Virtual Reference Adventure

How to Use the Virtual Reference Adventure as a Group Learning Experience

The Virtual Reference Adventure was designed primarily as an opportunity for individual exploration and the discovery of best practices in chat reference. It replaces “Anytime, Anywhere Answers—Building Skills for Virtual Reference,” an online course delivered by the Washington State Library VRS Project between September 2002 and June 2005.

It can also be used as the basis for collective learning experiences, ranging from single shared activities to a cohort group online course.

Here are some of the uses that we anticipate for the VR Adventure:

  • Refresher training for chat providers.
  • A workshop focused on a single topic, such as “Marketing Chat Reference Service.”
  • A presentation at an all-staff day.
  • Single activities (Virtual Field Trips, Secret Patron, Policy Scavenger Hunt) to explore how chat reference is currently provided.
  • Face-to-face training for small groups of new chat reference providers.
  • A cohort group online course, similar to “Anytime, Anywhere Answers.”

An Online Course?

If you want to use the Virtual Reference Adventure for a cohort group online course, here are some things that we found contributed to the success of Anytime, Anywhere Answers. (More about the delivery of this online course can be found in Virtual Reference Training: The Complete Guide to Providing Anytime, Anywhere Answers by Hirko and Ross, ALA Editions, 2004.)

Trainers—two are better than one

A pair of trainers can work together collaboratively and provide a variety of perspectives. If the target audience for your training is reference providers in a consortium, then the two trainers should represent different types of libraries.

We encouraged our trainers not to establish themselves as experts but to see themselves as learners, exploring and discovering along with the cohort group. Trainers were reminded to:

  • Support and encourage the learners, providing extra assistance whenever needed.
  • Facilitate an active, collaborative learning environment.
  • Provide positive feedback on each learner’s contributions.
  • Ask the right question rather than give the right answer.

During online meetings, one trainer can focus on the presentation of the topic, the other on facilitating the discussion.

Get the learners off to a good start

We used a face-to-face orientation, prior to the five-week online class, to introduce all the elements of the course and the expectations for completion of assignments and for participation in online meetings. The orientation used a get-acquainted activity (Walking Billboards) to encourage learner interaction right away.

For this orientation we created:

A syllabus to establish dates for completion of assignments and readings and dates for the online meetings.

A learner list, with contact information for all participants, including their IM (instant messaging) screen names.

You’ll need a listserv, forum or bulletin board

A class bulletin board, forum or e-mail list is required. A threaded discussion feature is preferable. Learners had regular assignments of readings and activities. They posted a summary of their reactions to the assigned reading and their experiences with the activity. Trainers provided positive feedback and invited comments from other learners.

This sharing via a threaded discussion was one of the most beneficial aspects of Anytime, Anywhere Answers. We archived the learner comments and you’ll see a selection of them in Advice for the Trip.

We also asked Anytime, Anywhere Answers participants to subscribe to the Dig_Ref listserv.

Use Instant Messaging…and make it fun

All learners were required to obtain an IM account and to create a “buddy list” of all the course participants and trainers. We used Yahoo Messenger and encouraged use of the emoticons, avatars, and environments to create comfort with the chat medium.

Meet online regularly

A series of regularly scheduled online meetings is highly recommended. In Anytime, Anywhere Answers we used the 24/7 Reference online meeting and Yahoo Messenger chat rooms for weekly meetings that focused on pre-assigned discussion topics. Web conferencing platforms such as LiveMeeting, WebEx and Talking Communities can also be used.

Assign readings and activities

For each week of the online course, you can cover specific topics from the Virtual Reference adventure. The resources in Your Lifelines can be assigned readings.

Each topic has three activities—Think About, Ask Yourself, More to Explore. Determine which of these is most useful to your learners and assign that as a required activity. From our experiences with Anytime, Anywhere Answers, we definitely recommend the Virtual Field Trips, Secret Patron, Policy Scavenger Hunt, and the collection of chat transcripts as required activities for comment and discussion on the listserv. Check the site index for the location of these activities.

You can even use “The Adventure Begins” as pre-training preparation. Ask the learners to explore the use of chat software in the e-retail world (More to Explore), take a quiz (Ask Yourself) to see what they already know about the origins and innovations of chat reference, and look at the wealth of resources in VRD Conference proceedings (Your Lifelines).

Celebrate completion

The trainers used a learner completion checklist to keep track of those who attended the online meetings and the dates when assignments were completed. Be sure to decide in advance what your requirements for completion of the course will be and make these known to the learners.

Our trainers used the Museum of Modern Art e-cards to congratulate the learners on completion of the course.

Don’t forget to use an evaluation form to get your learner’s reactions to the course and their suggestions for improvements.

However you decide to use the Virtual Reference Adventure, we want to hear about how it worked for you. Please email us and tell us about your experiences.

Mary Ross,, Seattle Public Library
Daria Cal,, Seattle Public Library
Buff Hirko,, Washington State Library VRS Project


Developed by the Statewide Virtual Reference Project, Washington State Library, a division of the Office of the Secretary of State. Funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Library Services and Technology Act.

Last Modified: April 18, 2006