Learning With Our Learners: Online Master Class

August 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

Synchronous_Trainers_Survival_Guide

Wonderful resource for online facilitators

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

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

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

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

Presentation Zen

Great tips for incorporating dynamic visuals into presentations

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

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


Learning Magic in Moments of Improvisation (Learning With Our Learners)

May 9, 2014

It’s far more than sleight of hand, this act of learning alongside our learners. It’s as delightfully magical for the way it occurs at the most unexpected moments as it is for how it rapidly produces small and large shifts in our own training-teaching-learning approach. And the stimulation that accompanies that level of collaboration in the learning process is one of the most consistently rewarding aspects of formal and informal learning opportunities we are likely to encounter, I was reminded again yesterday morning.

Oldenburg--Great_Good_PlaceI didn’t even, when the moment of magical learning began, know I was walking into a classroom; I thought I was actually walking into a neighborhood café—the sort of Ray Oldenburgian third placeThe Great Good Place—where we meet friends, interact, and walk away the better for having set aside the time for exactly that sort of encounter. But that morning quickly and unexpectedly turned into a far deeper and richer learning experience that a friend and I had expected to produce.

It began when I spotted the friend and sat at the restaurant counter to join her for a cup of coffee while she was eating breakfast. Commenting on how nice it had been to see her engaged in journaling as joined her, I inadvertently opened a door to a wonderful conversation about how she wished she had more time to write and how, more importantly, she wished she could find a way to combine her love of writing with work that produced an income.

“Want to play a game?” I asked. “It takes about two minutes and is a great learning exercise I know that helps people find what’s eluding them.”

Not wanting to skew the results or lead her in any specific direction other than helping her identify the sort of work that might combine her varied interests, I didn’t tell her that this simple exercise I had leaned in a creative writing class many years before had served me well in helping learners achieve a variety of goals including creating branding/marketing slogans for their personal businesses; crafting mission statements for their organizations; and even finding a name for a volunteer-driven community-based project that was so perfect that participants were still discovering lovely nuances in the name a couple of years after they shaped it. I also didn’t tell her that I used a two-minute time limit for the exercise because experience showed that most people and groups were winding down after 90 seconds and that two minutes was generally all it took to complete the most important element of what we were doing together.

Hearing her agree to accept the challenge, I told her to use her journal—I have generally used blank pieces of paper when working with individuals and paper on flipcharts or large whiteboards in classroom settings when working with groups—and take no more than two minutes to write down every word—no editing allowed—that came to mind when asked to think about the question “What makes me happy?” (When working on the mission statements, I’ve asked those learning the technique by using it to write down every word that came to mind when they thought about their organization; when working with those crafting marketing slogans, I’ve asked them to write down every word that came to mind when they thought about what concrete results they wanted to help their clients produce; when I worked with colleagues in the volunteer project, I asked them to think of every word that came to mind when they thought about the site on which the project was to be completed.)

Fountain_pens--2013-02-05I knew magic was about to occur when my friend/learner actually began jotting words down into her notebook even before I had a chance to start the timer on her smartphone. And it continued to take shape when I realized that, after 90 seconds, she not only was still writing as quickly as her hand and pen could place ink onto paper (with no slowdown in sight), but was also writing from left to right and top to bottom on the page rather than doing what every other learner had done before—simply throwing words helter-skelter all over a page or flipchart or whiteboard so the words could be grouped thematically later.

As the two-minute mark approached, I recognized I had my own unanticipated moment of leaning to address: stop the exercise as planned or respond to her obvious engagement and complete immersion in what she was doing by ignoring the timer and seeing where additional time would take us. After she finally raised her head five minutes and fifteen seconds into her wonderful stream-of-consciousness flow and asked if her two minutes were up, we both had a good laugh before beginning the process of reviewing what she wrote to see if she could spot meaningful connections between those apparently disjointed words and phrases. And as she read back what she had produced, I felt another moment of leaning magic unfolding: not only had she written down numerous nouns, verbs, and adjectives, but she had actually jotted down words reflecting what she was thinking as she wrote comments along the lines of “oh, this isn’t working” and “oh wait there it is.” Not only had she produced the most richly complex record of a learner’s thoughts I had ever seen in response to this simple exercise, but she had reminded me of something no trainer-teacher-learner can afford to ever forget: set the rules, then break them as soon as they become a hindrance to the learner’s learning process.

When we were finished with the review, she told me how helpful the exercise had been in identifying things she knew innately but hadn’t consciously acknowledged, and confirmed that she had learned enough to strike out on her own by returning to the results, running the same sort of exercise using individual words that resonated strongly with her from round one, and creating the sort of pithy summary of what would most appeal to her so she could try to match that statement with work that would reward her far more than what she currently does. And I, in turned, told her that the simple act of running that exercise with her and watching all that she produced had revitalized and freshened a tool I had long enjoyed—and now magically, unexpectedly, and inspirationally, would use with even more enthusiasm for learners who would never know how much that she as learner-teacher had contributed to their learning process—and a wonderfully adaptable tool to help them on their journey.


Learning Social Media With Our Learners Revisited: Tweetorientations

March 14, 2014

Less than a year ago, Betty Turpin (librarian at the International School of Stuttgart) was completing a four-week online “Social Media Basics” course I had designed and was facilitating for ALA Editions. Now she is introducing me to innovative uses of the social media tools we explored with her course colleagues.

Betty Turpin

Betty Turpin

Twitter is at the center of a story that should be tremendously inspiring and useful to any trainer-teacher-learner. Betty is maintaining a wonderful Twitter feed (look particularly as the series of tweets that began appearing on February 13, 2014) to help prepare students for participation in a dynamic study-abroad program and project designed to produce concrete results: “planning, managing, and implementing an entirely new school library, and assessing a sustainable automation system in a fully-contained setting” while earning full credit for two courses (“Managing Library Automation Projects” and “Seminar in Information Resources and Services for Special Clienteles”), a promotional flyer confirms. Betty’s use of Twitter also made me aware of what she is doing; we used Twitter for an initial interview about her efforts before moving the conversation into email; and I suspect we’ll both continue using Twitter to post updates as she continues orientation-by-Twitter—an idea I suspect many of us will eagerly look to apply into our own training-teaching-learning efforts.

Her summary via email shows us what has developed:

UNT_Logo“The University of North Texas [UNT], your alma mater as well as mine, has a study abroad program for graduate library students. I participated as a student four years ago in Kyiv, Ukraine. Last year I tagged along to a school in Moscow, Russia, for my own professional development. I graduated from UNT in 2012, but as you might imagine, professional development for English-speaking librarians overseas is a bit hard to come by. This year, I am the sponsoring librarian and the students are coming to work for me at my school in Stuttgart, Germany.  I’ve also arranged for the students to start-up a library at a new international school in Karlovy Vary, CZ.  The school will open its doors with its first students in August, 2014. The library and opening day collection will be put into place by UNT’s Dr. [Barbara] Schultz-Jones, Professor Debby Jennings, and their team of 20 graduate librarians.

“Dr. Schultz-Jones has been running this program for ten years, more or less…When the team started getting themselves organized for this year’s trip, I decided to use a social media platform to help pass on some of the information they might either need or want for their trip.”

International_School_of_Stuttgart_LogoTwitter became Betty’s tool of choice because she saw it as a way to build excitement; as a resource that could be easily managed on a day-to-day basis; and as a conduit to concisely provide valuable tidbits orienting the learners to the International School of Stuttgart, the city and its culture, and general library issues they will need to understand before they dive into their project of creating that new school library in the Czech Republic, she explained.

“Students get overwhelmed thinking abt. an overseas visit. Bits of info at a time work better, hence tweets,” she added via Twitter.

The feed she maintains is charmingly effective. It begins with an invitation to engagement (“Welcome, UNT Student Librarians! Pls follow me. We’ll tweet info., photos, and exciting news from Germany until you are HERE! Tchüß!”); continues with introductions to wonderful resources, including the school’s website and to the Visible Thinking site, to prepare them for the work they are about to begin; and includes tweets designed to facilitate online interactions among the learners themselves. Understanding the value of imagery, she is particularly good at incorporating colorful photographs into those tweets, showing everything from playful images of the people the learners will meet at the school to a picture of one of the chairs available to them. This is a level of orientation so far removed from the deadly-dull introductory information dumps so prevalent in student and workplace learning today that it almost begs to have its own training-teaching-learning nomenclature: Tweetorientations, anyone?

And there’s more: her feed, in addition to nurturing a community of learning, also has the potential to easily be organized into a newly-formatted reusable learning object—perhaps part of a larger custom-designed orientation manual or virtual textbook that could include tips and observations from the learners themselves—if she ultimately decides to collect the entire series into a Storify document or a PDF to be accessed by the UNT students or anyone else interested in Stuttgart and the International School.

For now (as Betty notes), she has a very small number of followers on Twitter. But I suspect that will change when our training-teaching-learning colleagues realize how effectively she is using Twitter. And what a great example she is setting for the rest of us.


Learning Social Media With Our Learners (Pt. 4 of 4): Out of the Course and Into the World

February 10, 2013

It hasn’t taken long for participants in the latest version of the four-week online “Social Media Basics” course I developed with colleagues at ALA Editions to begin documenting our collective successes.

Social_Media_BasicsOne learner, in his final course posting, noted that he “had the opportunity to use Google hangouts as part of a reference interaction at work recently. An online student was having trouble finding resources for an assignment…and we used hangouts to work through some of the difficulties.”

Another learner, wanting to explore Google+ Hangouts further, arranged a session with five other course participants and quickly found the tool taking a back seat to a very engaging discussion in which they shared ideas and learned from each other in a way that made them feel as if they were sitting together rather than separated by tremendous geographic distances.

Several documented the fact that they had set up various social media accounts for the libraries they serve. At least a few have initiated live tweet sessions and begun discussing work-related issues in the private Facebook group we established so that our community of learning—which now includes participants from both offerings of the course—can continue to grow and flourish. And a few others were inspired to go beyond the course content and explore other tools, including Pinterest.

Engaging in a rudimentary version of learning analytics produces an interesting snapshot of how the course functions—and provides some positive responses to those who contend that online learning can’t possibly rival the face-to-face experience. Starting with a core group of 32 registered learners, we had five who never engaged at any significant level, and only four more who weren’t actively participating by the time the course ended. There was the usual spike of activity during the first of the four weeks of the course, with nearly 1,800 views of posts within the formal class forums that week; that had leveled off and remained steady at approximately seven hundred views during the final few weeks. Actual postings, however, were fairly consistent throughout the run of the course, with between 100 and 150 individual comments posted on course forums each week—which doesn’t even begin to take into account the dozens of postings made via Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ as we explored each of those platforms.

Most interesting to me, since I was expecting a steady decrease in discussion-forum postings, is that the largest number of individual discussions actually occurred during the final week, when learners were not only posting brief descriptions of their final projects, but also engaging in brief summaries of how their perceptions (and misperceptions) about social media tools had changed.

But it’s really not the numbers that tell the story here; it’s the observations the learners offered regarding how their perceptions had changed in positive ways and how they walked away from this brief, very concentrated experience with social media much more likely to use the tools than they had been before they took the course.

As I’ve said in response to many of their comments, this is the real icing on our learning cake. Because learning is about positive transformation, the fact that they are documenting increased use of social media tools and finding ways to use those tools to the benefit of those they serve in libraries throughout the United States and a few other countries means that our time together is offering rewards to the organizations they serve. They are also now engaged in a community of learning that was created during the initial offering of the course in 2012, has grown as a result of the latest four-week offering, and stands a good chance of growing even more as these participants use their online discussion groups to stay in touch, exchange resources, and explore issues of interest and importance to them in the months and years to come.


Learning Social Media With Our Learners (Pt. 3 of 4): Office Hours in a Google+ Hangout

January 31, 2013

Having twice used a private Facebook group as the platform for virtual office hours over the past couple of weeks, participants in the latest version of the four-week online “Social Media Basics” course I developed with colleagues at ALA Editions went for broke this morning: we used a Google+ Hangout for our latest office hour.

While it was far from perfect, it proved to be a spectacular learning experience for those who wanted the opportunity to create another learning sandbox in a course that has promoted experimentation as a way of becoming comfortable with a few of the numerous social media tools available to us.

Social_Media_BasicsThe experiment—not originally built into the course, but completely in character with the approach we’ve been taking together—was inspired during our second Facebook office hour last week. We had begun discussing how different people were using Google+ Hangouts creatively, and I responded to a question by describing how Samantha Adams Becker (from the New Media Consortium) and I had used Hangouts as the vehicle for blended cross-country presentations on technology in learning. (I was onsite in the San Francisco Bay Area with American Society for Training & Development—ASTD–colleagues, and Samantha came in from her home in New Orleans via the Hangouts.) I also led the virtual office hour participants to the YouTube video of John Butterill’s Virtual Photo Walks via Google+ Hangouts. It was at that moment that one of the participants expressed an interest in conducting our next virtual office hour via a Hangout, and the request picked up momentum through the learners’ own actions.

When I saw that one of the course participants was running with the idea of connecting with a few other learners via a Hangout—an option suggested as a final course activity—I contacted her to ask whether she would like to combine that effort with the proposed office hour and actually facilitate the session herself. She immediately accepted, sent out the invitations both on Google+ and in the class forum (in Moodle), and began preparing for the session. Although I was there to support her during the brief planning stages and while the Hangout was in progress, it really was a learner-driven session with all the ups and downs we expected through that effort.

She and I worked together in advance to craft a rough outline of how the session would proceed, and agreed that part of the success would come from not overly structuring the conversation. She and others exchanged information ahead of time via Google+ and the class forum. She even set up a pre-session sandbox for anyone who wanted to play with the technology before the office hour officially began.

When we logged on at the appointed time, she and the others were fantastic in addressing challenges. The initial Hangout was a bit slow, and screens froze a couple of times, so we decided that she should log out and then come right back in to see if the connection would stabilize. Although the rest of us were able to continue in that original Hangout, she somehow found herself locked out of it, so immediately contacted me, via a separate chat, to see if the entire group could move into a new Hangout. The transition was relatively quick, and we were all in the new, much more successful Hangout, within 10 minutes of the original start time—a great learning experience for those interested in seeing how easy it could be to resolve problems within a new learning environment like a Google+ Hangout.

As was the case with our initial Facebook virtual office hour, we spent another few minutes playing around with the technical side of the event since this was meant to be a learning experience, not a professionally-produced program: helping participants unmute their microphones, establishing an understanding of how to effectively use the chat function, and even finding a way to allow one struggling participant to view the session through a live feed via YouTube. By the time we were a quarter of the way through our hour-long session, we had moved away from discussions of how to operate within a Hangout and were already discussing topics germane to the work we were doing in “Social Media Basics.”

None of us expects to win any awards for production values or content from that first experiment, but we all walked away with something far more important: the memory of an engaging online session that made everyone feel as if we had finally “met” in the course because we had that virtual face-to-face experience, and lots of ideas about how the experience could quickly be replicated in our own workspaces to the benefit of those we serve.

And if that isn’t at the heart of successful learning in our onsite-online world, then I’m not quite sure what is.

N.B.: Heartfelt thanks to the staff of the New Media Consortium for introducing me to John Butterill’s Virtual Photo Walks through the work Advisory Board members did on the 2013 Horizon Report Higher Education Edition.


Learning Social Media With Our Learners (Pt. 2 of 4): Office Hours in Facebook

January 17, 2013

The concept of office hours in an online course took an interesting twist this morning as several participants in the latest version of the four-week online “Social Media Basics” course I developed with colleagues at ALA Editions joined me in our course Facebook discussion group for a spirited hour-long exchange.

Social_Media_BasicsOur experimental session was predicated on the idea that, within the safety of a private Facebook group, we could hold a live online office hour which would simultaneously let us explore current course challenges while also seeing how one of the social media tools we are exploring can be useful to us long after the course ends.

It succeeded beyond our wildest dreams—with plenty of unexpected challenges coming up along the way.

I initially suggested that, to facilitate discussion while also producing a reviewable transcript, we establish a discussion posting within the group, and that everyone participate by responding within that thread by hitting Comment. The plan was that any course participant wanting to review the discussion later could simply read the comments in the order they were posted within that private Facebook group setting.

We quickly found ourselves split a bit when one of the learners responded using the chat function. At that point, we had two simultaneous and not-at-all synchronized discussions going, so we moved everything into the chat for the remainder of the online office hour. After making it past the not-unexpected questions about how to monitor and respond to a chat feed that seemed to be traveling very close to the speed of light, the learners seem to adjust to the pace.

The magic moment of learning came when we stopped focusing on the tool and became immersed in a variety of topics about Facebook and social media in general. The current learners started driving the conversation as I stepped back, and they were further encouraged by the presence of a learner from a previous offering of the course since that returning member of our course learning community was able not only to provide useful resources, but also offer the perspective of someone who less than half a year ago had been learning what they are currently learning, and has now integrated the use of social media tools into the work she does.

When she offered to—and actually did—post a link to a copy of the social media policy developed at her library, there wasn’t a learner in the group who didn’t see that we were far beyond the stereotypical view of Facebook as little more than a place for friends and acquaintances  to post ephemera. This was a social media tool with practical application to each learner’s workplace; they seemed to be finding it easy to master through their use of it in that virtual office hour space; and they saw that the exchanges with one of their course predecessors provided a great example of how social media tools extend their contact with valuable colleagues who might otherwise not be accessible to them.

The story wouldn’t be complete, however, without a frank admission that there was still a bit of learning for me to complete. Since we hadn’t ended up with the accessible transcript I wanted for participants and for others who are enrolled in the course but couldn’t attend the live version, I spent a little time trying to find a way to create that accessible record for them. There were several interesting options documented on various online sites, but they seemed too complicated for learners in a social media basics course, so I looked for a simple way that would require little more than familiarity with the basic tools available within the discussion group itself. The obvious choice was to click on the Messages option in the left-hand column of a Facebook page, and then look for the chat. Trial and error showed that a couple of additional steps were necessary:

  • Once I had clicked on Messages and moved into my Inbox, I used the Search box near the upper left-hand corner of that page to locate one of the chat participants. This, unfortunately, only produced part of the chat transcript—turns out she had only been present for the final 10 minutes of the discussion, so that’s what was archived from that search.
  • Identifying one of the participants who had been present from start to finish, I repeated the search by using that learner’s name. That produced a copy of the entire archived document, ready to be read and preserved.
  • To produce the transcript in a way that could be shared with all course participants, I highlighted the entire text contained within the chat transcript, copied it, pasted it into a Word document, and saved it as a PDF. That version, shared only with course participants, became a course learning object that the learners themselves helped create, and will serve as a resource for them as long as they care to use it—as soon as I post it within our official course bulletin board (outside of Facebook, within Moodle).

The final icing on this particular learning cake is that I’m documenting our experiment in this blog posting so the learners themselves can see how activities in one social media platform extend into another in ways that keep the conversation—and the learning—going far beyond what occurred in any one social media interaction, and can draw a larger group into our ever-expanding community of learners.


Learning Social Media With Our Learners (Pt. 1 of 4)

January 13, 2013

Teaching any “basics” course face to face or online can be one of the best ways to (willingly) be pushed into advanced exploration of a topic, as I’ve been reminded this week.

Social_Media_BasicsDiving into the latest version of the four-week online “Social Media Basics” course I developed with colleagues at ALA Editions, I’m working with a wonderful group of adults who are beginning to set up and learn how to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ accounts effectively. But it’s not just about sending tweets and posting updates: their entry-level work with social media tools is inspiring them to engage in advanced-level exploration about what it means to go from having a slight or non-existent presence in the world of social media to becoming adept users of those tools professionally and personally. And, as expected, the work they are doing, the questions they are asking, and the resources they are discovering and sharing with their course colleagues make me as engaged a learner as any of them are.

The two-way learning began early in the course when they began exploring some of the extras within Moodle, which is the open source platform used by ALA Editions for online delivery of its courses. The best surprise for me—at least up to this point—came when someone explored the basic tools available and found a way to include a photograph of herself in one of the postings to a course forum. Since that simple act of reaching out socially via a friendly headshot of herself provided a first-rate example of the spirit of social media use, I went back into the course tools to learn how to duplicate what she had done. By responding with a note (visible to all course participants) that included an informal snapshot of myself, I called other learners’ attention to what was possible in our course postings and was happy to see others adopting the same practice so that a bit of social cohesion was already developing even before we jumped out onto the Web to use any of the social media tools.

Even more encouraging was how quickly many of the learners began jumping back and forth from the safety of that private course forum to the much more open and public venue of Twitter as they worked through the first assignment of starting (or updating) a Twitter account. Some were able to quickly create and post first-rate Twitter profiles, start following a combination of course colleagues and other outside resources that will be of use and interest to them in their day-to-day work, and send their first tweets. A couple, uncomfortable about having their tweets seen by complete strangers, discovered and explored the use of accounts that keep tweets private and visible only to an approved group of followers.

One of the most interesting learning opportunities for all of us came from those who were struggling with that same idea about how openly social and accessible to be in a social media setting. They set up their accounts, admitted they felt uncomfortable posting content that strangers could see, and wrote about feeling equally uncomfortable reading content that sometimes is far more personal than what they want to encounter from people they haven’t met. So we brought that level of discourse back into the course forum and provided a discussion thread that allows all course participants to exchange thoughts about the benefits and disadvantages to operating so transparently within a social media context. It will be interesting to see if/when someone in the course becomes confident and comfortable enough to begin tweeting out that sort of question to explore the issue with experienced Twitter users they haven’t yet encountered.

A key element of what we’re doing together is that we’re engaging in deeply important and richly challenging exchanges online as effectively as we would if we were face to face—with the understanding that ultimately there will be no one-size-fits-all answer. We’re pushing the tools themselves into the background and using them to have the sort of discussions that foster effective collaborations via those tools. (With any luck, this posting here on Building Creative Bridges will become part of the overall conversation and another example of how we can extend discussions across a variety of platforms.) And the learners—my learning colleagues in every sense of that term—are quickly seeing that I’m happy to facilitate the discussions and bring additional useful resources to the conversations, but that I’m not going to serve as the sort of social media advocate who insists that everyone has to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and the many other options available to us.

We all appear to be comfortable with the idea that we adopt a social media tool at the moment we see that tool meeting a need we haven’t filled elsewhere, and that trying to force someone to learn and use something before they’re ready is the worst and least successful way to foster effective learning—probably the most important lesson to be learned and relearned by any trainer-teacher-learner.


The Fourth Place Revisited: When Social Learning Center Learners Take the Lead (Part 1 of 2)

September 26, 2012

You know you’re onto a major learning success when your learners seamlessly and playfully take the lead—which is exactly what happened late last week, halfway through the Library of Virginia’s two-day Directors’ Meeting in Richmond, Virginia.

Cindy Church, continuing education consultant for the Library, had brought Maurice Coleman and me in to facilitate a few sessions on the future of libraries and learning. Maurice engagingly initiated our portion of the program with “A Blind Leap of Faith: Keeping Your Library Thriving in the 21st Century.” His presentation Thursday afternoon provoked plenty of positive conversation onsite; it also, in the spirit of what we were doing, reached beyond the walls of the auditorium to be viewed by more than 800 people online after SlideShare’s managers highlighted his PowerPoint slide deck on their home page.

Maurice and I picked up where his initial session ended that afternoon by moving into a presentation/facilitated discussion, “Learning to Meet the Future: Libraries Developing Communities,” that was designed to introduce the library directors to the idea that libraries are serving as a new Fourth Place in our world—social learning centers. A major learning point was to be the idea that libraries often fill this need, but don’t call much attention to it, so are missing a chance to more effectively be at the center of the social learning process that effectively reaches and serves significant numbers of people in life-changing ways within their communities.

But a funny thing happened on the way to our denouement Thursday afternoon. It became clear to Maurice and to me, during our end-of-the-day wrap-up with the directors, that even if they hadn’t been familiar with the jargon of social learning and social learning centers, they were already engaged in using libraries as centers of formal and informal learning. And as if to prove how quickly they were assimilating the idea that learning is social, continual, and playful, one of them incorporated the term they had just picked up to tweet out a reminder about a gathering that was about to take place over drinks in a local hotel bar: “Social learning environment at Hilton Garden Inn 5:30.”

Since social learning often benefits tremendously from flexibility and in-the-moment course adjustments, Maurice and I were delighted to see that some of the formal discussions carried over to that social learning environment at the Hilton Garden Inn. And we were also extremely curious about two elements of what we were seeing: what connected those library directors so effectively to learning, and what we could do, overnight, to abandon what we had originally planned for the Friday session so we could more effectively meet those learners where they were and support them even more in their own work.

It didn’t take long to find the answer to the first question: directors with whom we spoke mentioned that Cindy and her colleagues in the state library (the Library of Virginia) had done quite a bit to foster a culture of learning throughout libraries statewide—again proving that if we have the right person or people in key positions, magic occurs. It’s not that we haven’t seen other colleagues in libraries express a commitment to learning—it is certainly visible here California through efforts supported by our state library, and the American Library Association’s current strategic plan goes a long way in fostering a mission statement that includes a commitment to “promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.” What does not yet appear to be so common is the explicit commitment to social learning expressed and demonstrated so overtly by those Virginia library directors last week.

As for the answer to our second question—how to quickly produce an appropriate learning opportunity the following morning since what we had planned was clearly not going to be sufficient to meet this group’s needs—it came later that evening. Focusing on the idea that the library directors would benefit from hands-on experience in shaping and using a social learning center, we tossed out our original workshop plan and decided to turn the Friday morning session into an exercise of creating an impromptu blended (onsite-online) learning center that facilitated a conversation about what the directors could do upon returning home to their own libraries. All we had to do was find some online participants on the spur of the moment.

Next: Redesigning an Entire Social Learning Opportunity Overnight


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.


Learning, Innovation, and Instagram (#IITB, Pt. 3 of 4): Building Character(istics)

February 11, 2020

To display the character—and the characteristics—of the Innovator’s Mindset requires us to be observant, be creators, be resilient, and be reflective, George Couros and Katie Novak suggest as they explore the final four of those eight Innovator’s Mindset qualities in their book Innovate Inside the Box: Empowering Learners Through UDL [Universal Design for Learning]and the Innovator’s Mindset and continue engaging us through participation in their Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study group.

Exploring themes that flow through the entire book, and exploring how Instagram might be incorporated into engaging training-teaching-learning opportunities, has certainly provided me with inspiration to be observant, to be creative (in the sense of creating Instagram posts that can serve as learning moments), to be resilient (each post has required multiple attempts and the use of at least a couple of different tools to produce the images/learning moments I was attempting to produce), and reflective. The results, as you can see from what I posted previously and from the following lightly-edited sets of reflections from each of the most recent Instagram/Tumblr posts I completed while contributing to the discussions on four of the eight Innovator’s Mindset characteristics, display the never-quite-perfect record-of-my-learning-process in ways that will serve as reminders to me—and, possibly, to you—of the value of regularly engaging in learning rather than remaining solely in the instructor/learning facilitator role so many of us pursue.

Comments accompanying the fifth of eight Innovator’s Mindset-post characteristics—this one on the Innovator’s Mindset characteristic observant: Something that has been all around—completely unnoticed, completely unobserved—is called to your attention. You take note of it. You might study it a bit. You absorb it into your verbal, visual, and “attentiveness” (things-I-need-to-notice) vocabulary. And suddenly, it seems as if it is everywhere you look. Which is the point that George Couros and Katie Novak make in Chapter 9 of Innovate Inside the Box: Empowering Learners Through UDL [Universal Design for Learning] and the Innovator’s Mindset). Being observant is a characteristic that, “in a world full of noise, is more valuable than ever,” Couros writes. Being observant, he continues, involves “the skill of finding nuggets of wisdom and powerful links to information [and] is one that you develop over time.” It’s a skill I’m further cultivating while experimenting with Instagram as a training-teaching-learning skill within the context of the book study group: I observe how my co-conspirators in learning—Couros, Novak, and those who are participating and interacting through their Instagram posts—approach the tool (creatively/innovatively); how some of us react to what Couros and Novak have written in their book and are providing via Instagram; and how we describe what we are doing to adopt the Innovator’s Mindset to create more productive, engaging, meaningful learning opportunities for our leaners and ourselves. “We have to design learning opportunities that leave room for students to observe the world around them, find their passions, and ask their own questions so their learning experiences aren’t cluttered with ‘one-size-fits-all’ resources that pave a path for them,” Novak writes. And, in learning and beginning to apply the lesson she and Couros are providing by not giving “one-size-fits-all” assignments in this book discussion/course, she makes us more observant, more likely to acquire and obtain glimpses of beauty in a world that we otherwise might not so carefully have noticed.

Comments about the sixth characteristic (creators): You see him in an urban park, creating an image from his surroundings. Creating something that matters to him. And, with any luck, something that will be seen by others, and that, to them, will matter, too. Consuming impressions from his surroundings—from his world—he engages in that stimulating moment of personifying the consumer-creator —an essential part of every learner’s experience, Couros and Novak remind us in Chapter 10 of Innovate Inside the Box. “Innovators need to be creators, not just consumers. With that in mind, teachers need to provide numerous opportunities for students to create by providing options and choices for students to collaborate, examine exemplars of creativity, find solutions to problems, use non-traditional forms to consume new information and content, and have the flexibility to put the ideas together to create and express new and better ideas”—which, as always, remains at the heart of what we, as participants in the Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study group, are doing. We read, consuming the content from the book. We reflect, gleaning tips and gaining inspiration from what others post in Instagram. We create our own responses in the form of these images and the accompanying text we attempt to weave into our posts. And, as creator-consumers, we learn.

Comments about the seventh characteristic (resilient): We try to accomplish something, not sure how or whether we will succeed. And when we don’t, we try…and try again…until we get it right—which speaks to the power of resiliency, the seventh of eight characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset explored by Couros and Novak in Innovate Inside the Box. “Innovators need to build resilience as setbacks and failing are expected. ‘Failure’ and ‘failing’ are different. Whereas failure is final, failing happens as part of an ongoing practice of trying and learning,” Novak tells us—a great reminder for me as I prepared this particular post and found myself having to try and try again until the cropping of the photo and the placement of the words were as effective as I could make them with the tools with which I’m working. It’s a lesson my colleagues and I share repeatedly with our co-conspirators in learning by suggesting that “fail to learn” is an often-overlooked foundation of resiliency—and success—in learning.

Comments accompanying my Instagram post on the eighth character trait: “The ability to reflect is crucial for understanding and processing,” Couros reminds us as he and Novak take us through the final characteristic of the Innovator’s Mindset: reflection. “It is also essential to our ability to move forward and create something from what we have learned. … Reflection time is something that should be seen as vital to learning…” The entire experience of participating in the Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study group here on Instagram has been exactly that: a combination of moving forward in my learning about Instagram as a tool for training-teaching-learning; reading (and rereading) and reflecting on each chapter within Innovate Inside the Box; creating something that builds upon what I have already learned; and learning more by sharing it on Instagram, seeing how my co-conspirators in learning respond to it, and responding to the results of their own moving/creating/innovating/learning process. And because we are part of a community of learning, we have the chance to celebrate each step we take in moving toward improving what we do in service to the learners who rely on us for support, inspiration, and collaboration.–N.B.: This is the third in a set of reflections inspired by #IITB, the Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study group. Next: When books are more than books.


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