I produced this dramatic “movie trailer” on iMovie to highlight new services available at Ialoveni’s library. Also available on YouTube.
If you’re an American, you see infographics everywhere these days— on television and websites, in magazines, even with academic articles or corporate sales reports.
Not if you live in Moldova. Many institutions in this small former Soviet state are still learning to share information with their stakeholders, much less to present it attractively to engage ther interest.
On Tuesday, the library in Ialoveni where I work as a Peace Corps volunteer held a workshop to train more than a dozen colleagues from area libraries in using infographics. Within a few hours, they all learned the basics of producing colorful posters or web posts to highlight their activities and community outreach.
My library colleague, Lidia Rusu (shown left, pointing at the computer), led the training with enthusiasm and patience. By the end of the session almost all of the participants, even those with limited computer skills, were producing infographics more than nice enough to use immediately.
They used the free version of Piktochart, an online software platform popular in the United States and elsewhere. Lidia also recently began using PowToon, a platform for making simple animated videos. Even though she doesn’t speak English, she’s able to figure out software packages quickly, apply them effectively and explain them to others.
Ialoveni’s library, Biblioteca Publică Orășenească “Petre Ștefănucă,” hosted the workshop after being selected as one of the winners of a national infographic contest organized by Novateca, a nonprofit organization working to modernize libraries across Moldova. Ialoveni’s winning infographics, which I helped produce, are the two images on the left shown above.
Artiom Maister, an impact specialist with Novateca, shown below with Lidia, assisted her at the workshop, guiding the participants in how to modify templates, use icons, insert data and transfer their work to their websites, blogs or printed posters.
The session was just the latest way Novateca has been encouraging this country’s libraries — still viewed by some as dusty repositories of old Russian books — to embrace a new role as modern information centers and community resources. Through its five-year program, Novateca has provided hundreds of libraries here with thousands of computers and Internet access. It’s trained librarians on everything from how to find new funding sources to organizing robotics clubs or hackathons.
I’ve seen Novateca’s impact not only in Ialoveni but also in Bardar, where I lived during my Peace Corps training, and in other libraries. My best description is a word I don’t use lightly: transformative. As it approaches the end of its generous funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Novateca is now working to empower both local librarians and national institutions to carry on its mission. A representative from one of those institutions, Victoria Popa from the National Library, participated actively in Tuesday’s infographic session.
This kind of training is important not only to the libraries themselves, but also to the emergence of an open civil society in Moldova. By learning to use infographics and other modern communications techniques, libraries and other public institutions become more able to explain to citizens what they are doing and how they can serve them. Infographics here have the potential to be so much more than pretty pictures.
On Monday, the library where I work in Ialoveni, Moldova unveiled an exhibit about North Carolina — the home state of “Domnul David” and “Doamna Champa.”
The exhibit features brochures about the Wright Brothers monument in Kitty Hawk, the Biltmore mansion in Asheville, the NASCAR museum in Charlotte and attractions across the Triangle. It also offers information about where to taste wine, go fishing or ride a hot-air balloon in North Carolina.
Before we came to Moldova with the Peace Corps, I gathered these brochures at the North Carolina tourism office on Route 85, just south of the Virginia border. I brought them with me and now finally put them to good use. As I described in an earlier post, Champa and I have also shared souvenir postcards about Durham.
My library colleague, Doamna Stella, and her daughter did a great job of arranging the new exhibit, which is in the center of the library. It’s the latest example of the close ties between Moldova and Carolina du Nord, two places I’m proud to call home.
Ialoveni students performed poems, dances and songs to welcome Claudia Partole, a popular Moldovan author of children’s stories and other books. She spoke at the local library. Don’t miss Champa receiving her certificate. (The video is also on YouTube at https://youtu.be/_eRms9fmshU.)
Does this drawing remind you of a certain nursery rhyme — you know, the one about an egg, a wall and a “great fall”?
Humpty Dumpty immediately came to my mind on Wednesday afternoon when I looked at the drawing, which was created by Chris, a student in my weekly computer coding class.
“Humpty who?” he said.
“Humpty Dumpty!” I replied. “I can’t believe you figured out so quickly how to draw him.”
Chris, who you see here in the photo, had no idea who I was talking about, either in my halting Romanian or in English, so I searched on Google and showed him this video:
Several of his friends began watching, too. None of them had ever heard of Humpty Dumpty either, but they were impressed that Chris had unknowingly recreated a famous character. Here’s the code he wrote to do this:
Note that I said “boys.” My biggest disappointment has been my inability to attract more girls to the class. I asked the librarians to help recruit girls, and they’ve reached out to a nearby school, but so far we haven’t had much luck, even when I offered to teach a separate class for girls. I asked the girls you see here to participate on Wednesday, but they were too busy checking out a dance site on Facebook.
Not all of the boys are interested, either. The one you see here programmed the first snowman with us but then, when I was busy on the other side of the room, switched to a computer game featuring shooting and soldiers. You can also see part of the computer next to him, where a girl is checking out a photo of other girls dressed up for a performance. Just outside the photo are computers where several other boys were also playing action games. I did convince one older boy to try Hour of Code, which he enjoyed, but after competing the module he switched to Facebook and YouTube instead of moving on to the next module.
We’ll be starting that next week. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t stop us.
Can a guy in his sixties who has never studied modern computer programming introduce a group of computer-savvy young people to software coding — and do it in a foreign language?
That’s what I did on Friday at our library in Ialoveni, Moldova. (A few hours later, they posted this story about it on Facebook; the live version offers an English translation):
I got the students started with Hour of Code, an international initiative through which millions of young people have begun learning about programming. My group watched a couple of inspirational videos and then began writing mock code for the popular computer game Minecraft. Within a few minutes, they were clicking away, instructing their characters to move in different directions, shear sheep and search for treasure.
Several of them finished the 14 tasks in less than an hour. All were engrossed, smiling when they completed a puzzle and giving me high fives as I walked around the room to help them out. Before we even finished, the librarian told me we should start a weekly Hour of Code club, which we’ve scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Launched in 2013, Code.org is a nonprofit organization focused on making computer programming more accessible. Its videos feature Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and other famous programmers, as well as President Obama, actors, sports stars and others, all emphasizing that coding isn’t as hard as you may think.
That’s a message more young people, especially girls, need to hear in our own country, Moldova and around the world. Coding is an increasingly essential skill. Especially in poorer countries, it can open the door to participating in the global economy. Here in Moldova, older girls can also take part in GirlsGoIT, a two-week program through which they learn about web applications, entrepreneurship and potential career paths. Around the world, Peace Corps is deeply involved in the Let Girls Learn program championed by First Lady Michelle Obama.
Back when I was running Duke’s news office, one of my colleagues wrote an article called Computer Science Looks Beyond Nerds, describing how the university redesigned its introductory course to attract more women, students of color, liberal arts majors and others who don’t fit the stereotype of programmers. Hour of Code is pursuing the same mission internationally. Its resources make it easy for people to serve as mentors regardless of their own level of coding experience.
Even if you’re “not exactly retired” or majored in American history like me, do yourself a favor and try some of the modules yourself. They’re fun. And if you know any students in Ialoveni — especially girls — looking for something interesting to do on Wednesday afternoons, send them my way. We still have a few spots open.