Power, Connections, Personal Learning Networks, and In-the-Moment Mobile Learning

October 16, 2013

The sight of flashing numbers on digital timepieces throughout our house yesterday afternoon was obvious evidence of a power outage while I had been away earlier in the day. But it wasn’t particularly distressing. I knew that PG&E, our local utility company, had been doing major work a block away from where I live, so I assumed the outage was over, reset the clocks, then went into our backyard to do a little gardening before joining the Week 2 live online session that would connect me to the training-teaching-learning colleagues I’m meeting through the five-week Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) MOOC (massive open online course) that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are currently facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program.

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoApproximately 15 minutes before the session was scheduled to begin, I was about to step back into the house to log into the Adobe Captivate space where #xplrpln colleagues were to meet, but noticed something strange: the water in our fountain had stopped flowing. Wondering whether it had become clogged, I turned off the pump, turned it back on, then recognized the problem: the power had gone out again.

In an extended in-the-moment response that unexpectedly continues up to the time when I am writing—and you are reading—this piece, I begin considering options to fully participate in that live online session—and think about the importance of back-up plans. My desktop is clearly not an option since it’s reliant on a flow of electricity that is no longer available. My laptop, running on its fully-charged battery? Also not an option: it relies on a wireless router that is no longer functioning because of the power outage.

Then it hits me: my Samsung Galaxy tablet has a fully-charged battery. And 3G connectivity. So I fire it up, follow the link from my email account to the Exploring Personal Learning Networks session, and discover another barrier: I don’t have the free Adobe Connect app on my tablet. Following a link to the Google Play Store—all the time thinking “This isn’t play. This is serious!”—I tap the “install” button in the hope that the download will be quick and that I won’t face a high learning curve to be able to use it.

With moments to spare, the download is completed. I plug in a set of headphones as the PowerPoint slides for the session appear legibly on the seven-inch screen, and am hearing a stream so clear that it feels as if I’m in the same room that session facilitators Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are occupying—which, in an appropriately visceral and virtual way, I am.

Curious as to whether the full range of interactions available via a desktop or laptop computer exist on the tablet, I struggle with the on-screen keyboard to enter a chat comment letting colleagues know that I may not be fully participating in the session because of the tech challenges. And it goes through, making it visible to them and to me.

xplrpln_logoThey respond audibly and via the chat to say how impressed they are. I respond by telling them how relieved I am that it’s actually working. And we all walk away with another example of the power and increasing ubiquity of m-learning (using mobile devices to augment our learning opportunities and experiences), personal learning networks, and the levels of creativity that adversity inspires.

PLNs--Writing-and_Technology--2013-10-16P.S. – Using a fountain pen to write the first draft of this piece the morning after the session ends, I face another tech challenge: the fountain pen runs out of ink. The fact that I have a back-up fountain pen with me moves me past this final tech challenge, and further confirms the importance of having effective back-up plans in place whenever we step into the wonderful intersection of technology, learning, and collaboration in our well-connected communities of learning.

N.B.: This is the fourth in a series of posts inspired by Connected Educator Month and participation in #xplrpln (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks massive open online course).


The Spread of Learning Rhizomes

February 14, 2013

It would appear that the learning rhizomes are spreading uncontrollably—which, for any trainer-teacher-learner, is a wonderfully positive phenomenon.

etmoocHaving been introduced recently to what Dave Cormier calls rhizomatic learning—a connected learning process 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—I now am seeing this connected learning phenomenon nearly everywhere I look. (There seem to be more learning rhizomes than the total number of Starbucks outlets or branch libraries around me.)

This has happened amazingly quickly—primarily because, less than two weeks ago, I was introduced to Cormier and rhizomatic learning through #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media MOOC (Massive/Massively Open Online Course) organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and others.

There is no denying the rapid spread of the rhizomes and my awareness of this wonderful phenomenon. Interactions with a small (but growing) number of the more than 14,000 people who are signed up for the current offering of #etmooc are already taking place through live-tweet sessions and the absolute flood of tweets under the #etmooc, @etmooc, and #etmchat hashtags, along with postings in our Google+ community and our blog hub, and responses to their YouTube posts. It requires a tremendous sense of discipline—and an acknowledgement that there is life outside of #etmooc—to keep from being overwhelmed by the information deluge produced in this course.

Those learning rhizomes, furthermore, are not just firmly rooted in the fertile ground of #etmooc itself; they are reaching far beyond the incredibly permeable walls of the course. Posting comments on a few MOOCmates’ introductory videos on YouTube apparently initiated some sort of algorithmically-triggered response from YouTube, for among my incoming email messages yesterday morning was a first-time alert from YouTube under the subject line “Just for You from YouTube: Weekly Update – February 13, 2013.” And under the subheading “We think you’d like…” was a learning link I really did like—to a video posted by Kansas State University associate professor Michael Wesch—whose work I happen to adore.

Although the “Rethinking Education” video turned out to be one posted more than a year ago, it felt completely fresh. An extension of his earlier “A Vision of Students Today” video coming out of the Mediated Cultures/Digital Ethnography projects at Kansas State University, it was right in the center of a playing field—the wicked problem of rethinking education and online learning—that I’ve been recently been exploring in conversations with colleagues in the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project, with American Library Association associates Buffy Hamilton and Maurice Coleman, and many others with whom I’m increasingly rhizomatically and quite happily entangled.

Tower_and_the_CloudWatching the “Rethinking Education” video gave the rhizomes a significant growth spurt, for the numerous references in that brief yet densely-packed video sent out new learning shoots ranging from references to Wikipedia articles on commons-based peer production, education, Education 2.0, and knowledge to numerous glimpse of other resources easily accessible online. Even in his ending credits, Wesch managed to send out one final learning rhizome: a reference to the EDUCAUSE book The Tower and the Cloud: Higher Education in the Age of Cloud Computing. Being a huge fan of what EDUCAUSE produces, I went to the site; discovered that the book was available both in a print version for purchase and as a free PDF; and soon had a copy on my tablet. My home-based online learning experience morphed into a mobile-learning (m-learning) experience as I left home, tablet in hand, and continued learning by reading the beginning of the book while using public transportation on my way to an appointment in downtown San Francisco.

So many rhizomes, so little time! The simple act of having created a personal learning environment that, in the space of one morning, included the MOOC-inspired use of print materials, online materials accessed from a desktop computer, exchanges with colleagues from the desktop and from the mobile device (the tablet), and reading material from that same mobile device, helps any of us understand viscerally why the 2013 Higher Education edition of NMC’s Horizon Report documents tablets and MOOCs as the two technologies currently having the greatest impact on higher education—and, I would suggest, on much of what we see in training-teaching-learning.

Buffy_Hamilton--Nurturing_Lifelong_LearningMy head explodes. I need to the intellectual equivalent of mind-to-mind resuscitation. I need to breathe. So I spend that latter part of the day more or less offline in face-to-face conversations with friends and colleagues, then attend an evening neighborhood association meeting that includes interchanges with two recently-elected City/County supervisors. But the rhizomes are not dormant. While I’m asleep, they’re expanding. Lurking. Waiting for me to log back on this morning and discover that Buffy Hamilton has posted her stunningly beautiful PowerPoint slides from the “Nurturing Lifelong Learning with Personal Learning Networks” presentation to Ohio eTech Conference attendees yesterday. And through the act of posting that deck, she brings us and our tangled-spreading-sprawling learning rhizomes right back where we started, for she includes references drawn from our conversations about #etmooc, rhizomatic learning, and much more to inspire me to complete this latest act of digital storytelling that draws upon the #etmooc rhizomes.

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


NMC Horizon Report 2013 (Pt. 4 of 4): 3D Printing and Wearable Technology

February 8, 2013

Once upon a time—say two or three years ago—the idea that 3D printing or wearable technology might be on a relative fast track toward widespread dissemination and become important elements of training-teaching-learning seemed far-fetched for many of us. That’s rapidly changing, the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project 2013 Higher Education report, released earlier this week, suggests.

Horizon_Report--2013It’s not as if either technology has spring forth full-blown from nothing. Early 3D printing innovations date back at least to the 1970s (the term itself appears to have been coined in 1995 by MIT graduate students), and wearable technology can easily be traced back at least to calculator watches from the same decade. I was among those who were still seeing wearable technology in a pseudo-dreamy “that’s for other people” sort of way just a few years ago (in 2009) when we were dazzled by a TED talk wearable technology demonstration by Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry, but recent public sightings of Google Project Glass devices suggests the revolution is already underway. As for 3D printing, a quick, far-from-exhaustive online search suggests that predictions of mainstream adaptation of the technology have increased tremendously over the past year, which helps explain why the Horizon Report sees it and wearable technology as the two key technologies that are within a four- to five-year adoption horizon in which they will achieve widespread use among educators and learners. (Separate summaries of one-year horizon and two- to three-year horizon technologies have already been posted on Building Creative Bridges as part of this 2013 Horizon Report summary series.)

“3D printing is already pervasive in a number of fields, including architecture, industrial design, jewelry design, and civil engineering,” the Horizon Report writers remind us. “In the past several years, there has been a lot of experimentation in the consumer space—namely within the Maker culture, a technologically-savvy, do-it-yourself community dedicated to advancing science engineering, and other disciplines through the exploration of 3D printing and robotics” (Horizon Report, p. 28).

Where this becomes of interest to trainer-teacher-learners is through the examples cited in the report. Case Western University, for example, has Think[box], “a space for anyone to creatively tinker; Think[box] includes 3D printers, laser cutters, and tools for students to create their own printed circuit board of computerized embroidery” (p. 30); we can’t view the project introductory video without being stunned by what is already being accomplished in this academic setting.

The University of Mary Washington ThinkLab, which puts a makerspace into a university library setting, is another stunning example of “hands-on creative inquiry and learning with a variety of high-tech tools, including a 3D printer.” And for those hungry for more examples of how 3D printing can be incorporated into learning, the report provides links to Nancy Parker’s “7 Educational Uses for 3D Printing” and Jason Hidalgo’s “The Future of Higher Education: Reshaping Universities through 3D Printing.”

When we turn our attention to wearable technology, we find the world  becoming even more intriguing by combining concepts of augmented reality and mediated reality with mobile learning (m-learning): “Effective wearable devices become an extension of the person wearing them, allowing them to comfortably engage in everyday activities or to help them accomplish a specific task….Wearable technologies that could automatically send information via text, email, and social networks on behalf of the user, based on voice commands, gestures, or other indicators, would help students and educators communicate with each other, keep track of updates, and better organize notifications” (pp. 32-33). If we think about how much one of the near-horizon technologies (tablets) has already extended our ability to engage in m-learning, we see how breathtakingly spectacular an expansion might be possible with the even less obtrusive Google Project Glass device and other glass devices under development or already in use.

Again, the examples cited in the report are spectacular. The Muse headband, for example, offers the promise of using brain activity to control devices—something akin to Tan Le’s demonstration in a 2010 TED talk about using a device to control virtual objects via a user’s brainwaves.

A link to Nick Bilton’s New York Times article “One on One: Steve Mann, Wearable Computing Pioneer” takes us to a (currently) extreme version of the technology-in-progress: “When you use it as a memory aid, it is your brain,” Mann says at one point in the interview.

As we complete our review of the latest Higher Education edition of the Horizon Project, we’re left with plenty to consider—not the least of which is whether we’ll soon be reading upcoming Horizon Reports with our Project Glass devices. Or accessing the information in even more intriguing ways. 

N.B.—Episode #113 of Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training podcast series, recorded on February 8, 2013, includes a deeper exploration of the 2013 Horizon Report Higher Education edition, MOOCs, and learning and technology innovations. 


NMC Horizon Report 2013 (Pt. 2 of 4): The Near (One-Year) Horizon of MOOCs and Tablets

February 6, 2013

There’s a wonderful confluence between two technologies that held center stage in the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project 2013 Higher Education report, released this week, on “new and emerging technologies, and their potential impact on teaching, learning, and research”: MOOCs (massive open online courses) and tablets.

Horizon_Report--2013While each is its own massive subject for exploration and is expected to “see widespread adoption in higher education over the next 12 months,” the two are linked by how much they have already done and promise to do in breaking down barriers in a variety of fields—not the least of which is training-teaching learning. With tablets in our hands, we are immediately connected to the world of mobile learning (m-learning) and numerous online resources (e.g., search engines, libraries, educational videos, education blogs, open-source textbooks, and MOOCs themselves).  MOOCs, by definition, are a massive move toward making learning accessible, affordable, and appealing—although critics (many of whom seem not to have even participated as a learner in a MOOC) remain skeptical of their efficacy and inaccurately see them as an either-or option to more traditional learning offerings.

MOOCS are also capable of fostering extremely and justifiably divergent reactions, as we are seeing this week: while many of us were raving about how engaging the Educational Technology & Media massive online open course (#etmooc) is, others were documenting one of the most visible and embarrassing failures imaginable for a MOOC: a problematic Coursera offering on “The Fundamental of Online Education.”  There is clearly room for plenty of growth in MOOCs, and one of the most interesting challenges I see ahead for those involved in developing and promoting MOOCs is the ongoing reaction educators and learners alike have to failure and perceived failures in online learning: they seem to be far more inclined to walk away from online learning after one bad experience than they are to walking away permanently after having one (or multiple) bad experiences to face-to-face learning. When we review research studies on how well-designed face-to-face learning opportunities compare to well-designed online learning opportunities, we find that strong opposition to good online learning is unwarranted.

The latest Horizon Report helps put the development of MOOCs in perspective while also humanizing them by providing links to a variety of wonderful examples and explorations. The Games MOOC, for example, provides a glimpse into “a community site woven around a series of three courses about the use of games in education, including traditional games, massively multiplayer online role-playing games, game-based learning, and immersive environments,” the writers of the report tell us. The link to Laura Pappano’s New York Times article “The Year of the MOOC” (November 2, 2012) further introduces us to the state of MOOCs and highlights innovations.

Drawing our attention to tablet computing, the Horizon Report writers are equally engaging: “The rising popularity of tablets in higher education is partly the product of campuses across the world embracing the BYOD (bring your own device) movement. It is so easy for students to carry tablets from class to class, using them to seamlessly access their textbooks and other course materials as needed, that schools and universities are rethinking the need for computer labs, or even personal laptops. A student’s choice of apps for his or her tablet makes it easy to build a personalized learning environment, with all the resources, tools, and other materials they need on a single device, and with most tablets, the Internet is woven into almost every aspect of it” (p. 16). Specific examples of tablet computing supporting learning include the use of Samsung Galaxy tablets at Lavington Primary School, in Africa, and the Stanford University School of Medicine project which gives all entering students in iPad or PDF annotation software. There is also a link to a wonderful story about “How a Classroom of iPads Changed My approach to Learning,” written by Chris Blundell, from Redlands College.

Most encouraging of all, in these explorations of technology in learning, is the idea that while the technology is intriguing, the learners are the focus.

Next: On the Two- to Three-Year Horizon (Gaming/Gamification and Learning Analytics)


Building Upon A New Culture of Learning with Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown

September 17, 2012

If doing is learning, there’s plenty to learn and do with the ideas Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown present in A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change.

Working with the theme of social/collaborative learning that we’ve also encountered in The New Social Learning by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner, in the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report 2012 Higher Education Edition  and “Communiqué from the Horizon Project Retreat” held in January 2012, the eLearning Guild’s new “Social Learning: Answers to Eight Crucial Questions” report, and many other books, reports, and documents, Thomas and Brown take us through a stimulating and brief—but never cursory—exploration of “the kind of learning that will define the twenty-first century.” And it won’t, they tell us right up front, be “taking place in a classroom—at least not in today’s classroom. Rather, it is happening all around us, everywhere, and it is powerful” (p. 17).

As we’ve already seen in a series of articles here in Building Creative Bridges, our learning spaces and the way we foster learning are continuing to evolve—which doesn’t necessarily mean, as Thomas and Brown note in their own work, that we’re completely abandoning classrooms and the best of the training-teaching-learning techniques we’ve developed over a long period of time. But the fact that plenty of effective learning that produces positive results “takes place without books, without teachers, and without classrooms, and it requires environments that are bounded yet provide complete freedom of action within those boundaries” (p. 18) offers us plenty of possibilities to rethink what we and the people and organizations we serve are doing.

Their summary of how Thomas’ “Massively Multiplayer Online Games” course at the University of Southern California seemed to be spinning wildly out of control as students more or less restructured the class from lots of lecture and a bit of demo to lots of exploration followed by short summary lectures at the end of each session leads us to the obvious and wonderful conclusion that, by taking over the class, the learners were also taking over control of their own learning and producing magnificent results—a story similar to a situation also documented by Cathy Davidson in Now You See It.

And it doesn’t stop there. As they lead us through a brief summary of instructor-centric and learner-centric endeavors, we see a theme that crops up in much of what is being written now about m-learning (mobile learning, i.e., learning through the use of mobile devices): that the new culture of learning “will augment—rather than replace—traditional educational venues” and techniques (p. 35).

What flows through much of Thomas and Brown’s work—and what we observe in our own training-teaching-learning environments—is what they address explicitly near the end of their book after having discussed the importance of learning environments: the need to foster playfulness in learning and the parallel need to work toward a framework of learning that builds upon the Maker movement and that acknowledges three essential facets for survival in contemporary times: “They are homo sapiens, homo faber, and homo ludens—or humans who know, humans who make (things), and humans who play” (p. 90).

We have plenty of examples upon which to draw: Michael Wesch’s experiments with his Digital Ethnography project at Kansas State University; the YOUMedia Center for teens at the Chicago Public Library; smart classrooms where technology enables creatively productive interactions between onsite and online learners; and even the information commons model that began in academic libraries and is increasingly being adapted for use in public libraries. There’s much to explore here, and that’s why some of us have been promoting the idea that it’s time to add to Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place concept of three key places in our lives (the first place being home, the second place being work, and the third place being community gathering places where we find and interact with our friends and colleagues away from home and work) with a new Fourth Place: the social learning center that onsite as well as online as needed.

Another theme that Thomas and Brown bring to our attention is the way communities—those vibrant foundations of our society that are so wonderfully explored by John McKnight and Peter Block in their book The Abundant Community and continue to be fostered on The Abundant Community website—are developing into collectives—less-than-rigid gatherings of learners and others who are drawn by immediate needs and then disperse if/when those needs are met.

“A collective is very different from an ordinary community,” Thomas and Brown write. “Where communities can be passive (though not all of them are by any means), collectives cannot. In communities, people learn in order to belong. In a collective, people belong in order to learn. Communities derive their strength from creating a sense of belonging, while collectives derive theirs from participation.” (p. 52).

All of which leads us to an obvious conclusion: if we are inspired to do the things within our communities, collectives, and organizations that Thomas and Brown describe and advocate, we will be engaged in building the new culture of learning they describe—while learning how to build it.


ASTD International Conference 2012: Cliff Atkinson, the Backchannel, and Many Happy Returns

May 18, 2012

I already had quite a few friends and colleagues in the world of training-teaching-learning a couple of weeks ago. Now the social fabric that sustains me has grown quite substantially. Let’s credit the backchannel for this change. Then think about what that backchannel could mean to you and all you serve.

Seeing dynamically interactive online extensions of the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) 2012 International Conference & Exposition Twitter backchannel in the week since the conference ended provides all of us with yet another example of how blended the world has become for trainer-teacher-learners. How quickly we are informally and quite naturally developing the sort of blended onsite-online social learning center/fourth places colleagues and I have been exploring. And how the interactions we have at conferences no longer start and end with physical onsite arrivals and departure.

As is the case with any form of effective training-teaching-learning, those conference interactions flourish through planning before the learning event/conference begins (someone has to create the Twitter hashtag that draws us all together); active participation during the event (the more you give, the more you receive); and sustainable long-term attention that continues far beyond the days a learning opportunity/conference brings us all together (following and contributing to the backchannel after the conference ends keeps this virtual social learning center alive and vibrant).

And discovering Cliff Atkinson’s The Backchannel: How Audiences Are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever as I was beginning to resurface a bit from the ASTD conference backchannel (#ASTD2012) a few days ago tells me that the best is yet to come in terms of where backchannels deliver on the promises they are offering.

An effective backchannel, as I wrote in an earlier article, works at many levels. It connects those who might otherwise be separated by the smallest as well as the largest of physical distances. It fosters a form of  mobile learning (m-learning) in that what we’re learning is disseminated to an even larger group of learners. It is increasingly providing a delightfully accessible tool that can as easily facilitate and augment the learning process in academic settings as it can in workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors.

On the other hand, it carries the potential to completely disrupt a presenter-teacher-trainer’s presentation. This is where Atkinson’s book on the backchannel comes into play invaluably. A guide every bit as appealing and potentially influential in the world of backchannel learning as his Beyond Bullet Points remains for onsite-online presentations, The Backchannel entices us into the subject immediately through a chapter carrying the title “Why Are You Calling Me a #@*% on Twitter?” and helps us see how a tweeter with a large following (nearly 15,000 people as I’m writing this) and a well-known presenter clashed quite publicly when the presenter saw the tweeter’s note with her derogatory remark about him. (For the record, she called him “a total dick,” and he decided to confront her face-to-face, while the presentation was still underway, by asking “What…what is my dickiness?”)

If you already sense that Atkinson’s mastery of storytelling and training is a wonderful talent to see in action, you’re well on the way to understanding that his book has something for each of us regardless of whether we’re new to the backchannel or already fairly comfortable in that rapidly-flowing stream of words and thoughts and resources. He shows us how to join a backchannel. Entertainingly reviews the rewards and risks of backchannel engagement with copious amounts of screenshots to lead us down that path. Offers presentation tips to make us more effective in our use of Twitter and its backchannels. And leads us through the process of effectively dealing with those dreaded-yet-inevitable moments when a backchannel becomes dangerous.

By the time we finish racing through this book and absorbing what we can—I suspect I’ll be rereading this one at least a few times— we’re far more comfortable with and appreciative of all that backchannels offer, and much more aware of how to be effective and civil members of the Twitterverse and its various interconnected streams. We’re richer for having explored and reflected upon the online resources supporting the book, e.g., his “Negotiating a Backchannel Agreement.” And we’re appreciative for what our own levels of involvement in backchannels returns to us.

Through the #ASTD2012 backchannel and subsequent online interactions including the #lrnchat session on May 17, 2012 , I came away from a conference with 9,000 attendees much richer at a deeply personal and professional level than I was two weeks ago. Through their confrontation and subsequent discussion, the tweeter and the presenter in Atkinson’s book walked away with their differences resolved. And you—yes, you—may end up finding your own rewards and satisfactions there the moment you are prepared to take the plunge into the backchannel/The Backchannel.


ASTD International Conference 2012: M-Learning, M-Conferencing, and Expanding Social Learning Centers

May 17, 2012

Let’s temporarily set aside the debates about whether mobile learning (m-learning) is up-and-coming or already here and focus on a different part of the equation: learning through m-conferencing (which, as we’ll see, provides an immersive and tremendously rewarding form of m-learning).

Attending Good to Great  and Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck—Why Some Thrive Despite Them All author Jim Collins’s keynote address last week at the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) 2012 International Conference & Exposition in Denver, I was viscerally struck by how seamless our onsite-online interactions have become.

Even before Collins began speaking early Monday morning to an audience of thousands of conference attendees in one of those cavernous, impersonal auditoriums that is designed to focus attention on the stage to the exclusion of all that is occurring around us, those of us with laptops, smartphones, and tablets were using a Twitter backchannel (#ASTD2012) to begin documenting what was happening—for ourselves as well as for colleagues who couldn’t be present for the onsite presentation.

When Collins began speaking, we tweeted out the highlights as we saw them. And one obvious sign that m-learning via m-conferencing is already firmly in place—at least with ASTD members—came when we realized that we were a large enough group to overload the superb wireless connections and 3G/4G networks to which we had access. Even though the Twitter feed was somewhat slow and clunky—at times even completely frozen because so many of us were trying to tweet at the same time—we somehow managed levels of engagement unimaginable even two or three years ago. As we were tweeting out our bite-sized notes and attempting to keep up with Collins’s completely engaging presentation, we also had the much-desired learner’s reinforcement of seeing other tweets that captured thoughts we otherwise would not have noticed.

In the act of retweeting those items we ourselves initially missed, a couple of amazing things happened. Each of us was able to create a more complete record of what was happening than any of us could have done on our own without simply recording the entire event. And many of us overcame the physical limitations enforced by seating arrangements in a setting so largely overwhelming; we were able to interact with each other in the moment and much later.

By attending, tweeting, and interacting at that level, what we found and continue to find is that a community of learning otherwise impossible to develop comes to life virtually on its own. Seeing other tweeters’ comments made me aware of their presence. And through the serendipity that often comes with attendance at large conferences, I found myself unintentionally and quite gratefully making face-to-face connections with those I somewhat impersonally encountered through that blended onsite-online social learning center that Twitter, tweeting, and mobile devices combined to helped create.

Because many of us who were tweeting and retweeting became curious about those tweeters we hadn’t formally met face to face, we began asking well-connected colleagues to help us identify each other. The payoff—as is often the case when social media tools are used effectively and judiciously—was magnificent. In a couple of cases, colleagues helped identify fellow tweeters who were sitting in sessions I was attending so that face-to-face connections became possible. But in an experience that is increasingly becoming common, I also gleefully found myself at small receptions and even a small dinner where those whose tweets I had been following were also present and available to extend the overall conference conversations.

That certainly doesn’t seem like such a big deal for those who have been at large conferences or using social media tools since the beginning of time. But the fact that this sort of unexpected meeting could occur at a conference with 9,000 participants who are connected through their mobile devices is as visceral an example as we’re going to see about how much the world has changed. How the old concept of “six degrees of separation” has quickly been reduced to nearly “no degrees of separation” in our highly connected world. How accessible our means of communication and our tech tools have made us.  And how effectively this form of m-conferencing leads us right back to m-learning as we learn from each other in the moment. And beyond.

Next: Cliff Atkinson on the Backchannel


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