Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) and #oclmooc: Connections (and Learning) Everywhere

September 19, 2014

It’s no surprise that diving into two new connectivist MOOCs (massive open online courses) would be a richly-rewarding connecting and learning experience. But what is particularly inspiring is how quickly engagement produces results.

Being among the learners in the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) offered by a “collaborative network of faculty in higher education developing online, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web,” and being a “co-conspirator” in the Open Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc) open to trainer-teacher-learners worldwide only adds support to the research-proven assertion that well-designed online learning can produce positive results at least equal to what well-designed onsite learning produces. An unfortunate corollary is that many learners walk away from online learning after one bad experience—a situation that may change as connected-learning efforts continue to grow.

Connections and connectivity were abundant earlier today during the “Blogside Chat” moderated by Mimi Ito and featuring Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, co-authors of Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses and Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates. Ito, for example, provided a tremendously effective example of how to facilitate online connections: she consistently brought learners and the co-authors together via the Twitter feed during what was an incredibly fast-paced hour of online interactions and learning. Furthermore, several of us participating in the Twitter feed while listening to the presenters’ comments were also able to connect with each other through our tweets, retweets, and exchanges that produced a rudimentary online version of a class discussion. To further strengthen the online connections fostered by this MOOC, at least a few of us will probably continue the discussion via our blog postings (this one, for example) and responses to those blog pieces; through #ccourses Google+ Community postings; through the newly-established Twitter connections we are creating by following each other now that we’ve met through that Blogside Chat session; and through cross-MOOC exchanges between #ccourses, #oclmooc, and others.

(An aside to those skeptical of the sustainability of online communities of learning growing out of interactions within or between MOOCs: the Educational Technology & Media MOOC—#etmooc—community continues to thrive 18 months after the synchronous offering of the course formally ended. Participation in that community, moreover, has led several of us to continue learning together in other MOOCs as if we were part of an open MOOC cohort, and our participation in that sustainable community has inspired us to work together as co-conspirators for #oclmooc—which, in turn, started as an effort to connect educators in Alberta and has now expanded to connect any interested trainer-teacher-learner regardless of geography.)

ccourses_logoParticipation in the latest #ccourses session, earlier today, inspired interweavings so wonderfully complex (and tremendously rewarding) that it could be days or weeks or months before those interweavings are completely apparent. The authors’ assertion that college graduates are working less/reading less in class than their predecessors and, as a result, are struggling to succeed in their chosen career paths two years after graduating, for example, can be explored for connections to what we frequently see in staff training (e.g., learning opportunities that are not supported or applied when learners return to their workplaces). But we can begin by acknowledging that it’s far from impossible to connect learning to workplace results—we just don’t put enough effort into in assuring that those connections are forged.

The suggestion within the Blogside Chat session that greater challenges to learners in higher education produce greater results after graduation might be explored for parallels with what we see in workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts: if learners are engaged, supported, and encouraged, they are much more likely to apply their learning in ways that provide personal benefits as well as benefits to the businesses and organizations they serve—and to the customers and clients they serve. But if they—like the higher-education students who are the focus of Arum and Roksa’s studies—are unclear on what their learning opportunities are meant to produce, they are going to gain and produce far less than otherwise might be possible.

There’s something to be said for building connections between academic learning and workplace needs, the authors suggested—something that could as easily be said in terms of the need for building connections between what is offered through workplace-learning opportunities and how learners in the workplace are supported. Roksa cited the tremendous success she is providing by having her learners engage in projects within communities (outside of formal classrooms) and then bringing those projects back into the classroom to provide additional learning opportunities; we could easily predict that well-designed workplace learning that is project-based would produce satisfaction for those learners, their employers, and their customers.

What all of this leads to is another call to reenvision how faculty members—and, by extension, others facilitating the training-teaching-learning process—approach learning as much as a call to reenvision how learners learn, we heard again today. Arum, furthermore, sided with our colleagues who believe that those engaged in facilitating learning need to learn to more effectively incorporate educational technology into the learning process. And we need to move far beyond the all-too-common onsite and online learning sessions that end with true-false or multiple-choice testing that inadequately measures learning.

oclmooc_logoThere’s at least one more important connection to be made from this #ccourses connected-learning experience: the connection between our recognition that we can be doing better and our recognition that if we are unsatisfied with the results our learning-facilitation efforts produce, we need to work with our colleagues and our learners to produce more satisfying results for everyone involved—a goal we might draw closer to reaching through our immersion in #ccourses, #oclmooc, and other connected-learning endeavors.

N.B.: This is the third in a series of posts documenting learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.


Connected Courses MOOC and #oclmooc: The “Why” of Connections, Collaboration, and Learning  

September 15, 2014

Various learners often walk away from learning opportunities with tremendously different results and rewards. And that’s certainly going to be the case in two new connectivist MOOCs (massive open online courses)—the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) offered by a “collaborative network of faculty in higher education developing online, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web,” and the Open Connected Learning MOOC  (#oclmooc) open to trainer-teacher-learners worldwide. That each-learner-his/her-own-reward outcome is one of the many strengths this sort of innovative, high-engagement learning opportunity provides: we grow with colleagues within dynamic global communities of learning; we set and achieve our own learning goals; and we emerge from the experience as better, more empathetic facilitators of learning.

ccourses_logoThis is a world where the concept of “failure” is left behind and the idea that learning is documented in positive ways (e.g., badging or points for achievements) changes the way we approach our work, author-educator Cathy Davidson reminded us during the live online panel discussion that formally opened #ccourses earlier this afternoon. Panel moderator Michael Wesch was (virtually) right there beside her with his mention of providing “not-yet” grades so his learners know that they haven’t failed—they “just haven’t gotten there yet!”

It’s a lesson that resonates for me, for I’ve spend considerable time with on-the-job adult learners who enter their learning spaces fearing that their presence in “training” is the precursor to losing their jobs (because they lack essential skills). Reminding them that their employers are paying my colleagues and me to help them gain skills needed so they can continue working is the essential first step in lowering their stress levels and facilitating the learning successes that benefit them, their employers, and the customers and clients they ultimately will continue serving.

Listening to Davidson, Wesch, and their co-panelist Randy Bass address a series of thought-provoking questions that would resonate with any inquisitive trainer-teacher-learner (e.g., what is to be taught, how should something be learned, and why should a particular subject or skill be learned?)—and simultaneously interacting with other learners via Twitter—provided what Davidson cited as one of the many benefits of connected learning: all of us had plenty of time during that stimulating online session to reflect on the “why” behind the learning we facilitate, and we left the session encouraged to engage in additional reflection (via this sort of blog article as well as through online interactions that help us, sooner than later, to use what we are learning).

It was also, for anyone who took time to dive into some of the course readings and videos before attending the live online session, an opportunity to experience the flipped classroom model of learning and also viscerally see how expansive (and potentially overwhelming) learning in a connected-learning environment can be.

Watching Wesch’s 33-minute “Why We Need a ‘Why?’” video lecture just before the live session began this afternoon, for example, nicely teed up the topic for me and prepared me to better use the live (virtual) classroom time to more deeply engage with others during the session. His taped video lecture, in turn, led me to another of the posted class materials—the fabulous “This is Water” video excerpt from writer-educator David Foster Wallace’s  commencement speech delivered at Kenyon College in 2005; it includes the poignant and powerful reminder that “the freedom of real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted” is that we “get to consciously decide what has real meaning and what doesn’t.” Davidson’s live-session mention of how her Duke University courses include opportunities for learners to go well beyond the traditional setting of closed/private-classroom discussions to include projects open to online interactions with those not formally enrolled in her courses carries us over to an article she wrote as part of a course project with her learners: “How a Class Becomes a Community: Theory, Method, Examples,” from one group of learners’ course project (a full-length online book, Field Notes for 21st Century Literacies). It makes us wonder why more of us involved in on-the-job adult learning don’t encourage learners to produce learning objects (e.g., simple work samples or more ambitious on-the-job manuals from which others can learn) as part of their learning process. This could be a digital-era variation on an each-one-teach-one approach that brings tremendous rewards for everyone involved.

Bass’s live-session observations round out the picture: they entice us into continuing our connected learning experience by reading his article “Disrupting Ourselves: The Problem of Learning in Higher Education,” from the March/April 2012 issue of EDUCAUSE Review, and learning more about the evolving nature of our basic assumptions about what a course is and how team-based learning (where “…the instructor is no longer at the center. Instead, the course and student learning are at the center, surrounded by all these other players [teaching center staff, technology staff, librarians, and others] at the table”) is creating levels of engagement that might provide additional rewards for everyone involved in the training-teaching-learning process.

It’s enough to make our heads spin. But we’re too deeply immersed and appreciative to overlook some of the key repercussions here. These connectivist MOOCs draw us into learning that meets our current learning needs. They help us understand the value of online communities of learning by making us members of engaged online communities of learning. They offer us as many learning pathways as we care to explore, and they put us virtually face-to-face with learning facilitators, mentors, colleagues, and other learners we would otherwise not have the opportunity to meet.

oclmooc_logoAs those of us who are learners in #ccourses and trainer-teacher-learners in #oclmooc begin (or continue) to interact not only within the formal learning environments of weekly interactive sessions but also through synchronous and asynchronous interactions over a variety of platforms including blogs and Twitter and Google+ communities (as well as between the two MOOCs and other communities of learning), the real connections themselves and the learning itself will continue providing the compelling “why?” that brings us all together in ways that will better serve learners worldwide.

N.B.: This is the second in a series of posts documenting learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.


#oclmooc and Connected Courses MOOC: The World as Our Learning Space

September 5, 2014

Diving into two connectivist massive open online courses (MOOC) this month, I am learning to pay more attention to how rapidly our learning space is evolving.

Each of the MOOCs—the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) offered by a “collaborative network of faculty in higher education developing online, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web,” and the Open Connected Learning MOOC  (#oclmooc) originally started by a group of educators in Alberta and now expanding rapidly to include trainer-teacher-learners worldwide—offers me a different learning opportunity.

ccourses_logoIn #ccourses, I’ll be among those learning from and with a group of educators I very much admire and whose work I have been following for many years. There’s Mizuko Ito, whose work as a cowriter of the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub report Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design broadened my understanding of and appreciation for connected learning after I read and wrote about it in early 2013. And Michael Wesch, whose YouTube video The Machine is Us/ing Us about Web 2.0 entirely changed the way I taught and learned and saw the world after watching the video in 2007. And Cathy Davidson, whose book Now You See It introduced me to the concept of “unlearning” as part of the learning process and who is listed as a participant in the September 15, 2014 #ccourses kick-off event. And Alec Couros, whose work on #etmooc (the Educational Technology & Media MOOC) in 2013 opened my eyes to the wonderful learning opportunities inherent in well-designed connectivist MOOCs and drew me into a community of learning that continues to sustain me in my training-teaching-learning efforts. And Alan Levine, whom I first met through the New Media Consortium several years ago and whose work on creating a blog hub for #etmooc set a high standard in terms of facilitating connected learning online and continues to provide learning objects to this day—nearly 18 months after the course formally concluded. And Howard Rheingold, whose writing on “crap detection” and so much more is a continuing source of inspiration.

oclmooc_logoThe #oclmooc experience, for me, will be very different. I’ll be working, as a “co-conspirator” helping design and deliver the MOOC, with an entirely different group of educators I very much admire—colleagues from other connectivist MOOCs, including #etmooc and the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC (#xplrpln) designed and facilitated magnificently in 2013 by Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott at Northwestern University. I know that the learning curve for all of us has been tremendous—moving from learners in MOOCs to learning facilitators in MOOCs in less than two years—and that the best is yet to come. We’re already honing skills we developed in #etmooc and elsewhere—using Google Hangouts for our MOOC planning sessions, scheduling tweet chats to facilitate learning, organizing a blog hub so #oclmooc learners can create and disseminate their own learning objects as an integral part of their/our learning process. And as energetic and inspired trainer-teacher-learners, we’re pushing ourselves to further explore open connected learning and educational technology with our colleagues worldwide.

So yes, I am learning to pay attention to how rapidly our learning space is evolving—because I am continuing to learn viscerally, through the use of online educational technology, that the entire onsite-online world, more than ever before, is our primary learning space.

N.B.: This is the first in a series of posts documenting learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.


NMC 2014 Summer Conference: Lighting Candles and Taking It Down  

June 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jesse Lee Eller: Mapping the Way to Successful Learner-Centric Design

June 2, 2014

Many of us try to open doors for learners. Jesse Lee Eller, a trainer-teacher-learner whose instructional-design efforts always strive to keep learners front and center in the process, uses those doors in a somewhat different way: to create low-tech high-impact storyboarding maps that keep all of us who are working with him on track in our collaborative instructional-design efforts.

“I’m a visual learner,” he explained when he recently introduced me to his innovative way of assuring that learners remain at the center of all that we do together. “These charts help me keep track of everything we’re doing.”

Eller--Door[1]--2014-05-20Eller’s tools to sketch flexible first-draft storyboards of learning modules are wonderfully simple. He starts with a blank door in his studio/apartment, post-it notes, felt pens, and, when the process advances a bit, pieces of tape and large sheets of paper that most of us more frequently use as flip-chart paper with sticky backing. In the early stages of the process, he prints out text from Word documents provided by his subject matter experts, cuts the text into pieces that can be taped to his door to show where they will be incorporated into online lessons under development, and places post-it notes with questions he expects to address as he completes his part of the instructional-design process for online learning modules.

Once he has arranged and rearranged the notes on a door, he begins to formalize and reassemble the map he is creating by transferring it onto the pages of flip-chart paper that are connected into a continuous top-to-bottom sheet to be hung on those same doors and shared with his instructional-design partners.

What helps maintain the focus in his design process are the headings he jots onto those top-to-bottom sheets reflecting his own commitments to facilitating learning and supporting learners: “Hook ME! Get my attention,” “What Do We Already Know?”, “Where Are We Going? (What’s in It for Me?)”, “New Info,” “Example/Show Me!,” “Assessment,” and “Summary.” Those headings provide the working space for efforts that eventually produce storyboards to be used by his partners creating online videos and other instructional materials. And this is where the process begins to feel familiar, for the headings unintentionally mirror several of the nine “events of instruction” that Robert Gagné outlines in The Conditions of Learning (p. 304): “Gaining and controlling attention,” “Informing the learner of expected outcomes,” “Stimulating recall of relevant prerequisite capabilities,” “Presenting the stimuli inherent to the learning task,” “Offering guidance for learning,” “Appraising performance,” and “Insuring retention.”

Engaging with Eller and his instructional-design door hangings can be wonderfully stimulating. Where many of us understand and apply the guidelines that Gagné and others have provided, Eller’s questions and prompts continually remind us that we need to foster engagement with learners if we’re going to serve our learners well. Seeing that reminder to “Hook ME!” consistently reminds us that if we don’t immediately provide an engaging invitation to the learning experiences we are preparing, our learners will see our products as just another set of exercises to complete, set aside, and forget the moment they have completed a lesson. “Hook ME!” provides one of the most important reminders we can receive at any stage of learning development: we’re writing to an audience we need to keep in mind; that audience has plenty of competing calls for its attention; and we must be competitive in attracting members of that audience to what they, those for whom they work, and those they ultimately serve in their workplaces expect us to facilitate—meaningful, useful, and memorable learning experiences.

Eller--Door[2]--2014-05-20It takes a bit of time to completely appreciate how flexible and useful Eller’s system actually is. Looking at the text and post-it notes on the doors throughout his studio immediately and implicitly reminds us that the early stages of storyboarding require lots of thinking and rethinking, so the convenience of being able to move blocks of text and comments on post-it notes around keeps us from locking ourselves into a specific plan of action too early in the design process. Moving those blocks of text, notes, and headings onto large sheets of paper that can be hung on doors or walls moves us a bit closer to developing a useable roadmap for the learning experiences we are crafting; it also proves to be amazing resilient as a way of making information available to others: collaborators working with Eller in his studio can easily contribute to the process by moving elements around on the sheets of paper; those who are responsible for transferring those rough drafts into PowerPoint slides to further finesse the storyboarding process can physically carry the rolled-up sheets to paper to their own offsite workspaces. And those of us who don’t have time to visit Eller’s studio to retrieve the rolled-up sheets of paper can access them through digital photos Eller quickly takes and forwards as email attachments. Having seen one of those door-hung maps and becoming familiar with the instructional-design process it represents, most of us can easily keep one sample in our own workspace and use it to format text provided by subject-matter experts for other learning modules.

The door-hangings that Eller and those of us collaborating with him are using may not replace the posters, photographs, and artwork we hang to stimulate our creativity in our workspaces. But creating and developing those rudimentary and flexible storyboard templates upon our doors provides an effective reminder that doors to learning can be used in many different creative ways to serve our learners well.


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

May 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emergency responders needed for e-learning trauma?

Emergency responders needed for e-learning trauma?

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

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


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.


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