Busman’s Holiday

A busman’s holiday PowerPoint training in Myanmar

I’ve just got back from a wonderful trip to Myanmar,  and an unexpected highlight was running PowerPoint training sessions for 30+ librarians from 7 universities! Another professional first – training in a longyi!

When my partner (who has previously worked with universities in Myanmar) first suggested that I might like to do some PowerPoint training for librarians during my 60th birthday holiday, I thought she was joking. When she suggested it for a second time, I have to admit that I wasn’t too keen. But I’m very glad that she persuaded me. She said it would be a rewarding experience, and she was right!

Back to my roots

When I started Oxford Computer Group 35 years ago, our focus was software training to children and adults. We soon turned our attention to businesses (Visicalc, WordStar and dBase) and, around 25 years ago – just when Myanmar (or Burma as it was then called) was becoming more and more cut off from the rest of the world – we were moving into Windows, Word, Excel, Access and PowerPoint (oh, and Lan Manager, NT, SQL Server…), and from training towards general consultancy.

Training in the University of Mandalay Library
Training in the University of Yangon Library

In Myanmar, however, Windows has only recently become widely available. So the opportunity to train librarians on PowerPoint was like winding the clock back. But, this time, I had to stop and think about all the Windows functionality that has become second nature to me after more than two decades!

Some recent history

Since a quasi-civilian government assumed power in 2011, Myanmar has been gradually opening up.

When my partner first visited the libraries at Myanmar’s two most prestigious universities – the University of Yangon and the University of Mandalay – in December 2013, they only had a few old computers and a single, very slow dial-up internet line.

But the situation is now very different. The campuses of both universities have been wired with fibre optic lines, and wifi is available everywhere. Libraries are well stocked with computers and laptops, access to international e-resources is available and, unlike a few years back, they are also packed with students and academics.

A window on Windows

Library staff have received training on e-resources, but not on Windows software. As PowerPoint is a very important tool for librarians for end-user training, advocacy and professional development, my partner felt it would be the one to focus on during two half-day sessions at the Universities.

Teaching in the University of Yangon Library
Teaching in the University of Mandalay Library

However, as librarians are also pretty new to Windows in general, I realized that I needed to cover the key skills for creating efficient and consistent documents in general (fonts, layout, use of templates), as well as how to create professional and impactful presentations on PowerPoint.

This turned out to be a good decision, and librarians were excited to learn some very useful bits of Windows functionality that have become second nature to me over the last 25 years, for example, using a mouse to drag and drop, resizing objects proportionately, grouping objects, inserting images, snipping graphics, matching colours, adding hyperlinks, using format painter, and so on,

Having covered the basics, I focused on how to use slide masters to save time and create more effective presentations. And the presentations (and slide masters) we created can now be used by the librarians in the future.

Unforgettable

It was a great privilege to get off the tourist trail and to meet ‘real’ people doing ‘real jobs’. It was very rewarding to see the excitement and enthusiasm with which the librarians embraced new skills and knowledge. And I was struck by the extent to which everyone helped each other out. For example, not everyone understood English – particularly technical terms – and my Myanmar is limited to hello and thanks! What’s more, it was incredible that more than 30 librarians gave up their Saturday to attend the session in Yangon.

Although the situation at the universities has improved greatly over the last few years, it was clear there are still many challenges ahead – for example, the session in Mandalay was cut short due to a power cut and bandwidth is still an issue.

Overall, it was great to see that one could really make a difference in a short time, and I hope very much that I will have the opportunity to do further such sessions in the future. As a company, Oxford Computer Group will actively encourage and support other staff members in volunteering their services for community training and projects.

There are more photos of me teaching on the University of Yangon Library Facebook page.


Want more? I’ve written a more idiosyncratic travelog of our journey here.