NMC 2014 Summer Conference: Not In My Wildest Dreams!

June 20, 2014

The words “ambassadors” and “learning spaces” might not be at the forefront of your mind if you’re attending an educational-technology conference, but they certainly were for me while I was in Portland, Oregon for the New Media Consortium (NMC) 2014 Summer [ed-tech] Conference earlier this week.
NMC Summer Conference - PortlandIt was, in fact, at the intersection of ambassadors and learning spaces that I again saw what most attracts me to ed-tech and all other aspects of training-teaching-learning: the learners themselves. And what I saw needs to be seen by every one of us involved in and passionate about learning.

The ambassador connection initially came within hours of my arrival onsite early in the week through my conference roommate, Jonathan Nalder—an Australian educator/ed-tech enthusiast who partially funded his trip to the conference by running an online fundraising campaign via Kickstarter. Nalder was among the more than 20 ed-tech aficionados worldwide chosen to serve in the first cohort of NMC ambassadors for their willingness to play the role of “knowledgeable members of NMC Horizon Project K-12 Advisory Boards in the discussions that lead to future K-12 editions of the NMC Horizon Report series, be the experts in their field in the NMC Commons, and gain recognition among an international body of colleagues as innovative educators,” as we are reminded on the NMC website. (The ambassadors earned their positions by submitting video applications that describe the innovations taking place at their schools and also give us a wonderful overview of what was happening in the world of K-12 ed-tech at the time those videos were submitted.) So it was an unexpected pleasure to join him and several other ambassadors for dinner—which is when the learning-spaces connections began.

Hearing NMC Ambassador Lisa Gustinelli chat, during dinner, about a library that had become an “innovation center” she recently joined in a private high school in Florida teed up the topic nicely because it connected transformations I have been following: learning spaces that feature equipment and furniture that can easily be moved to accommodate the needs of learners and learning facilitators; collaborative environments; and the continuing evolution of libraries in ways that more overtly acknowledge and promote their long-standing role as learning centers. My own extremely rewarding onsite conference explorations of learning spaces continued during the week through a series of experiences including attendance at Houston Community College Northwest Director of Technology and Instructional Computing Tom Haymes’ session on idea spaces, and Al Biles’ engaging session providing an overview of innovations at the Rochester Institute of Technology Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity (MAGIC)—which is beautifully described on the MAGIC website.

The ambassador-and-learning-spaces connection came full circle early in the afternoon of the final day of the conference when I joined colleagues in exploring the conference “Idea Lab”—a stimulating ed-tech version of poster sessions designed to serve as “a dynamic place where creativity flows,” and where displays took various shapes including simple yet elegantly-designed stand-alone posters and informal presentations that incorporated content viewable on tablets.

 

Cheryl Steighner with students

Cheryl Steighner with students

Walking over to the “Social Media: Connecting Young Learners to the World” session organized by NMC Ambassador Cheryl Steighner, I found what I hadn’t even known I was seeking: learners at the center of an Idea Lab session about the training-teaching-learning process. And not just any learners: Steighner’s co-presenters (lovingly referred to as her “Steighnerds”—were an amazing group of fourth- and fifth-grade students who were the youngest presenters ever to be included in an NMC Summer Conference, conference organizers confirmed. With Steighner standing nearby and intentionally taking a back seat to her learners, the students described how they had studied an interwoven variety of subjects by using Skype, Twitter, and other social media tools. Via Skype, for example, they interviewed students from other parts of the United States; their initial challenge, shaped through gamification techniques and involving a series of yes-no questions, was to determine where their Skype colleagues were physically located. Once they determined the geographical setting inhabited by their fellow students, they located and marked those places on a map that is usually kept in their classroom and was brought onsite to the NMC conference to be incorporated into their Idea Lab display. But the learning didn’t stop at that elementary level during the Skype sessions; the students learned about their Skype-partners’ cities and states through conversations during those online sessions. The students also honed their English reading and writing skills by composing grammatically correct sentences that became tweets, and by using iPads to compose writing assignments on a variety of topics including the civil rights movement in America.

Skyping to learning geograpny...and more

Skyping to learn geography…and more

Most striking about this blended learning/blended presentation approach is that it made me think far more broadly about the interwoven nature of our learning spaces than I ever had before. The Idea Lab space was a temporary learning space in which adults were learning about Steighner’s approach to teaching as well as about her learners’ sophisticated and enthusiastic approach to learning. The students’ learning space is an intriguingly blended onsite-online classroom that reaches as far as Steighner, Skype, Twitter, and NMC Summer Conference attendance will take them. The conference itself was a dynamically-inspiring learning space comprised of numerous elements: the smaller overlapping learning spaces ranging from the Idea Lab displays, workshops on massive open online courses (MOOCS) and other topics, and session break-out rooms to the larger ballroom settings where plenary sessions were held—and then beyond the hotel where the conference took place, extending into the restaurant where the ambassadors and I talked about innovation spaces and so much more Monday night, then extending even further into another restaurant the following evening with a slightly expanded group that included NMC staff, a workshop facilitator, and one of the conference plenary speakers.

NMC CEO Larry Johnson chats with one of the youngest conference presenters

NMC CEO Larry Johnson chats with one of the youngest conference presenters

I clearly wasn’t the only one to notice the spectacular nature of what was occurring in this wonderfully expansive learning space. NMC CEO Larry Johnson, visiting with Steighner’s learners during the Idea Lab session, was clearly as moved by the experience as any of us were. After listening to the students describe what they have gained, he reached into his pocket and in what was clearly an unplanned act, handed each of them a business card and told them that when these fourth- and fifth-grade students were ready to enter the workforce, there would be a place waiting for them at the New Media Consortium.

“When NMC started the Ambassador Program a year ago, did you have any idea that people like Cheryl would be producing results like this at an NMC conference?” I asked him a few minutes later.

“Not in my wildest dreams,” he responded without hesitation.

It simply has to be said: the ambassador project is one well worth observing and emulating, and those fourth- and fifth-grade learners who are becoming our partners merit all the attention we can give them, for they are going to be entering our workplaces sooner than we think. And the learning experiences and expectations they bring with them are going to offer us magnificent opportunities to continue growing with and responding to the evolving challenges of training-teaching-learning—or they are going to leave us in the dust.

“They are going to change the world,” Steighner predicts in a way that cannot be denied, for they already are as we spend time with them. Learn from them. And are inspired to be even better than we are at what we do.


NMC 2014 Summer Conference: Lighting Candles and Taking It Down  

June 18, 2014

Listening to Tom Haymes (director, technology & instructional computing at Houston Community College Northwest) talk about how to create idea spaces this afternoon at the New Media Consortium (NMC) 2014 Summer [ed-tech] Conference here in Portland, Oregon, I realized that worlds were converging. What better place, after all, to be hearing and dreaming about those creatively dynamic and innovative academic learning centers than at a conference which brings colleagues together to at least temporarily form an inspiring space for the development and sharing of ideas?

Haymes--Idea_SpacesThe topic Haymes was addressing—the need to be “looking at our spaces, the time allotted for reflection, and the mental, institutional and cultural structures we put into place to support teaching and learning”—isn’t just something of interest to those of us at this first-rate ed-tech conference; it’s a topic that is essential to what I see my training-teaching-learning colleagues in workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors and in libraries, museums, and other community-based learning organizations considering, promoting, and doing.

While Haymes posed it in terms of academic settings by rhetorically asking why our classrooms often continue to look the way they have looked for generations, he could have just as easily been posing the same question to anyone involved in training-teaching-learning. Whether we are absorbing gems from the best of lecturers or suffering through deadly-dull lectures, we have access to a steady stream of research showing how relatively ineffective the lecture as a learning tool is, yet it continues to be the paradigm in much of what we encounter through our lifelong learning efforts.

Increasingly, however, we are also encountering wonderful extensions of the decades-long search for models more effective than the learner-as-sponge lecture model: the best of our connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs), for example, create cross-platform virtual settings for engaging learning experiences; the information commons model that has extended beyond the walls of academic libraries into public library settings seems to be morphing into makerspaces and innovation centers that are changing the shape of some of our community learning centers, and those idea spaces that Haymes so tantalizingly dangled before us this afternoon give us something else to dream about—and strive to produce. It’s all part of moving us from what Haymes described as the quintessential learner question—“What do I have to do to get an A in this course?”—to the all-too-infrequently-asked question, “What can I learn in this class?”

And Haymes wasn’t quite done with us at that point; he also described how he and his campus colleagues are designing for synergistic innovation: “We really designed the entire campus to be a learning space, where all of the pieces work together”—which, again, is a wonderful goal for all of us in training-teaching-learning to explore and pursue since it places an emphasis on the same holistic approach to learning-space design as we should be taking to the learning process itself.

NMC Summer Conference - PortlandWe come full circle here: classrooms as idea spaces, and conferences as idea spaces where learning occurs naturally. We heard NMC CEO Larry Johnson begin the first full day of formal keynote addresses, presentations, and other activities with the playful directive “Let’s light this candle!” We heard him at the end of the day offer what I’ve come to accept as the “Conference Lament”–an acknowledgement that when you convene a creative group of trainer-teacher-lifelong learners who incorporate conference backchannels into their learning experience, you’re going to find that no conference wireless system can possibly keep up with all of us: “We’re an Internet organization; everywhere we go, we take it down,” he told conference participants in a moment of levity near the end of the day. “”We bought you a great Internet experience; I’m sorry you’re not getting it.” But what we did get as we reconvened as a group at the end of the day was a fabulous series of five-minute presentations from colleagues whose learning innovations make us wonder why we would settle for anything less than the most adventurous and productive approaches possible. And the icing on the cake was an end-of-day keynote presentation by photographer-visual storyteller Bill Frakes, whose short films on cranes and “a teacher remembered” were stunningly, heartbreakingly beautiful explorations of artistry, creativity, innovative use of technology, and the power of storytelling.

There’s still another full day of sharing our temporary idea space here in Portland. And I have no doubt that when it comes to an end, the sense of augmented emotional reality that this sort of immersive environment creates will once again begin to dissipate. But the important and more long-term transformation that the idea spaces in our lives inspire are the learning model most worth pursuing—which is the gift our NMC colleagues are once again providing.


NMC 2014 Summer Conference: Adventures, Guilds, MOOCs, MOLOs, and Gamification (Play With Me)  

June 17, 2014

You won’t hear any of the “MOOCs are dead” lamentations here at the 2014 New Media Consortium (NMC) Summer [ed-tech] Conference in Portland, Oregon. In fact, many of us attending New Mexico State University Assistant Professor of Curriculum & Instruction Julia Parra’s pre-conference workshop this morning walked away understanding that the world of MOOCs (massive open online courses)  is still very much evolving. As is the approach to designing and delivering them. As is the vocabulary that attempts to describe them.

nmc.logo.cmykParra took an appropriately playful approach to the topic as she suggested that incorporating concepts of gamification into the evolving world of MOOCs might produce more engaging and rewarding learning experiences for all involved. If we apply the playfulness of gamification to MOOCs, she suggested, we begin trying to cultivate “fans” rather than designing coursework for “students.” Those “students” then become “adventurers” in learning “adventures” rather than completing uninspiring assignments in weekly “modules,” and they engage in connected learning by working in small “guilds” comprised of less than 10 people per guild so they can more effectively become learners as creators rather than learners solely as consumers—something I’ve experienced and documented through participation in #etmooc—the Educational Technology and Media MOOC—and other connectivist MOOCs.

Even the terminology applied to these online courses can reflect the variety of options available, Parra noted: MOOCs, in a variation she is exploring through an “Adventures in Learning Design, Technology, and Innovation” course she is developing, become MOLOs—Massive Open Learning Opportunities. Other variations she noted in passing include LOOCs (little open online courses), SPOCs (small private online classes), and LeMOOCs (limited enrollment MOOCs).

The way we and our learners approach MOOCs and define completion and success is equally open to variations. One of her own practices is to engage in what she calls “scavenging”—diving into a MOOC long enough to find something of value to her or to achieve a particular learning (adventure) goal rather than feeling that she has to finish every assignment designed by those creating and facilitating the adventures she is pursuing. It’s the same approach many of us are taking in our lifelong-learning endeavors: we maintain that we have “completed” this sort of learning adventure when we have met our own learning goals rather than standard one-size-fits-all definitions of the term “course completion.” The bottom line, of course, is that we help create and foster a culture of lifelong learning that provides the opportunity for learning facilitators to learn alongside their learners.

NMC Summer Conference - PortlandParra further helped us explore our ever-evolving learning environment by reminding us that some of our familiar approaches to learning (e.g., pedagogy and andragogy) are complemented through increasing attention we give to other “gogies,” including heutagogy (the study of self-directed learning) and hybrid pedagogy. The push to explore, synthesize, and build upon the myriad approaches and influences trainer-teacher-learners encounter every time we step back from our work enough to see all that goes into it helped clarify the exciting range of possibilities that come our way each time we convene at a conference as inspiring and as eye-opening as the NMC Summer Conference is.

Leaving the session—and looking forward to all that is before us for the next few days—left at least  few of us appreciating the elements of a framework for learning that Parra outlined: clarification; community and collaboration; creation; crystallization; and contemplation—a framework that should serve us well as we continue learning from our colleagues here in Portland and within the much larger communities of learning to which we belong through all that we attempt and accomplish.


NMC 2014 Summer Conference (Prelude): Nomenclature and Starting Points  

June 16, 2014

There was a time when the term “innovation center”—at least for me—reflected one of the world capitals described by author/thought leader/researcher Richard Florida in books including The Rise of the Creative Class and Who’s Your City?

NMC Summer Conference - PortlandBut that was before I arrived in Portland, Oregon earlier today, a full day before the 2014 New Media Consortium (NMC) Summer [ed-tech] Conference formally begins with preconference workshops; by the time I was having dinner with several conference attendees earlier this evening, I was learning from one of them—Lisa Gustinelli—what innovations centers have become. As director of instructional technology at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Boca Raton, Florida, she has the fascinating challenge of helping familiarize her colleagues at a newly-opened innovation center with what the center means to the school, the faculty, and the learners it serves.

Listening to Gustinelli, I realized that what students, faculty, and the school librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas are beginning to encounter is a perfect example of a disruptive technological change that combines elements of several tech developments we have been following through the NMC Horizon Project (e.g., smart classrooms, telepresence, and collaborative environments) along with a few we haven’t yet encountered (e.g., classrooms with glass walls upon which learners can write). Teachers not only must learn to incorporate new technology into their day-to-day work, but must deal with the repercussions of working in a classroom that is, through its glass walls, visible to those passing by rather than being the more self-contained onsite or online space in which so many of us have worked during our entire training-teaching-learning career. Furthermore, the school librarian is going to quickly have to cope with an environment where books are in storage while digital resources are in the forefront of faculty-librarian/media specialist/learner interactions.

And lest any of us think of this as someone else’s challenge, let’s not forget that the sort of transformation Gustinelli was describing is not going to remain behind the glass walls of a private high school for long if it leads to learning successes in that environment; those learners—and many more like them—are going to graduate into our college and university settings sooner than later, join our workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts, and use our libraries to support their lifelong learning endeavors.

nmc.logo.cmykThere’s an even more interesting—but rarely considered—aspect to the challenges we all face as our learning environments quickly change to reflect the rapid rate of technological change that is all around us: we literally don’t have the words to describe what we are doing in a world where our old labels (e.g., teacher, trainer, learning facilitator) are simply not broad and rich enough to capture the nuances of all we are doing. It’s as if we’re facing a vocabulary deficiency that is every bit as challenging as the attempt to define digital literacy has become. We see this as school librarians struggle to not completely lose that term to the more contemporary “media specialist” appellation. It’s the same struggle we see happening in workplace learning and performance as ASTD (the American Society for Training & Development) transforms itself into ATD (the Association for Talent Development). “Talent Development” may be where industry jargon is headed, but “training” is still the far-from-adequate descriptor that is most familiar to trainer-teacher-learners.

And yet that sort of wicked problem—not only dealing with the changes coming our way, but also finding the words to define and describe what we do—is a large part of what attracts us to attend the 2014 NMC Summer conference. In fact, NMC CEO Larry Johnson addresses it directly in his “Welcome” statement in the conference program: “The NMC was founded on the values of collaboration and sharing, and every year, new projects are born from the conversations that take place here. Every year, I look forward to the chance to learn from some of the very best minds in new media anywhere, and judging from the program, I will learn a lot this year from all of you.”

So it’s probably no surprise that as our pre-conference dinner was breaking up and someone wondered aloud when the conference formally begins, I didn’t miss a beat before responding: “Oh, that’s easy; it started the minute we sat down together this evening and started talking to each other.”


Location, Location, and Location: Hanging Out and Learning With Samantha Adams Becker and ATD

May 17, 2014

Being in the same room with my friend, colleague, and co-presenter Samantha Adams Becker earlier this week along with colleagues from the Golden Gate Chapter of the Association for Talent Development (ATD)—formerly the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD)—required a combination of technological sleight of hand; some knowledge of the neuroscience of the brain, learning, and magic; and plenty of practice.

Horizon_Report--2014-CoverWhat helped make the evening intriguing was that Samantha, in a very real sense, was not more than a few feet away from me in San Francisco for our “Ed-Tech, Learning, and NMC (New Media Consortium) Horizon Reports: What’s In It for Us..and Our Learners” discussions with local ATD colleagues while simultaneously being more than 1,850 miles away, in Baton Rouge.

I’ve been learning how to be in at least two places at once ever since colleagues and I, in fall 2007, used Skype to connect a colleague from Ohio with an onsite audience in San Francisco to show how the use of free online tools could effectively and viscerally bring people together in ways that simulate face-to-face conversations—think of it as telepresence without costly investments. I continued the experiment  with Skype in a different context for a virtual face-to-face just-in-time lesson in using Excel and PowerPoint two years later to help a friend prepare for a job interview she was about to do. Racheted it up a bit more via Skype by bringing two offsite colleagues into an onsite presentation for ASTD Sacramento Chapter members in May 2011. And returned to the experiment with Samantha in June 2012, shortly after Google Hangouts became available as a way to viscerally connect individuals regardless of geography: she was co-presenter, from New Orleans, for an onsite session I was facilitating in San Francisco’s East Bay Area for ASTD Mount Diablo Chapter colleagues.

We knew we had exceeded participants’ expectations—and our own—when I managed to step out of the room unnoticed while the Mount Diablo Chapter members were interacting with Samantha; rejoin the conversation from outside the room by logging into the Google Hangout via a tablet I was using, and briefly talk to her about how that interaction by tablet was an example of how smartphones and tablets were allowing us to engage in a variety of m-learning (mobile learning) opportunities regardless of whether those opportunities were asynchronous or synchronous—which is what the ATD Mount Diablo Chapter event had become at that moment.

ASTD_to_ATDOur latest collaboration with members of what is now the ATD Golden Gate Chapter included some interesting twists, and those interested in how to duplicate the experience have plenty to consider. Basic equipment includes a desktop or laptop computer; webcams (mine is built into my relatively lightweight Toshiba Portégé laptop); ability for us to hear each other (both of our laptops have small built-in speakers that produce high-quality audio output when hooked up to an onsite speaker system), and she usually doesn’t wear a headset or have any other visual cues that would remind people she is not physically in the room; a small, portable back-up speaker system that can be hooked up to my laptop in case the onsite speaker system isn’t working properly on the day or night of a presentation; and a projector and screen (or blank white surface) to project Samantha’s video feed from the Google Hangout in a way that made it easily and clearly visible for everyone onsite.

Onsite rehearsal time is critically important. When using a site for the first time, rehearsals can extend from an unusually short 45 minutes if all works well—it rarely does—to as much as two two-hour sessions if intensive trouble-shooting becomes necessary. (We once had to solve an unexpected Internet connectivity problem by ending one very frustrating two-hour session so I could obtain a 4G hotspot device and make arrangements to purchase enough online time with that device to carry us through an additional rehearsal and the live event itself.) Rehearsal includes checking sound levels from various points throughout the room, locating the best position for the webcam so it captures enough of the room for Samantha to be able to see as many participants as possible, and trying to create the least-intrusive tech set-up possible: the point is to create a set-up which has participants looking at the projected image of Samantha, me, and each other as much as possible so that the technology quickly fades into the background—which, thankfully, it generally does!

Sleights_of_MindUnderstanding how our minds process visual and audio information also helped us more effectively take advantage of creating the illusion of presence even though she was physically in Baton Rouge, so reading the section on ventriloquism in Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde’s book Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals About Our Everyday Deceptions. The key element here is understanding that our brains process sound the same way they do when we watch movies in a theater, matching sounds with images to make us believe the sound is coming from the screen rather than the speakers, so we always attempt to have speakers unobtrusively placed as close to the screen as possible and match the sound level as much as possible to the level of my own voice onsite.

We have also come to understand that worries about lack of synchronization between what participants hear and see (as when lip movement is ahead of or behind what they hear) is not as important as many of us might assume. Macknik and Martinez-Conde convincingly demonstrate, in their book, that we focus on an extremely small part of what is in our overall field of vision. Extrapolating from what they show, we realize that the only time participants notice discrepancies between sound and lip motion is when they focus their visual attention on the motions of the speaker’s lips onscreen. If they are looking at Samantha’s eyes, or at me, or at anything else in the room, the illusion of presence is not at all interrupted.

Our onsite-online blended presentation this time also carried the experiment one step further. To control and limit potential bandwidth problems, Samantha and I were the only two participants in the Hangout; other offsite participants received the program feed via a separate remote-viewing option that Chapter members routinely provide. If offsite participants had wanted to ask questions, the person monitoring that external feed would simply have repeated questions to Samantha and me, and we would have responded orally so the outgoing feed carried the response from the room to the offsite participants.

But all of this is just a prelude to the real magic that occurs through this type of learning experiment/experience: it’s a perfect match of content and delivery method for everyone involved. We were introducing participants to current trends, challenges, and developments in educational technology that affect them and their own learners, and we were facilitating discussions on the topic through the use of relatively low-cost technology that they themselves could immediately use if they chose to do so. We had cobbled together a smart classroom to show how relatively easy a task that could be. We learned from the questions they asked as much as they learned from the presentation we offer.

Emergency responders needed for e-learning trauma?

Emergency responders needed for e-learning trauma?

Most importantly, it became another example of the power of learning opportunities that are engaging. One of our most rewarding discussions came from participants’ observations that e-learning/online learning experiences generally are far less engaging than they should be and almost leave learners requiring the assistance of trauma-unit personnel—which made us laughingly agree that one service ATD and other learning organizations could provide would be an e-learning trauma/paramedic service to minister to those who had suffered through traumatically bad learning experiences online. We also used our ersatz smart-classroom set-up to exchange ideas about how to address digital literacy challenges among ourselves as trainer-teacher-learners as well as among the larger group of learners we all serve.

The conversation came to an end with the all-important confirmation that everyone in the room felt as if Samantha had been there with us in our blended onsite-online learning experiment—and in every significant way, she had been! The technology we have and the technology that others are continuing to develop creates magnificent opportunities to meet and interact with first-rate colleagues and provide effective learning opportunities—as long as we focus on each other and see the technology as the background tool that facilitates learning, communication, interactions, and meaningful collaboration.


ASTD International Conference 2014: Connectivity, Learning, Augmented (Emotional) Reality, and Phoning It In

May 7, 2014

As the Association for Talent Development (ATD)/American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) 2014 International Conference & Exposition) reached its conclusion this afternoon, I couldn’t help but think about how much I forced myself to learn from it—by not being physically there.

ASTD_to_ATDI thought I had pretty much drained the learning pool over the past few days by experimenting with virtual participation via social media tools and the conference backchannel. My own increasingly-immersive participation over the past few days had included interactions with onsite and offsite colleagues extending across Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blog posts. I had even watched and tweeted a live online broadcast that made me feel present yesterday afternoon at the formal announcement that ASTD was officially transformed, at that moment, into ATD after 70 years of successful operation as a first-rate training-teaching-learning organization; the experience became more visceral this morning when onsite attendees used Twitter to share numerous photographs documenting that all conference signage had been changed overnight to reflect the change of name.

But it didn’t occur to me, until this morning, that I had overlooked the use of one more piece of technology—one so familiar that I had completely overlooked it. The moment of revelation and experimentation came when I was again reading and reacting to tweets from the conference. Among the flood of messages was one from Walt Hansmann, a long-time ASTD friend and colleague with whom I’ve presented, brainstormed, learned, dined, laughed, and groused countless times. (In fact, it was through Walt that I met Larry Straining, whose Facebook posting a week ago sent me down the path of more creatively and intensely experimenting with learning through virtual-conference attendance; ATD/ASTD really has been and continues to be pivotal in helping me understand what a small world we all inhabit and serve.) So there was Walt, tweeting about the fact that he was already wearing a new ATD pin while I was on the other side of the country thinking, “If I was there, I’d be wearing one of those, too.” And then it dawned on me: all I needed to do was try to reach him on his cell phone. Which I did. And the ensuing conversation led to his assurance that one of those pins would work its way across the United States and into my hands sooner than later.

ASTD_ICE_2014That combination of tweeting and calling may have produced the virtual-conference-attendance equivalent of the joys and rewards of meeting and learning from each other in conference hallways. More importantly in terms of the virtual-conference experiment, the call carried us back into cross-platform conference participation as he immediately posted a tweet (“@paulsignorelli @trainersleaders may not be @ #astd2014 physically, but he is sharing via SoMe [social media] and just called to touch base!”) while I was tweeting my own response to the phone conversation: “Oh, technology, with all your lovely variations: just briefly joined @WaltHansmann at #ASTD2014—via a phone call. #NoLongerLeftBehind.” I was also, at the same time, responding to another tweet suggesting that Dan Steer’s tweets had made the tweeter sorry to have missed the conference—to which I responded, “made me feel closer to it.” We closed the circle on that conversation when Dan himself—whom I’ve never met face to face—used the “favorite” option on Twitter to acknowledge my appreciation for all he had done to carry the conference far beyond the physical site of the conference.

This exploration of how we might more creatively incorporate the use of social media tools into learning opportunities benefitted from a wonderful combination of resources. The fact that many ATD members are adept at synthesizing content via backchannel interactions on Twitter is an essential starting point; they were the portal to the conference for me and for others who were attending from a (physical) distance. ATD’s first-rate conference app made it possible to monitor the conference schedule and access some presenters’ conference materials; that helped me see and understand what others were reacting to onsite. Having a tablet meant I could turn this into a mobile-learning/mobile-conferencing experience at times by following the backchannel feed even while I was using public transportation here in San Francisco to move from appointment to appointment when I wasn’t at home using a desktop/laptop combination. And the encouragement of training-teaching-learning colleagues provided what a successful learner needs: a great community of learning and engaged personal learning network that supports the learner’s process and explorations.

There was a time, for me, when having that stimulatingly immersive experience face-to-face with conference colleagues—call it “conference high” for lack of a better term—concluded with a sense of melancholy that came from knowing I was about to leave them and wouldn’t see them again for anywhere from six to twelve months—until we were reunited for the next intensely inspiring set of learning interactions that we found through our shared conference experiences. The bouts of melancholy diminished noticeably over the past few years when it became obvious that we would be “seeing” each other far more often through our shared use of social media tools, conference calls, and interactions via Skype and Google Hangouts. But I found a different, yet parallel, sense of melancholy setting in this afternoon for the first time as we said our virtual good-byes. And I realized that it wasn’t just the coming and going of friends who interact, then are apart for considerable periods of time, that used to cause that melancholy. It’s the fact that a well-run conference or any other sort of convocation is, in and of itself, the catalyst—a special meeting of friends and colleagues to creatively explore, at a very human level, what is important to all of us; it’s a form of augmented reality that might best be described as “augmented intellectual and emotional reality.” It deepens the emotional connections that draw us together. It ignites all that is most worth cultivating within each of us. And it reminds us that without those shared community-building moments of engagement regardless of whether they are onsite or online, we would be far less than what we are.

N.B. — This is the third of three interrelated articles inspired by the ASTD/ATD 2014 International Conference & Exposition in Washington, D.C. For two additional views of the virtual conference attendance experience, please see Kent Brooks’ Twitter Activity at #ASTD2014 Through Monday May 5 [2014] and Michelle Ockers’ My #ASTD2014 Backchannel Experience.


ASTD International Conference 2014, ATD, and Far From Left Behind

May 6, 2014

With a bit of help from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and the use of social media tools, I was far from left behind this afternoon not only in my attempts to actively participate in a first-rate conference I can’t physically attend this year (the 2014 International Conference & Exposition—ICE) but to keep up with much that ASTD is doing. Which, I learned while watching a live online broadcast from the conference itself and live-tweeting it just as if I would have done if I had physically been there, includes the transition from ASTD to ATD—the Association for Talent Development—to reflect the evolving nature of what all of us do as trainer-teacher-learners.

ASTD_ICE_2014The past couple of days, as I noted in an earlier article, have provided tremendous learning opportunities about how outdated our beliefs are in terms of the concept of being left behind when we can’t join friends and colleagues at professional-development opportunities beyond our geographic reach. By engaging with onsite attendees through the conference Twitter feed and actually commenting on what was happening onsite, I was able to do quite a bit of what I would have done onsite: learn from what presenters were discussing; pick up (from tweets) bits and pieces of (other) sessions I wasn’t able to attend; share my own tweets and those created by others with my own extended community of learning/personal learning network; and even make new acquaintances from whom I will continue to learn in the months and years to come. The levels of engagement fostered through these online exchanges even caused one colleague to send a tweet asking if I were actually onsite.

Seeing onsite participants retweeting my offsite tweets was just one of many signs that we have tremendous potential for interacting with colleagues and other learners in very creative ways if we nurture our skills in this direction. Actually working to connect one onsite participant with another onsite participant—they didn’t know each other, but a tweet from one made me realize that contact with the other would be rewarding for both of them—took the idea of facilitating connections to an entirely different level for me: I have often helped colleagues who are geographically separated make connections online—just as others have done the same for me—but never before had the experience of being an offsite facilitator of onsite connections.

Setting up laptop to view live announcement and desktop for live tweeting

Setting up laptop to view live announcement and desktop for live tweeting

The breadth and scope of the conference exchanges also continued to evolve—which is a good sign that we have not at all reached the limit of what we can accomplish by combining the use of our social media tools to meet our learning and communication needs. As I mentioned in that earlier article, the experiment started with a Facebook posting from another ASTD colleague (Larry Straining); reached fruition via backchannel interactions on Twitter; and then returned to Facebook at one point as Larry connected me to another offsite ASTD colleague (Kent Brooks) I had not met before that moment. Larry, Kent, and I continued out offsite conference-attendance interactions in a way that drew a few others into the Facebook conversation, then expanded it into cross-postings from our own blogs. Having carried this into a posting on LinkedIn last night, I was delighted this morning to discover a response, on LinkedIn, from an ASTD colleague I hadn’t seen in more than two years—which means our “attendance” now extends from the conference site across Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Which brings us back to that moment when I realized, earlier today, that if I logged into the live online broadcast of ASTD/ATD President and CEO Tony Bingham’s much publicized surprise announcement about the future of the organization, I would be able to virtually join colleagues as the announcement was released and, at the same time, tweet it as if I were there. And as I engaged in that exercise and saw onsite attendees retweeting a few of my own tweets, I felt all thoughts of being left behind vanishing. I was there. In a very real sense, present. To hear and join in the celebration of a major step forward for an organization to which I’m very happy and lucky to belong. Onsite. As well as online.

N.B. — Here’s Kent’s latest contribution to the conversation: Twitter Activity at #ASTD2014 Through Monday May 5 [2014]. Also found backchannel participation from Michelle Ockers on her blog.


ASTD International Conference 2014, Twitter, and Staying Connected: No Longer Left Behind—Again!

May 5, 2014

The news that I made a new friend by participating in the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) 2014 International Conference & Exposition (ICE) today isn’t particularly noteworthy. The fact that I unexpectedly accomplished this with the help of two other people who weren’t physically attending a conference that I, too, am not physically attending does, however, suggest that there is a worthwhile story to tell any trainer-teacher-learner who is interested.

ASTD_ICE_2014We’ve heard quite a bit suggesting that social media tools make us lonely; that it’s time to deliver “A Eulogy for Twitter” as “the beloved social platform enters its twilight”; and that a social network can’t replace a “real” one (as if everyone who uses social media makes this an either-or decision).

What isn’t as often heard or read is the idea that being left behind when we are not able to physically join our friends and colleagues at wonderful professional development gatherings like ASTD ICE, American Library Association (ALA) conferences, and the numerous others that beckon is increasingly less of a problem than it was before social media tools came our way.

As I have continued experimenting with the use of social media tools in workplace and personal settings over the past several years, I’ve become intrigued by the possibilities they offer in terms of not being left behind. With that in mind, I tried a spur-of-the-moment experiment with ASTD colleagues last fall by trying to participate in an ASTD conference I was unable to physically attend. And while the last-minute nature of that experiment limited the number of exchanges I had with those onsite colleagues, I did unexpectedly encounter one sign of success: interacting with onsite participants by responding to tweets rather than just retweeting content for others caused a couple of people to ask if I were actually there. When we see the lines blur so much that offsite participation creates the sense of onsite interaction, I believe we have, in the best of situations, moved beyond the idea that we can’t be there unless we’re there.

The inspiration to retry the experiment with more deliberate planning came after another ASTD colleague, Larry Straining, posted a note on his Facebook account to let others know he was sorry he wouldn’t be physically present this week, but that he was looking forward to seeing tweets from conference attendees.

“If we follow the backchannel a bit and interact as time allows, we might extend the reach of the conference in significant ways and, at the same time, learn even more about how to effectively incorporate social media into our training-teaching-learning process,” I wrote in response—and that’s exactly how it played out today as I followed, responded to, and interacted with onsite colleagues from the comfort of my own home.

TwitterIt didn’t take long for my initial retweets—including brief comments building upon that content—to begin being retweeted under the conference hashtag. And it took less than three hours for a wonderful colleague to pop that magic question: Are you here? Which, of course, inspired the response “yes and no,” depending on how we define “here.”

Those who remain skeptical of the power of online exchanges will immediately raise a number of objections, including the (mistaken) belief that we can only make new conference acquaintances and interact with conference colleagues when we are face-to-face—an idea we disproved when Larry and I, via Facebook exchanges extending his initial thoughts, drew one of his colleagues into the exchange. The colleague—Kent Brooks—asked Larry for permission to quote from Larry’s postings about the value of using a Twitter feed to stay in touch with colleagues at a conference. I dove back into the exchange to ask Kent whether he wanted to try to coordinate blog postings on the topic—at which point Larry formally introduced us to each other, and Kent and I quickly completed the “friend” process on Facebook to move things along. My own tweet (to the conference feed) documenting that we had met through the conference without physically being at the conference was retweeted—as was a follow-up tweet I forwarded to draw attention to Kent’s earlier piece on “10 Reasons to Tweet at a Conference.”

It probably goes without saying that I laughed out loud when I discovered that my retweet of Kent’s piece was itself, retweeted by others—including Melissa Daimler, who serves as head of organizational effectiveness and learning at Twitter and also serves on the ASTD Board of Directors.

Atkinson--BackchannelIt’s worth noting that one very important element making this level of onsite-offsite interaction possible is the existence of a very strong backchannel among the first-rate trainer-teacher-learners who are at the heart of ASTD. The quality of the tweets from ASTD conference attendees is among the strongest I encounter: multiple voices tweeting individual sessions (not just notes about where to meet for drinks or swag) so that it’s possible to gain a sense of what is being discussed onsite; combined with the use of a conference app that is easily accessible and includes schedules, speaker bios, session materials when presenters have made them available so we can view them from a distance, and much more; and observations which in themselves provide magnificent learning moments.

As we began to wind down toward the end of this ever-evolving cross-platform series of exchanges, Kent and I returned to Facebook and Larry’s original post.

“When you state in your [original “No Longer Left Behind”] post, ‘The real pay-off for the experiment came when the exchanges put me in touch with one of the presenters who had seen the retweets and comments. The result, in many ways, was exactly what it would have been if I had been onsite and meeting members of those expanding communities of learning and personal learning networks rather than feeling as if I were part of the left-behind gang,’ I would suggest it was better than a come and go exchange which includes the standard ‘business card trading ritual’ as it allowed you to follow them (on Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. and continue to learn from them beyond the 60 minutes of the session + the 5 minute rush to talk to the presenter immediately following the session,” Kent proposed.

To which I openly admitted: “It would have been true if I hadn’t treated the virtual exchange exactly as one of those business-card exchanges you describe. Just as I do keep and return to business card contacts occasionally as time allows (loud sound of rueful laughter here for missed opportunities), I do occasionally return to that sort of virtually-established contact—but not nearly enough. It would appear that bad habits onsite translate to bad habits online–but I’m continuing to learn, thanks to people like you who inspire me to look for ways to become a better trainer-teacher-learner.”

So, no, Facebook is not making me lonelier. And I’m far from ready to join others in delivering a eulogy for Twitter. And yes, it would be lovely to be there onsite at the conference with others. But if I were there, I wouldn’t have had this latest magnificent experiential learning opportunity to help me further understand, at a visceral level, what amazing tools we currently have at our trainer-teacher-learner fingertips. Each experience brings its own benefits, its own rewards. And having the opportunity to learn with my colleagues remains at the heart of what continues to draw me to these conferences and exchanges.

N.B. — Here’s Kent’s latest contribution to the conversation: Twitter Activity at #ASTD2014 Through Monday May 5 [2014]. Also found backchannel participation from Michelle Ockers on her blog.


Standing With Our Friends (Part 2 of 2): I Watched You Disappear

April 25, 2014

That awful moment has again arrived: a cherished friend within one of the communities of learning that sustains me has lost a loved one.

I_Watched_You_DisappearIt was not an easy passing. My friend’s mother succumbed to pancreatic cancer during Easter weekend after all the usual pain, struggles with a health-care system that just doesn’t seem mature enough to adequately support those who are ill and those who love them, and numerous literal and figurative dark nights that never quite produced an obvious dawn.

But among the most stunning elements of this entire passage was the consistent reminder of what it means to be part of an extended onsite-online blended community in which friends stand with friends.

My friend—a fabulously gifted writer in addition to being an inspiring trainer-teacher-learner—was never at a loss for words, nor was she at any point reticent about sharing the most intimate details about what she, her mother, and others within her inner circle were feeling and experiencing. The moments of rage at health-care providers who seemed remarkably insensitive to basic needs. The moments of gratitude expressed toward health-care providers who were the onsite guardian angels. The emails and phone calls and social media postings. And the sharing of information that might be helpful to others in similar situations. All of these interwoven elements combined to produce one of the most moving invitations to celebrate a life well lived and mourn a loss I can imagine accepting.

The results produced amazing reminders of how interconnected we all remain in spite of all the ridiculous assertions we encounter that tech tools and other changes in our rapidly-changing world are somehow stopping people from communicating with each other at a meaningful level. Each time I read a Facebook post from my friend and then followed the dozens of responses from people I knew and from people I had not previously encountered (but came know through these exchanges), I felt my world broadening a bit and also understood that our ever-extending community was gaining the additional strength it would need to adequately support our friend, her mother and father, and others close to them. Every time I followed a link to read something my friend had read and from which she had taken solace, I found my own emotional connections to her experiences and her impending loss growing.

An afternoon during which she mentioned Anya Krugovoy Silver’s latest collection of poetry—I Watched You Disappear—was one of many turning points. A few lines from the title poem (“That fucking doctor killed you. Killed you./But I keep sending e-mails to your account.”) sent me racing to my local bookstore eager to obtain and devour a copy of what includes some of the most beautifully moving poetry I have read in years. Those lines opened a door to conversations my friend and I might not otherwise have had.

My friend’s post written on the evening of her mother’s departure (“Go rest high on that mountain, sweet Mama—your work here is done but will live on…She looked up at me, took her last breath, and was gone…”) put me right there with them in ways I would have never have expected to experience.

From "Virtual Dave...Real Blog"

From “Virtual Dave…Real Blog”

And a from-the-heart set of reflections (“Stand for Those We Miss and Love”) from one of my friend’s colleagues (R. David Lankes) posted earlier this week included passages so searingly poignant that I feel as if our collaborative endeavors over the past several months should once and for all silence anyone who disparages the gifts provided through effective use of social media tools: “I stand as someone who has fought with cancer and as someone who will remember you. Someone who says your life was important. I stand to remind those who remain that life can be hard. I stand to remind everyone that cancer takes and takes and takes. I stand to remind everyone that no matter how much we are loved, or how much good we seek to do, we all can be taken too soon.”

This evening, as I write these words I have been trying to compose for nearly a week, I find cause to celebrate even while consumed by the sense of loss I keenly feel. I celebrate the members of my various communities of learning who help me understand and appreciative what I have. I celebrate the depth of experience those friends reveal and to which they lead me. And I celebrate the importance of remembering we can never be too busy to take the time required to stand with our friends.


The State of America’s Libraries 2014: Libraries, Social Networking, and Learning

April 16, 2014

“‘Social’ has come to mean more than sending a tweet or posting to Facebook,” trainer-teacher-learners and others perusing the 2014 edition of the American Library Association (ALA) State of America’s Libraries are reminded near the end of the “Social Networking” section.

State_of_Americas_Libraries_2014It’s an idea we understand viscerally when we serve ourselves and others by actively engaging in virtual office hours via Facebook or Google+ Hangouts; learning from and serving as active members of online communities of learning via live, facilitated tweetchats like #lrnchat or extended asynchronous explorations along the lines of the New Media Consortium’s recent Wiki-Thon; or creating content while using social media tools that make connectivist MOOCs (massive open online courses) like #etmooc (the Educational Technology & Media MOOC) or #xplrpln (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC) sustainable communities learning.

This is a huge leap from social-media-as-bulletin-board-for-ephemera to social-media-as-workplace-tool, and it’s one that more and more colleagues and their learners are embracing. While we still have plenty of learners who need help in making the transition from seeing the use of online social networking tools as irrelevant to their workplace and personal activities to integrating those tools into their various activities, we increasingly are seeing beginners quickly make the leap from skepticism to creative endeavors including the use of Twitter as a way of conducting virtual new-staff orientations, as school librarian Betty Turpin is doing with a group of library school students who will be completing a project at the International School of Stuttgart next month.

The writers of the State of America’s Libraries 2014 offer us a helpful view of social networking within the library context: “‘The social librarian is enmeshed in the fabric of the Internet of Things as curator, educator, filter, and beacon,’ says a post on Stephen’s Lighthouse. ‘In this complex, dynamic, and demanding environment, librarians are extending themselves and empowering library users’”—just as their colleagues working in other training-teaching-learning environments are doing.

Graphic from "Social Networking" section of the report

Graphic from “Social Networking” section of the report

They then lead us through a series of examples demonstrating how libraries are using social networking to foster innovations in social networking. There is the Pinal County (Arizona) Library District “compilation of articles and links on how libraries are using Facebook, Twitter, and blogs as tools to reach out to users”—a set of resources curated on a Pinterest board. There’s the LibraryScienceList rankings of the “100 Most Social Media Friendly College and University Libraries for 2013”; even the most cursory skim of the rankings reveals creative use of social media tools in many settings, including the University of California San Francisco Library, where efforts extend to connecting leaners to sessions on building online courses with Moodle 2, becoming a better presenter, and learning about digital video editing.

And at the end of the section, we come to an extension of the “Libraries and Community Engagement” theme explored elsewhere in the report: a mention of how academic libraries are using social media to foster community-building—which, for me, is one of the most natural, brilliant, yet frequently-overlooked use of social media tools available to library staff members and others engaged in training-teaching-learning.

I continually find myself returning to the experiences I’ve had in the development of sustainable online communities of learning through MOOCs and groups including #lrnchat, and feel that there is still plenty that many of us involved in libraries could be doing to better serve and engage members of our onsite and online communities. I see what colleagues in the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and, to a lesser extent, the American Library Association do to extend the learning that occurs in conferences, and remain a strong advocate of doing all we can to promote the blending of onsite and online communities in every way possible when it makes sense to do so. The confirmation that “public libraries’ use of social media is up sharply, especially among large libraries” is, therefore, encouraging news—and a reminder that we’re moving in the right direction to serve our blended 21st-century onsite-online constituency.

N.B.: Reflections on the Academic Libraries and Ebooks and Copyright Issues sections of the report have been posted by Jill Hurst-Wahl, director of the library and information science and LIS with school media specialization programs at Syracuse University, on her Digitization 101 blog.


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