I enjoy teaching about taxonomies. The feedback I get from my students or workshop participants helps me improve my methods of communication, teaching, and consulting, and I learn about the varied implementations of taxonomies. The courses evolve and improve over time. I teach online courses, conference workshops, and corporate onsite workshops. I’ve been making enhancements to the latter offering and this week led a two-day onsite workshop at a major company on the West Coast.
Accommodating a varied audience
The participants in my “introductory” workshops, whether at conferences or at their corporate offices, have varied knowledge and experience with taxonomies. Some are complete beginners and are curious to learn about taxonomies and what they can do. Others have been tasked to build a taxonomy with little instruction and are looking for best practices and guidelines. Some of have read my book but have not had the opportunity to put what they have read into practice, so the workshop’s exercises are very helpful. Finally, some participants are experienced taxonomists seeking to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.
The absolute beginners may feel overwhelmed at the amount of information on taxonomies presented in one of my workshops, but I feel it’s important to provide enough instruction to enable people to actually create basic taxonomies (while ideally still getting feedback from someone more experienced). Also, I expect people to combine instruction from my workshop with other methods of learning taxonomies, such as reading my book, taking my online course, attending conference session on taxonomies, or getting advice from a taxonomist in their organization. While I would like to offer a more advanced workshops, it’s difficult to find enough experienced practicing taxonomists at the same location. (At a conference is possible, but sometimes conference organizers equate advanced taxonomy topics with ontologies.)
Participants like interactive or hands-on exercises. One of the learning benefits of my onsite workshops is that they include interactive exercises that involve the entire group or class. My online course includes exercises or assignment to learn from the practice and from feedback I provide, but only the onsite workshops offer the opportunity to work on assignments with others and thus learn from others. Creating taxonomies, like designing websites or software user interfaces, needs to consider different views and is somewhat subjective. The classroom setting offers the opportunity to learn from others.
Small-group exercises are the best for this kind of learning. My full-length workshops include small-group exercises for designing a set of facets and for doing a card-sorting exercise to categorize topics. Groups may comprise from three to six participants, depending on the total number. In addition to hearing ideas from their group members, participants then share the resulting taxonomy outline to the larger class, and I provide comments. Even exercises that do not involve small groups, but are assignments to consider and shout out answers, are beneficial, because we obtain, discuss, and evaluate various answers beyond the answers that any one individual might consider.
Remote participation is also possible, especially if the remote participants are co-located in the same office. They can form their own small group for the small group exercises, and they can do the card-sorting exercise online. This was the case in my latest corporate workshop.
Customizing corporate workshops
To what extent I should customize the workshops for a specific organization was a question when I first offered corporate workshops. It’s not necessary, nor worth the time, to customize every example of taxonomy terms in the workshop presentation with something from the client’s domain of content. Rather, I found that it is sufficient yet instructive to customize just a few slides, such as those with examples of content types and use cases.
Another way I customize the workshops is by the outline and topics included. While all workshops include the basics (taxonomy types, definitions, uses and benefits, standards, structural design, best practices for creating terms and relationships, and governance), optional topics include: user interface display options, metadata and taxonomies, testing taxonomies, tagging, mapping taxonomies, multilingual taxonomies, integration with search, and taxonomy management software.
Finally, I customize the group exercises so that the choices for topics for facets would be applicable, and the card-sorting exercise may take an actual example especially if the client has a public taxonomy I can use as a basis for the exercise. I also include discussion questions, so that the participants can share and discuss the taxonomy issues as pertinent to their organization. In any case, I sign an NDA, so the client can comfortably share information with me which I may sue in the workshop.
I found that asking the client for some input on possible customization, I can also generalize the issues to enhance the workshop presentation for future use. In other words, the client input on “customization” is not always that, but rather leads to a general improvement. The result has been to make the workshop presentation based more on real-world scenarios and less theoretical than my previous conference presentations. I actually did not consider my conference presentations to be that theoretical in the first place (since, after all, my knowledge of taxonomies is based on my work experience, not on studies for a degree in library/information science). But now I have made the workshops even more practical.
Input from the client can also lead to topics for clarification, such as differing use of terminology. For example, a client wanted me to discuss taxonomy “mapping,” which we taxonomists understand to mean the creation of equivalence links between terms in one taxonomy and another, so that one taxonomy may be used to retrieve content that was tagged in the other taxonomy. However, what my client meant by “mapping” was a kind of “see also” related-term relationships between terms in two different taxonomies. Now I know to clarify and discuss both kinds of links between taxonomies.
Just as I am an accidental taxonomist and then an accidental consultant, so am I now also an accidental trainer. Details of my corporate training offerings are on my website.