NMC Library Horizon Report 2014 (Pt. 3 of 6): Key Challenges for Libraries, Learning, and Technology  

August 28, 2014

We have plenty to celebrate as we consider that fantastic intersection where libraries, learning, and technology meet. We also have plenty of short-term, mid-range, and long-term challenges to address at that same intersection, as the newly-released (first ever) New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project educational-technology report on libraries reminds us.

NMC_HorizonReport_2014_Library_cover_borderAlthough the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition focuses on academic and research libraries, the challenges that are documented within the report can easily be considered in the overall library-as-learning-center environment, and are also well worth the attention of those involved in training-teaching-learning outside of libraries since libraries so clearly are an important part of our lifelong-learning sandbox.

Among the “solvable challenges” (“those that we understand and know how to resolve”) is the challenge of embedding academic and research libraries in the curriculum. (Other trainer-teacher-learners can read this section and consider what it suggests in terms of embedding their own learning opportunities into the public and special libraries as well as the non-library settings they/we serve—after all, if we’re going to be effective in meeting our learners’ and our organizations’ learning needs, we need to be where those learners are at their moment of need.) When Report lead writer Samantha Adams Becker and her New Media Consortium colleagues suggest that “[l]ibrarians need to broaden their own concept of their role in the design of curriculum and provide outreach to faculty to help them understand how librarians can add to the education of students” (p. 20), they are reinforcing something any trainer-teacher-learner recognizes: we need to be demonstrating, in positive ways, how we facilitate and support the learning process for those we serve—and demonstrate, through our actions, how committed we are to being accessible to those learners.

The report writers also note how a first-rate learning facilitator “transforms the library space into a physical and virtual learning environment” (p. 20)—a challenge many of us have accepted and continue to explore as creatively as possible. It’s an idea well worth pursuing for anyone who still sees academic classrooms and workplace learning labs as the places where learning takes place and sees libraries as places to go (onsite or online) for materials that support rather than provide learning opportunities. As we continue to see the lines between “classrooms” and “libraries” as learning spaces blur—to the advantage of anyone interested in learning—we also need to keep thinking bigger and bigger to explore how we can more fully integrate library and other learning programs into our efforts in ways that connect libraries, library staff, and other key players in our local, regional, national, and global learning communities through a blending of onsite and online learning opportunities. (MOOCs—massive online open courses—as I frequently write, are just one of the many variations we are just beginning to explore.)

Moving to a second solvable challenge documented in the 2014 Library Edition of the Horizon Report series, we are treated to a concise and inspiring section about “rethinking the roles and skills of libraries”—a topic that again easily extends to any contemporary trainer-teacher-learner: “The challenge is in keeping institutions flexible enough to adapt to…new roles while finding leaders that can build sustainable models and collaborate across departments to meet the ever-changing needs of their institutions” (p. 22)—and, I would add, the ever-changing needs of their learners.

ARL_LogoA particularly intriguing part of the “rethinking roles” discussion is recognition of ‘the need for ‘superliaisons,’ or library staff that assist a variety of departments with their specialized skillset” (p. 22)—a concept drawn from the New Roles for New Times publication series from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). Where the ARL report on Transforming Liaison Roles in Research Libraries includes a fabulous reminder that “no liaison is an island” (pp. 12-13), the Horizon Report inspires us to think about how superliaisons might benefit any learning organization or community of learning. Furthermore, it actually makes me realize that any great trainer-teacher-learner needs to be cognizant of the importance of being a superliaison in a much broader sense: being a liaison between what happens in our formal and informal learning spaces and what happens when our learners are called upon to apply their learning far beyond the confines of onsite and online learning spaces.

nmc.logo.cmykThe 2014 Library Edition of the Horizon Report series carries us further by documenting two difficult challenges (“those that we understand but for which solutions are elusive”) and two wicked challenges (“those that are complex to even define, much less address”). The wicked challenges of “embracing the need for radical change” (pp. 28-29) and “maintaining ongoing integration, interoperability, and collaborative projects” (pp. 30-31) are, like the solvable challenges, topics that ought to be on the minds of all trainer-teacher-learners—not just on the minds of our colleagues in academic and research libraries. And because the latest Horizon Report so effectively captures the essence of those challenges, it is already helping to shape the conversations that will help us at least partially address them.

NB: This is the third set of reflections in a six-part series of articles exploring the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition. Next: On the One-Year Horizon—Electronic Publishing and Mobile Apps


NMC Library Horizon Report 2014 (Pt. 2 of 6): Key Trends for Libraries, Learning, and Technology

August 22, 2014

There’s a rich and rewarding experience awaiting trainer-teacher-learners who explore the “key trends” section of  the newly-released (first ever) New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project educational-technology report on libraries: lead writer Samantha Adams Becker and her New Media Consortium colleagues deftly lead us through concise summaries of trends that are “accelerating technology adoption in academic and research libraries” in a way that helps us read beyond the (virtually) printed pages and clearly see how those trends affect us and the learners we serve.NMC_HorizonReport_2014_Library_cover_borderBecause the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition focuses on academic and research libraries, we’re never far from the connections between libraries, technology and learning in this report. We also, if we think of the ramifications of what the 2014 Library Edition suggests, are constantly reminded of what the world of libraries and library staff members suggests in the overall lifelong-learning environment that serves as our own playing field.

Looking, for example, at two of the six trends that are accelerating technology adoption in libraries (and other learning organizations)—an increasing focus on how research data for publications is managed and shared, and the impact the open movement is having on creating greater access to research content—we see parallels between what library staff and other trainer-teacher-learners are facing. Library staff members who serve library users through data-management efforts are increasingly struggling not only with how to manage data to the benefit of those users/learners, but are also grappling with the changing nature of publications and data sets: “The definition of a publication itself is evolving beyond the constraints of static text and charts to take on a format that is more interactive” (p. 7)—a challenge of extreme importance to those managing and facilitating access to information resources and to any of us thinking about the formats we use in preparing and using materials to facilitate the learning process.

It’s a theme, trend, and challenge that carries over into what the report describes as the “evolving nature of the scholarly record.” Just as the scholarly record managed by library staff members is “no longer limited to text-based final products” and “can include research datasets, interactive programs, complete visualizations, lab articles, and other non-final outputs as well as web-based exchanges such as blogging,” the learning materials used in training-teaching-learning are increasingly comprised of interactive programs, complete visualizations, articles we prepare and share, and other non-final outputs including blogging and even blog sites used as stand-alone and elements of blended-learning opportunities—as we saw earlier this year through Tom Haymes’ blog/website that was part of an onsite presentation he facilitated and also serves as a lesson-in-a-blog.

nmc.logo.cmykWith each turn of a page, we find more within the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition that helps us re-examine the training-teaching-learning world we inhabit. And more that inspires us to seek ways to effectively use the changing environment to our advantage. When we reach the section describing another key trend—the increasing use of mobile content and delivery—we read about the impact it has on anyone associated with libraries and sense the impact it has on training-teaching-learning overall.

“Some libraries are furthering this trend by loaning devices such as tablets and e-readers to patrons, just as they would a printed book,” we are reminded (p. 8). And it doesn’t take much to carry this into the larger learning landscape, where many trainer-teacher-learners have moved well beyond the question as to whether mobile learning (m-learning) is catching on and are, instead, incorporating the use of mobile devices into onsite and online learning opportunities. There’s even a wonderfully circular moment when, in reading the report, we come across a reference to an online learning resource—23 Mobile Things—that can be used on mobile devices to learn more about the use of mobile devices in libraries and other learning environments. Yes, it really is that sort of report: it illuminates; it engages us in the subjects it reviews; and it rarely leaves us short of additional learning resources. (Among my favorites are the links to “11 Case Studies Released on Research Data Management in Libraries,” from the Association of European Research Libraries, and to Klaus Tochtermann’s “Ten Theses Regarding the Future of Scientific Infrastructure Institutions [libraries].” “11 Case Studies” includes one that documents a library’s training-teaching-learning function by describing a blended-learning opportunity designed ultimately to help researchers. “Ten Theses,” Tochterman writes in his preliminary note, was crafted to “address fields of development where libraries need to undertake particular efforts in the future,” e.g., pushing content to the user rather than making the user come to the library—or, in our case, to the learning facilitator; offering viral and decentralized services; and having high IT and high media competence.)

There is far more to explore in the “key trends” section than these blog reflections suggest. And it’s a tribute to New Media Consortium CEO Larry Johnson, Samantha Becker Adams as the lead writer, and everyone else at NMC that the report will have a much wider audience than those affiliated with libraries. There is plenty of content. Plenty of depth. And plenty of reason for all of us to take advantage of what has been written so we can familiarize ourselves with contemporary tech trends while keeping up with and meeting the needs of those who rely on us to support them in their own learning endeavors.

NB: This is the second set of reflections in a six-part series of articles exploring the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition. Next: Key Challenges


NMC Library Horizon Report 2014 (Pt. 1 of 6): Documenting Where We Are and Where We Might Be Going

August 21, 2014

When a wonderful friend and colleague retired from library work after 40 years in the industry, he wistfully reflected upon one consequence of his departure: that he would not be part of all that would be happening with libraries over the next 20 years.

NMC_HorizonReport_2014_Library_cover_borderIf he were to read the newly-released (first ever) New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project educational-technology report on libraries, he would have even more cause to wish he had additional time to invest in these essential partners in community-development and lifelong learning.

The report—available online free of charge and focused on trends, challenges, and developing technologies in academic and research libraries, but essential reading for the much larger audience of people interested and involved in academic, public, and other types of libraries worldwide—is likely to quickly become a seminal work; more than 100,000 people downloaded the report within 24-hour period immediately following its formal unveiling. By documenting where we are and where we might be going, the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition will contribute substantially to conversations and decisions that help sustain libraries as responsive key players in the extended and expansive onsite and online communities they serve.

As an essential reference tool in and of itself, it provides a wonderful grounding in the basic language and learning landscape of the continually-evolving world we inhabit within and beyond the physical and virtual spaces of libraries as lifelong-learning centers. To read the report is to become aware of critically-important terminology including “device-agnostic” and “ubiquitous learning” (p. 9), “distant reading” and “macroanalysis” (p. 16), “creative destruction” (p. 29), and “competency-based learning” (p. 31). It also draws attention to first-rate learning resources including JISC (p. 4), the University of Leipzig research group Agile Knowledge Engineering and Semantic Web (AKSW) and its cutting-edge projects (p. 6), the 23 Mobile Things online course (p. 9), the Coalition for Networked Information (p. 14),  the Center for Digital Education (p. 26), the Ohio State University Libraries “Digital Initiatives Program Guiding Principles,” and others. It provides links to numerous articles while also mentioning more specialized reports and books. And as if all of that were not enough, it has a feature not included in previous Horizon Project reports: an extensive section of endnotes and links to online articles and resources that could keep us busy for many months to come. All in all, it’s a magnificent and well-written work of scholarship (crafted by lead writer Samantha Adams Becker and her New Media Consortium colleagues) that documents what we are—and should be—considering as trainer-teacher-learners working on behalf of dynamic communities worldwide.

nmc.logo.cmykAs is the case with all Horizon Project reports, the library edition provides concise descriptions of important developments in technology—“the technologies which the members of the expert panel agreed are very likely to drive technology planning and decision-making over the next five years” (p. 32)—placed within a one-year horizon/time frame, a two- to three-year horizon, and a four- to five-year horizon indicating when those technologies are “forecasted to enter…mainstream use…”

Anyone wanting an expansive overview of the ed-tech landscape will find it on page 33 of the report, as well as on the project wiki. (Going online takes us to yet another magnificent resource, one in which we discover that each technology is linked to a brief description—in essence, a concise tour of contemporary educational technology—and the list is far from static: “new technologies are added within these categories in almost every research cycle” for the various Horizon Project reports.)

The central sections of the final pages of the report lead us through discussions of how electronic publishing and mobile apps are driving technology planning and decision-making within the current (one-year) horizon; how bibliometrics and citation technologies and the open-content movement will have the same impact during a two- to three-year horizon; and the Internet of Things, along with the semantic web and linked data are likely to have significant impacts within the four- to five-year horizon.

With all of this before us, we engage with the 2014 Library Edition as a stimulating report on libraries, learning, and technology as well as a document that will serve effectively as a primer for those earning a degree in library studies to become part of a global community of practice. And the report also serves as a stimulating refresher course for experienced library staff members and library users. By documenting important elements of the library landscape of our times, it helps us identify and celebrate our successes while shaping the conversations that will build upon our past and present to lead us into a dynamic future.

NB: This is the first set of reflections in a six-part series of articles exploring the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition. Next: Key Trends


Learning With Our Learners: Online Master Class

August 15, 2014

The thrill of watching instructors and learners interact in a master class setting—where the master works as a coach, one-on-one, with a highly-developed learner while others observe the process—has struck me as one of the most intimate and rewarding levels of interaction possible between learners and learning facilitators ever since I first observed master classes many years ago at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Learning vicariously from world-renowned musicians as they coached extremely talented music students who performed highly-rehearsed pieces created a combination of excitement, tension, and inclusion for everyone. In the best of circumstances, the master class had a transformative effective on everyone present.

When there is real chemistry between the master and the learner, it’s a beautifully dynamic process to observe. And when arrogance creeps in—as when a learner plays a piece, then the master plays a passage from the same piece and attempts to stimulate conversation by asking, “Why does that sound so much better when I play it than when you do?”—we receive a much-needed reminder that hubris has no place in the learning process (other than to provide examples of what we should never do with our own learners).

SEFLIN_LogoWorking as much online as I do face-to-face these days, I’ve always wondered how an online master class might be designed and delivered. And thanks to colleagues in the Southeast Florida Library Network (SEFLIN), I had a chance to try it out earlier today by conducting an online master class for learners in the four-part “Mastering Online Facilitation” series I have designed and am facilitating for SEFLIN and its Florida-based learners (July 30 – August 22, 2014).

It was even more exciting and rewarding than I had hoped it would be.

Synchronous_Trainers_Survival_Guide

Wonderful resource for online facilitators

The set-up was as simple as we could possibly make it. Interested learners, who have been exploring various parts of the design and delivery process for facilitating webinars and online meetings, were invited to submit a brief PowerPoint slide deck that they would use as the basis for a five- to 10-minute live, online presentation, or exercise in facilitating meetings. The very small group of us participating in the experiment arrived online 15 minutes before the master class was scheduled to formally begin; that gave us time to engage in a brief tech check so that the sole learner scheduled to present could familiarize herself with the various tools within the platform (Adobe Connect) that we were using. That pre-session time provided something far too few of us remember to incorporate into our learning-facilitation space: time for the learner to become familiar with the learning environment before the formal learning experience begins. More importantly, it left us with a brief period of time to further develop the rapport that creates a supportive learning sandbox and eliminates as many distractions as possible so that the real focus is on learning (not the technology behind the learning—that’s a different part of the lesson).

At the scheduled time, we started recording the session so the learner would be able to focus on her presentation and know that she would be able to review the entire session later. As is the case with any successful master class, this one worked well because the learner already had significant, well-developed skills (from the face-to-face presentation and facilitation work she does). It was also helpful that she was using a presentation comprised of content she had already successfully used onsite (i.e., it was well-rehearsed), so she could almost completely focus on how to provide content engagingly in an online environment.

When she was finished, I couldn’t help but blurt out the first thought that came to mind after being drawn into what amounted to an introductory segment to a longer presentation: “Keep going.” (To keep up our comparison to musical master classes, we could refer to her master class performance as the performance of a prelude to a much longer piece of music.)

It took her only a few seconds to realize the not-so-subtle compliment behind the words: she had hit a home run on her first online outing.

Presentation Zen

Great tips for incorporating dynamic visuals into presentations

We then circled back on the presentation at a few levels. I first asked her how she felt about her presentation, and the two of us serving as her audience assured her that her perceptions of being halting and a bit off kilter were far from what we as audience members had experienced. I then walked her through her seven-slide presentation, slide by slide, to comment on what struck me as being strong about the slides and her verbal presentation—stopping at the end of each slide to ask her if she had any additional questions or observations. Our final pass through the slide deck was to discuss possible variations to what she had designed (e.g., using more visual elements and smaller amounts of text, finding creative and subtle ways to highlight parts of text so members of her own audience would be immediately drawn to specific elements on a slide at the moment she was verbally addressing those elements).

What was probably most rewarding for all of us was that the lines between alleged master and wonderful learner, in this case, were extremely permeable. We learned as much from her presentation and her questions as she learned from our reactions (and I learned even more when I went back to the recording myself to see how I could improve my own skills at facilitating master classes); we were not telling her how she should have designed and presented her information, we offered variations on her theme and left it to her to decide what she believed will best work for her own learners when she takes that presentation back to them; and we all understood that for every moment we spend in and benefit from occupying the master’s seat onsite or online, we benefit so much more by sharing all the learning that has shaped us—and will continue to shape us—in our own lifelong-learning efforts.


Barbara Fister, Project Information Literacy, and Addressing/Fostering Lifelong Learning  

August 8, 2014

I’m in the middle of an unexpected lifelong learning experience that is the training-teaching-learning equivalent of a quadruple caffè latte. My heart is racing. My mind is engaged. And I feel as if the best is yet to come—if I don’t completely explode.

Caffe_Latte--2012-01-28--Flora_GrubbThe day began as many do for me: I set aside a little time to skim a few blogs and check my social media feeds for articles that would help me keep up with the myriad topics I attempt (unsuccessfully) to follow. And there it was, the first gem of the day: Gustavus Adolphus College professor/writer/librarian Barbara Fister’s fresh-off-the-presses article “What PIL [Project Information Literacy] Teaches Us About Lifelong Learning” in Library Journal. It’s the sort of article I adore—an intellectual home run—in that it’s well written, it provides thought-provoking information I can immediately apply to the work I do, it draws attention to another fabulous resource (the Project Information Literacy lifelong learning Phase 1 Research Brief that inspired Fister to write her Library Journal article), and it was something I immediately wanted to share (via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+) with my colleagues involved in training-teaching-learning.

Fister gracefully and enthusiastically summarizes and builds upon a few of the key points made in this report, which is drawn from interviews with 65 relatively recent graduates of 10 American colleges and universities. (The research brief is part of a continuing two-year study to determine, in part, how “today’s graduates use information support systems for lifelong learning.”) The interviewees, Fister notes, “sought out learning opportunities, either through formal certificates or graduate education or through more informal means: enrolling in MOOCs [massive open online courses] or looking for websites and YouTube videos that teach the skills they want to develop.” She recaps something that many of us involved in learning already know viscerally: “the learning that stuck came through doing things…the learning that comes from creating things transfers even if content knowledge doesn’t.” And most importantly, she makes us want to read the original six-page brief ourselves so we can more fully absorb the nuances of what PIL is continuing to produce in its overall study of information literacy—a topic we could explore for several lifetimes without ever fully absorbing all there is to contemplate.

Project_Information_LiteracyWhen we succumb to our natural instincts and do skim the PIL brief, we find plenty worth pursuing among the five elements explored through the PIL researchers’ initial interviews (interviewees’ lifelong learning needs, use of information sources, use of social media, best practices for lifelong learning, and adaptable information-seeking practices from their higher education experiences). The interviewees consistently admit to being “challenged by ‘staying smart’ in a rapidly changing world.” Google search is their “go-to source for lifelong learning” as they attempt to find resources responsive to their lifelong learning needs. And “[m]any mentioned actively building a social network of go-to experts they could consult at work”—in essence, developing what many of us refer to as our personal learning networks (PLNs).

None of this would have been as significant to me at a personal level if I hadn’t immediately connected it to what I do in my own lifelong learning efforts—and if I hadn’t immediately begun to apply it. Knowing that I was less than two hours away from joining an online discussion session I try to attend biweekly, as time allows—Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training podcast—I contacted Maurice and one other T is for Training colleague to see if we could incorporate Fister’s article into our discussion this morning. My lifelong learning efforts successfully continued, therefore, when we did spend nearly an hour exploring what the PIL research brief, Fister’s article, and our extended (and often overlapping) personal learning networks do to support us and the learners we serve. And the lifelong-learning adrenaline continued to flow when I returned to the archived recording of the T is for Training conversation, copied the podcast link, and added it to my own website as a free resource for others interested in exploring lifelong learning and personal learning networks. Which, of course, brings us to this moment in which I’m further solidifying this augmentation of my own lifelong learning efforts by reflecting on all that has come out of the simple act of reading Fister’s article and seeking ways to connect it to what I do for myself and the trainer-teacher-learners I serve.

The learning is not over yet; it really never is. In fine-tuning this piece by exploring the Project Information Literacy site (a fabulous lifelong learning resource in and of itself), I discovered a section of “Smart Talks” featuring “interviews with leading experts about PIL’s findings and their thoughts about the challenges of finding information and conducting research in the digital age.” Better yet, among the interviewees are colleagues and others whose work I have followed and admired. So, as I suggested at the beginning of this article, I remain very much in the middle of consuming the intellectual equivalent of a quadruple caffè latte. And I am doing all I can to avoid being overwhelmed by this magnificent lifelong –learning experience that Fister and my personal learning network colleagues are supporting.


ALA Annual Conference 2014: Stan Lee, Comic Relief, and Training-Teaching-Learning  

July 1, 2014

Before Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, Thor, Hulk, and all the others, there was “VD? Not Me,” Stan Lee (chairman emeritus of Marvel Enterprises, Inc., writer, and former instructional designer for the U.S. military) said during his keynote address American Library Association (ALA) 2014 Annual Conference here in Las Vegas.

“I had a funny career in the army,” he explained as he retold a story documented elsewhere. “Just before being shipped off [during the second world], I was taken into the training division in Long Island to write training manuals and films for the troops.”

ALA2014--LogoThe challenge, he recalled, was to create materials “in clear language” so that the time required for training could be decreased. He and his colleagues, for example, prepared materials teaching soldiers how to disassemble and reassemble guns: “We were able to increase the speed of the training by about 30%…I never told you, but I practically won the war [single-handedly]… Everybody knew how a gun works because of me!” he said with the obvious sense of hyperbole that made his presentation so engaging.

And then there was “VD? Not me!” Responding to the need for training on how to avoid or recover from sexually-transmitted diseases, Lee and others worked on training films and campaigns to attract soldiers to prophylactic stations where they could be treated, and one of the posters, he recalled, used that “VD? Not me” slogan to foster more awareness of resources available. A comic character he created was part of the overall training in what appears to have been a very early use of gamification in training: learners followed the comic character from one place to another in the training materials by answering questions correctly.

For those of us who grew up reading the stories that Lee and others cranked out with amazing regularity, watching Lee in action here in Las Vegas was a wonderful combination of hearing the recollections of someone who did much to entertain us while encouraging our reading habits and, at the same time, making us aware of how much we could learn from him as a fellow teacher-trainer-learner-presenter.

His awareness and mastery of how to address and draw members of his audience into what he was doing was obvious from the moment he walked up to the microphone and looked out at all of us in that huge, packed conference-center ballroom: “I was asked to talk to you about reading,” he began. “That would be like going to a banker’s conference to talk about money. What the hell can I tell you?”

Stan_Lee

Stan Lee

Then, as if having second thoughts and wanting to live up to his obligation to address the assigned topic, he relented by giving the topic all of four words: “Reading is very good.” But not quite done with that mock revelation, he added one more thought: “…and you can quote me!”

There was plenty more said about the relevancy of comic books to reading, the importance of creating individual characters—the heroes and the villains—to draw readers into the narratives so many of us loved and continue to love; and how people at parties used to turn and flee when they learned he wrote comics, but now would rather talk to him at a party than be caught talking to the president of the United States.

But what was most striking to me was the example he set for all of us as trainer-teacher-learners. Regardless of how serious he allowed himself to become in responding to questions during the presentation, he routinely and continually peppered his comments with amusing asides and the sort of self-effacing comments that made us feel as if we were insiders—partners rather than observers in the presentation. And those of us who gave in to the invitation to laugh with him while also remaining aware of what he was doing to keep us engaged walked away not only with cherished memories of spending a bit of our conference time with a wonderful trainer-teacher-learner-presenter, but stronger for the reminders of what it means to incorporate engaging narrative into the presentation and learning process.


NMC 2014 Summer Conference: Not In My Wildest Dreams!

June 20, 2014

The words “ambassadors” and “learning spaces” might not be at the forefront of your mind if you’re attending an educational-technology conference, but they certainly were for me while I was in Portland, Oregon for the New Media Consortium (NMC) 2014 Summer [ed-tech] Conference earlier this week.
NMC Summer Conference - PortlandIt was, in fact, at the intersection of ambassadors and learning spaces that I again saw what most attracts me to ed-tech and all other aspects of training-teaching-learning: the learners themselves. And what I saw needs to be seen by every one of us involved in and passionate about learning.

The ambassador connection initially came within hours of my arrival onsite early in the week through my conference roommate, Jonathan Nalder—an Australian educator/ed-tech enthusiast who partially funded his trip to the conference by running an online fundraising campaign via Kickstarter. Nalder was among the more than 20 ed-tech aficionados worldwide chosen to serve in the first cohort of NMC ambassadors for their willingness to play the role of “knowledgeable members of NMC Horizon Project K-12 Advisory Boards in the discussions that lead to future K-12 editions of the NMC Horizon Report series, be the experts in their field in the NMC Commons, and gain recognition among an international body of colleagues as innovative educators,” as we are reminded on the NMC website. (The ambassadors earned their positions by submitting video applications that describe the innovations taking place at their schools and also give us a wonderful overview of what was happening in the world of K-12 ed-tech at the time those videos were submitted.) So it was an unexpected pleasure to join him and several other ambassadors for dinner—which is when the learning-spaces connections began.

Hearing NMC Ambassador Lisa Gustinelli chat, during dinner, about a library that had become an “innovation center” she recently joined in a private high school in Florida teed up the topic nicely because it connected transformations I have been following: learning spaces that feature equipment and furniture that can easily be moved to accommodate the needs of learners and learning facilitators; collaborative environments; and the continuing evolution of libraries in ways that more overtly acknowledge and promote their long-standing role as learning centers. My own extremely rewarding onsite conference explorations of learning spaces continued during the week through a series of experiences including attendance at Houston Community College Northwest Director of Technology and Instructional Computing Tom Haymes’ session on idea spaces, and Al Biles’ engaging session providing an overview of innovations at the Rochester Institute of Technology Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity (MAGIC)—which is beautifully described on the MAGIC website.

The ambassador-and-learning-spaces connection came full circle early in the afternoon of the final day of the conference when I joined colleagues in exploring the conference “Idea Lab”—a stimulating ed-tech version of poster sessions designed to serve as “a dynamic place where creativity flows,” and where displays took various shapes including simple yet elegantly-designed stand-alone posters and informal presentations that incorporated content viewable on tablets.

 

Cheryl Steighner with students

Cheryl Steighner with students

Walking over to the “Social Media: Connecting Young Learners to the World” session organized by NMC Ambassador Cheryl Steighner, I found what I hadn’t even known I was seeking: learners at the center of an Idea Lab session about the training-teaching-learning process. And not just any learners: Steighner’s co-presenters (lovingly referred to as her “Steighnerds”—were an amazing group of fourth- and fifth-grade students who were the youngest presenters ever to be included in an NMC Summer Conference, conference organizers confirmed. With Steighner standing nearby and intentionally taking a back seat to her learners, the students described how they had studied an interwoven variety of subjects by using Skype, Twitter, and other social media tools. Via Skype, for example, they interviewed students from other parts of the United States; their initial challenge, shaped through gamification techniques and involving a series of yes-no questions, was to determine where their Skype colleagues were physically located. Once they determined the geographical setting inhabited by their fellow students, they located and marked those places on a map that is usually kept in their classroom and was brought onsite to the NMC conference to be incorporated into their Idea Lab display. But the learning didn’t stop at that elementary level during the Skype sessions; the students learned about their Skype-partners’ cities and states through conversations during those online sessions. The students also honed their English reading and writing skills by composing grammatically correct sentences that became tweets, and by using iPads to compose writing assignments on a variety of topics including the civil rights movement in America.

Skyping to learning geograpny...and more

Skyping to learn geography…and more

Most striking about this blended learning/blended presentation approach is that it made me think far more broadly about the interwoven nature of our learning spaces than I ever had before. The Idea Lab space was a temporary learning space in which adults were learning about Steighner’s approach to teaching as well as about her learners’ sophisticated and enthusiastic approach to learning. The students’ learning space is an intriguingly blended onsite-online classroom that reaches as far as Steighner, Skype, Twitter, and NMC Summer Conference attendance will take them. The conference itself was a dynamically-inspiring learning space comprised of numerous elements: the smaller overlapping learning spaces ranging from the Idea Lab displays, workshops on massive open online courses (MOOCS) and other topics, and session break-out rooms to the larger ballroom settings where plenary sessions were held—and then beyond the hotel where the conference took place, extending into the restaurant where the ambassadors and I talked about innovation spaces and so much more Monday night, then extending even further into another restaurant the following evening with a slightly expanded group that included NMC staff, a workshop facilitator, and one of the conference plenary speakers.

NMC CEO Larry Johnson chats with one of the youngest conference presenters

NMC CEO Larry Johnson chats with one of the youngest conference presenters

I clearly wasn’t the only one to notice the spectacular nature of what was occurring in this wonderfully expansive learning space. NMC CEO Larry Johnson, visiting with Steighner’s learners during the Idea Lab session, was clearly as moved by the experience as any of us were. After listening to the students describe what they have gained, he reached into his pocket and in what was clearly an unplanned act, handed each of them a business card and told them that when these fourth- and fifth-grade students were ready to enter the workforce, there would be a place waiting for them at the New Media Consortium.

“When NMC started the Ambassador Program a year ago, did you have any idea that people like Cheryl would be producing results like this at an NMC conference?” I asked him a few minutes later.

“Not in my wildest dreams,” he responded without hesitation.

It simply has to be said: the ambassador project is one well worth observing and emulating, and those fourth- and fifth-grade learners who are becoming our partners merit all the attention we can give them, for they are going to be entering our workplaces sooner than we think. And the learning experiences and expectations they bring with them are going to offer us magnificent opportunities to continue growing with and responding to the evolving challenges of training-teaching-learning—or they are going to leave us in the dust.

“They are going to change the world,” Steighner predicts in a way that cannot be denied, for they already are as we spend time with them. Learn from them. And are inspired to be even better than we are at what we do.


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