NMC Library Horizon Report 2014 (Pt. 3 of 6): Key Challenges for Libraries, Learning, and Technology  

August 28, 2014

We have plenty to celebrate as we consider that fantastic intersection where libraries, learning, and technology meet. We also have plenty of short-term, mid-range, and long-term challenges to address at that same intersection, as the newly-released (first ever) New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project educational-technology report on libraries reminds us.

NMC_HorizonReport_2014_Library_cover_borderAlthough the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition focuses on academic and research libraries, the challenges that are documented within the report can easily be considered in the overall library-as-learning-center environment, and are also well worth the attention of those involved in training-teaching-learning outside of libraries since libraries so clearly are an important part of our lifelong-learning sandbox.

Among the “solvable challenges” (“those that we understand and know how to resolve”) is the challenge of embedding academic and research libraries in the curriculum. (Other trainer-teacher-learners can read this section and consider what it suggests in terms of embedding their own learning opportunities into the public and special libraries as well as the non-library settings they/we serve—after all, if we’re going to be effective in meeting our learners’ and our organizations’ learning needs, we need to be where those learners are at their moment of need.) When Report lead writer Samantha Adams Becker and her New Media Consortium colleagues suggest that “[l]ibrarians need to broaden their own concept of their role in the design of curriculum and provide outreach to faculty to help them understand how librarians can add to the education of students” (p. 20), they are reinforcing something any trainer-teacher-learner recognizes: we need to be demonstrating, in positive ways, how we facilitate and support the learning process for those we serve—and demonstrate, through our actions, how committed we are to being accessible to those learners.

The report writers also note how a first-rate learning facilitator “transforms the library space into a physical and virtual learning environment” (p. 20)—a challenge many of us have accepted and continue to explore as creatively as possible. It’s an idea well worth pursuing for anyone who still sees academic classrooms and workplace learning labs as the places where learning takes place and sees libraries as places to go (onsite or online) for materials that support rather than provide learning opportunities. As we continue to see the lines between “classrooms” and “libraries” as learning spaces blur—to the advantage of anyone interested in learning—we also need to keep thinking bigger and bigger to explore how we can more fully integrate library and other learning programs into our efforts in ways that connect libraries, library staff, and other key players in our local, regional, national, and global learning communities through a blending of onsite and online learning opportunities. (MOOCs—massive online open courses—as I frequently write, are just one of the many variations we are just beginning to explore.)

Moving to a second solvable challenge documented in the 2014 Library Edition of the Horizon Report series, we are treated to a concise and inspiring section about “rethinking the roles and skills of libraries”—a topic that again easily extends to any contemporary trainer-teacher-learner: “The challenge is in keeping institutions flexible enough to adapt to…new roles while finding leaders that can build sustainable models and collaborate across departments to meet the ever-changing needs of their institutions” (p. 22)—and, I would add, the ever-changing needs of their learners.

ARL_LogoA particularly intriguing part of the “rethinking roles” discussion is recognition of ‘the need for ‘superliaisons,’ or library staff that assist a variety of departments with their specialized skillset” (p. 22)—a concept drawn from the New Roles for New Times publication series from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). Where the ARL report on Transforming Liaison Roles in Research Libraries includes a fabulous reminder that “no liaison is an island” (pp. 12-13), the Horizon Report inspires us to think about how superliaisons might benefit any learning organization or community of learning. Furthermore, it actually makes me realize that any great trainer-teacher-learner needs to be cognizant of the importance of being a superliaison in a much broader sense: being a liaison between what happens in our formal and informal learning spaces and what happens when our learners are called upon to apply their learning far beyond the confines of onsite and online learning spaces.

nmc.logo.cmykThe 2014 Library Edition of the Horizon Report series carries us further by documenting two difficult challenges (“those that we understand but for which solutions are elusive”) and two wicked challenges (“those that are complex to even define, much less address”). The wicked challenges of “embracing the need for radical change” (pp. 28-29) and “maintaining ongoing integration, interoperability, and collaborative projects” (pp. 30-31) are, like the solvable challenges, topics that ought to be on the minds of all trainer-teacher-learners—not just on the minds of our colleagues in academic and research libraries. And because the latest Horizon Report so effectively captures the essence of those challenges, it is already helping to shape the conversations that will help us at least partially address them.

Next: On the One-Year Horizon—Electronic Publishing and Mobile Apps


NMC Library Horizon Report 2014 (Pt. 2 of 6): Key Trends for Libraries, Learning, and Technology

August 22, 2014

There’s a rich and rewarding experience awaiting trainer-teacher-learners who explore the “key trends” section of  the newly-released (first ever) New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project educational-technology report on libraries: lead writer Samantha Adams Becker and her New Media Consortium colleagues deftly lead us through concise summaries of trends that are “accelerating technology adoption in academic and research libraries” in a way that helps us read beyond the (virtually) printed pages and clearly see how those trends affect us and the learners we serve.NMC_HorizonReport_2014_Library_cover_borderBecause the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition focuses on academic and research libraries, we’re never far from the connections between libraries, technology and learning in this report. We also, if we think of the ramifications of what the 2014 Library Edition suggests, are constantly reminded of what the world of libraries and library staff members suggests in the overall lifelong-learning environment that serves as our own playing field.

Looking, for example, at two of the six trends that are accelerating technology adoption in libraries (and other learning organizations)—an increasing focus on how research data for publications is managed and shared, and the impact the open movement is having on creating greater access to research content—we see parallels between what library staff and other trainer-teacher-learners are facing. Library staff members who serve library users through data-management efforts are increasingly struggling not only with how to manage data to the benefit of those users/learners, but are also grappling with the changing nature of publications and data sets: “The definition of a publication itself is evolving beyond the constraints of static text and charts to take on a format that is more interactive” (p. 7)—a challenge of extreme importance to those managing and facilitating access to information resources and to any of us thinking about the formats we use in preparing and using materials to facilitate the learning process.

It’s a theme, trend, and challenge that carries over into what the report describes as the “evolving nature of the scholarly record.” Just as the scholarly record managed by library staff members is “no longer limited to text-based final products” and “can include research datasets, interactive programs, complete visualizations, lab articles, and other non-final outputs as well as web-based exchanges such as blogging,” the learning materials used in training-teaching-learning are increasingly comprised of interactive programs, complete visualizations, articles we prepare and share, and other non-final outputs including blogging and even blog sites used as stand-alone and elements of blended-learning opportunities—as we saw earlier this year through Tom Haymes’ blog/website that was part of an onsite presentation he facilitated and also serves as a lesson-in-a-blog.

nmc.logo.cmykWith each turn of a page, we find more within the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition that helps us re-examine the training-teaching-learning world we inhabit. And more that inspires us to seek ways to effectively use the changing environment to our advantage. When we reach the section describing another key trend—the increasing use of mobile content and delivery—we read about the impact it has on anyone associated with libraries and sense the impact it has on training-teaching-learning overall.

“Some libraries are furthering this trend by loaning devices such as tablets and e-readers to patrons, just as they would a printed book,” we are reminded (p. 8). And it doesn’t take much to carry this into the larger learning landscape, where many trainer-teacher-learners have moved well beyond the question as to whether mobile learning (m-learning) is catching on and are, instead, incorporating the use of mobile devices into onsite and online learning opportunities. There’s even a wonderfully circular moment when, in reading the report, we come across a reference to an online learning resource—23 Mobile Things—that can be used on mobile devices to learn more about the use of mobile devices in libraries and other learning environments. Yes, it really is that sort of report: it illuminates; it engages us in the subjects it reviews; and it rarely leaves us short of additional learning resources. (Among my favorites are the links to “11 Case Studies Released on Research Data Management in Libraries,” from the Association of European Research Libraries, and to Klaus Tochtermann’s “Ten Theses Regarding the Future of Scientific Infrastructure Institutions [libraries].” “11 Case Studies” includes one that documents a library’s training-teaching-learning function by describing a blended-learning opportunity designed ultimately to help researchers. “Ten Theses,” Tochterman writes in his preliminary note, was crafted to “address fields of development where libraries need to undertake particular efforts in the future,” e.g., pushing content to the user rather than making the user come to the library—or, in our case, to the learning facilitator; offering viral and decentralized services; and having high IT and high media competence.)

There is far more to explore in the “key trends” section than these blog reflections suggest. And it’s a tribute to New Media Consortium CEO Larry Johnson, Samantha Becker Adams as the lead writer, and everyone else at NMC that the report will have a much wider audience than those affiliated with libraries. There is plenty of content. Plenty of depth. And plenty of reason for all of us to take advantage of what has been written so we can familiarize ourselves with contemporary tech trends while keeping up with and meeting the needs of those who rely on us to support them in their own learning endeavors.

Next: Key Challenges

NB: This is the second set of reflections in a six-part series of articles exploring the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition.


NMC Library Horizon Report 2014 (Pt. 1 of 6): Documenting Where We Are and Where We Might Be Going

August 21, 2014

When a wonderful friend and colleague retired from library work after 40 years in the industry, he wistfully reflected upon one consequence of his departure: that he would not be part of all that would be happening with libraries over the next 20 years.

NMC_HorizonReport_2014_Library_cover_borderIf he were to read the newly-released (first ever) New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project educational-technology report on libraries, he would have even more cause to wish he had additional time to invest in these essential partners in community-development and lifelong learning.

The report—available online free of charge and focused on trends, challenges, and developing technologies in academic and research libraries, but essential reading for the much larger audience of people interested and involved in academic, public, and other types of libraries worldwide—is likely to quickly become a seminal work; more than 100,000 people downloaded the report within 24-hour period immediately following its formal unveiling. By documenting where we are and where we might be going, the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition will contribute substantially to conversations and decisions that help sustain libraries as responsive key players in the extended and expansive onsite and online communities they serve.

As an essential reference tool in and of itself, it provides a wonderful grounding in the basic language and learning landscape of the continually-evolving world we inhabit within and beyond the physical and virtual spaces of libraries as lifelong-learning centers. To read the report is to become aware of critically-important terminology including “device-agnostic” and “ubiquitous learning” (p. 9), “distant reading” and “macroanalysis” (p. 16), “creative destruction” (p. 29), and “competency-based learning” (p. 31). It also draws attention to first-rate learning resources including JISC (p. 4), the University of Leipzig research group Agile Knowledge Engineering and Semantic Web (AKSW) and its cutting-edge projects (p. 6), the 23 Mobile Things online course (p. 9), the Coalition for Networked Information (p. 14),  the Center for Digital Education (p. 26), the Ohio State University Libraries “Digital Initiatives Program Guiding Principles,” and others. It provides links to numerous articles while also mentioning more specialized reports and books. And as if all of that were not enough, it has a feature not included in previous Horizon Project reports: an extensive section of endnotes and links to online articles and resources that could keep us busy for many months to come. All in all, it’s a magnificent and well-written work of scholarship (crafted by lead writer Samantha Adams Becker and her New Media Consortium colleagues) that documents what we are—and should be—considering as trainer-teacher-learners working on behalf of dynamic communities worldwide.

nmc.logo.cmykAs is the case with all Horizon Project reports, the library edition provides concise descriptions of important developments in technology—“the technologies which the members of the expert panel agreed are very likely to drive technology planning and decision-making over the next five years” (p. 32)—placed within a one-year horizon/time frame, a two- to three-year horizon, and a four- to five-year horizon indicating when those technologies are “forecasted to enter…mainstream use…”

Anyone wanting an expansive overview of the ed-tech landscape will find it on page 33 of the report, as well as on the project wiki. (Going online takes us to yet another magnificent resource, one in which we discover that each technology is linked to a brief description—in essence, a concise tour of contemporary educational technology—and the list is far from static: “new technologies are added within these categories in almost every research cycle” for the various Horizon Project reports.)

The central sections of the final pages of the report lead us through discussions of how electronic publishing and mobile apps are driving technology planning and decision-making within the current (one-year) horizon; how bibliometrics and citation technologies and the open-content movement will have the same impact during a two- to three-year horizon; and the Internet of Things, along with the semantic web and linked data are likely to have significant impacts within the four- to five-year horizon.

With all of this before us, we engage with the 2014 Library Edition as a stimulating report on libraries, learning, and technology as well as a document that will serve effectively as a primer for those earning a degree in library studies to become part of a global community of practice. And the report also serves as a stimulating refresher course for experienced library staff members and library users. By documenting important elements of the library landscape of our times, it helps us identify and celebrate our successes while shaping the conversations that will build upon our past and present to lead us into a dynamic future.

Next: Key Trends

NB: This is the second set of reflections in a six-part series of articles exploring the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition.


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.


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.


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