Learning Social Media With Our Learners Revisited: Tweetorientations

March 14, 2014

Less than a year ago, Betty Turpin (librarian at the International School of Stuttgart) was completing a four-week online “Social Media Basics” course I had designed and was facilitating for ALA Editions. Now she is introducing me to innovative uses of the social media tools we explored with her course colleagues.

Betty Turpin

Betty Turpin

Twitter is at the center of a story that should be tremendously inspiring and useful to any trainer-teacher-learner. Betty is maintaining a wonderful Twitter feed (look particularly as the series of tweets that began appearing on February 13, 2014) to help prepare students for participation in a dynamic study-abroad program and project designed to produce concrete results: “planning, managing, and implementing an entirely new school library, and assessing a sustainable automation system in a fully-contained setting” while earning full credit for two courses (“Managing Library Automation Projects” and “Seminar in Information Resources and Services for Special Clienteles”), a promotional flyer confirms. Betty’s use of Twitter also made me aware of what she is doing; we used Twitter for an initial interview about her efforts before moving the conversation into email; and I suspect we’ll both continue using Twitter to post updates as she continues orientation-by-Twitter—an idea I suspect many of us will eagerly look to apply into our own training-teaching-learning efforts.

Her summary via email shows us what has developed:

UNT_Logo“The University of North Texas [UNT], your alma mater as well as mine, has a study abroad program for graduate library students. I participated as a student four years ago in Kyiv, Ukraine. Last year I tagged along to a school in Moscow, Russia, for my own professional development. I graduated from UNT in 2012, but as you might imagine, professional development for English-speaking librarians overseas is a bit hard to come by. This year, I am the sponsoring librarian and the students are coming to work for me at my school in Stuttgart, Germany.  I’ve also arranged for the students to start-up a library at a new international school in Karlovy Vary, CZ.  The school will open its doors with its first students in August, 2014. The library and opening day collection will be put into place by UNT’s Dr. [Barbara] Schultz-Jones, Professor Debby Jennings, and their team of 20 graduate librarians.

“Dr. Schultz-Jones has been running this program for ten years, more or less…When the team started getting themselves organized for this year’s trip, I decided to use a social media platform to help pass on some of the information they might either need or want for their trip.”

International_School_of_Stuttgart_LogoTwitter became Betty’s tool of choice because she saw it as a way to build excitement; as a resource that could be easily managed on a day-to-day basis; and as a conduit to concisely provide valuable tidbits orienting the learners to the International School of Stuttgart, the city and its culture, and general library issues they will need to understand before they dive into their project of creating that new school library in the Czech Republic, she explained.

“Students get overwhelmed thinking abt. an overseas visit. Bits of info at a time work better, hence tweets,” she added via Twitter.

The feed she maintains is charmingly effective. It begins with an invitation to engagement (“Welcome, UNT Student Librarians! Pls follow me. We’ll tweet info., photos, and exciting news from Germany until you are HERE! Tchüß!”); continues with introductions to wonderful resources, including the school’s website and to the Visible Thinking site, to prepare them for the work they are about to begin; and includes tweets designed to facilitate online interactions among the learners themselves. Understanding the value of imagery, she is particularly good at incorporating colorful photographs into those tweets, showing everything from playful images of the people the learners will meet at the school to a picture of one of the chairs available to them. This is a level of orientation so far removed from the deadly-dull introductory information dumps so prevalent in student and workplace learning today that it almost begs to have its own training-teaching-learning nomenclature: Tweetorientations, anyone?

And there’s more: her feed, in addition to nurturing a community of learning, also has the potential to easily be organized into a newly-formatted reusable learning object—perhaps part of a larger custom-designed orientation manual or virtual textbook that could include tips and observations from the learners themselves—if she ultimately decides to collect the entire series into a Storify document or a PDF to be accessed by the UNT students or anyone else interested in Stuttgart and the International School.

For now (as Betty notes), she has a very small number of followers on Twitter. But I suspect that will change when our training-teaching-learning colleagues realize how effectively she is using Twitter. And what a great example she is setting for the rest of us.


Learning Social Media With Our Learners (Pt. 4 of 4): Out of the Course and Into the World

February 10, 2013

It hasn’t taken long for participants in the latest version of the four-week online “Social Media Basics” course I developed with colleagues at ALA Editions to begin documenting our collective successes.

Social_Media_BasicsOne learner, in his final course posting, noted that he “had the opportunity to use Google hangouts as part of a reference interaction at work recently. An online student was having trouble finding resources for an assignment…and we used hangouts to work through some of the difficulties.”

Another learner, wanting to explore Google+ Hangouts further, arranged a session with five other course participants and quickly found the tool taking a back seat to a very engaging discussion in which they shared ideas and learned from each other in a way that made them feel as if they were sitting together rather than separated by tremendous geographic distances.

Several documented the fact that they had set up various social media accounts for the libraries they serve. At least a few have initiated live tweet sessions and begun discussing work-related issues in the private Facebook group we established so that our community of learning—which now includes participants from both offerings of the course—can continue to grow and flourish. And a few others were inspired to go beyond the course content and explore other tools, including Pinterest.

Engaging in a rudimentary version of learning analytics produces an interesting snapshot of how the course functions—and provides some positive responses to those who contend that online learning can’t possibly rival the face-to-face experience. Starting with a core group of 32 registered learners, we had five who never engaged at any significant level, and only four more who weren’t actively participating by the time the course ended. There was the usual spike of activity during the first of the four weeks of the course, with nearly 1,800 views of posts within the formal class forums that week; that had leveled off and remained steady at approximately seven hundred views during the final few weeks. Actual postings, however, were fairly consistent throughout the run of the course, with between 100 and 150 individual comments posted on course forums each week—which doesn’t even begin to take into account the dozens of postings made via Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ as we explored each of those platforms.

Most interesting to me, since I was expecting a steady decrease in discussion-forum postings, is that the largest number of individual discussions actually occurred during the final week, when learners were not only posting brief descriptions of their final projects, but also engaging in brief summaries of how their perceptions (and misperceptions) about social media tools had changed.

But it’s really not the numbers that tell the story here; it’s the observations the learners offered regarding how their perceptions had changed in positive ways and how they walked away from this brief, very concentrated experience with social media much more likely to use the tools than they had been before they took the course.

As I’ve said in response to many of their comments, this is the real icing on our learning cake. Because learning is about positive transformation, the fact that they are documenting increased use of social media tools and finding ways to use those tools to the benefit of those they serve in libraries throughout the United States and a few other countries means that our time together is offering rewards to the organizations they serve. They are also now engaged in a community of learning that was created during the initial offering of the course in 2012, has grown as a result of the latest four-week offering, and stands a good chance of growing even more as these participants use their online discussion groups to stay in touch, exchange resources, and explore issues of interest and importance to them in the months and years to come.


#etmooc Tweet Chat: Navigating Streams and Rivers

February 7, 2013

Fascinated by and immersed in Twitter backchannels and tweet chats, I’ve recently been assisting learners in the latest offering of our ALA Editions Social Media Basics course as they explore live chat sessions in a variety of social media platforms. Guiding them through chats in Twitter via TweetDeck, HootSuite, and TweetChat as well as through a private discussion group in Facebook has given me a greater appreciation for how much we all struggle to cope with the information deluge that we face every day—a situation that for me has increased exponentially over the past week as a result of my decision to dive into #etmooc, the Education Technology and Media MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and several “co-conspirators.”

etmooc#etmooc is incredibly engaging and well organized—which makes it one of the best online learning experiences I’ve ever had—but there’s no avoiding the constant risk of drowning in the deluge if those of us actively participating in #etmooc are not diligent about managing our time and resources. There’s the main site itself; the blog hub that aggregates postings from nearly 500 course participants; several branches that lead us to other social media platforms (e.g., Twitter and Google+) where various discussions are carried on day and night; extended sessions that occur live and then are archived in Blackboard Collaborate; and numerous offshoots through links to online articles and other resources, including postings on YouTube. (When you’re among 14,000 learners who are distributed all over the world, there is no possibility of closing down the course for the night, so one of the many lessons learned through this education technology and media course is how to focus on what’s essential and to not worry about what we don’t have time to explore.)

Deciding to join the #etmooc weekly tweet chat yesterday afternoon initially didn’t seem to present much of a challenge. I logged into TweetChat so I’d be able to focus on nothing but the flow of #etmooc tweets, and set up my account to pull in anything tagged with the #etmooc identifier (the course hashtag). As the discussion began, I was struck by a couple of unexpected observations: the number of participants seemed alarmingly small given how many people are registered and participating in the course, and the moderator seemed to have set up an unnecessary extra step by referring us to a different site if we wanted to monitor the questions that were meant to seed the hour-long conversation. I was even more puzzled by that decision when the moderator mentioned another very popular and well-organized tweet chat (#lrnchat) as a model for the #etmooc session, yet wasn’t following the obvious #lrnchat practice of posting questions directly into the chat as it proceeded. Bouncing back and forth between the site with the questions and the TweetChat stream of comments wasn’t impossible, but it was a bit frustrating, so I actually started copying the questions into the live chat session in the hope that it would stimulate others to contribute more dynamically to the conversation.

But this just didn’t feel right in a course as well designed as #etmooc is. And it wasn’t right. Because in my haste to join the session, I had missed a notice on the #etmooc site providing the chat hashtag as #etmchat to differentiate it from the general course Twitter feed to be found at #etmooc. What finally tipped me off was noticing, nearly halfway into the session, that a few notes had both hashtags—which, of course, prompted me to change my TweetChat setting to #etmchat and immediately discover the flood of exchanges I’d been expecting from the beginning.

Making that quick virtual leap from a meandering stream to a raging river of tweets was, to say the least, temporarily disorienting. And there was no way, given the flow of words, to review what had come before if I wanted to keep up with what was yet to come. So I took the plunge, joined the larger conversation, and had 30 minutes of exchanges with colleagues worldwide on the topic we’re currently studying: digital storytelling.

By the time the session reached its conclusion, I had made a few wonderful new connections. Learned an incredible amount on the topic under discussion. And received a very important reminder regarding a key element of online learning: don’t forget to read the details in online postings if you don’t want to end up floating on a stream via the wrong hashtag when a river of information is just a virtual stone’s throw away.

N.B.: This is the fifth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc; it also serves as another example of digital storytelling.


Learning Social Media With Our Learners (Pt. 3 of 4): Office Hours in a Google+ Hangout

January 31, 2013

Having twice used a private Facebook group as the platform for virtual office hours over the past couple of weeks, participants in the latest version of the four-week online “Social Media Basics” course I developed with colleagues at ALA Editions went for broke this morning: we used a Google+ Hangout for our latest office hour.

While it was far from perfect, it proved to be a spectacular learning experience for those who wanted the opportunity to create another learning sandbox in a course that has promoted experimentation as a way of becoming comfortable with a few of the numerous social media tools available to us.

Social_Media_BasicsThe experiment—not originally built into the course, but completely in character with the approach we’ve been taking together—was inspired during our second Facebook office hour last week. We had begun discussing how different people were using Google+ Hangouts creatively, and I responded to a question by describing how Samantha Adams Becker (from the New Media Consortium) and I had used Hangouts as the vehicle for blended cross-country presentations on technology in learning. (I was onsite in the San Francisco Bay Area with American Society for Training & Development—ASTD–colleagues, and Samantha came in from her home in New Orleans via the Hangouts.) I also led the virtual office hour participants to the YouTube video of John Butterill’s Virtual Photo Walks via Google+ Hangouts. It was at that moment that one of the participants expressed an interest in conducting our next virtual office hour via a Hangout, and the request picked up momentum through the learners’ own actions.

When I saw that one of the course participants was running with the idea of connecting with a few other learners via a Hangout—an option suggested as a final course activity—I contacted her to ask whether she would like to combine that effort with the proposed office hour and actually facilitate the session herself. She immediately accepted, sent out the invitations both on Google+ and in the class forum (in Moodle), and began preparing for the session. Although I was there to support her during the brief planning stages and while the Hangout was in progress, it really was a learner-driven session with all the ups and downs we expected through that effort.

She and I worked together in advance to craft a rough outline of how the session would proceed, and agreed that part of the success would come from not overly structuring the conversation. She and others exchanged information ahead of time via Google+ and the class forum. She even set up a pre-session sandbox for anyone who wanted to play with the technology before the office hour officially began.

When we logged on at the appointed time, she and the others were fantastic in addressing challenges. The initial Hangout was a bit slow, and screens froze a couple of times, so we decided that she should log out and then come right back in to see if the connection would stabilize. Although the rest of us were able to continue in that original Hangout, she somehow found herself locked out of it, so immediately contacted me, via a separate chat, to see if the entire group could move into a new Hangout. The transition was relatively quick, and we were all in the new, much more successful Hangout, within 10 minutes of the original start time—a great learning experience for those interested in seeing how easy it could be to resolve problems within a new learning environment like a Google+ Hangout.

As was the case with our initial Facebook virtual office hour, we spent another few minutes playing around with the technical side of the event since this was meant to be a learning experience, not a professionally-produced program: helping participants unmute their microphones, establishing an understanding of how to effectively use the chat function, and even finding a way to allow one struggling participant to view the session through a live feed via YouTube. By the time we were a quarter of the way through our hour-long session, we had moved away from discussions of how to operate within a Hangout and were already discussing topics germane to the work we were doing in “Social Media Basics.”

None of us expects to win any awards for production values or content from that first experiment, but we all walked away with something far more important: the memory of an engaging online session that made everyone feel as if we had finally “met” in the course because we had that virtual face-to-face experience, and lots of ideas about how the experience could quickly be replicated in our own workspaces to the benefit of those we serve.

And if that isn’t at the heart of successful learning in our onsite-online world, then I’m not quite sure what is.

N.B.: Heartfelt thanks to the staff of the New Media Consortium for introducing me to John Butterill’s Virtual Photo Walks through the work Advisory Board members did on the 2013 Horizon Report Higher Education Edition.


Learning Social Media With Our Learners (Pt. 2 of 4): Office Hours in Facebook

January 17, 2013

The concept of office hours in an online course took an interesting twist this morning as several participants in the latest version of the four-week online “Social Media Basics” course I developed with colleagues at ALA Editions joined me in our course Facebook discussion group for a spirited hour-long exchange.

Social_Media_BasicsOur experimental session was predicated on the idea that, within the safety of a private Facebook group, we could hold a live online office hour which would simultaneously let us explore current course challenges while also seeing how one of the social media tools we are exploring can be useful to us long after the course ends.

It succeeded beyond our wildest dreams—with plenty of unexpected challenges coming up along the way.

I initially suggested that, to facilitate discussion while also producing a reviewable transcript, we establish a discussion posting within the group, and that everyone participate by responding within that thread by hitting Comment. The plan was that any course participant wanting to review the discussion later could simply read the comments in the order they were posted within that private Facebook group setting.

We quickly found ourselves split a bit when one of the learners responded using the chat function. At that point, we had two simultaneous and not-at-all synchronized discussions going, so we moved everything into the chat for the remainder of the online office hour. After making it past the not-unexpected questions about how to monitor and respond to a chat feed that seemed to be traveling very close to the speed of light, the learners seem to adjust to the pace.

The magic moment of learning came when we stopped focusing on the tool and became immersed in a variety of topics about Facebook and social media in general. The current learners started driving the conversation as I stepped back, and they were further encouraged by the presence of a learner from a previous offering of the course since that returning member of our course learning community was able not only to provide useful resources, but also offer the perspective of someone who less than half a year ago had been learning what they are currently learning, and has now integrated the use of social media tools into the work she does.

When she offered to—and actually did—post a link to a copy of the social media policy developed at her library, there wasn’t a learner in the group who didn’t see that we were far beyond the stereotypical view of Facebook as little more than a place for friends and acquaintances  to post ephemera. This was a social media tool with practical application to each learner’s workplace; they seemed to be finding it easy to master through their use of it in that virtual office hour space; and they saw that the exchanges with one of their course predecessors provided a great example of how social media tools extend their contact with valuable colleagues who might otherwise not be accessible to them.

The story wouldn’t be complete, however, without a frank admission that there was still a bit of learning for me to complete. Since we hadn’t ended up with the accessible transcript I wanted for participants and for others who are enrolled in the course but couldn’t attend the live version, I spent a little time trying to find a way to create that accessible record for them. There were several interesting options documented on various online sites, but they seemed too complicated for learners in a social media basics course, so I looked for a simple way that would require little more than familiarity with the basic tools available within the discussion group itself. The obvious choice was to click on the Messages option in the left-hand column of a Facebook page, and then look for the chat. Trial and error showed that a couple of additional steps were necessary:

  • Once I had clicked on Messages and moved into my Inbox, I used the Search box near the upper left-hand corner of that page to locate one of the chat participants. This, unfortunately, only produced part of the chat transcript—turns out she had only been present for the final 10 minutes of the discussion, so that’s what was archived from that search.
  • Identifying one of the participants who had been present from start to finish, I repeated the search by using that learner’s name. That produced a copy of the entire archived document, ready to be read and preserved.
  • To produce the transcript in a way that could be shared with all course participants, I highlighted the entire text contained within the chat transcript, copied it, pasted it into a Word document, and saved it as a PDF. That version, shared only with course participants, became a course learning object that the learners themselves helped create, and will serve as a resource for them as long as they care to use it—as soon as I post it within our official course bulletin board (outside of Facebook, within Moodle).

The final icing on this particular learning cake is that I’m documenting our experiment in this blog posting so the learners themselves can see how activities in one social media platform extend into another in ways that keep the conversation—and the learning—going far beyond what occurred in any one social media interaction, and can draw a larger group into our ever-expanding community of learners.


Learning Social Media With Our Learners (Pt. 1 of 4)

January 13, 2013

Teaching any “basics” course face to face or online can be one of the best ways to (willingly) be pushed into advanced exploration of a topic, as I’ve been reminded this week.

Social_Media_BasicsDiving into the latest version of the four-week online “Social Media Basics” course I developed with colleagues at ALA Editions, I’m working with a wonderful group of adults who are beginning to set up and learn how to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ accounts effectively. But it’s not just about sending tweets and posting updates: their entry-level work with social media tools is inspiring them to engage in advanced-level exploration about what it means to go from having a slight or non-existent presence in the world of social media to becoming adept users of those tools professionally and personally. And, as expected, the work they are doing, the questions they are asking, and the resources they are discovering and sharing with their course colleagues make me as engaged a learner as any of them are.

The two-way learning began early in the course when they began exploring some of the extras within Moodle, which is the open source platform used by ALA Editions for online delivery of its courses. The best surprise for me—at least up to this point—came when someone explored the basic tools available and found a way to include a photograph of herself in one of the postings to a course forum. Since that simple act of reaching out socially via a friendly headshot of herself provided a first-rate example of the spirit of social media use, I went back into the course tools to learn how to duplicate what she had done. By responding with a note (visible to all course participants) that included an informal snapshot of myself, I called other learners’ attention to what was possible in our course postings and was happy to see others adopting the same practice so that a bit of social cohesion was already developing even before we jumped out onto the Web to use any of the social media tools.

Even more encouraging was how quickly many of the learners began jumping back and forth from the safety of that private course forum to the much more open and public venue of Twitter as they worked through the first assignment of starting (or updating) a Twitter account. Some were able to quickly create and post first-rate Twitter profiles, start following a combination of course colleagues and other outside resources that will be of use and interest to them in their day-to-day work, and send their first tweets. A couple, uncomfortable about having their tweets seen by complete strangers, discovered and explored the use of accounts that keep tweets private and visible only to an approved group of followers.

One of the most interesting learning opportunities for all of us came from those who were struggling with that same idea about how openly social and accessible to be in a social media setting. They set up their accounts, admitted they felt uncomfortable posting content that strangers could see, and wrote about feeling equally uncomfortable reading content that sometimes is far more personal than what they want to encounter from people they haven’t met. So we brought that level of discourse back into the course forum and provided a discussion thread that allows all course participants to exchange thoughts about the benefits and disadvantages to operating so transparently within a social media context. It will be interesting to see if/when someone in the course becomes confident and comfortable enough to begin tweeting out that sort of question to explore the issue with experienced Twitter users they haven’t yet encountered.

A key element of what we’re doing together is that we’re engaging in deeply important and richly challenging exchanges online as effectively as we would if we were face to face—with the understanding that ultimately there will be no one-size-fits-all answer. We’re pushing the tools themselves into the background and using them to have the sort of discussions that foster effective collaborations via those tools. (With any luck, this posting here on Building Creative Bridges will become part of the overall conversation and another example of how we can extend discussions across a variety of platforms.) And the learners—my learning colleagues in every sense of that term—are quickly seeing that I’m happy to facilitate the discussions and bring additional useful resources to the conversations, but that I’m not going to serve as the sort of social media advocate who insists that everyone has to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and the many other options available to us.

We all appear to be comfortable with the idea that we adopt a social media tool at the moment we see that tool meeting a need we haven’t filled elsewhere, and that trying to force someone to learn and use something before they’re ready is the worst and least successful way to foster effective learning—probably the most important lesson to be learned and relearned by any trainer-teacher-learner.


ALA Annual Conference 2012: Communities of Writing

July 10, 2012

Many of us who write or who spend time with writers are no longer naïve enough to think that it would be wonderful to meet every writer we have ever admired; writers—like anyone else—can be absolutely insufferable when given the opportunity to be full of themselves/ourselves. But when we manage to set our overinflated egos aside for at least a few minutes and listen more than talk, we discover the pleasures of being part of the formal and informal communities we create.

It has been several years since I was briefly and pleasurably part of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and a smaller fiction-writing group, but I’ve never been far removed from writers as colleagues, friends, and mentors—and yes, in some cases, tormentors. As is the case with so many other communities of interest, formal and informal communities of writers can often be the only means we have of sustaining our creative processes when long hours, days, weeks, or even months of effort seem to produce little of consequence for us or for our readers.

Meeting a variety of first-rate writers promoting their new releases, further marketing the book Lori Reed and I co-wrote last year (Workplace Learning & Leadership), and attending a reception for writers united under a single publishing house (ALA Editions) at the 2012 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference last month provided yet another reminder of how important these communities can be for those whose work is largely completed in long stretches of solitary effort. And how far-reaching our connections are even when we do not clearly see them.

At the heart of the reception was ALA Editions’ right-on-target goal of formally and cordially welcoming authors from Neal-Schuman to the ALA Editions stable of writers after ALA Editions acquired Neal-Schuman. More importantly, however, it provided an opportunity for writers and others associated with both publishing houses to sit together, share ideas, and look for the creative opportunities that our unanticipated connections might provide.

It doesn’t take long, when walking into the sort of small and intimate setting ALA Editions provided that evening, to recognize familiar faces: staff from the publishing house; colleagues associated with ALA Editions; and even a few from the latest addition to the ALA family. But the real fun began as we occasionally lined up to retrieve a beverage or small plate of hors d’oeuvres and play the read-that-nametag game to match familiar names with unfamiliar faces.

The winning moment came for me when I looked up from a name tag and found myself unexpectedly eyeball to eyeball with a writer—Esther Grassian—whose work influenced me tremendously while I was earning a Master’s degree and focusing on online learning a few years ago. Because it was an article she co-wrote (“Stumbling, Bumbling, Teleporting, and Flying…Librarian Avatars in Second Life”) that had attracted my attention as a student, I had no idea she also had co-authored two Neal-Schuman books with Joan Kaplowitz and would, therefore, be at the reception. Having met plenty of colleagues who write, I’m far from star struck when I meet a writer whose work I admire—OK, OK, let’s be honest: I’m always star struck when I meet someone whose work I admire, but I was trying (probably unsuccessfully) to not let it show in a setting where Grassian and I were ostensibly colleagues rather than writer-admirer.

She was gracious enough to sit with me and a few of the other attendees as we discussed our work, what we are doing, and what we hope to be doing over the next couple of years. And the magic continued as various people one or the other of us knew joined us at that table and become part of a brief and pleasurable evening when we could learn from each other. Consider possibilities none of us might have stumbled upon without those exchanges. And celebrate the wonderfully sustaining power of communities of writing.


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