LG Academy – Your Thoughts?

– Originally published by Jeroen Mourik – founder of the Mappers Academy, previously known as the unofficial Local Guides Academy – on Local Guides Connect here in 2017.

“There is so much to learn!”

These were the first words a new Local Guide posted on the Local Guides (LG) Connect forum recently, and it is so true.

It was only in February this year that I joined the LG Program myself. I started by simply adding a few reviews, and through a chain of events got sucked into the community on Connect, just before the Mapping Your World Week in March.

Being drawn to the official LG Program, of course, I wanted to do more than just write reviews. However, at the beginning, I was terrified to submit edits to Maps. Who am I, as a complete novice, to make such impactful decisions? Of course, this initial “paralysis” was in part due to the fact that I didn’t realize initially that Google has all kinds of safety nets to prevent mistakes (e.g. by beginners) making it to the actual live map. But then I learned that Google monitors your credibility. In other words, the more valid edits you make, the faster and more likely they are going to be accepted. However, for those seeking to increase their credibility, this didn’t help my initial paralysis that much.

I am retired, so have plenty of time to spend time on the Connect forums in order to educate myself. I was looking for guidelines: a rule-book or just any form of guidance, but this turned out to be far more difficult than I had expected. Yes, the Connect forums contain a treasure of knowledge. I love, for example, some of the explanations by Gregg concerning why certain things should be done in a certain way, or when fellow Local Guides write about their encounters with shop-owners, etc. The trouble is, there is no button to get a plate-full of “cherry-posts”; you must harvest the forum for hours to be able to pick enough for a decent meal.

Then I came across a challenge. When reading all these posts, it is difficult to evaluate the degree of “authority” of the authors from their answers on the forums. Sure, most have reached Level 5, but that doesn’t make you an expert on any specific topic per se. During my harvesting, I came across a lot of what I call “substandard cherries”: an individual has a query and posts it, a well-meaning member of the community answers and the person who posted the question in the first place is empowered to mark that answer as the solution to the query, regardless of the quality of the advice. As a test, I took a few test cases and read all the posts related to a certain topic when searching the forums to check whether the given answers were at least consistent; they weren’t. The trouble is, you cannot expect everyone to have the time to be so thorough in checking the facts, or indeed, expect Local Guides to make such investments of time in checking consistency, accuracy, etc.

I’m sure that Google is aware of this situation, but wants to keep the instructions on the Help-Desk as simple as possible. The last thing they want to do is to discourage a new enthusiastic Local Guide by showing them all the things they need to know before they feel capable to edit maps. I infer that the thinking is: with the safety nets in place, it is okay to let them just get on with it and learn by doing.

To take an analogy close to the hearts of many local guides – photography – the novice amateur may simply shoot as many pictures as they like, and barely ever progress beyond this stage; nothing wrong with that. Others want to invest more in their hobby, recognizing how much better one can be with even a modest degree of investment in understanding light and form. I think it’s similar with the forum. I see a lot of people in our Local Guides communities (both Connect and the 283+ unofficial ones) that see being a Local Guide as their hobby; some take it very seriously and are highly motivated to become as savvy as possible, but are they being offered the resources to do this? Is all that potential being optimally used?

In my opinion, the Connect forums do currently not fulfill all the needs of the more advanced community members. These committed members of our community would have a lot more to offer to Google and the Local Guides community if they were more united and shared some common direction.

As I have come to realize that it is probably not in Google’s interest to have an official certification program and lots of official resources with pages of rules and guidelines, the alternative approach seemed obvious: that it should come from the bottom up: from the community itself. Realizing this, several pieces of the puzzle fell in to place.

As a co-moderator of my local unofficial LG community, I was already thinking about some kind of exchange program whereby community moderators would share content. It came up after I started to develop initial ideas for quizzes and case studies to be used by an individual unofficial LG community, but why limit it to that? How great would it be if all 283 other LG communities would submit one quiz or case study to an exchange bank of resources? We would have enough educational contents for our G+ sites for years to come.

Soon enough, I came to realize that the materials produced by this interactive group would need to be scrutinized for quality, rather like peer review in the academic world. Hence, the idea of having a system of faculties by discipline: advanced LG photographers as “academics” in a Faculty of Photography; ex-Regional Leads and Top Contributors united in a LG Faculty of Map Editing, etc.

Therefore, the initiative of the Local Guides Academy was born.
By collaborating as a team, exchanging ideas, sharing knowledge and by promoting best practice in the LG community in a concerted manner, members of the Academy can help raise the community standards and become an even greater asset of the LG program.

So, that’s the idea. Now, what are your thoughts on it, either in principle or on the specifics? I believe there’s quite some undiscovered territory out there, and I really welcome any feedback and thoughts on the role of the new (unofficial community) Academy as a community-driven collaboration.

To participate in the discussion, please go to the official community website of Google’s Local Guides program here.

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