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.

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

May 18, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NMC 2016: Transformative Ideas, Exploding Minds, and Hyper-normals

June 15, 2016

The first full day of the NMC (New Media Consortium) 2016 Summer Conference here in Rochester, New York is far from over, but we’re already seeing signs that it’s a wonderfully transformative gathering of educator/trainer/ed-tech innovators from all over the world.

NMC_2016_Summer_Conference_LogoOur minds are exploding with ideas coming from formal sessions, informal hallway and over-meal conversations, and online interactions with colleagues who are here even though they’re actually participating via Twitter and other online platforms rather than traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to join the party. Our vocabulary and our approach to teaching-training-learning-doing is growing as a result of the exchanges—one person in the “Rethinking Digital Literacy” session I facilitated earlier this afternoon, for example, expanded our richly-descriptive vocabulary by observing that “I’m in a room with a bunch of ‘hyper-normals.’” And many of us are already committing to concrete actions we will take, when we return to our day-to-day learning landscapes, as a result of what we are learning/experiencing/discussing here.

As always, the learning begins at the moment we arrive in the conference city. Many of us start running into each other in hotel lobbies, coffee shops, restaurants, or local cultural centers even before the first formal onsite session begins. We also begin interacting via conference backchannels on Twitter; through our own pre-conference preparation including reading and blogging; pre-conference meals; and, sometimes, through phone calls with colleagues who cannot be here or are not yet here. It continues through the formal keynote/plenary sessions, like the engaging and inspiring “Games, Learning, and Society” presentation by Constance Steinkuehler that opened the NMC 2016 Summer Conference this morning.

Steinkuehler set a wonderful tone for the learning through numerous pithy, insightful observations, including the ideas that all game are models and simulations of something; that games are architecture for engagement—designed to be sticky; that games are vehicles for interest-based learning; and that games can make students care about what they’re learning by sparking curiosity.


A 2015 webinar title captures the essence of the current conference

Breakout sessions on a variety of topics have offered—and will continue to offer—engaging opportunities to hear our best colleagues bringing us up to date on ed-tech trends, challenges, and developments. A lunch-time town-hall meeting gave us an opportunity to discuss and influence the future of NMC onsite as well as online through an NMCNext website. A playful “Five Minutes of Fame” session later today will expose us to a variety of cutting-edge case studies. And informal “Idea Lab” offerings tomorrow capture “the best in big thinking from the NMC community” so we can “learn about the latest edtech projects through interactives, posters, and all kinds of formats that showcase how the future of learning is happening right now,” conference organizers tell us in the official conference program booklet.

All of this is what NMC as a highly-focused, extremely collaborative, and forward-thinking community of learning does best. It provides us with a blended onsite-online platform to engage and explore opportunities for thinking and for action in the ed-tech arena. It brings us together in ways we would not otherwise convene and encounter and interact with each other. It supports a process of contributing to positive transformation at a local, regional, national, and international level. And it knows enough to make sure that all of this is fun, inspiration, and capable of producing concrete results.

ATD ICE 2016: Tapestries, Transformations, and Pedicabs

May 23, 2016

Memorable learning experiences (e.g., workshops, webinars, and well-designed conferences) often are tapestries of personal experiences and shared wisdom-of-the-crowd moments—and there is no doubt in my mind that the ATD  (the Association for Talent Development) 2016 International Conference and Exposition (ICE) that is currently unfolding in Denver can be described in those terms.

ATD_ICE_2016_LogoThere are several thousand of us here. Each of us is having our own personal conference, with its own spectacularly transformative learning moments. And there is a communal (collaboratively shaped and shared) experience that, as I wrote in an earlier piece, transcends time and physical space. Each of us—whether we’re actually physically onsite, participating from an offsite location via the Twitter hashtag (#atd2016) and other social media resources, or, in the best of all worlds we can imagine and actually help construct, creating a completely blended experience—brings our own unique experiences and expectations to our world-sized conference “room.” Each of us also benefits from the shared moments ranging from hallway conversations and discussions over dinner to the we’re-all-in-this-together communal experience of inspiration that comes from being with thousands of others in a huge auditorium while enjoying a keynote speaker’s presentation. (This, in its own way, extends as well to our offsite co-conspirators, aka fellow learners, who are creating a conference-as-learning-experience by reading and responding to what we are also creating in the Twitter backchannel, on Facebook, on Periscope, and elsewhere. )

Each time I participate in a conference onsite, online, or both—the blended approach is one I increasingly pursue with increasingly-lovely pleasures and rewards—I end up walking away transformed. I consciously attempt, through my writing and the use of tech tools including Storify, to capture and extend those moments of transformation so they won’t be lost to me or to colleagues interested in pursuing their own equally delightful individually and communally-constructed pleasures and rewards. And just when I mistakenly believe I have explored and shared all there is to explore and share in this admittedly odd approach to blended-learning, I find myself experiencing another five-year-old-child’s moment of wonder.


(almost) no one left outside the conversations at #atd2016

The almost naïve sense of wonder this week has come from further incorporating simple (low-tech) phone calls into the more high-tech, innovative blended-learning mix that is becoming increasingly familiar to many of us. It started a couple of days ago when, even before getting out of bed here in the hotel where I am staying, I saw that one of my cherished training-teaching-learning-doing friend-colleague-mentors (Maurice Coleman) was already up on the other side of the country and posting items on Facebook (for shame, Maurice: posting on Facebook before noon on a Saturday!). Missing the sound of his voice and the unique insights he would bring to the table if he were physically here, I called with the intention of talking with him for no more than a few minutes; more than half an hour later, we had completed an exploration by phone that helped me connect what I had experienced in an entirely different blended environment a week earlier with what was unfolding here—part of the process of constructing my personal conference-as-learning-moment here at ATD ICE 2016.

Because it was such an unexpectedly stimulating and rewarding moment and because it was becoming an important thread in the tapestry-in-progress I am creating, I repeated the call to him yesterday morning after seeing him, once again, posting before noon on a weekend. And that’s when the ATD ICE 2016 magic leapt to a higher level: the result of our conversation was that Maurice—who is not (yet) an ATD member—actively joined the #atd2016 conversation. And colleagues here onsite started interacting with him via #atd2016. And then another of my non-ATD training-teaching-learning-doing colleagues jumped in by retweeting one of Maurice’s conference tweets. And I started interacting with that colleague via the conference Twitter backchannel, too.


a combination of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and “Fellini’s Roma”

As Maurice and I were finishing our second ATD-ICE-2016-by-smartphone conversation, he asked me to give him a blow-by-blow description of a walk I had taken with friends here the previous evening because he was intrigued by how that walk had begun at the end of a three-hour-long conversation with one group of colleagues in a local tavern and somehow extended for the duration of a combined walk/pedicab ride to a restaurant where we continued that conversation with a slightly reformed group we acquired on our way to dinner. He grew more and more incredulous as I told him how we would unexpectedly meet someone who then joined the group while others peeled off as needed to participate in other conversations/learning moments. And I suspect his jaw dropped a bit when I told him about the brief stopover in a hotel lobby where, while I was attempting to send a direct message to a colleague via Twitter, I turned around to discover that the intended recipient of the tweet was walking across the lobby to say hello to what then constituted the core of that particular iteration of the group. She eagerly accepted our invitation to join us as we made the spur-of-the-moment decision to take pedicabs the rest of the way to the restaurant. (You probably already know that breaking a group of six trainer-teacher-learner-doers into groups of two and creating a mini-caravan of pedicabs up a major thoroughfare in a city like Denver is going to result in a wonderfully bizarre scenario that looks like a combination of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Fellini’s Roma. We were happy. The fabulous pedicab drivers were happy. And no residents of Denver appear to have been injured in the course of our move from hotel lobby to restaurant dining room.)

There’s so much to unpack in all that I’ve attempted to describe here. And there’s so much more ahead of us as our conference-as-personal-and-communal learning moment continues to unfold. But what is clear to me at this stage in the game is what I said to a close friend over dinner the night I arrived here: what I most look forward to at these conference-as-learning-moments is the experience I don’t yet know I am going to have.

That’s the magic of learning.


N.B.: Paul’s onsite participation at ATD ICE in May 2016 includes the following activities:

The “10 Tips for Incorporating Ed-Tech Into Your Own Development” article he wrote for his session has been published and is available on the ATD Learning Technologies blog, and he has three brief reviews attached to books available in the ICE bookstore onsite here in Denver.


ATD ICE 2016: The Size of the Room, Revisited

May 22, 2016

As several thousand members of ATD  (the Association for Talent Development) from all over the world gather in Denver for our annual International Conference and Exposition (ICE), it would be easy, at times, to forget how large the rooms in which we are meeting are.  The myriad ways in which countless members of this spectacular community of learning are helping to expand our concepts of what it means to “attend” a conference or participate in other learning opportunities. And how inclusive we can be with just the slightest bit of creativity, innovation, and effort.

ATD_ICE_2016_LogoOur ability to draw people in, as I frequently note in conversations with colleagues and in learning opportunities I design and facilitate, has increased exponentially through increasingly far-reaching and widely available tech tools. There is the obvious use of a Twitter backchannel to somewhat blur the lines between onsite and offsite participation in conferences and other learning opportunities like ICE. There are the moments shared on Facebook in ways that strengthen our already strong sense of community. There are Google Hangouts and numerous other tools to turn huge geographical distances into virtual spaces that make us feel, at a visceral level, as if we are all in the same room even if that room extends over hundreds or thousands of miles. And there are even the much older, more familiar, and often overlooked vehicles (including telephones) that we can turn to when we don’t want to be left behind or don’t want to leave cherished colleagues behind. The result, of course, is a richer, deeper, more nuanced level of participation in our associations and with our colleagues than has ever before been possible.

I think about how much reaching out occurred today (Saturday)—the day before ICE formally opens—and I marvel at what all of us have accomplished together and how many people we’ve already drawn into our global conference room. Seeing that Maurice Coleman (a colleague in Maryland) was already active on Facebook early this morning, I called him from Denver for a brief conversation, mentioned that we will have a very active Twitter backchannel (#atd2016) here, and invited him to expand the room by skimming the feed over the next several days, retweeting what appealed to him, and, most importantly, reacting to the tweets he saw so he would, as I have already done numerous times, become part of the conversation and the overall conference experience in which so many transformative conversations take place in our blended onsite-online environment.

...using every possible means to draw others into the conversations...

…using every possible means to draw others into the conversations…

Lucky enough to be part of inspiring, thought- and action-provoking conversations throughout the day with some of the most creative, innovative, and passionate trainer-teacher-learner-doers I know (including a couple who live in Denver but are not affiliated with ATD), I looked for every possible opportunity I could pursue to draw others into those increasingly dynamic and inspiring conversations while also sharing thoughts from those non-ATD members with my fellow conference attendees.

It was obvious that everyone physically present at every table I joined was doing the same thing. At times it involved little more than calling out to someone who happened to be passing by a coffee shop, tavern, or restaurant where we were sitting. At other times, we would reach out or respond by Twitter to invite others to join us where we were or simply include them in on the conversations by tweeting out what seemed worth sharing. And at one point, when we were thinking about a colleague who had recently experienced a personal tragedy that left kept him from traveling to Denver to be with us, we simply called him from the place where we were all sitting and passed the phone around to be sure he knew the physical distance did not at all represent a separation from his ATD family at a time when contact with other members of that family would be particularly meaningful to him.

I heard people colleagues excited about—and getting the rest of us excited about the ways in which they are working to produce results-driven learning in their workplaces. I heard colleagues talking about the innovative approaches they are taking to leadership training. I sat with Sardek Love, a cherished colleague who has done more than anyone else I know personally to mentor colleagues younger and older than he is so he strengthens us and our profession (and helps all of us better serve those who look to us for assistance) rather than giving even the slightest thought to the possibility that he might be creating completion for himself. We just don’t think that way; we revel in our own growth and in the growth of those around us, knowing that every step forward makes all of us better, builds a stronger community of training-teaching-learning-doing for all of us, and, as ATD so wonderfully suggests, creates “a world that works better.”

And as my day draws to an end and I already look forward to even more stimulatingly transformative moments over the next several days, I think back to that initial conversation with Maurice this morning. Savor the pleasure of being part of an amazingly dedicated group of learning facilitators who make a difference every day—every day—by doing all they can to be sure the doors through which we pass remain as open as they possibly can be. And hope that everyone reading this finds way to place a hand on the doorknob that just needs to be turned the slightest bit to make the door open to him or her, also.


N.B.: Paul’s participation at ATD ICE in May 2016 includes the following activities:

The “10 Tips for Incorporating Ed-Tech Into Your Own Development” article he wrote for his session has been published and is available on the ATD Learning Technologies blog, and he has three brief reviews attached to books available in the ICE bookstore onsite here in Denver.

From eLearning to Learning (Pt. 4 of 5): A Case Study in Blended Learning

May 19, 2016

Mount_Prospect_Discovery_Zone--2016-05-12The unexpectedly explosive and transformational decision to try using Twitter to incorporate positive onsite-online e-learning experiences into Mount Prospect Public Library’s 2016 Staff Inservice Day “From eLearning to Learning” (the day-long exploration of how staff at the Library can better define and incorporate e-learning into its work) was almost an afterthought. It came up and was quickly adopted during a final planning meeting the day before the event, as I mentioned in the third of these five “case study” postings.

It’s not as if Twitter as part of our e-learning landscape is unfamiliar to trainer-teacher-learner-doers; we use it extensively in learning opportunities ranging from conference backchannel discussions to tweet chats along the lines of what #lrtnchat, #etmooc, and many others do. I often, through the “Rethinking Social Media” course I designed and facilitate for ALA Editions, call attention to the intriguing, cutting-edge work Rey Junco has done with Twitter and other social media tools in academic settings. And I’ve been lucky enough to experience high-end, dynamically-facilitated blended environments through participation in events creatively crafted by the New Media Consortium and other organizations.

But using it as a way of helping our “From eLearning to Learning” co-conspirators (the learners shaping and participating in the day-long event at the Library) opened doors none of us even began to imagine at the moment during which we initially discussed creating and using #mpplsid16 as a way of showing how social media tools can creatively, effectively, and easily help us redefine our learning spaces.

We primed the pump to engage in some major onsite rethinking about e-learning at the beginning of “From eLearning to Learning” by showing a few photographs taken within the Library and asking “Are These eLearning Spaces?”

E-learning space?

E-learning space?

E-learning space?

E-learning space?

E-learning space?

E-learning space?

Within the first few minutes of my highly-interactive 45-minute keynote presentation/discussion, very few people responded to the question with a “yes.” By the time we finished that initial keynote/discussion period about what the term “e-learning” means in our learning environments, almost every hand in the room shot up in response to the same question asked while the same images were again on display—an acknowledgement that any space in which we have Internet access is potentially an e-learning space. (One lovely note I received at the end of the day built upon the conversation with a suggestion that made me smile: “Your Elearning spaces slide needs a picture of my Dodge Caravan.”)

More importantly, that rapid expansion of everyone’s vision of what the e-learning landscape currently encompasses provided an amazing demonstration of the way a well-designed learning opportunity, developed collaboratively with learners and their representatives, can transform learners (and learning facilitators) within a very short period of time.

TwitterHaving suggested to our co-conspirators that they could use Twitter as a way to take notes to which they could later return, and as a way to extend the reach of our gathering far beyond the physical walls of the various rooms in which we were meeting, I turned my full attention to the onsite setting during my keynote presentation. I didn’t return to Twitter until we had our first break—the one between the keynote and the first of three periods set aside for breakout discussions. I was absolutely floored by the level of tweeting that was already occurring. Some people were responding (very positively) to what was taking place; others were observing what was happening around them. And a few were sharing content in those Twitteresque 140-character bursts that shot around the world. The result was that we were beginning to work onsite and online simultaneously, and a few of the tweets were being retweeted by others across the United States and in Europe (apparently attracted by my occasional use of the combined hashtags #learning and #innovation).

Seizing the opportunity during the break, I retweeted a few of the more thoughtful tweets and responded to a few of the tweeters—which, of course, set the tone for an extended onsite-online expaned-e-learning-environment conversation that was still continuing as I rode a commuter train from Mount Prospect into Chicago early that evening.

Recognizing the potential there for a stand-alone learning object that anyone could continue to draw upon as long as it remains available, I remained in my hotel room an hour longer than anticipated before heading out for dinner; I knew that if I didn’t collect and transfer those tweets into a Storify document that included light annotations to set the context for what had just occurred, I would lose the in-the-moment excitement the entire experience had generated. It was available to anyone that wanted to seek it out less than four hours after “From eLearning to Learning” had adjourned. It also has become part of an overall “From eLearning to Learning” suite of freely accessible resources for anyone interested in trying a similar experiment within their own learning environment; links are included at the bottom of this post.

Mt_Prospect_LogoI was part of the first-rate Mount Prospect Public Library Staff Inservice Day planning team that designed and facilitated the process. I was the keynote presenter-facilitator, and trained the staff facilitators who led the breakout sessions. I know Twitter, I use Twitter, and I adore what is good about Twitter. But even I remain stunned by the depth of learning and the nuances contained within that particular Storify item. It has plenty of playful exchanges. It has tweets acknowledging the conversational nature of the “From eLearning to Learning” Twitter feed. It has lovely, poignant tweets about personal learning experiences—including one about how the Library director posted her first tweet as a result of what she was experiencing that day. It had some wonderful comments about how much staff enjoyed and learned from the event, and how enthusiastically they are looking forward to building upon what we built together in the best of all possible experiential-learning (hands-on) approaches—something fun, engaging, meaningful, replicable, and actionable.

But what stands out to me most as I continue rereading it, skimming it for previously-missed gems, discussing it with friends and colleagues, and learning from what all of us at Mount Prospect Public Library created out of our individual and communal learning experiences within that very attractive and dynamic community of learning, is how much it captures the wonderful results flowing from onsite-online (blended) learning opportunities that are learner-centric, goal-driven, and designed to produce results.

Next: After “From eLearning to Learning (Continuing the Training-Teaching-Learning-Doing Process)” 

NB: This is the fourth of five articles documenting the process of helping to plan and facilitate a day-long exploration of how to effectively incorporate e-learning into our learning process. Companion components to “From eLearning to Learning” currently include a PowerPoint slide deck with extensive speaker notes, a facilitator’s guide, a lightly edited and annotated Storify document capturing that part of the conversation that occurred via Twitter, and online shared documents that contain content added by the learners during throughout the day of the main event. Some are shared here through those live links with the express approval of Mount Prospect Public Library training staff. For help in developing and facilitating a similar event tailored to your organization, please contact Paul at

ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting: Learning How to Make a Meeting

February 1, 2015

When as association like the American Library Association (ALA) sets out to empower its members by fostering collaboration, magic happens, as a few of us saw again yesterday while attending an open discussion about online learning in libraries at the ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting here in Chicago.

ALAMW15--LogoArriving early for a 90-minute session, seven of us who had not previously met engaged in brief, informal conversation for several minutes while waiting for the session facilitator to arrive. And when it became clear that the facilitator was not going to arrive, we quickly decided we weren’t going to take the typical tact of assuming we should leave because the session had been cancelled. ALA, after all, does many things very, very well—including creating opportunities where members interact informally, help shape the conversations we want to join, and extend conversations across onsite and online platforms to be sure no interested member is left behind.

Because most of the members in that room are involved in training-teaching-learning endeavors in university libraries, we’re familiar with how to design and facilitate effective learning opportunities, so we quickly agreed to start by introducing ourselves and the work we do. We then agreed that we wanted a couple of  clear-cut learning objectives: an exchange of ideas about the current state of online learning in libraries, and the possibility of initiating a conversation that would continue long after that initial 90-minute session came to an end. So we exchanged business cards, took a few minutes to describe what we hoped to learn from each other during our time together, and even, thanks to one participant’s action, created an online document to capture highlights from the conversation in the hope that the document would quickly evolve into an ongoing “learning space” where we could continue to learn with and from each other.

One of the most striking elements of this entire meeting created on the fly was how it reflected so much of what is happening in training-teaching-learning today: a recognition that learners gain by shaping their own learning experiences—as we did during those 90 minutes of conversation. And that collaborative or connected learning is most effective when there is no one dominant voice in a learning situation. If everyone contributes, everyone gains—which is what ALA so effectively nurtures by bringing colleagues together in ways that combine formal and informal learning while connecting onsite and offsite colleagues in engaging ways.

Community_College_Research_Center_LogoAs we created our own meeting/discussion within the overall Midwinter Meeting context, we found immediate payoffs. In sharing observations about what is happening among undergraduates engaged in online learning, we learned that the University of Arizona University Libraries has an open source program called Guide on the Side and that is has been successful enough to be adopted by others. We explored the challenge so many of us face in trying to define and support digital literacy and shared links to resources including Doug Belshaw’s online Ph.D. thesis on digital literacy: What Is Digital Literacy? A Pragmatic Investigation. We briefly explored the challenges of working with learners in online environments when those learners have been inadequately prepared to thrive in online learning environments, and heard a bit about the first-rate report Adaptability to Online Learning: Differences Across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas, by Di Xu and Shanna Smith Jaggars, published through the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, at Columbia University.

Moving on to the topic of Open Educational Resources (OERs) in learning, we heard a colleague summarize what she had learned earlier in the day while attending an Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) OER session here at the Midwinter Meeting. OERs, she noted, are offering great benefits for international distance learners—including access to OERs in a timely fashion instead of making those learners wait weeks for standard printed textbooks to arrive via mail. We learned that Rice University is doing great work with OER textbooks through its OpenStax College and that more libraries are beginning to work in this area—actually appointing “OER librarians.” We heard about colleagues who are first-rate resources for us on the topic of OERs, e.g., Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education for SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition); David Wiley, Associate Professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University; and Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian Temple University, through his work on open textbooks.

We heard numerous examples of how colleagues are engaging learners by creating and embedding personal videos in online courses, facilitating online forums that include audio feedback to learners, and using Twitter, Facebook, and Google Hangouts for online office hours and other learning opportunities that are showing online learning can be every bit as personal and engaging as face-to-face learning can be.

A frequently-used tagline used by ALA to describe its conferences and large-scale meetings is “the conversation begins here.” Conversations certainly began in that small conference room yesterday afternoon, and may well continue through extended interactions in virtual “learning spaces” including live tweet chats, development of that shared online document, and even blog articles along the lines of this one. They key is that we are responsible for fostering our own learning, creating our own meetings, and taking full advantage of the learning opportunities that continue to come our way through the simple act of association.

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 and the show daily, Cognotes, at

“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”

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.

#oclmooc, Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses), and ATD Chapter Leaders: How Big Is the Room?  

October 17, 2014

A recent week-long trip to spend time with Association for Talent Development (ATD) colleagues and other friends in the Washington, D.C. area provided yet another reminder of how seamlessly interwoven our blended (onsite-online) communities have become. Walls are permeable. Distances become negligible. And connections—and connected learning—are abundant in many parts of the world.

ATD_LogoThe “Perfect Blend: Seamlessly Serving [Chapter] Members Onsite and Online” session I designed and co-presented with New Media Consortium colleague Samantha Adams Becker and Larry Straining (serving as our tweet-stream manager) at the 2014 ATD Chapter Leaders Conference was designed to demonstrate how well-blended we all are becoming through training-teaching-learning. What it really did for me, at a personal level, was serve as a central example of a weeklong intensive immersion in pushing the envelope of what the combination of people and easy-to-use tech tools can produce.

What made “Perfect Blend” work for so many of us was the onsite interactions my colleagues and I had with Samantha, who participated in the session, from her home in the Chicago area, via a Google Hangout. Samantha and I had successfully engaged in this level of interaction with other ATD colleagues several times, so the gist of what she, Larry, and I were attempting to convey was that tools such as Hangouts and Twitter, when used effectively, make it possible for us to feel as if we’re physically in the same space with people who are actually hundreds or thousands of miles away. It’s telepresence without the associated high price tag. And, once again, it worked very well as we quickly jettisoned the formal presentation we had prepared and simply engaged with our colleagues face-to-face, via the Hangout, and via the Twitter stream that Larry so masterfully managed during the hour-long session. As the session came to an end, we knew that we had effectively answered a question I asked at the beginning of the hour (“how big is this room?”) with the obvious answer: our room—our learning space—is as big as our use of technology makes it—700 miles wide if we consider the distance between Chicago (where Samantha was sitting) and the Washington, D.C. area, where most of us were participating. Or a couple of thousand miles wide if we consider some of the interactions we had via Twitter with others during and after the formal session.

oclmooc_logoIt was clear to everyone that, as we said during the session, we (trainer-teacher-learners) are social people who are frequently drawn together in social situations, so we’re becoming increasingly comfortable with our ability to socialize while we learn onsite and online. It’s equally clear that the technology we’re exploring allows us to create social learning spaces that are variations on the Third Place that Ray Oldenburg first described in 1989 in his book The Great Good Place. It’s very much a part of what we see through our interactions within connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs) such as the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc), the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses), the Educational Technology & Media MOOC (#etmooc), and the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC (#xplrpln). It’s also very much a part of a world where connections overlap with connections that, in turn, overlap with other connections.

ccourses_logoAnd that’s what I saw throughout the week. The conversations during the “Perfect Blend” session were interwoven with face-to-face and online exchanges in the days preceding and following that learning opportunity. Some were with ATD colleagues; others were with my #oclmooc and #ccourses colleagues. They even carried over, via the conference backchannel, into exchanges with training-teaching-learning colleagues who were completely unfamiliar with the ATD Chapter Leaders Conference, but entered the conversations a bit and interacted directly with each other without any previous face-to-face or online contact by retweeting comments from the conference and offering their own observations about the various topics we were discussing. They extended further as I had brief exchanges with learners in the “Rethinking Library Instruction: Libraries as Social Learning Centers” I’m currently facilitating for the American Library Association, and carried some of those learners’ thoughts back to my ATD Chapter Leaders Conference colleagues.

But it didn’t stop there. After the conference ended and after I had a couple of days to relax in our nation’s capital while continuing to interact with various members of my overlapping communities of learning, I saw one additional enlargement of the room: I was able to interact, from 37,000 feet above our planet, with #oclmooc colleagues in a live session that connected my cross-country flight with trainer-teacher-learners in Alberta (Canada) and several places throughout the United States.

So I return to the expansive question—how big is our room?—and see, as I shared with many of those colleagues, that the room is as big as we and our technology can make it. Cross-country. International. And even above the planet. Which makes our social learning space a wonderfully large and magnificent place to be.

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

#oclmooc and Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses): Learning, Connecting Globally, and Tweeting from the Air  

October 14, 2014

It’s not often that I feel inspired to try live tweeting during a cross-country flight. But then again, I don’t often have the opportunity to explore the extreme edges of connected learning with colleagues while more than 37,000 feet above the surface of our planet. There’s something very satisfying about this sort of learning experience that becomes an ouroboros-like example of itself, and I’m trying to literally go full circle by blogging about it before my WiFi-enabled flight from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco lands.

oclmooc_logoWe can start with this connected-learning ouroboros by noting that many of us in several countries are currently learning about connected learning by participating in at least one of two connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs): the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc) and the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses). We can then follow the curve of this figurative ouroboros by adding the fact that a live Week 3 (“Collaboration and Community”) event within #oclmooc connected us, via Blackboard Collaborate, to a highly interactive session about The Global Read Aloud that connects young learners, teachers, parents, librarians, and others around the world through the reading of a specific book within a well-defined period of time. The #oclmooc interwoven connections circle around further by bringing us together with Global Read Aloud creator Pernille Ripp and with Kelli Holden, an Alberta-based fourth-grade teacher involved in The Global Read Aloud. We see our growing interconnections circling back to their point of origin through online connections fostered by live-tweeting from a few of us who were participating in the session in the United States and Canada. And I find my own connected-learning experience enhanced by trying something new—something inspired by necessity: participating in this session from the air rather than on ground because it is taking place while I’m in transit—something that previously kept me from being part of learning opportunities I had not wanted to miss.

Global_Read_Aloud--LogoOnce we move past the novelty of engaging in this level of air-to-earth connected learning (in this case, learning about the Global Read Aloud with colleagues spread over an enormous geographic range), we realize once again that the technology takes a back seat to the content—and the learning. We hear Pernille talking about how she was inspired by a dream of a world connected by a book when she was creating Project Read Aloud. We visit the project website and read her reminder that “[g]lobal collaboration is necessary to show students that they are part of something bigger than them” and that endeavors such as The Global Read Aloud provide opportunities for them to speak to each other. We learn that more than 300,000 students are currently connecting through the project, and that more than 500,000 from more than 60 countries have participated since Project Read Aloud began in summer 2010. And we wonder what we might be doing to translate that sort of massive open online and onsite labor of love into efforts that would be equally compelling, engaging, and rewarding for adult learners around the world.

Holden then builds upon her own connected-learning efforts in this arena by letting us know that the participants are using many of the same tools we use within our connectivist MOOCs, including Twitter and Google+ communities. She tells us that using a Twitter backchannel can be as rewarding and engaging for the young Global Read Aloud participants as it can be for the adult communities of learning that foster effective backchannels. We see through chat exchanges that the end of this session will not be the end of the connections #oclmooc is inspiring. And the world begins to look even more connected from 37,000 feet than I ever imagined it could be.

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

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