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.


David Lee King: face2face with Social Media and Social Graces

August 21, 2013

The fact that Facebook has more than 1 billion registered users doesn’t in any way suggest that there are more than 1 billion skilled users of social media tools worldwide. So a book like David Lee King’s face2face: Using Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media Tools to Create Great Customer Connections has the potential to upgrade the social skills—and social graces—of those still struggling to improve their online social interactions at the business level David targets…and at a personal level, too.

face2face--coverDavid’s ability to communicate engagingly and well—a skill that attracts many of us to his presentations, his blogging, and to the work he does as Digital Services Director at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library—serves readers well in face2face as he dives right in with on-target advice. He starts by reminding us that we need to be human rather than standoffish and mechanical on the Web. We need to listen; respond professionally and as informally as we can to nurture the levels of interaction that accompany successful engagement via social media tools; and think strategically so that our use of videos, blog articles, and other online postings consistently lead us to productive and positive results.

His honesty also helps us understand both the positive and the negative approaches into which so many of us fall in our use of social media. In telling the story of his online interactions with people at what he calls “the Snarky PR Agency”—omitting the company’s name because “they ended up being very professional”—he describes the agency’s initial spam that raised his ire; openly describes his own snarky online response (a tweet about how the agency “mass spammed me hoping I’d review a kids book. Obviously NEVER read my blog, so why would I read your book?”); and after leading us through the series of exchanges they had, notes that there was a positive result: “We ended up having a nice chat about small businesses discovering and using social media. The PR agency turned the conversation around from a negative one to a positive one” (pp. 130-136).

None of this, however, would mean much if face2face didn’t work from a wonderful foundation: helping us understand how to create and nurture community connections that interweave onsite and online interactions rather than viewing them as unrelated activities. He reminds us that Tweetups—face to face meetings of individuals who originally met via Twitter—and numerous other onsite encounters mean that what starts in Twitter (or Facebook or Google+ or any other online setting) doesn’t need to stay in that setting; those of us who attend conferences and other professional gatherings are abundantly aware of how online interactions seamlessly extend into those face-to-face encounters just as relationships that begin face-to-face in conferences, workshops, and other settings become richer, deeper, and unbelievably sustainable through online extensions of those conversations.

Which brings us to the playful foundation of David’s book—the understated yet implicit redefinition of our concepts of what the term face to face means in our onsite-online world. As we read through David’s sections on “business casual,” “where and how to begin,” “measuring success,” and “applying what we’ve learned,” we can’t help but see that effective use of the tools under discussion make us realize we can just as easily be face to face online as we can in the original sense of the term—when we’re onsite with someone.

My own experiences with onsite and online learners convince me that we’re even struggling to have our language catch up with the evolving nature of our interactions in something as simple as defining the first time we meet someone.” Those who remain inexperienced or uncomfortable with online interactions still don’t think of themselves as having “met” someone until they have their first onsite face-to-face encounter. Yet the immediacy of interactions via Skype, Google+ Hangouts, Blackboard Collaborate learning sessions that are well facilitated, and numerous other tools more and more frequently find that the quality and depth of interactions in those settings help us understand that the definition of meeting someone is shifting subtly and inexorably as more and more of us become comfortable with the idea that we’re living and thriving in an onsite-online world. And works like face2face can only help to make that process smoother for anyone who takes the time to read and absorb all that it offers.


Libraries, Training, and Continuing Education

March 19, 2012

Those who still equate libraries with nothing more than printed books—and experience tells me there are plenty of training-teaching-learning colleagues who fall into that category—need to step outside their caves and see what is happening within their onsite-online libraries.

Laura Townsend Kane’s Working in the Virtual Stacks: The New Library & Information Science is just the place to start. Written primarily for those considering a career in libraries and those considering a mid-career change, this book by the assistant director for information services at the University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine Library in Columbia, South Carolina features interviews with more than 30 library insiders’ views of where their industry is going, and it should be of interest to a much wider audience. Whether you are among those who are increasingly using library services and are curious how they work, are already a library insider, or are considering a career in libraries, Kane has something for you.

Working in the Virtual Stacks introduces us to librarians as subject specialists; technology gurus and social networkers; teachers and community liaisons; entrepreneurs; and administrators in the five sections of her book. Even better for those of us involved with libraries as well as with training-teaching-learning within and outside of library land, we find numerous examples of library staff members as lifelong learners and facilitators of learning within the communities they serve—a confirmation of the key teaching-training role Lori Reed and I documented for members of library staff in our own book, Library Learning & Leadership.

We can’t go more than a few pages in this insiders’ view without coming across references to library staff members’ dedication to learning —their own as well as that of the library users they serve onsite and online. There are also numerous examples of library staff members promoting the use of online social media tools not only to complete the work they do but also to reach those in need of their services—just as many of us do in workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors outside of libraries. We’ll find library staff members using Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype, Twitter, YouTube, and a variety of other tools that have become every bit as important to library services as the books we’ve come to expect from our libraries in the various formats we seek—including eBooks.

There are library colleagues telling us that we “must also keep up with the field of futurism and trend watching,” as Steven J. Bell, associate university librarian for research and instructional services at Temple University does in the final interview in the book. Or reminding us that blogs, wikis, and instant message services all have roles to play in our training-teaching-learning endeavors, as Meredith Farkas, head of instructional services at the Portland State University Library in Oregon, does. Or how important it is to take every tech-based class available and stay active in social networking, as San Rafael Public Library Acting Director Sarah Houghton says. And how “if we become trend-spotters, we have a good chance of creating the ‘next big thing’” (p. 95), as San Jose State University assistant professor Michael Stephens maintains.

Most importantly of all, there is Kane herself confirming that “the days of sitting for hours at the reference desk, waiting for patrons to approach with questions, are long gone….librarians are expected to keep up with changing technologies” (p. 3)—just like the rest of us. And the best of them are there to help us through the transition in which we are still so deeply immersed in our careers as trainer-teacher-learners.


Remembering Terrence Wing

December 4, 2011

The unexpected passing of ASTD (the American Society for Training & Development) colleague Terrence Wing—President-Elect of the ASTD Los Angeles Chapter—has left another void in the ASTD family. (And make no mistake about it: being actively involved in ASTD at the local, regional, and/or national level does make all of us members of an unbelievably wonderful family that shares the joy of our successes as well as the profound levels of mourning that accompany the loss of any member of that family.)

To understand what it means to many of us that Terrence succumbed to a heart attack last week, you just have to hear a little about all that he was doing or about to do. He was on ASTD’s TechKnowledge12 Program Advisory Committee (PAC), which substantially shapes the face of this influential learning conference. He was in touch with the editor of the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions Magazine to discuss the content of his next column. He was continuing to write engagingly, concisely, and inspirationally for the Liquid Learn blog at the cutting-edge learning company he founded and helped to run (far too infrequently Terrence, far too infrequently; I’d give a lot of have more of your thoughts archived online at this point). He was a month away from beginning his year-long term as president of the ASTD Los Angeles Chapter. He was actively exploring Google+ with many of us and providing glimpses of those wonderful ephemeral moments of life that so often pass unnoticed.

And, knowing how Terrence operated, I suspect he was probably in the middle of planning or bringing dozens of other activities to fruition in ways that would have made a positive difference in the face of workplace learning and performance across the country and in other parts of the world.

One of the most stunningly positive aspects of Terrence’s presence is how quickly he became a part of so many lives—including mine. After mentioning a wonderful article Terrence had written about Twitter as a learning tool, I was delighted to see a comment he posted March 1, 2011, in response to the article I wrote about Skype as a learning tool in the same publication. A few email exchanges quickly made us aware of our ASTD connections as well as our overlapping circles of colleagues via LinkedIn and Twitter, and I was gratified that he participated, as an online audience member, in a session (“Blend Me”) a few of us did for the Sacramento ASTD Chapter in May. (He joined us via Twitter during a segment dealing with Twitter in workplace learning and performance.)

When I heard, from colleagues, that he was at ASTD’s International Conference & Exposition in Orlando in May, I mentioned how much I would love to extend our online connections to a face-to-face chat. Terrence graciously went out of his way to stop by an informal dinner several of us were having, and he extended an invitation to join him later that evening for a chance to talk at greater length, over drinks, about what we were all doing (which, in retrospect, I’m even more glad that I accepted even though it led to a very late night after an exhausting day of commitments). Through his presence, he stimulated plenty of wonderful conversation. Through his absence, he evokes memories of those exchanges that make me realize even more poignantly what we have suddenly lost—as documented by the comments being posted on an ASTD Los Angeles Chapter site.

Many of us know a lot of people; Terrence was one of those rare gems who knew how to bring people together in a way that changes lives. I suspect the greatest tribute we can pay him is to try to be the sort of person he appeared to be. Creative. Witty. Curious. A listener. A catalyst. And a cherished colleague whose voice will be impossible to replace.


Finding Our Place in the World, Part 1: The Strength of Association(s)

November 4, 2011

Traveling extensively, colleagues have suggested, can be a very lonely experience. But I don’t see that at all. In an onsite-online world that offers far more connective tools than any of us will ever be able to adequately explore, we’re never very far from what our varied associations can offer.

While earning an online Master of Library and Information Science degree through the first-rate program offered by the University of North Texas a few years ago and traveling extensively, I thrived on connections with my wonderfully supportive community of learners; all I had to do was log onto our course discussion boards if I wanted to keep up with the latest exchanges of ideas. When I’m on the road now and missing the stimulation of conversation with colleagues who are spread all over the country, I simply make a phone call, send an email, or catch up to those who are online via online chat functions, Skype, Twitter, live (or archived) online discussion sessions, and, as of a few days ago, via Google+.

And as an extended writing-training-consulting project kept me far from home over the past few months, I gained newfound appreciation for what my association with colleagues in the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) means in terms of being part of a tightly knit professional family.

Shortly after arriving onsite in Florida’s Fort Lauderdale/West Palm Beach area from San Francisco in early August, I took the two steps that immediately helped me remain connected with my local and extended community. I obtained my West Palm Beach Public Library card so I could start reading and learning about the local community I was briefly joining, and I asked Florida-based ASTD colleague Jennifer Tomarchio whether there was an active ASTD community there. Jennifer’s response was an invitation to the ASTD South Florida chapter’s upcoming Friday evening social event, and that’s where the fun and extended connections blossomed.

The initial greeting from ASTD members whom I was meeting for the first time was warm and welcoming; I knew I was among peers. But the real value of association in this case became obvious when I looked up and unexpectedly saw two familiar faces: Steve Feinstein and Steve Parkins, whom I had met at national conferences without realizing they were based in South Florida and are currently president and president-elect of the chapter. And it just kept getting better: at the next chapter meeting, I unexpectedly found myself face-to-face with Michael Sabbag, another colleague I absolutely adore from the national association and who, I learned that evening, remains quite active in the South Florida chapter. And when several of us were at ASTD’s Chapter Leaders Conference last month in Arlington (VA) and I was missing my ASTD Mount Diablo colleagues who couldn’t attend the conference this year, my newly established South Florida ASTD family agreed to adopt me (and we tormented the Mount Diablo branch of the family by tweeting the news and a photograph back to them).

I often hear comments about how acquaintances and colleagues can’t afford the cost of joining an association that operates at the level of an ASTD. And although I do, at a visceral level, understand how tightly squeezed the economy has left many of us, I have to agree with my ASTD colleague Ken Steiger, whose response to the comments is “I don’t see how I can afford to not join ASTD.” Whether we pay for our associations, seek them through different means, or, in the best of all worlds, seek them everywhere we can, there’s no denying that if we want to overcome the personal and professional isolation from which so many suffer, we need to take that first step of seeking association. And then becoming active contributors and collaborators within the communities we have joined.

Next: Place in an Onsite-Online World


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.”


Workplace Learning and Performance: Optimism and Responsibility

May 5, 2011

Learning executives across the United States are more optimistic about the training industry than at any other time since ASTD (the American Society for Training & Development) began issuing its quarterly Learning Executives Confidence Index highlights reports two years ago, the latest summary shows.

The news is not particularly astonishing; the project began around the same time the worst recession most of us have faced began. It does, however, reflect the improvements many of us have been noticing over the past year in workplace learning and performance opportunities.

Nine out of ten of the 354 respondents to the invitation-only survey “expect the same or better performance for their [workplace learning and performance] industry in the next 6 months,” and seven out of ten expect “moderate to substantial improvements” (p. 5).

More than four out of ten respondents anticipate “increased expenditures on outsourced or external services to aid in the learning function in the coming months of 2011. Outsourced or external services include such expenses as consultation services, content development, content and software licenses, and workshops and training programs delivered by external providers” (p. 8).

Two-thirds of the respondents think the use of e-learning will “moderately or substantially” increase during the next six months, and they see a similar increase in the use of Web 2.0 technology—again, not surprising given the number of social networking tools such as Twitter, Skype, blogs, and podcasting tools used as vehicles for delivery of learning opportunities.

This is far from insignificant; workplace learning and performance, according to ASTD’s “2010 State of the Industry Report,” is a $125.8 billion industry annually (p. 5 of the “State of the Industry Report”). It’s an important part of our overall commitment to lifelong learning. And, as ASTD representatives playfully note, it’s part of an effort designed to “create a world that works better.”

In spite of the encouraging news documented in the quarterly Confidence Index report, there is no time for complacency here. The way we learn and the way we offer learning opportunities is changing in response to the availability of online tools, and continuing economic pressures hinder learners’ opportunities to travel to attend face-to-face learning sessions (p. 9 of the Confidence Index report). There are also plenty of examples of stultifyingly ineffective face-to-face and online learning offerings that diminish rather than encourage learners’ enthusiasm, as any of us who regularly attend training sessions can confirm.

On the other hand, there are plenty of organizations like the more than 125 ASTD chapters across the United States and the national society itself that offer learning opportunities for trainer-teacher-learners interested in improving our knowledge, skills, and ability to meet workplace learning and performance needs.

The responsibility to engage in actions that would merit and nurture the optimism expressed by those 354 learning executives who contributed to the 2011 First Quarter Learning Executives Confidence Index report remains firmly in our hands.


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