Openly Meandering and Learning During Open Education Week

March 12, 2013

A little exposure to openness can carry us a very, very long way, as I’m learning through my Open Education Week meanderings.

Open_Education_Week_2013_LogoInitially inspired to engage in Open Education Week ruminations and activities through my current immersion in #etmooc—an online Educational Technology & Media massive open online course (MOOC) developed by Alec Couros and colleagues—I am now finding myself nearly overwhelmed by how the current open movement module of the course is inspiring me to see rhizomatically-extending roots and shoots of “open” nearly everywhere I look.

There is, for starters, the idea that the open movement itself encompasses an incredibly broad set of terms and actions: the “connect, collect, create, and share” elements of Open Education Week; the four tenets of the open movement as cited in an #etmooc panel discussion (reusing, revising, remixing, and redistributing content); and Don Tapscott’s quartet of collaboration, transparency, sharing, and empowerment from the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) talk he delivered in 2012.

Moretti--New_Geography_of_JobsBut there is much more, as I’ve been reminded through additional reading and reflection over the past several days. A brief passage that I found in Enrico Moretti’s The New Geography of Jobs, for example, beautifully captures the idea that physically-open spaces within our worksites and coworking settings can facilitate a different—yet not completely unrelated sorts of—open exchanges of ideas and “knowledge spillover”—think Google, Pixar,  the San Francisco Chronicle building Hub space mentioned by Moretti, and so many others that have recently caught our attention. (Not everyone is enamored of these physically-spaces, as the most cursory online search will show, and I certainly don’t believe that physically-open spaces should be universally adopted for all work we do; a little solitude can go a long way in providing us with the time we need to reflect and absorb what we learn.) The open work spaces, however, are far from revolutionary; they’re similar to what we have seen in our more innovative classrooms, for at least a couple of decades, where learners aren’t confined to desks but, instead, interact with each other and those facilitating their learning in collaborative ways. And it’s also the same concept we find in Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place descriptions of how our interactions with friends and colleagues in our wonderful third places (coffee shops, neighborhood restaurants, and other settings which now extend to online communities where we can drop in unannounced and know our social needs will be met through stimulating interactions) produce the sort of creative results fostered by the open movement.

It’s just a short intellectual jump from the open movement and Moretti’s thoughts to the greater world of open-movement exchanges of ideas, as we’ve seen in Frans Johansson’s The Medici Effect, that wonderful reminder that chance encounters under the right circumstances between people of varying backgrounds can produce far more than might otherwise be inspired. It’s as if we’ve tossed The Medici Effect into a huge mixing bowl with James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds and Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, let them brew a while, and then scooped out a wonderful ladle of open, collaborative thinking to see what new flavors we can discover.

etmoocWhich brings us back to Open Education Week and #etmooc itself: using the online resources available to us and the collaborative, participatory spirit that is at the heart of a successful MOOC and the open movement, we learn to viscerally understand, appreciate, and foster the spirit of open that drives these particular learning opportunities. And encourages us to openly engage within others in the hope that everybody wins during Open Education Week and for many more weeks, months, and years to come.

N.B.: This is the twentieth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.

Moments, Short and Long: #etmooc, Artistry, and Expansive Conversations

March 5, 2013

“Expansive” is a word that comes to mind for anyone learning in a well-designed massive open online course (MOOC).

etmoocIt’s a safe assumption that this type of learning fosters an expansive, collaborative community of learning; in #etmooc (the Educational Technology and Media MOOC that Alec Couros and others are currently offering through March 2013), for example, we have more than 1,600 colleagues from a variety of countries. It’s also safe to assume that we’re talking about more than physical geography when we discuss this rhizomatically extensive learning environment—the learning environment that expands as wonderfully, organically, and extensively as the rhizomes that provide the name for the concept: we have the main course website; an archive of the fabulous sessions conducted and recorded via Blackboard Collaborate; blog postings; live tweet chat sessions and an ongoing stream of individual, nonfacilitated tweets; postings in a Google+ community; and an ever-expanding set of virtual meeting places apparently limited only by time and our own imaginations.

And it’s becoming more and more apparent that even time is not a critically limiting factor to the development and growth of the learning that a MOOC can nurture. In writing about synchronous and asynchronous meetings recently, I inadvertently appear to have created an example of the very phenomenon I was describing: the idea that a “moment” can be the usual physical manifestation of time that has been so familiar to us throughout our lives, or a more extended period of time in which a moment extends over days, weeks, months, or years as we begin conversations in an online venue like a blog posting and then see that moment of conversation continue asynchronously as additional participants add on to the conversation with new postings that are then seen (and responded to) by those previously engaged in the conversation.

Google+_LogoThe “Synchronous Sessions, Asynchronously: Blending Meetings, Learning, and Digital Literacy” piece that I originally posted on February 20, 2013, has now taken on a life of its own. There are exchanges that currently include three other #etmoocMates and a couple of other people who have referenced the piece in their own postings. I have, furthermore, used the course Google+ community to make others aware of the conversation and invited them to expand upon it either via comments attached to the original blog posting or through postings there in the Google+ #etmooc community. We have, as a result of these planned and spontaneous endeavors, managed to do what anyone does with the best learning experiences: we have carried it out into the world beyond the boundaries of class discussions, applied the themes we’re exploring to non-course settings, and then brought them back into the context of course discussions to see how much they have transformed the perceptions we carried into the course—and transformed us!

The latest expansive moment within that greater #etmooc conversational moment came for me late last week. As I explained to my MOOCmates via an addition to our blog-based in-the-moment conversation, I was sitting with Herman Rodriguez, a Colombian-born friend who owns Stelline restaurant here in San Francisco and is also a working artist—someone who paints wonderfully timeless landscapes in watercolor and oil. He was describing the difficulty he has in responding to requests for an artist’s statement about why he doesn’t put completion dates on his paintings: the works, for him, are as much a product of that immediately calendar-driven date as they are part of a much larger process where a moment can extend over periods of days, weeks, or months, and he wants the paintings to reflect that feeling viscerally.

It became clear to me, during that conversation, that Herman was struggling with his decision to express himself in the language of watercolor and oil painting, whereas those wanting a formal artist’s statement were looking for something in the language of text: “If you had wanted to express yourself in text, you would have written something rather than painted something,” I observed. “So what we have to do is engage in a bit of translation that carries what you paint into what others want to read.”

Working face to face, he and I jointly crafted a text statement, ostensibly in his voice, that combined what he paints and what my #etmooc colleagues and I have been exploring in the realm of short and extended moments. In essence, the artist and I learned on the spot how to temporarily find a way to speak as collaboratively—in one consistent voice that reflected his work and incorporated my own complementary experiences—as my MOOCmates and I speak in that fabulously extended moment we’re creating online together. We quickly produced a statement that includes the following excerpt—a statement that could easily be adapted to reflect the #etmooc learning experience if we substituted the word “learning” for “paintings” and made a few other grammatical adjustments:

“My paintings, in very important ways, are products of a specific moment—a mood, a setting, an urge, a need to capture something that otherwise would be lost because it is ephemeral. They are equally products of extended moments that cannot be defined by what a clock or calendar would show; they are so all encompassing to me that they feel as if they are outside the boundaries of time and space as we define them—they have a feeling of existing without beginning and without end, literally in a moment that is the opposite of what we usually think about when we use the word ‘moment.’”

Something significant is clearly happening here within the context of members of an ever-expanding community of learners interacting. Since #etmooc as a connectivist MOOC is, by definition, an attempt to create community, it makes sense that our community would rhizomatically expand from blog to face-to-face conversations to postings on other social networking sites and even expand from one person’s blog to another—and ultimately include an artist not previously connected to the course. We’re creating a magnificent digital jigsaw puzzle where the individual pieces each have their own unique and appealing beauty while revealing greater aspects of beauty whenever we manage to connect them to other pieces of that same puzzle.

It may be that this particular conversation will eventually die a natural death. Or it may be that it continues spreading, circling back to completely encompass all the creeping rootstalks that encompass this particular learning rhizome. But whatever it does, it certainly will have contributed to a memorable leaning experience. Will serve as an expansion of a vibrant and vital community of learning. And will have kept many of us off the streets for a while as we puzzled over, were drawn into, and were growing in positive ways as a result of our participation in a wonderfully expansive moment of collaboration.

N.B.: This is the sixteenth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.

#etmooc: A Midterm Review of Connectivity, Collaboration, and Learning

February 20, 2013

With massive open online courses (MOOCs) at the center of hype, overhype, and plenty of justifiable criticism, a midterm review of one—the highly interactive Educational Technology and Media MOOC (#etmooc, organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and others)—shows what a well-designed and well-facilitated MOOC can offer to learners with the digital literacy skills required to benefit from them.

etmoocDiving into #etmooc to gain my first hands-on experience in the burgeoning world of MOOCs—one of two technologies cited in the 2013 New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report (Higher Education edition) as likely to “see widespread adoption in higher education over the next 12 months”—has far exceeded anything I expected. In less than three weeks, I have gained a rudimentary understanding of and appreciation for the differences between two types of MOOCs (the xMOOCs that many mainstream journalists seem to be addressing, and the much more interactive cMOOCsconnectivist MOOCs)—and much more. I have become an active part of a newly formed, dynamic, worldwide community of learners; continue to have direct contact with some of the prime movers in the development of MOOCs; had several transformative learning experiences that will serve me well as a trainer-teacher-learner involved in onsite and online learning; and have learned, experientially, how to use several online tools I hadn’t explored four weeks ago. My MOOCmates and I have already explored connected learning and digital storytelling; are currently engaged in efforts to better understand—and contribute to an understanding of—digital literacy; and will also have explored the open movement and digital citizenship by the time the course ends on March 30, 2013.

#etmooc shows more than 1,600 people registered. Of that group, at least 850 are part of the #etmooc Google+  community; more than 500 have already contributed to the course blog hob—an example of how digital literacy involves acts of creation as much as the acquisition of a pre-determined set of skills; and many have engaged in acts of learning and creation through the more than 150 #etmooc videos that have been posted on YouTube. Live sessions on Blackboard Collaborate generally attract at least 75 participants, with many more viewing the programs via the course archives—which suggests that the course is providing content that will be useful to far more people than are currently participating in the live version of #etmooc. And there is an official course Twitter feed that reflects only a small number of the 12,000 tweets collected and archived as of this evening via the #etmooc hashtag—many of them containing links to valuable resources.

etmooc_graphic[2]What it really comes down to is contacts, connectivity, collaboration, and learning. It’s about individually and collaboratively producing significant learning objects including, but far from limited to, Alec Couros’ course introduction; Dave Cormier’s session on rhizomatic learning; and the digital literacy sessions led by Doug Belshaw and Howard Rheingold. Any of the ever-growing list of sessions within the course archive provides stand-alone engaging examples of what online learning at its best provides. Each also inspires connections between the course designers/facilitators, other presenters, and learners; where I had initially expected very little direct contact with those delivering the course, given the large number of participants, I’ve been absolutely floored by the personal responses delivered in the form of tweets, responses to blog postings, and other interactions.

Outside of the course, on the other hand, I continue to see snarky comments from those who either haven’t had or aren’t willing to seek out these opportunities and the benefits they offer.  I also see that New York Times editorial writers have just published an editorial on why MOOCs and other online learning opportunities may not be appropriate for all learners—a valid point of view, but one that only in the most cursory fashion acknowledges the idea that MOOCs are a perfectly fine addition to the learning landscape for those of us who develop the digital literacy and learning skills to take advantage of what they offer—those who develop, in a sense, the very thing we’re studying at this point in the #etmooc curriculum (digital literacy and the skills that support a form of literacy that is increasingly becoming essential to 21st-century learning).

The point here is not what is wrong with MOOCs or how they might pose a threat to our current learning landscape. The point is what can be right about them and how the best of them are already becoming essential elements of training-teaching-learning. It makes no more sense to ignore the important, positive roles MOOCs can play than it would make to propose the abandonment of any other element of our learning landscape—from classroom-based academic offerings to the workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts that are essential to lifelong learning. And participation in high-quality offerings like #etmooc are the best response of all to those curious about how MOOCs might fit into that landscape.

N.B.: This is the eleventh in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.

#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.

NMC Horizon Report 2013 (Pt. 1 of 4): Tech and Learning Trends in Higher Education

February 5, 2013

The release this week of the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project 2013 Higher Education report on “new and emerging technologies, and their potential impact on teaching, learning, and research,” reminds us once again what a great resource the reports are for trainer-teacher-learners around the world.

Horizon_Report--2013With its summaries of key trends and significant challenges along with the usual explorations of six technologies reviewed in each report, it serves as a thought- (and action-) provoking resource, an up-to-date reference source, and a potential course of study for anyone willing to follow the numerous links to online resources compiled by everyone involved in its preparation and production.

It also, as if becoming an example of one of the technologies it explores, could easily serve as an unfacilitated massive open online course (MOOC) on the topic of technology in learning for any of us with the drive and self-discipline to treat each section as a module of an online course; it is, furthermore, easy to imagine someone setting up a discussion group within LinkedIn, Facebook, or some other social media tool for learners interested in exploring the themes and technologies; it is, in fact, not much of a stretch to also imagine the possibility of live Horizon Report learning sessions via a tweet chat or virtual office hours within Facebook or a Google+ Hangout. Even the process of preparing the reports could be a topic for study and discussion among learners interested in understanding how a well-facilitated wiki can inspire learning and produce learning objects.

But let’s not go too far afield here, since the content of the report is already spurring plenty of online discussion. The technologies themselves are fascinating. Within the one year time-to-adoption horizon we find tablet computing and MOOCs. Within the two-to-three-year adoption horizon, we see gaming and gamification and learning analytics. And in the furthest horizon (four to five years away), we find 3D printing and wearable technology (think about Google’s Project Glass foray into augmented reality here). And for those who want a broader picture of what is on the horizon, there is the short list (four technologies per horizon) that NMC staff and report advisory board members developed as a step toward determining the final set of horizon technologies, along with the overall list of topics that served as the starting point for the entire process of  identifying key trends, challenges, and technologies.

nmc.logo.cmykThere are obvious themes that run through the report, and they’re not just of interest to those working in academia. The trend toward opennessopen content, open data, open resources—is at the top of the list of key trends documented in the report; it serves as a foundational element for at least a few of the others. It’s a natural step from that broad brushstroke of openness to the next important trend—the explosion of massive open online courses—and its close cousins, informal, self-directed, and collaborative learning that, in turn, lead us toward the learner-centric concept of personal learning environments. If all of this inspires you to suspect or acknowledge that huge disruptive changes are underway in the world of learning, then you’re well on the way to appreciating the level of thought the report inspires: “Education paradigms are shifting to include online learning, hybrid learning, and collaborative models,” the report writers note.

Equally important are the significant challenges documented in the report. Faculty, the report suggests, aren’t acknowledging “the fact that digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession”—a challenge that I believe could also be documented in workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs. We’re also facing—and not dealing particularly well with—new scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching; our own resistance to change; learners’ demand for personalized (and learner-centric) learning; new models of education and learning that challenge long-standing models; and the need to adopt new technologies for learning and teaching.

The beauty of this and other Horizon reports released throughout the year—others focus on K-12 education, museums, and specific regions—is that they are free, accessible, well-researched and well-written, and transparent. Anyone wanting to review and use the advisory board members’ discussions for their own learning purposes has access to them on the project wiki. And those interested in playing a more active role in the Horizon Report process are encouraged to complete the online application form.

Next: On the One-Year Horizon (Tablets and MOOCs)

#etmooc as an Example of Connected—Rhizomatic—Learning

February 4, 2013

If you’re discovering that your personal learning network is expanding wonderfully and unpredictably in an almost viny, plant-like manner, you’re already engaged in what Dave Cormier calls rhizomatic learning—a process of learning that mirrors the spreading of rhizomes so there is no center, just a wonderfully ever-expanding network of learning connections rooted in creation, collaboration, and the building of communities of learning.

etmoocCormier has done plenty to help trainer-teacher-learners understand and apply the rhizomatic learning model to our work through his 300-word introduction to the topic, a longer blog posting, a scholarly examination of the subject, and the presentation he recently facilitated as part of #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.” And his work served as a wonderful conclusion to an exploration of connected learning, the first of the five #etmooc topics to be explored in the course.

Highlighting a variety of large themes—including our perceptions regarding the purpose of learning—Cormier leads us to an idea of learning as “preparing for uncertainty.” He suggests that learning, at its broadest level, can be seen as an attempt to prepare learners for a world that doesn’t yet exist, as Michael Wesch and his students documented in their “A Vision of Students Today” video (2007). And we’re not just talking about learners in formal academic settings, either; those of us involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts face learners who are worried about their inability to keep up with the rate of change in their workplaces, the need to continually learn new technologies and software, and struggle with the evolving role of social media tools in their workplaces.

His #etmooc rhizomatic learning presentation provides a foundation through his “Five Things I Think I Think”:

  • The best learning prepares people for dealing with uncertainty.
  • The rhizome is a model for learning for uncertainty.
  • Rhizomatic learning works in complex learning situations.
  • We need to make students responsible for their own learning.

Cormier, seeing MOOCs as a great medium for rhizomatic learning, offers five steps to succeeding in MOOCs (and, by extension, in rhizomatic learning): orienting yourself to the setting; clearing yourself so others can interact with you; networking; forming clusters with other learners, and focusing on the learning outcomes that are driving you to learn.

“Think,” he suggests, “of the MOOC as a gathering place”—a concept much different than what comes to mind for the average person who has heard about MOOCs and other forms of online learning but has not yet had the experience of seeing how engaging, inspiring, and effective they can be.

Couros himself, noting how much engagement there was in the live chat during Cormier’s presentation, suggested that participation in the rhizomatic learning session reflected our decision to “walk through the same door on the Internet so we could think together,” and Cormier responded by observing that what is created through this sort of interactive MOOC produces the equivalent of a networked textbook in that the content learners create together and share online becomes part of the learning community’s learning resources.

Finishing the module and all that it inspired me to do makes me realize that the learning experience is not complete without a summary of my own rhizomatic connected-learning efforts. My own learning rhizomes spread through the acts of:

  • Realizing, after reading Sasser’s article, that her experiences with that composition class mirrored my own recently with Social Media Basics learners in an online course I wrote and facilitated
  • Exploring the Cynefin framework—with its simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic domains—to see how rhizomatic learning helps us deal with complex learning situations
  • Writing this piece and others to make more colleagues aware of rhizomatic learning and the value of a well-organized and innovatively-delivered MOOC

“The most interesting stuff is what happens in the complex domain,” Cormier observed, and I’m looking forward to exploring more of that “interesting stuff” as our course moves into digital storytelling for the next two weeks.

N.B.: This is the third in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.

MOOCed into Learning via #etmooc

February 2, 2013

I’ve been MOOCed. And it’s not as if I could have avoided it. I knew, as soon as I began exploring the topic of massive online open courses (MOOCs) in November 2012 with colleagues on the New Media Consortium (NMC) Advisory Board for the 2013 Higher Education Edition of the Horizon Report, that it would only be a matter of time before I stepped into the vortex and was completely immersed in learning more about the topic.

etmoocIt’s not as if I fought it very hard; when Google recently announced its Advanced Power Searching MOOC, I registered for that course. But the increasingly frequent references I’ve been seeing to ETMOOC—the Education Technology and Media course organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and several “co-conspirators”—made me curious enough to dip a virtual toe into the MOOC surf. And, as so often happens when we stand too close to the water, I’ve been swamped by an enormous wave of MOOC.

This is a community under development, a place where trainer-teacher-learners are working with each other to explore a variety of topics in two-week chunks: connected learning, digital storytelling, digital literacy, the open movement, and digital citizenship. The use of technology is not only at the heart of our learning explorations, but provides the tools for those explorations: live online sessions held in Blackboard and archived for those who can’t attend the live sessions; a network of blogs; a twitter hashtag (#etmooc); a Google+ community with connections via Google+ Hangouts; postings on YouTube; and content on social bookmarking sites including Delicious, Diigo, and Reddit.

And while Couros is clearly at the center of the process, his conspirators and the learners are, with his encouragement, very much building the course by developing content as we go, as Sue Waters did in a blog post that about working harder and staying connected in a learning community—her guide to how to use the various course tools to engage in effective learning opportunities.

Less than three weeks into ETMOOC, there already is a robust and still-growing archive of programs including a very lively 80-minute orientation session; introductions to Twitter, social bookmarking and content curation, and blogging; and an introduction to connected learning. The orientation itself included a wealth of resources, including links to online articles about how we can assist learners in building out “their digital presences in an environment made of the medium of the web itself” and how the development of open learning systems can “dramatically improve learning.”

There is also a “Dynamic Guide to Active Participation” that could serve as a primer for anyone interested in developing great contemporary learning habits, and a “Dynamic Guide for Facilitators” that will be a tremendously valuable resource for any trainer-teacher-learning working in online environments.

“Think of #etmooc as an experience situated somewhere between a course and a community,” the course developers tell us on the website and in that engaging introductory session. “While there will be scheduled webinars and information shared each week, we know that there is a lot more that we will collectively need to do if we want to create a truly collaborative and passionate community. We’re aiming to carry on those important conversations in many different spaces – through the use of social networks, collaborative tools, shared hashtags, and in personalized spaces. What #etmooc eventually becomes, and what it will mean to you, will depend upon the ways in which you participate and the participation and activities of all of its members. You may even establish and grow your personal and professional learning network (PLN).”

And by encouraging us to learn by participating, by creating content and establishing new online accounts in platforms including, and by engaging in conversations that extend far beyond any formal onsite or online classroom walls, they are inspiring all of us to contribute our own learning objects—like this blog post—that extends the conversation and the learning even further.

N.B.: This is the first in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.

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. 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.

Social Media Feast and Fast: Disconnecting for a Day

July 20, 2012

I was feeling wired in the best and worst of all possible ways after feasting on nonstop, extremely intense face-to-face and online contact with colleagues at American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and American Library Association (ALA) conferences recently.

The cumulative effect was wonderfully alarming—or alarmingly wonderful, depending on your own attitudes toward social media tools. The positive result was that engaging with colleagues face to face and via Twitter backchannels created a remarkably rewarding level of engagement. The worrisome part was that the nonstop engagement created a social media/digital equivalent of delirium tremens in the days immediately following each conference.

Some of the contradictory responses should not, in retrospect, have been difficult to anticipate. I did, after all, move without any sort of conscious transition into dawn-to-dark social media immersion from a routine habit of spending an hour or less each day engaged with others through Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Facebook; the exception to my usual habits generally comes in the form of a weekly or biweekly engagement in a formal online discussion session, e.g., a tweet chat, or through the act of live-tweeting an event for colleagues who cannot be present.

The conference interactions turned those patterns completely on their virtual heads. Conference days generally began with a quick skim, on the screen of my laptop, of the conference backchannel feeds via TweetDeck; this helped me spot last-minute announcements regarding events I didn’t want to miss, or summaries of presentations and discussions I wasn’t able to attend. Then I would skim a (print) copy of a newspaper before switching over to a mobile device (in this case, a Samsung Galaxy tablet)  to keep up with the various feeds throughout the day. I would turn back to my laptop when I was live-tweeting events I was attending or writing blog postings late each evening.

As I’ve written elsewhere, the level of engagement was spectacular; the combined online and face-to-face contacts produced connections I otherwise would have never made. But the predictable crash was quick to come in the days immediately following each conference. I found myself compulsively continuing to follow the backchannel post-conference feeds via my tablet. Craving and missing the obvious social media buzz that comes from that level of stimulation. And feeling as if the transition from conference routines back to normal day-to-day routines was not happening as naturally as it had in the past.

When I found myself feeling that way after returning from the second conference, I began thinking about University of San Francisco associate professor of media studies and environmental studies David Silver’s recent summary of a digital fast experiment. Silver’s engaging presentation at the San Francisco Public Library under the auspices of BayNet (the Bay Area Library & Information Network) in May 2012 made many of us think about our own online practices as he described how he had encouraged a group of 80 digital natives to go without any electronic or digital media as long as they could—in essence, to “remain logged off until it becomes dangerous, impossible, or unbearable.”

The student who maintained the fast for the shortest period of time gave up after only a few hours. The person who lasted longest went all of three and a half days. Some of the participants’ observations were funny—one wanted to know how to take a bus without an iPhone and then what to do while on the bus with no digital distractions. Another concluded that it was impossible to work out at a gym without music. A third participant reported staring at a pizza for lack of anything else to do over a meal. Some participants’ observations were poignant—their friends who continued texting acted as if they had stepped out of the room by not being equally engaged in online conversations, and one reported that it was “weird to be stuck in my mind…I didn’t like it.”

Armed with memories of those observations and recognizing that I needed my own digital fast, I set aside a Saturday recently when no one was expecting me to work. I could actually feel my body and my thoughts relaxing as I opened the pages of a book that morning and slowly relished the joy of slowly absorbing thoughts from printed sources rather than feeling as if I had to race from tweet to tweet. Brunch with my wife was a relaxing and invigorating combination of conversation and time spent skimming that day’s edition of The New York Times—in its printed format. A walk through parts of San Francisco that afternoon gave us time to talk as well as simply take things in, and dinner in the relative silence of our home—no television, CD player, or radio providing distractions—led to a quiet evening without interruptions.

Beginning the fast with the intention of letting it run from midnight to midnight, I actually was in no rush to check for messages the following (Sunday) morning, so the fast actually continued well into the afternoon. By the time I wandered back to briefly check for phone messages—nothing pressing there—and online contacts, I realized I had accomplished what I set out to do. Set the virtual world aside for an all-too brief retreat. Slowed myself down significantly. And managed to break the compulsive need to monitor those post-conference backchannels and other online enticements. So I’m back to normal patterns of online interactions. And apparently none the worse for wear.


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