ALA 2011 Midwinter Meeting: Trainers, Starfish, and Levels of Engagement in an Onsite-Online World

January 7, 2011

It wasn’t all that long ago that many of us involved in workplace learning and performance saw our face-to-face and online communities as nonintersecting elements of our lives. Face-to-face contact was perceived to somehow be more rewarding, offering deeper, richer relationships than those we had online.

Having dinner last night with a small group of ALA Learning Round Table colleagues who are here in San Diego to attend the 2011 American Library Association (ALA) midwinter meeting reminded me once again how far we’ve come. What became a tradition of gathering a few of us involved in learning opportunities for or within libraries for an evening of dinner and conversation spiced abundantly with an exchange of ideas and resources has, over the past few years, evolved into an opportunity to create and sustain a third place not defined by a physical geographical location—and it really continues to grow through the online contacts we maintain throughout the year.

What in Ray Oldenburg’s concept of The Great Good Place was a world comprised of our home as our first place, work as our second place, and a third place comprised of the treasured community site where we, our friends, and colleagues come and go has, in the age of Web 2.0 and online communities facilitated through social networking tools, come full circle. We now have a third place which can begin either face to face or online, be nurtured through frequent and productive online exchanges—meetings, online chats, regularly scheduled conversations on themes of interest to all participants—and also include those face-to-face encounters in physical settings which change from month to month and year to year depending on where members of the community find themselves crossing paths.

More importantly, the result of this sort of fluid and flexible community which moves back and forth between physical and virtual encounters produces the sort of development and exchange of ideas that Frans Johansson so effectively describes in his The Medici Effect—a tribute to what happens when people of differing backgrounds meet, exchange ideas, and, through their intersection, develop and disseminate new ideas.

Which is exactly what happened again last night. The five of us who were able to extend our continuing long-distance conversations did not arrive with an agenda—that’s neither third place nor Medici Effect thinking. And we did not limit ourselves to discussing what is happening in workplace learning and development or in libraries, although those are the common threads which originally brought us all together. The conversation actually began as many third-place conversations do: with comments about issues that are on our minds, including the anger and frustration we feel that basic social issues such as finding ways to do more than feel bad when we see homeless people sleeping on the streets of the cities which are our homes are not being addressed while members of our national legislature read the American Constitution to each other.

And here’s where our onsite-online third place took an interesting Medici Effect twist: one of our colleagues mentioned that out of her personal frustration came the practice of having a bag of groceries in her car so that when she is running errands and comes across someone in need of food, she has something she can give them.  It seems to be an inadequate response to a huge problem, she suggested, but it serves as a step in the right direction of remaining engaged with members of her own community.  Another colleague present for our third-place gathering jumped in with what she called the story—dare we use the word parable here?—of the girl and the starfish: a young girl, spotting thousands of starfish being washed up on a beach, began throwing some back into the water and, when questioned why she was addressing such an insurmountably large challenge with an action that seemed so insignificant, responded that it wasn’t insignificant to the starfish that she saved.

It didn’t take us long to identify the Medici Effect moment in both stories: what was, up to that moment, an individual effort of providing small offerings of food took on greater import through the sharing of the story about the bags of groceries. If even one of us hearing the story adopts the practice of carrying and distributing groceries to those in need, then our colleague’s action has been multiplied and we are one step closer to supporting what she has inspired to the benefit of those who might otherwise not receive the gift of being acknowledged as members of our overall community.

And at a human level, there was even more: one element that makes our third-place/Medici Effect onsite-online community continue to thrive and grow is that there are no overtly closed doors—new members join as quickly as they express interest in becoming part of the overall conversation.

That happened again last night when our wonderful waitress at Mint Downtown Thai restaurant became part of the various conversations we had and, upon learning that we were among the more than 5,000 people spending the next several days in San Diego to attend the ALA midwinter meeting, immediately asked us each to tell her what our favorite books are so she would have more works to explore. Among those suggested: the novels Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett; The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruis Zafón; and The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay, along with the Notzake Shange’s poetry collection For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf. And, as is the obligation of any member of a third-place/Medici Effect community, she responded with her own favorites: Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

So, for those of us who were present—including new community member Ashli at Mint Downtown Thai—we had our cake and ate it too: we walked away with encouragement and inspiration to continue doing what we do, and we had the added benefit of being reminded of books we need to read—or reread—as our onsite-online connections continue growing.


Trainers Learning: Conferences, Training, and Communities of Learning (Part 1 of 2)

January 15, 2010

Inspired by numerous conversations with trainer-teacher-learners attending an annual American Library Association (ALA) conference a couple of years ago, I was struck by how much of what we all do is firmly rooted in the concept of building communities while having fun–and by how much a conference can help us in this valuable endeavor.

From the moment we arrived, we seemed to be engaged in one continual series of planned and unplanned encounters. At times the gatherings were small, as when a few of us from Infopeople met one afternoon to discuss a proposed marketing plan for the organization, or when a handful of trainers from all over the country met for dinner and discussion of what is happening in the libraries which we serve. At other times, the sheer number of people walking the exhibits hall to see what publishers and other vendors were offering libraries seemed to make any sort of meaningful encounter unlikely. And yet, the opposite was true.  I very quickly lost count of how many times, while strolling the aisles of the exhibition area, I ran into colleagues who were willing to take advantage of these chance encounters to discuss what we were doing and find ways to move our overlapping projects forward to the benefit of the organizations and colleagues with whom we work.

At the heart of this, I believe, is something basic: the need to associate. The need to build something greater than any one of us can build alone. The desire to not be bored and fall into routines which serve no one but the lazy. The desire to constantly learn or create new things while retaining and nurturing the best of what we and our predecessors have already developed.

The result for us and those we encounter is the creation of ever-expanding formal and informal communities of learning. Dancing along the cutting edge of what libraries and training-teaching-learning can and should and do offer without fear of falling off. Sharing ideas to the benefit of everyone around the table and all who couldn’t be at that table but, through hearing or reading the stories that we spread, feel as if they were.

It’s all about listening, adapting, and passing it on as in the Wikinomics model described by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams—setting aside any concern about others using what we develop without providing us with immediate monetary compensation. The real payoff comes in knowing that whatever compensation we “lose” is more than made up for by what we gain through the collaborations which result from the exchange of information, ideas, and knowledge at conferences, in our workplaces when we return home, and in other parts of our lives where what we learn contributes to community.

N.B.: An earlier version of this article was originally posted on Infoblog.

Next: Tips for Conference Attendees


Acknowledging Connections, Community, and Learning through Connected Educator Month

October 11, 2013

Celebrating Connected Educator Month, for those of us involved in training-teaching-learning, is a bit like celebrating the existence of air: connections pump life into much of what we do, yet we often take them for granted rather than indulging in joyfully inclusive acknowledgement of what they produce.

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoIt’s well worth expressing gratitude, therefore, to our colleagues in the U.S. Department of Education for sponsoring the event that is so wonderfully described in an online video, evident through the online listings of events, and supported by the numerous online resources even though the sponsors themselves are at least temporarily disconnected as a result of the current shutdown of Federal Government operations. It’s also worth noting that the list of participating organizations is quite extensive.

What makes Connected Educator Month personal, furthermore, is the opportunity it provides to reflect on the connections that support and inspire us and those we serve, so here’s a challenge to colleagues near and far: post your own thoughts, in response to this article and Connected Educators Month in general, here on this blog as well as on your own blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and anywhere else that allows us to strengthen the connections that so effectively support us and make us so much better than we would be without them.

Looking at connections within my own learning environment makes me realize how fortunate and wealthy I am in terms of what connections and connectivity provide at every possible level. There is the joy of being part of a vibrant and vital community of learning that I experience each time I participate on one of the online weekly tweet chats organized by colleagues via #lrnchat, as I noted in an article I wrote and posted just days before learning about Connected Educator Month. There is the breadth and scope of resources I find every time I engage with colleagues in the American Society of Training & Development (ASTD) at the local, regional, and national levels, as I’ve so frequently noted on this blog. There are the numerous and invaluable conversations and exchanges with ALA Learning Round Table colleagues over dinners while we have attended conferences together. And there is the ongoing unparalleled learning experience that comes my way each year through participation in the New Media Consortium Horizon Project, which brings together a relatively small group of colleagues from a number of different countries to collaborate within a stimulating online environment and through face to face annual summits to explore developments and trends in technology, education, and creativity.

xplrpln_logoObservations about connectivity become even more circular and seamlessly interwoven when I think about how Connected Educator Month provides an opportunity to celebrate the connections fostered by connectivist MOOCs (massive open online courses)—including connections to others outside of those MOOCs. It’s far from hyperbole to say that participation in #etmooc—the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course developed by Alec Couros and colleagues earlier this year— substantially increased my connectedness to wonderful trainer-teacher-learners around the world. And the #etmooc community of learning that has grown in the months since the formal coursework ended has led to even more connections through an invitation to join the five-week Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) MOOC that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program. Not only does #xplrpln provide another venue in which #etmooc participants can work together, but it is, through its exploration of personal learning networks, helping all of us as participants enrich our own.

The multi-directional connectedness doesn’t even stop there; the more I look at each of these groups and opportunities, the more I realize how interconnected the various groups are. Participating in the #lrnchat session last night reminded me that #lrnchat includes members of the ASTD, #etmooc, and #xplrpln communities—and the frequent mention of the Personal Learning Networks course during the chat is leading more members of #lrnchat to join us in exploring what #xplrpln offers and is developing. Looking at the growing list of #xplrpln participants has introduced me to #etmooc participants I hadn’t met while #etmooc coursework was in progress. Looking at the list of colleagues in the Horizon Project in previous years brought the unexpectedly wonderful realization that it included a great colleague from the American Library Association. And diving into the current Horizon Project explorations of developments in personal learning networks obviously connects what I’m doing there and in the MOOC so that the learning opportunities flow both ways between those two communities.

There’s a distinct possibility that connectivism could become another of those buzz words that linger on the edge of our consciousness without ever developing into something tangible—at a human level—if we give it the proverbial fifteen minutes of fame/attention and then move on. Or it could become another element of an ever-increasing set of tools and resources that allow us to transcend geographic, occupational, and time-zone boundaries. In a world where we often bemoan the loss of community, we can just as easily celebrate its expansion. And that’s why Connected Educator Month seems, to me, to be a great opportunity to celebrate. Reflect. And grow.

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


ALA Annual Conference 2013: Post-Conference Tips for Future Conference Attendees (Thinking Outside the Schedule)

July 5, 2013

Let’s be wonderfully perverse! While other colleagues continue writing thoughtful post-conference reflections about the 2013 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference that concluded in Chicago a few days ago, let’s draw upon what some of us saw and did in Chicago to provide tips for anyone planning to attend any conference with colleagues anytime soon.

ALA_2013_Chicago_Logo_FINAL_CLR_0 (1)Conference presenters, for example, can benefit from the myriad online reminders of how to most effectively reach and serve their audiences. Those interested in drawing their various and varied onsite and online communities of learning into seamless and tremendously rewarding interactions can participate in the Twitter backchannel at any level that appeals to them. First-time attendees will find numerous resources, including those posted online by attendees willing to share suggestions. And those arriving a day or two before the conference formally begins can indulge in a period of reflection and preparation that also provides the foundations for gaining more than even the best-planned conference can provide.

One pre-conference ritual that has been particularly rewarding for me over the past several years is an informal dinner I arrange with a handful of cherished colleagues the evening before a conference begins. As I have noted so many times over the past few years, those invitation-only dinners—without a formal agenda, and with all participants splitting the cost of the meal—provide an unparalleled opportunity to hear what our best colleagues are doing, planning to do, and recovering from doing. It is, in essence, a chance to attend a master class with the brightest and most collaborative colleagues we can attract.

Siera_logoThe 10 trainer-teacher-learners who gathered in a Thai restaurant in Chicago on the Thursday evening before the ALA Conference began were far from reticent about describing the ways they are approaching the use of social media in libraries—creatively, openly, and with a great deal of encouragement for the learners they serve, as David Lee King noted—or the learner-centric webinars they are designing and delivering, as is the case with Pat Wagner (through Siera) and Andrew Sanderbeck (through the People Connect Institute). Louise Whitaker, from the Pioneer Library System (Oklahoma), enticed me with stories about the innovations in leadership training and other training-teaching-learning initiatives she continues to spearhead to support employees in her workplace—and then continued those stories over coffee a few days later when we were able to meet again outside of the formal sessions provided by the conference organizers. And everyone else had stories to tell or resources to share, so everyone at the table ate abundantly—and we’re not just talking about the wonderful food, here.People_Connect_Institute_logo

This idea of thinking outside the formal conference schedule to enhance—and actually create—learning experiences takes us to the heart of making sure each of us gains as much as we possibly can from attending conferences. It’s the combination of judiciously planning a schedule that includes attendance at formal sessions both within and outside our own areas of expertise; making arrangements in advance to meet with those cherished colleagues we absolutely do not want to miss; and relying on the numerous unplanned encounters we will have with colleagues onsite as well as those facilitated by what I’ve come to refer to as “drive-by greetings”—introductions, from colleagues including Maurice Coleman (T is for Training) and Peter Bromberg (Princeton Public Library), to those people they just happen to be standing  next to when we unexpectedly encounter them, and who just happen to have done work we have admired from afar for years.

One of those unexpected encounters, for me, led on the spot to an unplanned one-on-one hour-long lunch with a writer whose work I’ve very much admired—the sort of opportunity to exchange ideas that most of us would kill to have when we’re sitting in a packed room with little chance to interact at a meaningful level with a first-rate presenter. Another put me face-to-face with a colleague I’d only previously interacted with online. Numerous other outside-the-formal-curriculum meals and coffee breaks helped keep me up to date on the vibrant and ever-expanding world of advocacy and partnerships that benefit all of us and those we serve.

It’s also worth noting that a bit of planning beyond what conference attendance normally facilitates can provide additional rewarding opportunities. Contacting Chicago-based colleagues from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) before arriving onsite for the ALA Annual Conference meant that one particularly memorable evening included a dinner with non-library colleagues who are as immersed as anyone else I know in the world of workplace learning and performance (staff training). Our exchanges offered them a glimpse into the world of staff training in libraries and also helped bring me up to date on the ever-evolving language used within the ASTD community to refer to the training-teaching-learning that is at the heart of all we do.

The clear lesson for any conference attendee is that planning helps; looking for opportunities to draw upon all the resources available to us is an essential element of creating a successful conference experience; and “un-planning”—the act of setting a schedule aside when unanticipated opportunities via drive-by greetings present themselves—benefits all of us, and creates the learning experiences we find nowhere else.


%d bloggers like this: