These Discovery Labs for us are not only means to touch the community we wish to serve, but also data collection tools. This is a new idea in a new project, so we want to know as much as we can about how these labs are succeeding, and how they’re failing as well. To do this I made a -semi- universal lending form for our Lab Administrators. Each time the Lab Administrator uses a kit for a program in house, or lends it to a community member they will use the very same form to fill out information about that activity, and each time the Lab Administrator checks a Discovery Lab kit back in they will use the very same form.

I used Google Forms to build this tool, go ahead and check out a template of that form here: Record Keeping Tool.

Instead of going through point by point how the form works, I would instead like to make a few notes about this form in general, and the principal’s I used to create and edit it.

First, this form is to collect data for us, and we do want our community members and lab administrators using it, but it is a) much much easier to change a form, that it is to build a relationship, and b) not meant to supplant or overshadow our lab administrators own judgement about how to lend their devices.

I’ll give a few examples to expand on these points. We have a Discovery Lab active at a college library in Northern NM. The library staff were very skeptical about entering in information using an electronic google form. I listened to their concerns and we all built a system where the staff would use printed versions of the form while students were checking out the material, and add the information later online. In that same location I have made contact with a mathematics tutor who has several students he advocates for. He has checked out two of the chromebook kits and wanted to know if he could lend them to his students. By the process I had set up he would not be able to do this but by making him follow all the rules of the process we would lose too much, namely we would lose the ability to capitalize on his relationship with his students. These students may be unwilling to ask for help or material from an impersonal library, but they would be much more willing to approach a personal tutor instead. So we simply amended the form for his purposes (with the permission of the Lab Administrator). This was a little bit more work on my part, but with the potential for much more impact on the community.

Second, this form has some required information, that it collects in the course of lending, or carrying out a program, missing among this required information are things like an email address for the borrower, a phone number for the borrower and even an address for the borrower. We have strong reason to do this. In rural tribal parts of New Mexico oftentimes families will cycle through phones numbers, have no access to emails or live in a dwelling not registered with an address. Making this information required fundamentally puts our target community in an untenable position.

Third, this form is designed to collect data, so I’d like to go over a few data collection chokepoints, what they collect and from whom. Most obviously, lab administrators collect data on the who what when and where of all of the lab kits. Who is using the kit? A music teacher doing a digital music exploration. How many students does she have? She has 20 students that will be cycling through the activity. Where is her classroom? XYZ school room 123. Once all of this information is secured, along with as much contact information is possible, the borrower takes and uses the kit. On return the lab administrator checks the devices for damage and functionality and records if they are working or not. After this formality use of the form is then turned to the borrower to let us know, in her own words, how the lending experience was. We collect from the borrower how the check out / check in process was, and, generally, what they thought of the lab. I’ve collected some of this data already and it will be included in the last blog in this series: Discovery Lab Feedback.

In my next post I’ll be talking about best practices for including each element of our discovery labs, from chromebooks to maker materials, and how to keep digital inclusion in mind the entire way forward.