Tactical Urbanism: Community, Collaboration, Innovation, and Learning

April 10, 2014

Sometime, in an effort to accomplish something in our communities, we move so quickly that we don’t even take the time to slap a label onto what we’re doing—until we come across a lovely term like “tactical urbanism” and wonder why we didn’t coin it first.

Tactical_Urbanism--CoverNate Berg, writing for the Atlantic Cities website, describes the term concisely: “Guerrilla gardening. Pavement-to-parks. Open streets. These are all urban interventions of a sort—quick, often temporary, cheap projects that aim to make a small part of a city more lively or enjoyable.” And when we begin to dive into all the loveliness behind tactical urbanism, we find something that serves us well in a variety of settings: the reminder that great accomplishments don’t have to address problems and challenges at a macro level; sometimes we help change our world through small, incremental steps rooted in community, collaboration, innovation, and learning.

The learning element, for me, was obvious from the initial moment I learned about tactical urbanism (yesterday morning, while skimming a Twitter feed): a couple of training-teaching-learning colleagues—Heather Braum and Jill Hurst-Wahl—were attending a conference presentation on the topic, and both saw connections between what keynote speaker Mike Lydon was describing and what they had heard from me about the Hidden Garden Steps project here in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset District. After skimming notes prepared and posted by Jill and Heather, I immediately downloaded the wonderful Tactical Urban2 online manual produced by Lydon and his fellow tactical urbanists; devoured the descriptions of tactical urbanism projects documented within that manual; relished the idea that several of these projects are in place here in San Francisco or under consideration; thought about how they might inspire positive actions within libraries; and even began thinking about how the spirit of tactical urbanism flows through the best of learning projects I have encountered.

And yes, I immediately understood why Heather and Jill would think about a $467,000 project like the Hidden Garden Steps within the context of a philosophy rooted in “quick, often temporary, cheap projects that aim to make a small part of a city more lively or enjoyable”: the Steps, like so many of our training-teaching-learning efforts, appear to be large, complex, and daunting when seen out of context; within context, however, they are organically interwoven segments of a much larger tapestry that builds upon what is already in place and provides additional foundations for further development.

When we look at the broad brushstrokes of urban development within Lydon’s work, we immediately—if we have already encountered these volumes—think of Jane Jacob’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961); Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language: Towns – Buildings – Construction (1977), The Timeless Way of Building (1979), and just about everything he has written since then; William Whyte’s City: Rediscovering the Center (1988); and Peter Harnik’s Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities (2010). When we think beyond the explicit references to urban development, we think of how libraries increasingly engage in flexible use of their spaces for everything from community meetings addressing needs of libraries and the communities they serve to remodeling of spaces to create everything from an information commons to makerspaces. And when we stretch this even further into learning organizations, we find the sort of on-the-fly quick, often temporary, cheap experimentation some of us pursue in our communities of learning when we attempt something as simple as using Facebook or Google+ Hangouts to conduct online office hours with our learners in the hope that they will establish learning communities that last far beyond the formal end of a course we have facilitated.

Tactical urbanism in action: neighbors maintaining the Hidden Garden Steps

Tactical urbanism in action: neighbors maintaining the Hidden Garden Steps

Let’s draw explicit parallels here. Lydon and his colleagues document guerilla street tactics including painting a crosswalk where one doesn’t exist, but is needed, and shows how that simple action leads city officials to acknowledge and act upon the need. Libraries can create book discussion groups that go far beyond the traditional recreational approach to that action: by organizing discussions around a book that addresses a community need, the library can be part of a collaborative effort to substantially and positively address and act upon a community need. Those of us involved in training-teaching learning—which, I believe, includes tactical urbanists who teach by example; library staff, which facilitates learning through much of what staff members offer; and those involved in workplace learning and performance—engage in the spirit of tactical urbanism by exploring easy-to-implement low-cost/no-cost innovations that, when successful, quickly spread throughout our extended learning landscapes. And those of us engaged in projects like the Hidden Garden Steps—that 148-step ceramic-tiled mosaic surrounded by gardens tended formally and informally by neighborhood volunteers—are immersed in the spirit of tactical urbanism by building upon the example of those who came before us and inspiring others to create their own versions of these magnificent community meeting places that serve a worldwide community of visitors.

The punchline remains one I frequently recite: all we have to do is dream.


New Librarianship MOOC: Contributing to Our Communities Through Leadership and Innovation

July 29, 2013

Connections between librarianship, training-teaching-learning, innovation, and leadership continue to become increasingly obvious as we move further into R. David Lankes’s “New Librarianship Master Class”—a massive open online course (MOOC) under the auspices of the University of Syracuse School of Information Studies— and further into his book The Atlas of New Librarianship.

signorelli200x300[1]It’s that huge theme that Lori Reed and I explored in our ALA Editions book Workplace Learning & Leadership: A Handbook for Library and Nonprofit Trainers, in which we proposed that all trainer-teacher-learners need to be taking leadership roles in the organizations and communities they serve. It’s a theme that colleagues and I continue to explore when we have face-to-face and online conversations. And it’s a theme that provides stronger foundations for the suggestion that library staff and others working in training-teaching-learning might even more effectively contribute to strengthening the communities we serve if we find ways to collaborate more regularly regardless of the type of organization we serve.

New_Librarianship_Master_Class_LogoLankes, in his course lecture on improving society though innovation and leadership, addresses his target audience—librarians—with words that are a call to action for anyone involved in training-teaching-learning: “Innovation and leadership are fundamental values [for us]…You are to be an innovator….You are to be a leader…It comes from this: We must model the positive change we want to see within our communities.”

He reminds us that the places in which we work, those places we provide (onsite and online libraries for libraries, any learning space in my extended view of what Lankes so aptly documents), “are places of constant learning and therefore constant change….Learning is change…[so] we must be constantly changing.” And leadership, he maintains, is part of the equation.

This is far from a utopian cry for ill-defined results. In connecting these assertions to a broader goal of “improving society,” Lankes helps us see that if we are focused and successful with our efforts, we are contributing to meeting an essential need within the individual communities and larger society we serve: facilitating the conversations and other learning opportunities that strengthen communities. It comes back to a theme running through the course and the book: we can make substantial positive contributions if we are part of the conversations taking place and affecting our communities, and if we are helping to facilitate positive change through implementation of the mission statement Lankes consistently promotes: “The Mission of Librarians is to Improve Society through Facilitating Knowledge Creation in their Communities”—a mission statement that can equally be applied to any trainer-teacher-learners and, again, that begs for collaborations between anyone involved in those endeavors within or outside of libraries.

Lankes does a wonderful job at emphasizing the importance of what we do collectively: “We can’t have one person in charge of innovation. Everyone must be in charge of it,” he reminds us, and I would extend that statement to say the same of leadership, of training-teaching-learning, and of the social media tools that so many of us are using to facilitate the conversations Lankes is promoting.

“Librarians are radical positive change agents,” he reminds us, just as any trainer-teacher-learner is a radical change agent—and the best are the ones who are not rolling out the same lesson plans year after year, or avoiding opportunities for innovation not only at the large-scale level that generally comes to mind when we talk about innovation, but also at the small, personal levels that each of us has the possibility of pursuing—if we view ourselves as potential positive change agents who must assume leadership roles whenever we can.

“We need to evangelize our profession,” Lankes adds near the end of his lecture on innovation and leadership. “We need to take every opportunity to tell people that we are here for them. And we’re not simply here waiting for them. We are here to make their world better, and we’re going to do it in an active way.”

And if all of us take the time to read The Atlas or view some of those wonderful lectures that will remain online long after the current course formally ends, we might be inspired to make magnificent strides for our communities, the organizations and clients we serve, our learners, and ourselves simply by reaching across the aisle and embracing collaborative opportunities with other trainer-teacher-learners with whom we haven’t yet collaborated.

N.B.: This is the sixth in a series of posts inspired by the New Librarianship MOOC.


New Librarianship MOOC: Partnerships in Creativity, Innovation, and Learning

July 25, 2013

The further we move into R. David Lankes’s “New Librarianship Master Class”—a massive open online course (MOOC) under the auspices of the University of Syracuse School of Information Studies— and his book The Atlas of New Librarianship, the more obvious the overlap between librarianship and the entire field of training-teaching-learning becomes—which makes me wonder why I don’t see more interactions and sustainable collaborations between colleagues in the American Library Association (ALA)  and the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and others involved in the professions those two associations represent.

New_Librarianship_Master_Class_Logo“All of New Librarianship is about knowledge and training,” Lankes reminds us in his online lecture on the role facilitation plays in knowledge and training and throughout his book. “Everything we do is about helping people develop their own knowledge.”

But it is his follow-up comment in the lecture that particularly resonates for those of us who work both with library colleagues and with colleagues in other organizations where learning is facilitated: “I think a lot of instruction in libraries should be about things within the community and not about the library itself”—an idea I’ve supported consistently through a “Rethinking Library Instruction” course for ALA Editions.

In the same way that learning facilitated within libraries ultimately is at least as much about serving community members’ needs as much as it is about making library services and resources accessible, the learning facilitated in other organizations is at least as much about customers and clients served as it is about the learners who are employed by those organizations. If trainer-teacher-learners are reading, hearing about, and talking about anything these days, it is about how we are fostering a learner-centric approach to our efforts. That learner-centric approach can be most productive when it helps learners themselves make connections between what they are learning and how it helps them serve others. So as we bring that back into the context of librarians and other members of library staff who are offering learning opportunities that move far beyond a focus on bibliographic instruction and explicitly address libraries and their staff as partners within the communities they serve, we have yet another reminder that there is plenty of room for, and much to be gained by, greater collaboration between the trainer-teacher-learners in libraries (i.e., almost every member of library staff who interacts with those relying on libraries and librarians as trusted resources) and the trainer-teacher-learners who serve other organizations and constituents without ever realizing that partnerships with library staff can expand the successes of what all of us are attempting to facilitate.

And it goes beyond that, beyond the learning process: It is, Lankes suggests, “about bringing people to action”—a theme he explores extensively in the course and in The Atlas: It is about being outside of our organizations, being visible within the communities we serve, and being part of the conversations that shape the directions our communities take.

Our role as facilitators—librarians as facilitators, in the context under discussion by Lankes, and trainer-teacher-learners as facilitators in the broader context I’m pursuing here—is critically important. And this role provides another example of the common ground we share: Librarians, Lankes says, are constantly learning and “need to be constantly learning”—a statement that is equally true for anyone involved in helping others learn.

That necessity to continually engage in learning reveals another challenge that is, at the same time, an attraction for many of us: The requirement that we provide stimulating environments for learning and innovation while, at the same time, being willing to learn alongside those whose learning we are expected—and have offered—to facilitate. We don’t necessarily have to know about everything that is going to take place in a learning environment such as the makerspaces that are becoming increasingly prevalent in libraries, he suggests, but we do have to be willing to learn with the learners who are working within those spaces: “This idea of creating a safe place for experimentation, for innovation, is part of what librarians need to do,” he adds in a lecture on facilitation and environment, and the same applies to trainer-teacher-learners outside of physical and virtual library (and other learning) spaces.

“What we need to think about,” he continues, “is our physical spaces and our digital spaces: ‘How can we create inspiration? How can we create an environment where people instantly walk in and feel smarter, or feel part of something great, and know that they are part of something great, and not [be] intimidated?”

The ultimate payoff for libraries and librarians, he concludes, is that “Libraries are safe places, but they are a safe place to come up with dangerous ideas. They are a safe place to come up with revolutionary ideas. They are a safe place in which we can plot the future greatness of a community that may need to overthrow the norms of community.”

And that, for me, is as fine a description of what any great training-teaching-learning endeavor I’ve ever seen or helped facilitate can offer. And produce.

N.B.: This is the fourth in a series of posts inspired by the New Librarianship MOOC.


Arts Integration, Creativity, and Effective Learning

August 30, 2012

There are times when something crosses our desks (or, in this case, our computer monitors) and absolutely makes us sit up straight, amazed that what we so strongly believe has been supported so eloquently—which is what happened when I saw the “School Transformation Through Arts Integration at Bates Middle School in Maryland” video produced by Edutopia.

This is an absolutely and stunningly beautiful example of what so many of us have been proposing for years: learning where subjects are seamlessly integrated with each other is spectacularly rewarding, and the arts have an undeniably important place in this process.

The six minutes it will take you to watch that video may be among the most transformative you’re going to have for quite a while if you’re as moved as I am by what it provides: an incredibly intimate view into a learning environment that was hemorrhaging faculty and was rife with disciplinary problems. A vision that learning could somehow be better than it was in that setting. And the wonderfully touching imagery of learners engaged in learning at levels many of us only dream of fostering.

It’s all there for anyone who cares to see it. But that’s not enough. What the ongoing experiment at that middle school suggests is that when we stop looking upon learning in terms of the chunks of time stolen from our “real” jobs or obligations rather than in terms of how we can bring meaning to what is learned, we’re already on a life-changing road to creative approaches to effective learning.

“We gotta find a way to reach all kids,” John Ceschini, executive director for the Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance says early in this all-too-brief video. I would suggest that trainer-teacher-learners need to broaden that heartfelt manifesto to “We gotta find a way to reach all learners regardless of age, background, and setting.”

It’s not that I believe I’m going to completely incorporate painting or sculpture or ballet into my next social media basics course. But I do know that the underlying commitment to draw what we already know and love into what we are beginning or continuing to learn is a well-established educational precept (think about Robert Gagné’s nine events of instruction) and one well worth considering every time we sit down to design a learning opportunity, deliver it, and then look back to see how effective we were in providing something meaningful. Whether it is onsite or online learning that we’re pursuing, it needs to include the playful, the challenging, and the potentially discouraging possibility of failure that so often comes when we are experimenting with something that is not completely familiar to us or comfortable for us.

And that idea, in itself, helps us understand one of the larger ramifications of “School Transformation Through Arts Integration.” By allowing us to see those young learners tackling subjects that can just as easily produce failures as they can produce success, the producers of the video have reminded us that learning always involves risk. It’s an inherent part of the learning process that we unsuccessfully try to ignore when we focus on the quizzes, exams, and certifications that sometimes make us want to pursue easier learning opportunities rather than running the risk of failing at something more challenging.

So while you may not see the arts incorporated into every learning opportunity I help design and facilitate, what you can expect to see is even more of a commitment to draw upon creative endeavors when I’m working with the learners who depend on me as they struggle to acquire the skills and knowledge that help them succeed in an increasingly competitive world. And I hope that by watching that video, you too will be inspired to promote and pursue a better integration of the arts and creativity into all you do.


Jay Mathews: Work Hard, Be Nice, Find Inspiration

June 18, 2012

Those of us engaged in training-teaching-learning are perpetual sponges—a form of existence that sometimes produces rewards in places where we least expect to find them. We would not usually seek guidance and inspiration for our adult-learning endeavors, for example, within the pages of a book about an innovative set of charter schools. Yet that is exactly what awaits us in Jay Mathews’ Work Hard, Be Nice: How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America.

Let’s just acknowledge this up front: Mathews, as a long-time education writer for the Washington Post, displays an enviable ability to produce a real page-turner on a topic far from the top of the average person’s reading list; the narrative flow is far more engaging than much of what we find in contemporary novels, and the emotional engagement he fosters has us rooting for his protagonists and feeling the occasional personal losses he documents. And as he chronicles the story of Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin’s journey from being two inexperienced yet idealistic, highly energetic, and incredibly persistent Teach for America alums to running a successful and Charles Bronfman Prize-winning chain of charter schools—the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP)—nurturing disadvantaged children, he tells an archetypal tale that any trainer-teacher-learner can appreciate.

When we read of Feinberg and Levin’s efforts to find appropriate learning spaces for their young students, we are reminded of the challenges we sometimes face—and must remain committed to overcoming—in finding (or creating) onsite and online learning spaces that work for the adults we serve. As we read about how they recognized their own limitations as educators and how they pursued the best mentors they could find, we see patterns and practices that serve us day to day as we sponge up what we lack by learning from the trainer-teacher-learners we admire.

As we absorb the wonderful story of how they engaged their youngest learners in actions to shame reticent school district officials into action—thereby providing a lesson in civics by inspiring the students to engage in civic action—we have an extremely important example of the importance of providing learning opportunities that are grounded in experience that puts what is being learned into action—experiential learning at its best.

It’s not all rosy in Work Hard, Be Nice.  Mathews and his interviewees do not shy away from acknowledging the occasional small and large failures that sometimes come from overzealous actions—which makes the book even more valuable to those of us applying its lessons to our adult-learning endeavors. There are also reports from critics of the KIPP approach and from those who attempt to denigrate KIPP’s reported successes—higher test scores than seen among similar groups of students not attending KIPP schools, a willingness to spend much more time in classrooms than other students spend—by questioning whether it’s a learning model that can and does work for all members of its target audience.

We are, however, never in doubt as to where Mathews himself stands on the issue of whether KIPP is worth studying: “Over time, the debate about KIPP among educators has grown, full of misinformation and misimpressions because few of the people talking about KIPP schools have actually seen them in action,” he writes (p. 281). And he fully intends to continue exploring the KIPP model, he adds: “In the search for the best schools, I still have a lot of work to do” (p. 317).

And if for nothing other than the tenacity that Mathews and his subjects display in Work Hard, Be Nice, the book deserves—and needs—to be on every trainer-teacher-learner’s reading list. For inspiration. Assurance. And sponge-worthy material.


Rethinking Learning and Learning Spaces (Pt. 4 of 4): Rethinking With the Authors We Are Reading

March 23, 2012

Let’s take a quantum leap in rethinking what a learning space is. Without abandoning anything that is already effectively in place, let’s think beyond the physical classroom. Past the online learning spaces we inhabit now via platforms including WebEx, Skype, and many others. Let’s think about a world where learning spaces can be almost anything that facilitates learning. And then laugh when we realize how full circle we have come.

At least one idea comes sharply into focus as we move through the rethinking process via books by John Medina, Seth Godin, Cathy Davidson, and others, including Bruce Wexler: the “places” where we learn are in a dynamic state of change, and they all benefit from being stimulating rather than static. When we look at what Michael Wesch is doing at Kansas State University and documenting on his Digital Ethnography site, we see engaged and effective learning facilitated by an engaged teacher-trainer-learner. When we turn to the YouMedia project at the Chicago Public Library, we see a learning organization blending online-onsite learning in incredibly innovative ways. When we see how colleagues are using LinkedIn discussion groups, live online conversations linked together via Twitter hashtags like #ASTDChapters or #lrnchat or #libchat, or through Google+ hangouts, we see our idea of learning spaces expand even further since each of them creates a sort of space where learning can and does occur.

When we consider how effectively wikis are being used to draw teacher-trainer-learners together asynchronously to actually produce learning objects like the annual New Media Consortium Horizon Report, we can see those wikis as learning spaces. When we see how individual blog postings on topics ranging from various learning styles to learning in libraries include extensive links and references and serve as self-contained online asynchronous lessons, we have further expanded our horizons. When we use smartphones and tablets as conduits to sites such as Smarthistory while we are standing in front of a work of art in a museum, we viscerally understand that the learning space is a blend of the museum gallery and the website and the device since they combine to provide a more comprehensive learning opportunity than would be possible without that combination. And it’s just one small additional step to move ourselves to the concept of blended learning spaces along the lines of the onsite-online social learning centers a few of us are promoting, or to see the newly created TED-Ed site as a dynamically innovative learning space.

But there’s still one obvious oversight, and it comes to our attention as we rethink what knowledge is through books like David Weinberger’s Too Big to Know, which examines our move from print-based knowledge to online knowledge. Or Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, which suggests that using the Internet is rewiring our brains in ways that make it difficult for us to read book-length works. Or William Crossman’s VIVO [Voice In/Voice Out]: The Coming Age of Talking Computers, which is predicated on the author’s belief that text and written language will be obsolete by 2050. The oversight for many of us may be in not seeing that books themselves (in print as well as online) remain a form of learning space—a place where we encounter other trainer-teacher-learners, learn from them, react to the ideas being proffered, and even, at a certain level, engage with them through our reactions to their work and through the conversations they inspire. Which makes it tremendously ironic, as I have repeatedly noted, that these wonderful thinker-writers still are drawn to express themselves most eloquently within the very containers—the books—they think are being replaced by other options.

If we were to travel down a similar path of overlooking what so clearly remains before us, we, too, might look at all that is developing and lose sight of a valuable learning space: the physical learning spaces that have served us in the past and will continue to serve us well if we adapt them and expand them—and ourselves—to reflect and respond to our changing world as well as to our learning needs. And our desires.


ALA Annual Conference 2011: Technology, Community, and Collaboration

July 6, 2011

Attending the American Library Association (ALA) 2011 Annual Conference in New Orleans last week once again inspired a deep appreciation for how technology, people, and dreams are combining to create onsite and online communities extending beyond anything imaginable even a decade ago.

As those of us involved in workplace learning and performance continue reading the reports we collected, thinking about the numerous inspiring conversations we had with colleagues, and recalling the overwhelming number of opportunities we had to see what is happening in libraries and the communities they serve today, we’re struck again by how the themes of community and collaboration are at the heart of what many are doing and exploring in contemporary libraries. And nowhere is that more clearly evident than in the pages of Confronting the Future: Strategic Visions for the 21st Century Public Library, a first-rate report written by ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) fellow Roger Levien.

The writer quickly moves from the obligatory lofty statement we often see—“Public libraries play a distinctive and critical role…that is essential to the functioning of a democratic and market-oriented society” (p. 12)—to more from-the-heart suggestions of how libraries are partners within their communities: a “place at which most people could learn how to use innovative devices and media even before they became widely available and affordable” (p. 24)—an essential service at a time when learning never ends and many of us feel perpetually overwhelmed by all the new information and technology that comes our way. A place that “would also facilitate collaborations among individuals” (p. 24)—in other words, a real player in building and sustaining a sense of community. And a place offering “a range of specialized equipment and facilities to help authors, editors, performers, and other creators prepare new works, alone or in groups, in new or old media, for personal use or widespread distribution” (p. 26) as we already see in facilities as innovative as the Chicago Public Library’s magnificent YOUMedia collaboration with the Digital Youth Network for teens.

Levien persuasively reminds us that staff members of responsive and innovative libraries are providing resources for almost every imaginable member of our communities. They offer events “designed to educate, inform, and entertain children.” They provide a “safe, neutral, and flexible environment that many teens and their parents strongly prefer.” They have an increasingly wide array of services “to help in searching for employment, completing unemployment insurance applications, finding books and courses on new skills and new careers, and simply enabling adults to have a quiet place to read or relax. Many offer courses in the use of information technologies” (p. 17). They also create reading, meeting, and social learning centers that are better equipped than other community centers are.

There are even better times ahead, Levien suggests. Libraries are continuing to build bridges between their physical and virtual sites to meet the needs of onsite-online customers. Members of library staff are looking for ways to combine a focus on individual needs with a focus on community needs. Libraries are not only collecting but creating content to the benefit of those they serve—in essence, becoming content libraries that develop the very communities that they help sustain. And libraries are finding new ways to serve as portals to information as well as being accessible archives of information resources.

“The creation library has extended its role and become a place where media conveying information, knowledge, art, and entertainment are created using the library’s specialized equipment and facilities,” he notes (p. 20)—a reminder that those who have fallen away from using libraries can learn a lot simply by revisiting them onsite and online to see how much positive change is taking place within those community centers.

And we, as trainer-teacher-learners, have our own role to play. We have the responsibility to continue shaping what our libraries are offering; remain more than proficient in using what libraries offer us; and help our learners become more aware of, comfortable with, and effective at using library resources. Libraries are a critically important element of our local and extended communities in our onsite-online world. It’s up to us to be sure that the old and new technology they harbor doesn’t hide the opportunities they offer us—including their role in fostering business partnerships and community collaborations to support creative learning opportunities in even the most challenging of times.


ALA Annual Conference 2011: Your Library on High Tech

June 26, 2011

There probably are still plenty of people who think of nothing but printed books and being shushed when they hear the word “library.” But you won’t find many of them here in New Orleans attending the American Library Association (ALA) 2011 Annual Conference.

A 90-minute session yesterday, organized by ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy, highlighted and celebrated four innovative projects designed to meet library users’ needs with varying degrees of creativity and playfulness: North Carolina State University Library’s web redesign program, which gave the library’s online presence a cleaner and more dynamic look than it previously sported; the OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons (DRC); the Creekview High School (Canton, Georgia) Media 21 project which helps students match technology with learning opportunities; and Orange County (Florida) Library System’s Shake It! mobile app to match readers with the books they are likely to enjoy.

Technology and library users come together very effectively in Media 21’s transformation of a school library into a first-rate social learning center and Orange County’s Shake It! Project. Media 21 makes at least some of us wish we were back in high school again—admittedly a major accomplishment in itself—and Shake It! appears to be so playfully addictive that it could easily make us want to read even more books than we already do just so we can shake our mobile devices again and see what reading recommendation the app will offer next.

But we’re talking about far more than diversions here. ALA Learning Round Table colleague Buffy Hamilton, who was founding librarian of that social learning center at Creekview High, sees the project as a setting in which “students are helping us create the library of the future,” she told her ALA audience yesterday. “I was struggling with two questions: how to create flexible and fluid learning spaces, and how to embed the library in the lives and learning spaces of students.”

The result has students engaged in learning via a huge variety of social media tools including, but far from limited to, Netvibes to curate and collect information; Google Docs so students use the same tools found in the contemporary business world to collaborate and share; Skype to have live conversations with experts around the world; Prezi, Animoto, and Wordle to more effectively present their ideas; and social bookmarking tools including Diigo and Evernote.

“For these students to see that the library is a learning space…was very powerful for them,” she concluded.

The sense of fun for library users at Creekview is equally apparent in the Orange County Shake It! app, Library Director and CEO Mary Anne Hodel told and showed her audience through a brief presentation that included videos documenting the playful approach to bringing books to library users. The most difficult part of developing the app, which works when the user shakes a mobile device with the app installed and causes three wheels to turn until they come to a rest displaying a book based on three elements: audience, genre, and preferred medium.

“We launched this in July 2010,” she told her audience. “There have been over 4,000 downloads of the app” and coverage of the popular innovation in the Orlando Sentinel and USA Today.

She also displayed a solid vision of where she expects the library to continue going: “We have a lot of fun things on our website [but]… we’re definitely going in the direction of mobile apps for as many things as we can think up. We think that is the next wave and that’s where we want to be.”


The M-Learning Mantra: Augmenting What We Do

June 23, 2011

Two recent reports and a couple of presentations I’ve attended in the past few weeks hint that m-learning—mobile learning—may also be defined by a second name—mantra learning—since there is a mantra-like consistency to the message being delivered by mobile-learning advocates.

M-learning, we’re hearing, is all about augmenting, not replacing, the way we currently design and deliver learning opportunities. Which is a fabulously productive way to approach this growing part of workplace learning and performance as well as education in general. It takes us past the unnecessary either-or thinking that so commonly creates artificial walls in what should be a cohesive field of practice: teaching-training-learning.

Writer and learning technology strategist Clark Quinn, in his 30-page Mobile Learning: Landscape and Trends report for the eLearning Guild (available free of charge to anyone registered with the eLearning Guild online), offers an eloquent and helpful approach to m-learning. The use of a mobile device “augments our capabilities, both for formal learning, and for informal and performance-support needs,” he writes (p. 5). “The essence of mobile is, to me, augmenting our mental capabilities wherever and wherever we are.”

“It is clear that mobile learning is not and should not be perceived as a replacement for anything,” the writers of ASTD’s Mobile Learning: Learning in the Palm of Your Hand report (distributed free of charge as  PDF download recently to members of the national ASTD organization) concur, adding that “it should be viewed as a complement to other forms of learning. It fills the gaps between formal classroom training and e-learning, formal and informal, local and remote.”

Quinn’s eLearning Guild report, drawing from “the preferences, opinions, likes, dislikes, trials, and triumphs of eLearning Guild members,” does a great job of showing how m-learning is a “nascent” and rapidly spreading presence among trainer-teacher-learners and the organizations they serve. People “are seeing real returns,” he notes (p. 1), and up to 80 percent of Fortune 100 businesses are already supporting the use of the devices that facilitate mobile learning in their workplaces (p. 5). “Mobile benefit advocates will be enthused to learn that there are almost no negative impacts seen…On the positive side, we see modest-to-large improvements for learner access and needs and at least half are finding benefits in the speed of content delivery and, importantly, improving user performance” (p. 16).

In essence, what the eLearning Guild and the ASTD reports are documenting is the small yet growing use of m-learning to expedite just-in-time learning. And, because both reports were released within a couple of weeks of each other, it’s not surprising that both contain a great deal of complementary material.

Which makes it all the more interesting that they end with tremendously different recommendations. Clark sees  tremendous growth ahead and encourages his readers to “figure out how to start” (p. 26). The authors of the ASTD report also see a growing mobile market, but suggest
that “for once it really is okay to wait and see” since “standards are still being developed and consumers are still figuring out which devices/platforms work best for them.”

But if accept the broadest possible definition of m-learning and focus on the idea that it’s “any sort of learning thathappens when the learner is not at a fixed, predetermined location,” as the writers of the Wikipedia article on m-learning suggest, we realize there is no reason to hold back.

Regardless of the devices we use (laptops, iPads, smartphones, or anything else that comes our way and travels with us), we can easily take advantage of the magnificent possibilities m-learning provides for just-in-time learning. And our learners and those they help will be the real winners.


Innovations in Social Learning: From Print-based to Digital Environments

May 2, 2011

When a classmate introduced me to Michael Wesch’s 4.5-minute video The Machine Is Us/ing Us on YouTube a few years ago, I sat in stunned silence for quite a while. Because it introduced me to Web 2.0 in a uniquely visceral way. Showed me that the world had changed significantly while I had been asleep intellectually and socially. And because I knew I would be working through the thoughts inspired by that brief video for months, if not years, to come.

I had the same reaction two nights ago when I finally made the time to watch the online archived version of the MacArthur Foundation’s 100-minute Panel Discussion on Re-Imagining Learning in the 21st Century and immediately followed a link to see Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century,  the 50-minute PBS program which is at the heart of the Panel Discussion program.

To say that all trainer-teacher-learners should watch, think about, and discuss how the content of these two beautifully interwoven presentations is already affecting what we do is to underplay the significance of programs’ content.

Both presentations are forward-looking, as suggested by inclusion of John Dewey’s reminder that “If we teach today’s students as we did yesterday’s, we are robbing them of tomorrow.” And both shows document the growing impact of what Karen Cator, Director of the office of Educational Technology in the U.S. Department of Education, calls the transition from print-based classroom learning to a digital learning environment in one of her contributions to Panel Discussion.

While the focus of both programs is on education for students not yet in college, the message for all of us is: if we don’t learn from how these students—members of our future workplace learning and performance audience—are learning and if we don’t effectively apply those social learning techniques to what we are offering our adult learners, we’re going to become obsolete as learning leaders.

Cator—just one of several first-rate and thoughtful Panel Discussion presenters—overtly reminds us that “We have an incredible opportunity to transform learning into a deeply social experience, one that can leverage mobile technologies, social networking, and digital content. We can leverage the long tail of interest and design education environments that include prior experience, outside-of-school experience, multiple languages, families, the community, all the places that students live and breathe…”

It’s a change many of us are noticing as we acknowledge and attempt to foster the growth of new onsite and online spaces in our lives—social learning centers (also referred to as learning environments). And both programs—the Panel Discussion and Learners of the 21st Century—provide plenty of encouragement for those efforts by showcasing five innovative programs and projects.

There’s Quest to Learn, a school for digital kids. The Digital Youth Network and its fabulous YOUMedia collaboration for teens with the Chicago Public Library. The Smithsonian Institute’s digital scavenger hunt. Middleton Alternative Senior High’s augmented reality project in Middleton, Wisconsin. And the Science Leadership Academy sponsored by Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute.

And there are the voices of the students themselves. Engaged. Confident. More articulate and innovative than many people twice or three times their age. And the sort of people all of us should very much look forward to working with very soon in our own workplaces and learning environments.


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