Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC): 461 Words About the #OneLittleWord Challenge

January 3, 2018

I may have been overthinking the challenge a bit after first coming across references to the #OneLittleWord and #OneWord2018 challenge a few days ago on the #IMMOOC (the Innovator’s Mindset massive open online course) Facebook page. After all, how difficult can or should it be for a somewhat self-reflective writer/wordsmith to identify and agree to adopt the one word that will serve as a guide and source of inspiration for the upcoming year?

As it turns out, it was more difficult than I anticipated it would be. Looking at examples from others who had already chosen their One Little Word for 2018—now there’s a possibility: “overachiever”—was daunting: “Adventure.” “Appreciate.” “Brave.” “Create.” “Engaged.” “Find.” “Forward.” “Gumption.” “Hope.” “Kindness.” “Passion.” “Peace.” “Present.” “Transformation.” “Unfold.” So many choices; so little space to house the right one. It felt as if I were trying to select and love one solitary bird when my real love was for the beauty of the entire flock.

“Creativity” quickly pulled itself into my intellectual driveway as an option that always looms large for me when I think about what gives me pleasure. But, somehow, it felt too easy—not enough of a challenge.

“Completion” came knocking at my door soon after I found a parking place for “Creativity.” After all, this is the year when I have committed to completing an entire manuscript for a new book (Change the World Using Social Media, to be published in autumn 2018) for my wonderfully supportive colleagues at Rowman & Littlefield. But “Completion” seemed to be putting the horse before the creative cart in the sense that it focused on the destination more than on the journey—an element of creative writing that I very much adore.

“Exploration” briefly took its place among the contenders as I found myself thinking about how the act of exploring Rich, Intriguing, Inspiring (three more options!) Options (yet another possibility) for the role of One Little Word this year.

“Writing,” “Collaboration,” “Creativity,” “Improvisation,” “Partnerships,” “Friendship,” “Creativity,” “Learning,” and “Creativity” all offered themselves up at one point or another (are we seeing a trend here?), but none of them carried the promise and spontaneity that so often leads an inveterate over-planner like me to the most unexpectedly fruitful and rewarding experiences that feed my soul. None of them felt Spontaneous enough to leave me open to the Spontaneous choices that so fully satisfy me.

Except for the word “Spontaneity” itself—which, of course, spontaneously became my #OneWord2018.

I would love to assure you that, in the spirit of the #OneLittleWord and #OneWord2018 challenge, I will be writing throughout the year about how Spontaneity is leading me down some lovely paths. But we’ll just have to wait a bit to see where that #OneLittleWord carries us.


Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC): At the Intersection of Innovation, Community, and Zombies

October 17, 2017

Yet another article—this one from Inside Higher Ed—is purportedly documenting the idea that MOOCs (massive open online courses) are dead—again. Which is news to those of us who are current relishing and being transformed in dynamically positive ways by George Couros’s #IMMOOC (the Innovator’s Mindset massive open online course). #IMMOOC and others are far from being the educational equivalent of the zombies inhabiting the mythical Land of the Living Dead Learning Opportunity; in the best of situations, they are dynamic learner-centric, inspiration-laden learning spaces where communities of learning can and do develop.

My experiences with #etmooc (the Educational Technology & Media MOOC) a few years ago provided numerous surprises that I’ve documented extensively on this blog and elsewhere: it showed me that online learning is every bit as productive and rewarding as the best of my onsite learning experiences have been. It helped me realize that creating seamless blended (onsite and online) learning spaces was far from a dreamy never-in-our-lifetimes possibility. It has helped me foster an appreciation for an extended use of blended learning among colleagues and other learners. And it has transformed the way I approach my own training-teaching-learning-doing endeavors.

One of the most unexpected and rewarding aspects was the realization that the communities of learning that develop in a course (onsite or online) could, as soon as they become learner-driven by those who see themselves as “co-conspirators” in the learning process rather than sponges striving for little more than a grade or a certificate of completion, take on a life that can and will continue far beyond the timeframe of any individual course or other learning opportunity. The #etmooc community continued actively online for more than three years; it was only when numerous key members of the community changed jobs or retired that the impetus community members had for continuing to meet vanished and the community became dormant.

Yet another unexpected and rewarding aspect came with the realization that the community of learning fostered by a well-designed and well-facilitated is not a closed community. Many of us in #etmooc found that our course-based explorations put us in touch with others who were not in the course—but who became interested in the #etmooc community—because of the two-way (and sometimes multi-way) face-to-face and online conversations that started in #etmooc, continued via social media tools and other resources, and further added to the development of the #etmooc community by drawing those non-#etmooc players into the land of #etmooc. For me, it was a wonderfully expansive example of what Frans Johansson so clearly described as “The Intersection” in The Medici Effect—the type of third place (e.g., a pub) where strangers briefly come together, exchange ideas (involving plenty of listening as well as talking), then disperse and help disseminate those ideas among others whose paths they cross long after the original pub discussions (or MOOC community of learning discussions) took place.

I saw this in action again last week in terms of the #IMMOOC community expanding beyond its tremendously permeable walls when I helped initiate a one-hour conversation about one particular aspect of The Innovator’s Mindset with colleagues who meet online to record sessions of Maurice Coleman’s podcast T is for Training. The conversation began with little more than participants having a link to an online resource—“8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (Updated)”—that George Couros wrote and eventually incorporated into his book. We summarized the resource during the first few minutes of that episode of T is for Training, then used it as a springboard for a discussion exploring how it could be incorporated into the library training-learning programs that we help shape and facilitate.

The result was that, by the end of the hour, we were energized and ready to transforms the words from The Innovator’s Mindset into concrete actions designed to support innovative approaches to learning within the organizations we serve. We had also created a new learning object—the archived recording of the discussion—that contributes to the resources available to those exploring the topic—including those of us participating as co-conspirators in #IMMOOC. And we had created a new, ready-to-expand Intersection whereby the T is for Training community and the #IMMOOC community might meet and grow together. And the next possibility—that others who have not participated in T is for Training or #IMMOOC might now begin interacting with the fostering the positive actions both communities support—is a possibility ready to spring to life. Which is not, all things considered, a bad result coming from a form of learning that has just, once again, been declared dead and active only as one of an ever-increasing league of Zombies of Learning.

N.B. — This is the sixth in a series of posts inspired by Season 3 of #IMMOOC.


Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC): Sorry, I Don’t Do That Anymore

October 16, 2017

The last person who tried to convince me I should learn about something that, to me, held no value probably pushed me well down the road of transition from lecturing and advocating to facilitating, listening, and co-learning—something I remembered while attempting to answer the questions “What is one thing you used to do in education that you no longer do or believe in? Why the change?” as part of my participation in the third season of George Couros’s #IMMOOC (the Innovator’s Mindset massive open online course) last week.

She was a wonderful colleague, deeply immersed in and a strong proponent of using Twitter. And she seemed to believe, in her social media heart of hearts, that anyone not using Twitter was somehow leading a sadly diminished existence somewhat akin to living in the gray, war-devastated zone of a dystopian novel. So, while we sat side by side during two days of meetings, she attempted to convince me that I, too, should be using Twitter. She tried all sorts of things: telling me how great it was. (I wasn’t convinced.) Telling me what it could do for me. (Other social media tools were already doing those things for me.) Talking about who else was using it and how I could be in touch with them via Twitter. (I was already in touch with them in many other ways—including sitting with them in that room during the dynamic conversations we were having during that two-day period.) And finally—after nearly a day and a half of friendly cajoling and strong advocacy on behalf of Twitter, she asked a question that resonated: if I wanted a relatively quick answer to a question or situation that was stumping me, would I want quick and easy access to thousands of people who might be able to provide that answer? When she pointed out that Twitter could provide that level of access, she—and Twitter—had me.

What she also had was a learner who could see how the (minimal amount of) effort required to learn about and use Twitter might provide magnificent, appealing, productive results. So I was won over to Twitter. But not—as I realized at the time and now again as I recall that moment—by her zealous advocacy. It was the act of finally identifying an unfilled need and offering a proposed way to fill that need that finally led me to my long-standing engagement with colleagues through Twitter as one medium for that engagement.

I walked away from that experience with at least two valuable transformations: a willingness to adopt and embrace Twitter as one of many tools I use every day to work and play (including the weekly tweet chats that are an integral part of participating in #IMMOOC), and a visceral understanding of and appreciation for the power a trainer-teacher-learner-doer wields in fostering positive transformations through collaboration more than through wordy explanations and coercion.

It’s a lesson that actually embedded itself into the “Rethinking Social Media” course I have taught many times and will again be teaching in November 2017 for ALA Editions. I start, in the pre-course publicity and in the Week 1 course introduction, with an assurance that I won’t be requiring learners to become short- or long-term users of any of the social media tools we will be exploring. I also assure them that our online learning space is a guilt-free zone: they can spend as little or as much time as they care to spend with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or any of the other tools we will be studying as potential tools to further connect them with colleagues, library users, and anyone else they want to attempt to reach through those tools—as long as they reach the learning goals they (and their employers) have established for themselves. I also strive to keep the “lecture” part of the course as short and engaging as I possibly can, with frequent interruptions designed to stimulate responses and learner-centric activities.

Learners in my courses are, as much as they want to be, co-conspirators in the learning process. We learn from each other. We have as much fun as we can as they alter assignments to meet their own specific learning needs in ways that they can quickly apply within their own work (and other day-to-day) environments. And, in the best of situations, we stay in touch for weeks, months, or even years after a course formally ends. Because we understand that learning doesn’t have to be an endeavor with definitive starting and ending points.

We learn by exploring. Doing. Failing. And failing again and again. Until we finally reach the goals we have helped establish and that are meaningful to us, to our employers, and to those we ultimately serve. So I no longer deliver long lectures; my face-to-face and online presentations are designed to be as short as they can be; highly interactive; and responsive, in the moment, to the responses my co-conspirators offer. I try to keep my advocacy to a minimum. And we all seem to be a bit better off—and happier—as a result.

N.B. — This is the fifth in a series of posts inspired by Season 3 of #IMMOOC.


Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC): Down the Blended Reading Rabbit Hole Again

October 10, 2017

The new-to-me practice of reading intensively beyond the page as part of my participation in the third season of George Couros’s #IMMOOC (the Innovator’s Mindset massive open online course) struck gold again this morning.

Slowly making the transition from Week 2 to Week 3 of the six-week virtual voyage in this highly-interactive, rhizomatically-expanding course, I was rereading the section of The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity detailing the eight characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset and decided to spend a little more time with the fourth item, which centers around the idea that “Networks are crucial to innovation” (p. 52). Because I was following my newly-established habit of reading a print copy of a book while sitting in front of a laptop computer or with a mobile device handy ­so I would have immediate access to online resources, I made the leap from printed page to an online resource to learn more about a writer Couros mentioned in that section of his book. The result was that instead of having only a passing familiarity with Tom Kaneshige through Couros’s one-line reference to his work, I ended up reading the entire (short) piece Couros mentioned. Picked up a new, wonderfully evocative phrase (“Liquid Networks”) that connects with other familiar but differently-named ideas (including Ray Oldenburg’s concept of the third place as a place where ideas are exchanged, are nurtured, and thrive). And walked away with a much richer, deeper appreciation of Kaneshige’s work than I would have had if I had stayed within the confines of the print edition rather than making the piece by Kaneshige an integral part of the book I am re-reading.

I almost made it through the next paragraph without again weaving print with online content, but wanted to know more about Couros’s next reference—to Steven Anderson’s remark that “Alone we are smart, together we are brilliant.” With little more than Anderson’s name and the knowledge (from Couros’s writing) that Anderson is a “well-known educational speaker and writer,” I had little difficulty tracking him down with the keyword search “Steven Anderson educator.” And was completely surprised to find the full quote at the top of Anderson’s Twitter account. Which struck me as being a bit odd since the tweet was posted in September 2013 and it is October 2017 as I write these words.

“Could he,” I wondered, “be one of those people who rarely uses Twitter, so hasn’t been active since that four-year-old post was written?

“Did someone just finish retweeting it so it again appears at the top of his feed?

“Or is something else going on here?”

It only took a few seconds to see that there were more recent—much more recent—tweets there, including four posted within the last 24 hours…one of which was a link to a magnificent resource (a chart displaying “12 Principles of Modern Learning” and including short descriptions of the “principle,” along with a “reality” and an “opportunity” for each principle).

My head is spinning. I have, in less than 10 minutes, gone from being completely unfamiliar with Anderson’s work to seeing that he has a tremendously valuable (free) online resource (his Twitter feed) for any trainer-teacher-learner-doer. Exploring that resource in the most cursory of ways, yet walking away with another resource (the 12 Principles chart). And taking the natural step of following that Twitter feed so I will have Anderson’s wisdom and resources as additional elements of my own ever-expanding blended (onsite-online) learning environment.

And the learning doesn’t stop there. I’m still curious about why that four-year-old tweet is at the top of the feed. So I go back to the top of the feed, look at it a little more carefully, and realize that he has used the “pin” function within Twitter to assure that it remains in that top-of-the-feed position so any of us visiting his feed will see that tweet before we see any others. Which makes me laugh at myself because I have been using Twitter for several years. I help others learn how to explore and use Twitter. And am seen as being fairly adept at using Twitter. But. This. Is. The. First. Time. I. Have. Noticed. That. I. Can. Pin. A. Tweet. And it’s very simple: highlight a tweet I have posted. Choose the drop-down menu in the upper right-hand corner of the tweet on display. Choose the “Pin to your profile page.” Accept the “Pin this Tweet to the top of your profile” option that has now popped up on my screen.”

There’s one final step to take before I return to re-reading that chapter of Couros’s book. I’m doing this for #IMMOOC as much as I’m doing it for myself, and a central element of participating in a connectivist MOOC like #IMMOOC is to connect with my course co-conspirators, so I use tinyurl.com to create a link to the tweet with the “12 Principles,” transfer it into a tweet I am composing, then add the #IMMOOC hashtag to the tweet and send the whole thing out into the Twitterverse so my MOOCmates, friends, and colleagues will have access to it. Learn from it. And retweet it so this latest personal learning moment grows rhizomatically and helps change our view of our world—one tweet at a time. Then return to The Innovator’s Mindset to finish my morning reading.

N.B. — This is the fourth in a series of posts inspired by Season 3 of #IMMOOC.


Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC): Preparing for a Future We Can’t Yet See

October 3, 2017

The experience of immersing myself in the third season of George Couros’s #IMMOOC (the Innovator’s Mindset massive open online course) continues to take me down intriguing, dynamic, transformative paths well worth exploring. This exploration of innovations in training-teaching-learning with co-conspirators from all over the world (connected via live, interactive YouTube presentations; a drinking-from-a-firehose rapid-fire Twitter feed and weekly tweet chats with a learner’s guide; interactions on a course Facebook page; cross-pollinating blog posts such as this one, where conversations continue; and probably myriad other learning threads I haven’t yet discovered) is high-energy, high-level learning at its best. And the very act of participating stimulates the types of innovation the course itself inspires us to explore.

Couros--Innovator's_Mindset--CoverContinuing to “read beyond the pages” of the printed copy I have of The Innovator’s Mindset, for example, I once again viscerally feel the difference, this afternoon, between the act of simply reading a line of text and the act of enriching our understanding of that line of text by going back to the source that inspired the thought behind that line. Reading Couros’s one-line summary of Simon Sinek’s talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” from TEDx Puget Sound in 2009 (in Chapter 1 of the book), I was left with the following perfectly serviceable idea: “…he [Sinek] explained that all great organizations start with their ‘why’ and then move toward the what and the how.” I had a vague idea of what that implied. I was perfectly ready to keep reading to see where Couros was going to take us. Then I remember how much I enjoyed taking advantage of the access online resources provide to deeper levels of reading/thinking/learning last week, during Week 1 of this six-week course. So I stop watching the clock and worrying about whether I have enough time to take another deep dive. Take the 18 minutes required to actually watch that TEDx talk. Re-view parts of it. Take notes on my laptop. Then transfer those notes into a rough draft of this piece-in-progress.

By the time I am finished, I have an ocean-deep appreciation for what Couros is trying to convey and, more importantly, what Sinek, in his TEDx talk, calls “The Golden Circle”: circles within circles (sort of like the circles within circles of learning in which I’m currently engaged). Sinek’s Golden Circle is comprised of a small, middle one having the word “why”; a middle circle containing the word “how”; and a larger outer circle holding the word “what.” He explains that by starting with the word “why” when we address someone with whom we are trying to make a connection, we are engaging deeply-embedded brained-based feelings and motivations that hook our intended audience. Make those audience members part of our dream. And invite them to actively be part of making that dream real.

By reading that line from Couros and then watching the video and then looking for related resources (including an online reproduction of The Golden Circle), I have gone from seeing an almost throw-away line of text morph—through this blended on-page/online approach to reading—into something that is becoming a memorable extended two-hour moment of transformative learning—simply because I give it the time and effort it so obviously deserves. And by the time I reach Sinek’s concluding lines in that TEDx presentation—“…those who lead, inspire us. Whether they are individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead not because we have to, but because we want to…”—I realize that simply having read that line without having heard the preceding 17 minutes of set up (as you are doing at this moment) would have meant the words had far less impact and stickiness than they had as a result of my mini-deep-dive into what Couros described in a subsection (“Have Schools Forgotten Their Why?”) in his chapter “What Innovation Is and Isn’t”—part of our reading for #IMMOOC this week.

future-u_logoAs I finish reading the first chapter of The Innovator’s Mindset, I circle back to one of the opening sections and reread the words “We need to prepare kids for jobs that don’t exist”—a theme I’ve been exploring for many years, most recently with my colleague Jonathon Nalder at Future-U. I think about how this course is preparing me for actions I hadn’t even thought would exist for me as a result of becoming part of the #IMMOOC community. And I hope that if you have the time and inclination to do so, you, too, will create training-teaching-learning-doing opportunities you might not yet know exist—by reading the book and joining whatever part of the #IMMOOC community you can find as you read these words.

N.B. — This is the third in a series of posts inspired by Season 3 of #IMMOOC.


Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC): Flexing Our Social Media Muscles

September 29, 2017

Trying to skim approximately 3,000 tweets in an hour is a ridiculously daunting challenge. One that I clearly was not up to meeting. But I gave it my best shot last night during the first of six weekly hour-long tweetchats scheduled as part of #IMMOOC (the Innovator’s Mindset massive open online course) Season 3. The result was exhilarating. Frustrating. Eye-opening (and eye-straining). Inspiring. Taxing. And ultimately, well-worth documenting and sharing as a tweetchat-on-steroids variation of a much earlier (pre-#IMOOC) #lrnchat experience I joking referred to as “Macho Tweet Chatting.”

I’ve come to love the tweetchat format in training-teaching-learning-doing for all it inspires and provides. When sessions are well-facilitated (as the #IMMOOC session was), the online 140-character-per-tweet conversations (currently morphing into 280-character bursts) are extremely stimulating and well worth revisiting through online transcripts when their organizers archive them, as our #lrnchat colleagues do. Or when someone takes the time to create a transcript using Storify, as I occasionally do.

Seeing the original online snow-flurry-of-tweets-at-the-speed-of-light translated into the much-more digestible transcript format creates room for review. Reflection. And extended moments of inspired thinking. Sharing. And additional collaboration. The transcript provides a vessel to more effectively navigate the numerous rapids in the fast-flowing river of interconnected thoughts springing from a community engaged in what it does best: learning collaboratively. One notable result is immersion in a learning object (the transcript) created by the learners themselves/ourselves through the learning act of participating in the tweetchat. It makes the learning process expansive and grounded in a well-organized learner-driven process: we prepare for the tweetchat by reading something or watching a video; then  we learn through the live tweetchat exchanges; then we create the learning object that immediately becomes part of the body of work available to us and to subsequent learners. And, in the best of all worlds, the live conversation continues asynchronously through additional tweets, through blog posts like this one, through our extended conversations on Facebook, and in numerous other ways limited only by the imaginations and willingness of the ever-expanding circle of participants or community of learners over a period of hours, days, weeks, months, or even years to continue learning together. It’s a concept meticulously described by Pekka Ihanainen and John Moravec in their paper about “Pointillist time”—what they refer to as “a new model for understanding time in pedagogical contexts”—and one I’ve been exploring in a wonderfully Pointillist time frame ever since I came across it while participating in another connectivist MOOC (#etmooc) four years ago.

There’s no denying this can be a messy process—one that requires a great deal of patience with ambiguity and a willingness to react innovatively to whatever comes our way. Even though there is a clearly-identified starting point (the tweetchat), the conversation soon extends rhizomatically through numerous very-loosely-connected platforms (as I mentioned earlier). This is clearly learning at an extremely high level, for highly-motivated learners who find pleasure in the struggle to innovatively respond to a constant stream of new challenges that have the potential to produce transformative results.

It becomes easier and more pleasurable, as I was reminded last night, with consistent practice—the same sort of practice an athlete or ballerina dancer engages in to develop muscles. (I felt, at the beginning of the session, as if my tweetchat muscles had become a bit flabby for lack of recent use.) And it helps to have learning facilitators who support us by offering guidance before, during, and after the formal learning event occurs. Most importantly, this level of learning and engagement in contemporary learning opportunities helps us become comfortable with the idea that the intentionally overblown and completely unrealistic challenge I posed at the beginning of this article (skimming 3,000 tweets in one hour) is part of a larger learning process—the process of realizing that in our dynamic, messy, rhizomatic onsite-online (blended) learning environments, success comes with accepting the fact that we don’t need to eat everything put before us on our learning plates. We have to willingly accept those portions we know we can digest within any given (Pointillist) moment, and ask for a virtual doggy bag to take the rest home with us for later consumption.

N.B. — This is the second in a series of posts inspired by Season 3 of #IMMOOC.


Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC): Reading in the 21st Century

September 25, 2017

Reading as I prepare to dive into #IMMOOC (the Innovator’s Mindset massive open online course) Season 3, I’m once again coming face to face with how much continues to change in the way we train, teach, learn…and read. At the heart of this Connectivist MOOC is George Couros’s book The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, so the learning process begins with reading the Foreward and Introduction to the book. And therein lies a lesson very much worth experiencing and learning.

Couros--Innovator's_Mindset--CoverReading those first few pages of the print edition of the book brings us in contact not only with Couros’s lovely writing voice, but also, not surprisingly, with a variety of additional resources through references to videos and a few other books. Nothing revolutionary there…until we decide to take advantage of absorbing the book’s contents by pursuing all available contents, including those videos. So, instead of doing what I’ve done in the past—reading the text and promising myself that I would go back to the “extended content” that includes those videos and other books, I’ve taken a more leisurely approach this time around. When Couros mentions Dan Brown’s “An Open Letter to Educators” video (accessible on YouTube from my laptop or mobile device), I take the 6.5 minutes required to watch the video, then return to the book with a far deeper, visceral, engaging understanding of the point Couros is making about the need for us to change our approach to teaching at the moment I’m reading these words. And when he includes a quote from 17-year-old TEDx presenter Kate Simonds’ “I’m Seventeen” talk, I bring her right into my learning space (and hear her plea for more collaboration among learners and learning facilitators) by watching the 13.5-minute video of that session before returning to the printed pages of the book that now, for me, includes that encounter with Simonds. And when Couros writes about how the O2 commercial “‘Be More Dog’ illustrates how a decision can lead to extreme and positive changes,” I follow the link and enjoy a good, thought-provoking moment courtesy of the access I have to that commercial via YouTube so it, too, is part of my reading experience today.

Couros writes, on p. 7, that the book “is all about how we can make the most of learning to create meaningful change and provide better opportunities in our schools.” From where I sit, I believe it also shows how our onsite-online “blended learning” landscape offers us training-teaching-learning-doing opportunities we have not had until recently. It also offers us the opportunity I’m documenting here to step back from our own learning, while engaged in the learning process, to see how something as simple as the act of reading continues to evolve and affect us in ways we are not adequately noting.

T_is_for_Training_LogoIt’s a theme that also came up recently among those of us participating in the latest episode of Maurice Coleman’s wonderful biweekly library training-teaching-learning podcast T is for Training. We were engaged in a conversation about a resource (“Liberating Structures”) we had been exploring, and I temporarily stopped the conversation by noting how “blended” our session had become. The four of us on T is for Training were physically sitting in our offices on opposite coasts of the United States, learning from each other through that dynamic virtual learning space created by Maurice’s fabulous online-facilitation skills that fostered an online discussion that immediately became an archived learning object (created, in true Connectivist fashion, by the learners themselves) for anyone else who wanted to access it online as soon as it was posted. And our discussion—in a way that parallels what I’m experiencing as I read a blended printed-online version of The Innovator’s Mindset—seamlessly moved back and forth between the online resources we were reading-exploring-citing while carrying on that online discussion. This is the act of reading as part of an ever-expanding conversation that connects live and asynchronous participants in ways that bring new learning opportunities to us in an approach limited only by our imaginations, our online-search skills, and our access to the technology that puts those resources and participants into our reading-learning spaces.

My exploration of this expanded version of reading a book in preparation for the live IMMOOC session online today comes full circle as I come across citations from a few other books. There is one I have already read in print format, so Couros’s quote from the book rekindles the pleasure of recalling and re-using material already read and absorbed; it becomes woven into my current reading-learning experience and, in the process, gains new life. And as I come across a couple of other references, I quickly find excerpts online from those books so I can skim them and make them part of this immediate reading experience, if time allows, before the live session begins.

Couros, in referring to the “Be More Dog” video, tells us that “[t]he line from the video that resonates most with me is, ‘Look at the world today; it’s amazing.’” And as I prepare for the first live, online interactions I will have with my #IMMOOC colleagues later today, I’m struck—as I always am by first-rate learning experiences—by how amazing the changes in reading and learning continue to be…particularly with the added perspective of an innovator’s mindset.

N.B. — This is the first in a series of posts inspired by Season 3 of #IMMOOC.


Rethinking Lectures, Learning, and Engagement

June 23, 2021

­­­I have, for quite a long time, not been a big fan of lectures as a primary way of fostering learning and the positive transformations that accompany learning at its best—particularly when the learning is centered around training sessions for adults in workplace settings. Within the learning environments onsite and online in which I most frequently work, learning is doing and doing is learning—which leaves lengthy formal lectures near the bottom of my learning toolkit in most situations. And I can’t say that I have changed my mind substantially. But reading an article—“Good Riddance to Boring Lectures? Technology Isn’t the Answer—Understanding Good Teaching Is,” by Christopher Charles Deneen and Michael Cowling for TheConversation.com—brought to my attention by ShapingEDU colleague Kim Flintoff, has inspired some rethinking on the subject—particularly after engaging in an unexpected set of asynchronous exchanges with colleagues via Facebook.

The article by Deneen and Cowling is thoughtful, balanced, and inspiring. The writers begin by describing how a vice chancellor at an Australian university is suggesting that as students return to onsite learning this year, lectures “would be much less common and not a ‘crutch for poor pedagogy.’” They deftly dive into an exploration of the idea that lectures will “be replaced by superior, technology-enhanced substitutes.” And after exploring our long-standing love-hate relationship with lectures in learning, they circle back to what is, for me, a perfect, well-reasoned conclusion: “We need to reject the notion that lectures will sink our students and technology will save them. Instead, let’s dig deeply and critically into both, reflect upon how to improve our practices, and apply sound teaching methods and practices to create learning engagements that are captivating and profound.”

Kim Flintoff

Kim, in posting (on Facebook) a link to the article, offered the briefest of comments: “I think the issue is engagement. Some lecturers can be very engaging. Many are not. Creating space for the learner is one of the criteria for engagement.” And that’s where the fun starts, for Barry Altland, a cherished ATD (Association for Talent Development) colleague here in the United States, responded to Kim’s comment with this opening salvo: “This [comment] states the ‘lecturers can be engaging.’ By their very definition, they are not. Facilitators are. But lecturers, presenters, speakers and instructors are not. Nor are teachers. For those are all movements that one does ‘at’ another, not ‘with’ another. Only a Facilitator invites the voices of many others into the learning conversation.”

My response did little to hide my surprise:I’m seeing the ‘lecture’ format evolve in engaging ways, and don’t sense that an appreciation for what first-rate facilitators inspire and accomplish precludes an appreciation for what a first-rate lecturer inspires and accomplishes. 2) I wouldn’t trade memories of lectures I have attended by Stephen Jay Gould, David Halberstam, Ann Patchett, Eric Whitacre, Jeremy GutscheR. David Lankes, and numerous others for anything. Furthermore, TED talks I’ve seen or attended suggest how vibrant, engaging, and transformative a lecture can be when the lecturer uses the power of storytelling to draw us into powerful communal experiences. And the best of the teacher-lecturers I’ve found in formal academic settings have had a lifelong impact on my approach to work, learning, and play. Really sorry if you haven’t had experiences along those lines. As Lankes would say: Expect More!”

Barry Altland

Dave himself, tagged in my response on Facebook, almost immediately joined the conversation: “The best lectures stimulate a dialog within the individual. A good book can be engaging, a song can change a life.” Which drew a response from Barry: “Books and songs are inanimate. When human beings come together, they both have something to offer the learning moment.”

R. David Lankes

With the ball back in Dave’s court, the exchange continued: “You used the word ‘engagement.’ A good lecture spawns conversations, internal and between people. Also, a lecture can absolutely be interactive one to many and many to one. I absolutely know the power of facilitated learning and workshops. Mastery requires going beyond lectures to practice. But to dismiss lectures as a simple broadcast of inherently less value I find problematic.”

Jill Hurst-Wahl

Other colleagues contributed to the exchange. My T is for Training colleague Jill Hurst-Wahl, in a series of posts, began by saying “I would add Larry Lessig as a person who gives engaging lectures. From what I’ve seen of her, I think Rep. Katie Porter would be a very engaging lecturer.”

Quoting from the original article, Jill continued: “‘Instead, let’s dig deeply and critically into both, reflect upon how to improve our practices, and apply sound teaching methods and practices to create learning engagements that are captivating and profound.’ I like the phrase ‘how to improve our practices.’ We are not taught as teachers how to improve our lectures. I remember when I joined my academic institution, I asked for advice on how to prepare for three-hour class and was told that what I did was up to me. I would have welcomed advice and training! Over the years, I have learned from workshops, by watching others, and by doing. Imagine if all teachers—no matter how they got into the profession—were taught on how to be engaging when they needed to lecture?”

And directing her final contribution to Dave, she added the following: “Like a lecture, if a book, song, video, etc. causes me to think deeply and have a conversation with myself, I will learn.”

Laura Fothergill

The final contribution (at least up to this moment) comes from long-time ATD (Association for Talent Development) South Florida Chapter colleague Laura Fothergill: “Loved the article, really dislike the title and perpetuation of us vs them (lecture vs technology). Can we stop even putting this into the ethos? Why not title it ‘Be critical, be reflective, be better’ or ‘Lose your Assumptions.’ By spinning the concepts into either or and inviting that conversation we are not helping individual faculty with their own personal professional development.” So, in a relatively brief period of time, we went from lectures and learning to whether lectures and lecturers (and presenters, speakers, instructors, and teachers) could even be engaging or whether engagement was exclusive to facilitators. And, just for good measure, Dave and Jill took us down the intriguing path of what learning is and how we learn, with Laura advocating for elimination of the us vs. them element of our explorations.

Although the obvious starting point for me is a preference for a “learners as co-conspirators in the learning process” approach to learning (as compared to the boringly passive approach to learning that is obvious in the worst of lectures and lecturers) in the settings in which I work, I was intrigued by the fond memories of what I had learned from the best lecturers I have heard—and I also thought about how my own approach to “lectures” has continued to evolve. When I work synchronously face-to-face onsite, online, or in blended environments (combining onsite and online learning into a cohesive, seamless package), I play with and combine numerous approaches. I find it rewarding, for example, to follow a Flipped Classroom model approach by providing learners with pre-session prep work (videos or short articles) so that our time together “face to face” onsite or online focuses on application of what we have learned—with a strong emphasis on what the learners will do with their newly-acquired knowledge/skills the minute our time together comes to an end. In asynchronous settings (e.g., through the four-week online courses I design and facilitate for the American Library Association), I start with weekly “typed lectures” that provide my own content interspersed with plenty of links to other people’s videos, articles, and online, easily accessible resources to support the learners’ explorations. I also include focused exercises that encourage the learners to apply what they are learning, interact with other learners, and even adapt the assignments in ways that produce something they can use in their own workplaces while and after the course is underway. The emphasis is always on having learners define what they need to know and encouraging them to focus on what addresses their learning needs as quickly as possible.

Just as participation in a creative online learning opportunity exploring The Innovator’s Mindset (led by George Couros in 2017) made me rethink my perceptions about what “reading” is in the early 21st century, the exchanges via Facebook have inspired me to further rethink my perceptions about what a great “lecture” is in contemporary times. It is focused. It is engaging. It inspires inquisitiveness by serving as an invitation to explore a topic further. It can—but doesn’t necessarily have to—be creative in its use of tools available to the lecturer and the people sharing in that learning experience. (I often think, for example, of how Jonathan Haidt so effectively turned the TED Talk lecture format on its head by doing a formal lecture that “ended” a few minutes early so he could offer an entirely different version, during the final few minutes of his allotted time, by seamlessly and in the most stunningly successful of ways completely integrating video into the live presentation. I also think of how effectively Eric Whitacre incorporated a demonstration of a virtual choir into a live lecture on virtual choirs at a conference I attended a few years ago.) The learning, in each of these cases, was effective, engaging, inspirational, and transformative—because of, not in spite of, the “lecture” format.   The rethinking continued over the weekend when I finally made time to watch the first couple of lectures in The Great Courses’ series on “The Learning Brain”—a series of 24 30-minute lectures captured on a CD and accompanied by a course guidebook. As I sat there in the comfort of my own home with the book in hand and the first few minutes of the video playing, an obvious revelation struck: The lecture can very much be a like a part of a spoken (audio) book, and the book can very much be like a set of printed lectures–even if it isn’t actually one of those lovely books providing the text of lectures. Both, when produced effectively, can be and are engaging. Dropping them completely from our learning toolkits makes no sense to me, and arguing against them in absolute, non-nuanced terms, seems counterproductive. The important decision to be made is when each is the best tool for a particular learning situation, and then to produce the best version of the learning resource that we possibly can produce. So we learn. With our learners. To inspire the best results possible.


Adapting to Change, Loss, and Possibilities: Our Communities of Learning Are Responding

April 10, 2020

The massive transformation of our onsite world—at least temporarily—into a coronavirus pandemic shelter-in-place online world dominated by social distancing (but far from complete social isolation) has been breathtakingly quick, as I noted recently in two posts about how the ShapingEDU 2020 Unconference went online overnight.

There has been plenty to make our heads spin: a global “incompetence pandemic” displayed through lack of leadership; the massive spread of misinformation contributing to “an infodemic: ‘an over-abundance of information’—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it”; an ever-increasing spread of the pandemic in terms of confirmed cases and deaths attributed to the coronavirus, which may be only the tip of a terribly large iceberg, given the low percentage of people tested globally; increasing levels of fear, and much-needed sources of information about how to cope with fear and anxiety in challenging times; and the rapid move from onsite learning into online environments by countless people who are ill-prepared—yet valiantly struggling to—successfully support that move in academic and workplace learning settings.

All that head-spinning, however, doesn’t mean that all of us are completely in a shut-down, wait-it-out mood. For those of us lucky enough to have great friends and colleagues, good internet access, and decent infrastructures in place for online communication, our work continues. Our interactions remain strong. And our desire to be of positive use to those we serve is finding plenty of outlets.

Family, friends, and colleagues are responding creatively and positively to the need to avoid isolation in a time of social distancing. We are spending a bit more time than usual taking advantage of the opportunities provided by social media interactions—some playful, some completely work-related, and all of them in some way keeping our communities as strong and thriving as they can possibly be in the current situation. I am, for example, sure I wasn’t alone in being part of an effort to take a celebration—in this case, my father’s birthday party—online via Zoom a few days ago, and creating some online “face-to-face” (telepresence) time via FaceTime a few days earlier to offer happy birthday wishes to a cousin on the other side of the country. Friends and I have been having rudimentary virtual brunches by phone and informal community drop-in gatherings via Zoom to stay in touch, share resources and updates about what we are seeing in training-teaching-learning, and offer support to those who, at any particular moment, might be struggling more than the rest of us are—because we know they will be there to do the same thing for us when we find ourselves falling into a dark place that threatens to overwhelm us.

Through all of this, my colleagues and clients and I are continuing to do business as we always have by phone, email, and a variety of online social media and videoconferencing tools. We are continuing to work on our online projects—courses, webinars, and publications, for example—and plan new ones to develop and facilitate to meet the ongoing training-teaching-learning needs we are committed to meeting.

Among the many developments for which I remain grateful is the magnificent way so many organizations and individuals are stepping up to the plate to provide much-needed information and support. The American Library Association (ALA) Public Library Association division, for example, has done a spectacular job in quickly documenting how public libraries are responding to community needs while shelter-in-place guidelines remain in place—an invaluable resource for those of us working with colleagues in libraries as well as for anyone interested in learning what is available in communities across the country at this point through these wonderful learning organizations. Local libraries including San Francisco Public are doing a great job of publicizing online resources such as kanopy, a service through which we can watch up to 15 movies a month free of charge—which has been a wonderful opportunity to catch up on old favorites while viewing some I hadn’t previously seen. And the San Francisco-based Internet Archive, in a somewhat controversial move, has tremendously expanded access to its online holdings through creation of a National Emergency Library providing access to millions of resources for trainers, teachers, and other learners who would otherwise be cut off from those volumes while library buildings remain closed.

My go-to professional families, including ALA, have been as responsive as they have ever been. ATD (the Association for Talent Development), for example, has curated “resources for virtual training design and facilitation,” on its website, for its members; there are numerous links to articles, videos, blog posts, and webcasts for those of us who support the parent organization through our membership dues throughout the year. And the resources extend to the regional and local levels through the wonderful way that colleagues in chapters including the ATD South Florida Chapter are strengthening their already strong communities of learning by quickly scheduling events along the lines of South Florida’s weekly Virtual TD (Talent Development) Talks via Zoom. What they are doing, by the way, is far from unique; I can’t even imagine trying to keep up with all the wonderful online learning opportunities I’m currently finding online every time I open my email and social media accounts to check for updates.

As if that weren’t enough, I am seeing—and taking advantage of—highly-interactive webinars offered by colleagues whose work I consistently admire, including George Couros. The spectacularly successful “Opportunities for Learning and Leading in a Virtual Space” webinar that he, Katie Novak, and AJ Juliani designed and facilitated last month, and have made accessible online free of charge, was a tremendous example of leaders responding to the needs of their co-conspirators in learning—and further nurturing the informal communities of learning they have fostered through innovative massive online open courses and other creative online learning opportunities. The event attracted more than 600 participants who engaged with Couros, Novak, and Juliana via a speed-of-light chat flowing down the side of the screen while their slides were visible and they were facilitating the session. It was a tremendous example of engaging, effective, memorable online learning in action. And if you’re still looking for thoughtful resources, check out the George Couros blog, which offers new, consistently high-quality posts with unbelievable frequency

Sardek Love, a cherished ATD friend/colleague/mentor who knows equally well how to work and play, has consistently been reminding all of us that it is during times of challenge or crisis that we can find some of our best opportunities, and that we need look no further than our own mirrors to see some of our best resources reflected back at us. I love, admire, and only partially succeed in attempting to emulate his commitment to pushing everyone as hard as he pushes himself. To remind us what we are possible of achieving. To remind us of how to nurture all that is most positive within us.  And to remind us that, through our actions—alone as well as collaboratively—we will respond to the best of our abilities. And come out of this with as much to celebrate as we might be left with to grieve.

–N.B.: This is the second in a series of reflections inspired by colleagues’ reactions to the coronavirus and shelter-in-place experiences and our continuing interactions online. Next: Our Communities Are Smiling.


Learning, Innovation, and Instagram (#IITB, Pt. 4 of 4): On “Reading” Innovate Inside the Box

February 12, 2020

Sometimes a book can be much more than what rests upon its pages. It can be a catalyst. A meeting place. An invitation to engage in reflective learning. And the center of a community that forms when each of us, through our own reactions and interactions with the book and other readers, end up producing our own individual, highly-personalized versions of that book—which is exactly the sort of multilevel, potentially transformative experience that George Couros and Katie Novak have produced through Innovate Inside the Box: Empowering Learners Through UDL [Universal Design for Learning]and the Innovator’s Mindset.

The book itself is a paeon to the idea that innovation can be fostered as much by and within the limitations we face as trainer-teacher-learners as by thinking outside the box: “…the system, with its rules and limitations, is never a reason not to innovate. To the contrary, the system or ‘box’ you work within may be the very reason you need to innovate,” Couros writes in the opening pages of the introduction to the book. And, as has happened both times I have read books he has produced, I find myself taking an innovative approach to the act of reading itself: slowing down rather than racing through the text; stopping to follow links to sources (e.g., blog posts, short articles, or videos) he has cited in his text so that they become part of my personal version of the book; reflecting, through blog posts, on the content he (and, in this case, in collaboration with Novak) provides as a way of more deeply and rewardingly absorbing what he offers; and engaging in online interactions with others who are also reading—or have read—the book.

The special “reading” twist this time has been involvement in a three-week book study group using Instagram as the platform for the conversations—an innovation for me because this has been the first time I have engaged with others via Instagram for any reason, and it’s the first time I have, through the creation of a series of book-related posts, explored the potential Instagram offers as a tool for training-teaching-learning—then carried those posts into my Tumblr account as a way of collecting those thoughts into a cohesive, easy-to-follow online record of my own learning. The results, from a learning point of view, have been spectacular for me, and the content of the book has become far more meaningful and useable than it otherwise would have been.

Sample of the Instagram Book Study
group feed, from Picuki.com:
https://www.picuki.com/tag/InnovateInsideTheBox

Starting with the first of three sections—“The Core of Innovative Teaching and Learning”—Couros, as a co-conspirator in our learning process, walks with us through chapters exploring the importance of relationships in learning; learning that is learner-drive and evidence-informed; creating (and engaging in) empowered learning experiences; and being both a master learner and a master educator—recognizing, at all times, that the word “master” does not mean that we are perfect. By inviting us to explore these themes through the Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study group, he and Novak extend the “book” into cyberspace for (and with) all of us in ways that have us creating a record of our own learning and a set of experiences that—because Instagram is obviously, at its core, a visual medium with opportunities to interweave imagery and text—create learning anchors (in this case, the visual reminders we create in the form of posts on Instagram) to make the learning more memorable—and, of course, playful.

The second section fully carries us into chapter-by-chapter explorations of the “characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset”: empathetic, problem finders-solvers, risk-takers, networked, observant, creators, resilient, and reflective. And again, our starting point is through the reading of the textual conversation in which Couros and Novak bounce back and forth with observations about and guidance on how to incorporate those attributes into our own efforts to develop the Innovator’s Mindset for ourselves in ways to benefit those we serve. But, we realize as we reflect upon what we are reading, that is only the beginning. The real innovation comes through application of the work, and that’s where the formation of the community of teacher-trainer-learners within the online, (mostly) asynchronous book study group produces results worth noting. In creating posts about empathy in learning, we reflect upon—and begin to further hone—our own empathy toward our learners. In creating posts about risk-taking, we are inspired to take—and learn from the process of taking—risks by exploring resources and tools that allow us to produce better, more engaging and meaningful posts, on Instagram than we otherwise might have produced. The process of participating in the book study group becomes integral to the process of reading, absorbing, and applying what Couros and Novak offer us. And those of us willing to put the extra time into this level of “reading” the book (encountering the text, reflecting upon it, creating something from it that we can use in other venues, interacting with others as part of that reading-as-creative-process experience, and providing positive, inspirational learning experiences for others as a result) walk away with a reading experience that is every bit as innovative as anything the words upon the pages of the book can offer.

From Paul’s Tumblr account:
https://www.tumblr.com/blog/paulsignorelli

A short, very sweet concluding section suggesting “You Are the Change You Seek” serves as a reminder that “finishing” the book does not mean we are about to place it on a shelf where it becomes covered under an ever-growing shroud of dust, for this is not the kind of book you finish—or that is ever finished with you. As long as we remember what we have gained and apply it to the work we do, we will continue innovating within the box—and far beyond it, too.–N.B.: This is the fourth in a set of reflections inspired by #IITB, the Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study group.


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