ALA Midwinter 2018 (Denver): Conversations, Ghosts, and Pentimenti in the Hallways

February 10, 2018

The halls of the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, where the American Library Association (ALA) 2018 Midwinter Meeting is fully underway, have never felt more lively or filled with stimulating, deeply thoughtful conversations to me. Nor have they ever felt so filled by ghosts.

I have, frankly, lost track of the number of times I have been here for ALA and ATD (Association for Talent Development) conferences. And, as I walked the conference center hallways yesterday morning—only yesterday; already feels like weeks ago—for my first onsite activity during the 2018 Midwinter Meeting, I felt worlds melting into each other. Intellectually, I knew I was here to spend time with my trainer-teacher-learner-doer colleagues working in the library industry. But somehow my body was instinctively reconnecting me viscerally with friends and colleagues I met during previous visits, as if their ghosts—conference-center pentimenti or some other form of presence—remained long after they had returned home. I found myself thinking about attending sessions scheduled for other (previous) conferences as if they were still about to happen.

Repeatedly then and now—nearly a day and a half  later—I found and find myself looking for and expecting to see friends (some still alive, some now long-gone) encountered during previous ATD and ALA conferences. And it was—and is—comforting and reassuring because it reminds me that the wonderful, ongoing ALA conference slogan—“the conversation starts here…”—only captures part of the overall experience of participating in any well-organized conference.

Conversations both start and continue here, in the sort of extended moment I have explored numerous times in blog posts and conversations. And here, in our wonderfully blended onsite-online world, is far more than the physical conference center spaces. Here is the rooms, the hallways, the simple yet masterfully organized spaces including the Networking Uncommons—where you can stop in anytime the conference is underway, grab a table, recharge your laptop and mobile devices, and with planning aforethought as well as magic of the unplanned moment, see exactly the right person at the right time to talk and dream and plan in ways that produce results you (all) would not have otherwise produced. And, equally importantly, here is the online spaces we create through Twitter backchannels, Facebook, Google Hangouts, and numerous other tools we use to reach out to our #ALALeftBehind colleagues who, in a very real sense, need no longer feel left behind—if they care to join us virtually.

When I’ve been “left behind,” I’ve experimented successfully with ways to virtually join my onsite colleagues—to the point that I’ve received tweets asking me if I’m actually onsite. So when I am lucky enough to be onsite, I work with others to actively reach out to offsite colleagues. And, again, it works. While attending a wonderful 90-minute “Adult Book Buzz” talk sponsored by HarperCollins Publishers this morning, I tweeted out a few quotes and a few links so those who following the #ALALeftBehind hashtag so they would have glimpses of what was occurring onsite—and I saw the reach of those tweets extended through retweets.

The event itself was masterfully facilitated by our HarperCollins hosts (Library Marketing Director Virginia Stanley, Marketing Associate Christopher Connolly, and Marketing Assistant Lainey Mays): as they were describing a wonderfully rich list of upcoming novels and nonfiction works from their authors, they occasionally brought those offsite authors onsite by showing brief, engaging, videos from authors who had taped greetings to us and brief descriptions of their works that are about to be published. (And it worked! Christopher Moore’s brief, very funny introduction to his upcoming novel Noir sent me over to the HarperCollins booth in the conference exhibits area late in the day to pick up an advance reader’s edition of the books so I don’t have to wait until April—when it’s scheduled to hit the bookstores and our libraries—to read it.) It gets better: our “left behind” colleagues will, a few days after I post this blog piece, be able to virtually attend the session by viewing a recording of it on a new site HarperCollins is about to launch. (I’ll update this article by adding a link to the recording as soon as it is available.)

We really are in what feels to be the early stages of an entire change in the way we meet, communicate, and engage with each other. What I have joking referred to as those “ghosts” in the hallway are actually quite real; when I want to viscerally and virtually re-engage with them, I can go back to pieces I’ve written about our conversations, reread those pieces, incorporate them into later pieces (like this one), and extend the elastic moment of conversation further by adding to it with additional tweets, Facebook postings, Google Hangouts, something as simple as a newly-initiated phone call from the conference center, or a follow-up face-to-face conversation next time we’re actually in this (or another) conference center together. (I actually did attempt to draw in a colleague who is missing the annual Midwinter Meeting for the first time since we began attending them together—the spontaneous attempt to create a Google Hangout with her so I could “walk” the aisles of the exhibits area when it first opened last night was not successful—and we actually chatted by phone for a few minutes to I could teasingly describe all the things she was—not quite—seeing. But when you and I think about those failed and successful attempts, we realize that the concept of being “left behind” is only as large and insurmountable as we and our imaginations allow it to be.

So, I write this piece in honor of all the colleagues I have seen, am seeing, and will ever see when we are “together” at the ALA Midwinter Meeting or Annual (summer) Conference), the ATD International Conference & Exposition, and other professional-family gatherings. I hope it inspires you to reach out via Twitter, Facebook, phone, or any other available means when you are here and others aren’t. And I hope it inspires you to reach out in those same and other ways when you are offsite—and ready to be onsite as quickly as your virtual modes of transportation can get you here. Let’s give those “ghosts” the attention and support they need; the rewards to every member of our communities and to the communities themselves are virtually limitless.

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ALA 2016 Midwinter Meeting: Associations and the Size of the Room

January 8, 2016

The power of association—and associations—is never more clear to me than when I’m participating in an association conference, so I’m in Association/Associations Heaven right now as the 2016 American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting is blossoming here in Boston.

alamw16--logoWhile I often hear colleagues—generally those who opt out of participating in the professional associations that represent and bring together colleagues within their professions—cite all the reasons why they don’t see value in joining and being active in their industry’s association, I can’t imagine not being part of ALA, ATD, and others that facilitate the critically important connections and opportunities that the act of associating and associations themselves so effectively foster.

And even though I’m currently benefitting from being among thousands of colleagues arriving here in Boston, I also recognize that association is no longer something that is at all completely dependent on physical proximity. Anyone with Internet access quickly realizes that the size of our conference “room” is expansive, that the room is permeable, and that it is fairly inclusive; it includes the physical meeting spaces, as well as the extensive set of corridors in which so much important and rewarding associating occurs, and can extend to being a regional, national, and international association space if we’re a bit creative in the way we approach the act of associating.

The latest associating—via the very active #alamw16 hashtag that is bringing offsite and onsite colleagues together in a variety of ways—began for me several days before I arrived. It has also been facilitated through the use of a well-designed and highly-used conference app that allows us not only to browse schedules and access a treasure-trove of conference information and learning resources, but to locate and contact conference attendees through a list of those who registered.

T is for Training Logo

T is for Training Logo

Those who care about associating and about this Association conference also are welcome participants in the conversations via their/our exchanges on what is increasingly an incorrectly-named hashtag (#alaleftbehind), for the very act of interacting via #alaleftbehind means they are not as far out of the loop as they may initially feel they are. I have, in fact, written extensively about being on both sides of the “left behind” equation—about participating virtually and about helping draw in participants who are not onsite. I remain excited by the many opportunities we can be exploring together in an effort to make sure no interested colleague is completely left behind. And, in the spirit of bringing onsite and offsite colleagues together, a couple of us, as I’m writing this piece, just finished our latest experiment in virtual conference engagement by having a conversation that started here in the conference Networking Uncommons and linked us to our T is for Training colleague Maurice Coleman via a phone call that brought the conference into the taping of Episode 176  of his long-running podcast series.

To give credit where credit is due, let’s not overlook the critically important role association management and staff play in fostering strong association through an association. ALA Marketing Director Mary Mackay, for instance, has done her usual first-rate job of reaching out to offsite Association members via LinkedIn and other social media platforms with a series of tips on how to keep up with the onsite activities via a variety of social media and Association resources (posted January 6, 2016). But much of it comes back to our own desire and longing for connection and the connections that come from being part of an association and contributing to the strength of that association through active participation.

If you haven’t yet engaged in this level of association, and want to try it, there are several easy steps to take. Identify the conference hashtag (in this case, #alamw16) and interact at a meaningful level; retweet interesting tweets you see from onsite colleagues and, more importantly, comment in a way that adds to the conversation, e.g., by adding a link to a resource that extends the conversation. (Don’t be surprised when onsite colleagues, seeing your comments, ask the inevitable question: “Are you here?” And revel in the idea that in a very significant way, you are here/there.)  Watch for links to blog posts from conference attendees, then post responses and share links to those posts so the conversations—and the learning—grow rhizomatically. If you read those posts days, week, or months after they are initially posted, remember that it’s never too late to join the very-extended synchronously asynchronous conversation by posting responses and/or sharing links. And if you have onsite colleagues who are willing to be among your conduits to the onsite action, don’t hesitate to “go onsite” with them via a Google Hangout, Skype, or even a phone call.

There’s a role for everyone in this process of associating and expanding the size of the room. If you’re reading this while you at the ALA Midwinter Conference (or any other conference), you can contribute by reaching out to those you know are interested. And, with any luck, you (and the rest of us) will expand the connections that already are at the heart of successful associations—and association.


ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting: Bringing Offsite Colleagues Into the Room

February 1, 2015

With informal help and encouragement from our staff colleagues in the American Library Association (ALA), several of us successfully managed, this afternoon, to reduce the number of people “left behind” during the current ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting being held here in Chicago. And, in the process, we produced a learning object designed to help members of ALA and other associations achieve similarly rewarding results.

ala_leftbehind“ALALeftBehind” has been a bittersweet movement for quite a while now: those unable to be onsite for the Midwinter Meeting held early each year and the Annual Conference held early each summer contact onsite Association members via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms for news about what is happening onsite. They also, via the #ALALeftBehind hashtag, comment on how much they wish they could be part of the onsite action.

This was the year we reduced the onsite-online gap a bit more. Largely thanks to the efforts of ALA staff, those who could not attend the conference received tips about resources that could help connect them to onsite activities and colleagues. That commitment to offsite members as well as to the onsite members who could afford the time and cost of traveling to Chicago inspired at least a few of us onsite to seek ways to support that effort and find ways to further draw our offsite colleagues into the onsite rooms.

ALAMW15--LogoAs we were meeting (during the first day of the conference) in the Midwinter Meeting Networking Uncommons—a wonderful space meant to facilitate unplanned encounters and conversations at a significant level—a few of us were expressing the same sort of comments expressed by those left behind: sadness that familiar faces weren’t present for Midwinter 2015 conversations. One person who is particularly important to us is our training-teaching-learning colleague Maurice Coleman, who brings us together online through his biweekly T is for Training conversations/podcasts and has been making audio-recordings of live face-to-face T is for Training sessions at ALA Midwinter Meetings and Annual Conferences for the past few years. Without Maurice onsite, we realized we would miss our semi-annual face-to-face session—until we decided that if we couldn’t bring Maurice and “T” into the Uncommons and the rest of the conference, we would bring the Uncommons and the conference to Maurice.

We were lucky enough to be sitting with Jenny Levine, the ALA staff member who remains the driving force behind the Uncommons (and much more), as our plan began to develop; she quickly confirmed a reservation for the final 30-minute slot remaining for formal use of the Uncommons during the 2015 Midwinter Meeting. We then contacted Maurice and a few other T is for Training colleagues who were offsite to see whether they wanted to participate in a unique T is for Training session via a Google Hangout rather than the usual audio-only format we use through TalkShoe.

There was a conscious decision that we weren’t going to make the Hangout appear too well-rehearsed, and we also agreed that we would rely on our improvisational skills to address any unexpected problems that came up during the session. Having experimented with blended onsite-online conference attendance via Twitter and blended learning opportunities via Google Hangouts, I saw this as an opportunity to pull a session together with minimal planning, preparation, and rehearsal so that #alaleftbehind colleagues would see how easily similar gatherings could be arranged while also seeing what can go wrong with this sort of impromptu erasing of the Left Behind brand.

Virtual Maurice Coleman before he joined the live Hangout

Virtual Maurice Coleman before he joined the live Hangout

That’s exactly how it played out during the live session earlier this afternoon. The opening segment with guest host Kate Kosturski, T is for Training colleague Jules Shore, and me in the Networking Uncommons began right on time and featured a decent quality of audio and video. Our first (not-unexpected) glitch occurred when Maurice was unable to join the Hangout in its recorded version, so came in through a virtual back door: my tablet. Figuring that low-quality Maurice was better than no Maurice, I took the only action I could imagine taking: I held the tablet up to the webcam and hoped for the best. Watching the archived recording shows that it was a gamble that paid off: the audio and video feed captured from the tablet was even better in the recording than it was for those of us in the Uncommons—which doesn’t mean it was great (far from it), but as a spur-of-the-moment solution, it worked. Better yet, it added the sort of levity to the session that is such a valuable and valued part of all T is for Training sessions.

The experiment gained momentum about12 minutes into the session with Jill Hurst-Wahl, another key part of the T is for Training community, was able to join the Hangout from her home. After a moment or two of trouble-shooting, she was completely integrated into the exchange and the conversation resumed where it had stopped when Maurice first came in via the tablet.

Our moment of success came just after the halfway point, when Maurice was able to switch from the tablet feed to the version visible in the archived recording. And, for the remainder of the program, we once again showed how a conference room can quickly expand from being a small onsite space to a space that extend across entire states.

It could have been better; we should have been able to include other participants via the chat function in Google Hangouts. But as an example of how low-cost, high-impact technology can help us redefine our meeting and our learning spaces and how it can further reduce the size of our Left Behind groups, it offers an effective case study. And it will continue reducing that Left Behind group person by person as more people view the recording and use it to create their own no-longer-left-behind experiences.


NMC and ALA: Black Swans, Conversations, and Collaboration

January 29, 2015

We’ve known, for a long time, that having key players in the room is an essential part of fostering achievements in training-teaching-learning and many other endeavors. What wasn’t as obvious until recently is that drawing those essential colleagues into the room is becoming increasingly simple by redefining what the room actually is.

ALAMW15--LogoAttending the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project retreat—“The Black Swan Ball”—in Austin, Texas a couple of weeks ago provided a fabulous reminder of how our concepts of meeting spaces are changing. Arriving in Chicago yesterday for the American Library Association (ALA) 2015 Midwinter Meeting is supplying another dynamic example of this development. And other ongoing personal experiments in creating a virtual presence within onsite meetings convince me that we’re seeing a major shift in how our changing concepts of meeting spaces, learning spaces, participation, and collaboration are working to our advantage.

While drawing an offsite colleague into onsite meetings as a co-presenter via Google Hangouts over the past couple of years, I have asked onsite meeting participants to describe how big our meeting spaces are. It quickly becomes obvious to everyone that our videoconferencing capabilities have improved to the point where those offsite participants feel as if they are physically present with us—and we with them—so the room is no longer defined by the immediate four walls that surround us—it extends over the hundreds (or thousands) of miles that would separate us if our technology didn’t create a visceral, virtual presence for all involved.

Our NMC colleagues at the Black Swan Ball—an event inspired by Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable and designed to help us develop the skills needed to adapt when what seemed improbably quickly becomes commonplace—were exemplary in creating a meeting space that transcended physical walls. Even though we were all in the same conference center room for much of the discussion, we were also using virtual spaces created online by NMC staff so we could create, in the moment, learning objects that would carry the discussion out of the room so the explorations would not end when the conference did. And, by the simple act of tweeting observations while those discussions were underway, we found the discussions spreading far beyond the conference center premises even while invited participants were still onsite.

Our ALA colleagues are taking this expansion-of-the-room concept further than what I have seen most organizations attempt. Acknowledging that there is frequently a conference backchannel conversation nurtured by those who consider themselves “left behind” by their inability to be onsite (united via the hashtag #ALALeftBehind), conference representatives have already encouraged the “left behind” crowd to expand the size of the room and join the conversation via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and pages on the Association’s website:

“You can get a flavor of the event and insights by following American Libraries coverage at http://www.americanlibrariesmagazine.org/alamw15 and the show daily, Cognotes, at http://alamw15.ala.org/cognotes.

“You can also

“And looking ahead–for information about the 2015 ALA Annual Conference & Exhibition June 25-30, and to find resources to help you make your case for attending, visit http://alaannual.org.”

NMC_Black_Swan_LogoThis is a magnificent example of how a commitment to inclusivity and a bit of advance planning can create opportunities for extended conversations; greater levels of engagement among members of an association, a community of learning, a community of practice, or any other collaborative body; and an awareness of how existing tools and resources can create possibilities where barriers once existed. If each of us at the Midwinter Meeting (or any other onsite convocation) contributes to the effort to draw our offsite colleagues into the onsite conversations, and our offsite colleagues reciprocate by contributing via the channels available to them, we will have taken another positive, productive step toward expanding the size of our room and fostering the levels of collaboration that produce results beyond anything we previously imagined.


ASTD International Conference 2014, Twitter, and Staying Connected: No Longer Left Behind—Again!

May 5, 2014

The news that I made a new friend by participating in the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) 2014 International Conference & Exposition (ICE) today isn’t particularly noteworthy. The fact that I unexpectedly accomplished this with the help of two other people who weren’t physically attending a conference that I, too, am not physically attending does, however, suggest that there is a worthwhile story to tell any trainer-teacher-learner who is interested.

ASTD_ICE_2014We’ve heard quite a bit suggesting that social media tools make us lonely; that it’s time to deliver “A Eulogy for Twitter” as “the beloved social platform enters its twilight”; and that a social network can’t replace a “real” one (as if everyone who uses social media makes this an either-or decision).

What isn’t as often heard or read is the idea that being left behind when we are not able to physically join our friends and colleagues at wonderful professional development gatherings like ASTD ICE, American Library Association (ALA) conferences, and the numerous others that beckon is increasingly less of a problem than it was before social media tools came our way.

As I have continued experimenting with the use of social media tools in workplace and personal settings over the past several years, I’ve become intrigued by the possibilities they offer in terms of not being left behind. With that in mind, I tried a spur-of-the-moment experiment with ASTD colleagues last fall by trying to participate in an ASTD conference I was unable to physically attend. And while the last-minute nature of that experiment limited the number of exchanges I had with those onsite colleagues, I did unexpectedly encounter one sign of success: interacting with onsite participants by responding to tweets rather than just retweeting content for others caused a couple of people to ask if I were actually there. When we see the lines blur so much that offsite participation creates the sense of onsite interaction, I believe we have, in the best of situations, moved beyond the idea that we can’t be there unless we’re there.

The inspiration to retry the experiment with more deliberate planning came after another ASTD colleague, Larry Straining, posted a note on his Facebook account to let others know he was sorry he wouldn’t be physically present this week, but that he was looking forward to seeing tweets from conference attendees.

“If we follow the backchannel a bit and interact as time allows, we might extend the reach of the conference in significant ways and, at the same time, learn even more about how to effectively incorporate social media into our training-teaching-learning process,” I wrote in response—and that’s exactly how it played out today as I followed, responded to, and interacted with onsite colleagues from the comfort of my own home.

TwitterIt didn’t take long for my initial retweets—including brief comments building upon that content—to begin being retweeted under the conference hashtag. And it took less than three hours for a wonderful colleague to pop that magic question: Are you here? Which, of course, inspired the response “yes and no,” depending on how we define “here.”

Those who remain skeptical of the power of online exchanges will immediately raise a number of objections, including the (mistaken) belief that we can only make new conference acquaintances and interact with conference colleagues when we are face-to-face—an idea we disproved when Larry and I, via Facebook exchanges extending his initial thoughts, drew one of his colleagues into the exchange. The colleague—Kent Brooks—asked Larry for permission to quote from Larry’s postings about the value of using a Twitter feed to stay in touch with colleagues at a conference. I dove back into the exchange to ask Kent whether he wanted to try to coordinate blog postings on the topic—at which point Larry formally introduced us to each other, and Kent and I quickly completed the “friend” process on Facebook to move things along. My own tweet (to the conference feed) documenting that we had met through the conference without physically being at the conference was retweeted—as was a follow-up tweet I forwarded to draw attention to Kent’s earlier piece on “10 Reasons to Tweet at a Conference.”

It probably goes without saying that I laughed out loud when I discovered that my retweet of Kent’s piece was itself, retweeted by others—including Melissa Daimler, who serves as head of organizational effectiveness and learning at Twitter and also serves on the ASTD Board of Directors.

Atkinson--BackchannelIt’s worth noting that one very important element making this level of onsite-offsite interaction possible is the existence of a very strong backchannel among the first-rate trainer-teacher-learners who are at the heart of ASTD. The quality of the tweets from ASTD conference attendees is among the strongest I encounter: multiple voices tweeting individual sessions (not just notes about where to meet for drinks or swag) so that it’s possible to gain a sense of what is being discussed onsite; combined with the use of a conference app that is easily accessible and includes schedules, speaker bios, session materials when presenters have made them available so we can view them from a distance, and much more; and observations which in themselves provide magnificent learning moments.

As we began to wind down toward the end of this ever-evolving cross-platform series of exchanges, Kent and I returned to Facebook and Larry’s original post.

“When you state in your [original “No Longer Left Behind”] post, ‘The real pay-off for the experiment came when the exchanges put me in touch with one of the presenters who had seen the retweets and comments. The result, in many ways, was exactly what it would have been if I had been onsite and meeting members of those expanding communities of learning and personal learning networks rather than feeling as if I were part of the left-behind gang,’ I would suggest it was better than a come and go exchange which includes the standard ‘business card trading ritual’ as it allowed you to follow them (on Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. and continue to learn from them beyond the 60 minutes of the session + the 5 minute rush to talk to the presenter immediately following the session,” Kent proposed.

To which I openly admitted: “It would have been true if I hadn’t treated the virtual exchange exactly as one of those business-card exchanges you describe. Just as I do keep and return to business card contacts occasionally as time allows (loud sound of rueful laughter here for missed opportunities), I do occasionally return to that sort of virtually-established contact—but not nearly enough. It would appear that bad habits onsite translate to bad habits online–but I’m continuing to learn, thanks to people like you who inspire me to look for ways to become a better trainer-teacher-learner.”

So, no, Facebook is not making me lonelier. And I’m far from ready to join others in delivering a eulogy for Twitter. And yes, it would be lovely to be there onsite at the conference with others. But if I were there, I wouldn’t have had this latest magnificent experiential learning opportunity to help me further understand, at a visceral level, what amazing tools we currently have at our trainer-teacher-learner fingertips. Each experience brings its own benefits, its own rewards. And having the opportunity to learn with my colleagues remains at the heart of what continues to draw me to these conferences and exchanges.

N.B. — Here’s Kent’s latest contribution to the conversation: Twitter Activity at #ASTD2014 Through Monday May 5 [2014]. Also found backchannel participation from Michelle Ockers on her blog.


Conferences, Twitter, and Staying Connected: No Longer Left Behind

October 28, 2013

An oft-repeated and rather poignant joke among some of my colleagues is becoming a thing of the past: those who wish they could but are unable to attend conferences—specifically those sponsored by the American Library Association—have long tried to keep up with onsite participants’ reports via Twitter, using the conference hashtag as well as #ALALeftBehind as points of connect. But more than a few of us are realizing that we can do more than sit by the virtual sidelines and watch everyone else have fun onsite, as I confirmed through a spur-of-the-moment experiment people attending the annual ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) Chapter Leaders Conference in Crystal City, Virginia a few days ago while I stayed home.

ASTD_ALC_2013--Logo

I’ve been on the other side of this left-behind fence many times, as I’ve noted through articles about participating onsite in backchannel conversations; ASTD colleague David Kelly has also written eloquently about Twitter, backchannels, and conferences. Several of us attending the annual ASTD International Conference & Exposition over the past couple of years have, as part of our Chapter Leader Day activities, reached out from the conference via short, live sessions to connect onsite colleagues with left-behind colleagues; we were attempting not only to reach out to and connect with those who stayed home, but to demonstrate how easy it could be for ASTD chapter leaders (or anyone else) to bring their local meetings to a larger audience through active Twitter feeds as well as via free tools including Google Hangouts and Skype. But I hadn’t been part of the #leftbehind gang until changing circumstances this year unexpectedly caused me, for the first time since 2008, to miss a couple of those onsite annual events that mean so much to me in terms of keeping up with my communities of learning and the ASTD colleagues who make up one very important part of my personal learning network (PLN).

The idea of trying to actively participate in the 2013 ASTD Chapter Leaders Conference via Twitter began taking shape when I saw a tweet from an onsite colleague expressing regret that I couldn’t be there for our annual joint presentation on nonprofit basics for chapter leaders. I jokingly responded, via Twitter, that I actually was there and that he had probably simply missed me up to that moment.

xplrpln_logoTransforming an offhand joke into the experiment quickly took shape as I thought about how I’ve been inspired to find new ways to reach out to members of my communities of learning and personal learning networks through the Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) course that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are currently facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program. Less than 48 hours earlier, in fact, another ASTD colleague who is not in that massive open online course (MOOC) had stumbled into an #xplrpln session via Twitter, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to toy with the idea of doing the same thing via Twitter, but with a bit more planning and more deliberate actions designed to foster two-way participation.

It didn’t take long for the experiment to produce wonderful—although somewhat limited—results. Using a Twitter management tool (I defaulted to HootSuite.com, but Twubs.com and Tweetchat.com are among the tools that could have worked just as easily) at the end of the first day of the conference, I skimmed the feed late that evening, retweeted a few of the more interesting items just as I would have done if I had actually been onsite, and added comments, knowing that this had the potential not only to inspire interactions with onsite attendees but also draw in a few of my own followers on Twitter if they either retweeted or responded to those late-night posts.

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoBy the next morning, a couple of onsite colleagues had responded. And a little later, during the second day of that two-day conference, a couple of onsite conference attendees actually retweeted the notes I had retweeted. I continued to participate throughout the day as time allowed. The real pay-off for the experiment came when the exchanges put me in touch with one of the presenters who had seen the retweets and comments. The result, in many ways, was exactly what it would have been if I had been onsite and meeting members of those expanding communities of learning and personal learning networks rather than feeling as if I were part of the left-behind gang. The positive aspects of this are obvious: with a bit more planning and organization, onsite and offsite participants could be interacting at far more significant levels than the limited amount of interaction this experiment nurtured. And the obvious weakness of this plan is that the small number of onsite participants tweeting summaries of sessions made it difficult to participate in more than a few of those sessions at this level. But it was an interesting start—one that offers a lot of promise for any of us who want to nurture our communities of learning and personal learning networks in every way possible. And I certainly felt far less left behind and far more connected as a trainer-teacher-learner than would otherwise have been the case.

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


ALA Annual Conference 2013: Backchannels Revisited

July 3, 2013

Attending conferences like the 2013 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference (held over the past several days here in Chicago) always provides a reminder, both positive and negative, of how far we have come in coping with life in an onsite-online world—and how far we still have to go in effectively using social media tools.

ALA_2013_Chicago_Logo_FINAL_CLR_0 (1)The opportunity to see and learn from colleagues is clearly a huge attraction for many of us; doing business (on the committees on which we serve, with the vendors upon whom we rely, and, for those of us working as consultants, with current and prospective clients) as well as having those spur-of-the-moment unplanned conversations that invariably happen even when there are more than 25,000 people onsite are absolutely inspirational. And combining our onsite presence with online activity through the Twitter backchannel, Facebook postings, and other online activities via laptops and mobile devices means that we have hundreds of onsite-online colleagues helping us find meetings, learning opportunities, after-hours gatherings, and other shared conference experiences we might otherwise have missed.

There is even an attempt to actively include those who are unable to physically attend the conference: the usual #ALALeftBehind hashtag not only kept us in contact with those who were interested but unable to attend—it often offered tongue-in-cheek opportunities to participate through virtual #alaleftbehind conference ribbons and even a very clever opportunity to be virtually photographed with a popular conference attendee.

As has been the case with other conferences I’ve attended, the ALA 2013 Annual Conference began with a bit of confusion about how best to reach colleagues arriving in Chicago. During the days leading up to the conference, many of us had inaccurately assumed that the official conference hashtag was #ala13—the conference URL started with “ala13”; there were numerous references online to that hashtag; it was the shortest possible combination many of us could imagine as a way of keeping up with each other (and when you only have 140 characters to convey a message, every typed character has to count); and the Twitter feed for #ala13 was very active. It wasn’t until many of us were onsite, however, that colleagues were nice enough to post tweets calling our attention to the official hashtag (#ala2013, with its extra two characters). The result, throughout the conference, was that any of us hoping to reach the largest possible number of colleagues ended up using both hashtags in our posts—a situation similar to what often happens with colleagues in the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) who face the #astd13/#astd2013 challenge when attending and/or following conference exchanges via Twitter.

ALA_2013--Top_TweetsThere were many times when both feeds were moving so quickly that it was impossible to either follow them in the moment or to follow them later by skimming earlier posts, for taking the time to try to review tweets invariably meant falling behind in the ever-developing stream of comments. American Libraries Senior Editor Beverly Goldberg (@americanlibraries) offered a playfully subjective bit of assistance by compiling lists of Top 10/Top 20 tweets while the conference was fully underway on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.  Reviewing her picks gives a wonderful overview of content—everything ranging from snippets from notable presentations to comments about the length of the lines at the onsite Starbucks outlets.

Bev, much to my surprise, included one of my paraphrases of a keynote speaker’s comment in her Friday list, then nailed me the following day in a very funny way by rerunning the same tweet on the next list and noting that I had suggested that standards must have been lowered if my tweets were making any sort of Top 10 list. (That’s OK, Bev, I know where you tweet!)

What doesn’t show up in those Top 10 lists is the reminder that some of our colleagues apparently need reminders that what happens in Twitter doesn’t necessarily stay in Twitter. There were the usual snarky comments from those who felt they needed to play den mother to the rest of us through cajoling notes about not wearing conference badges while walking city streets (I can’t imagine anyone reading one of those comments and thinking, “Oh, yes, that’s very helpful; thank you for making me a more responsible representative of my profession.”); standing to the right side of escalators so others could race up the left-hand side (why bother? the lines were going to be long at Starbucks no matter what time you arrived); and even writing critical comments to presenters while those presenters were in the middle of their presentations and clearly not paying any attention to the backchannel. All that those tweeters accomplished was to make the rest of us a little hesitant to have anything to do with them since those notes, at very least, indicated a level of incivility that present and future employers can’t help but notice.

There are certainly thousands of attendees who had great conference experiences without ever stepping into the Twittersphere and interacting at that level; there are also many of us who found our overall experience enhanced by combining our onsite and online presences. And now, as I’ve written after intensively engaging in other conferences, it’s nearly time to think about engaging in a digital media fast to decompress from several days of nonstop connectivity. But not quite yet: there are a still a few more tweets to read and a few more articles to complete.


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