officials and non-elected governmental bodies, veterans and novices.  For now, I think we’re going to have to keep offering Intro to Records Management as part of our core face-to-face classes. But we do plan to begin converting that class into a facilitated workshop, with interactive elements. We will think about how we can engage more experienced records managers even in a basic class.
  • Cut content on Imaging, add content on Social Media. Can’t we just keep you in Austin for three days??? (We kid.) We actually have developed some brand new content on social media that we’ll try to integrate into our next training.
MER Pilot Workshop, October 1, 2014

MER Pilot Workshop, October 1, 2014

Here’s one reaction we received — from numerous people — that I don’t think I’ve ever heard about a presentation I’ve given: “That was fun!” I couldn’t agree more. We truly had fun teaching this class, and I am so excited to teach this again. I can’t wait to start applying what we learned to make this workshop even better, and start making the rest of our classes fun, too.

If you would like copies of any of our materials — PowerPoints, exercises, handouts, or anything else you’ve read about here — don’t be afraid to ask! We’d love to share.

And, in the spirit of Electronic Records Day, if you have any thoughts about our workshop, future directions for our electronic records training program, topics you’d like to know more about, OR if you’d like to share an experience from your own training program, please leave us a comment below!

One thought on “Making E-Records Training Fun. Yes, Fun.

  1. Pingback: Bits, Bytes, and Buzz: Electronic Records Day, 10-10-14 | Off the Record

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