One 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.
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.
The 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 blendedcross-countrypresentations 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’sVirtual 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.
Our 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 mediatools 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 severalinteresting 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.
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.
Diving 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 mediatools 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.
An innocuous little note at the bottom of the “living” online agenda for the 2020 Arizona State University ShapingEDU Unconference (for “dreamers, doers, and drivers shaping the future of learning in the digital age”) earlier this month proved, in retrospect, to be one of the most prescient and useful comments anyone could have injected into the planning process: “While the start and end tines each day will not change, all activity times are fluid/subject to change…because it’s an unconference.”
The key moment in the ShapingEDU community’s response to the spread of the coronavirus occurred at the end of the first full day of onsite-online activities. Unconference organizers, responding to the fear that airlines might soon be cancelling flights and leave onsite participants separated from their families, made what was for them a very difficult decision: cancelling the onsite portion of the Unconference and simultaneously moving the mostly-onsite event completely online.
More importantly, they used every avenue available to quickly disseminate news of the decision and provide clear instructions on how we would continue during the second day of the two-day event. There were face-to-face conversations in the lobby of the hotel where many of us were staying. There was an email message sent to all participants. There were posts in the ShapingEDU Unconference Slack channel. To say it as bluntly as possible: there was complete transparency about what was happening and there was a magnificent effort to convey the news in the most positive way possible.
It’s well worth sharing a slightly-edited version of the note that was drafted by Samantha Becker, who serves as a driving force and supportive colleague in virtually everything related to the community and the Unconference, and that went out to all of us:
“Dear Dreamers, Doers and Drivers:
“Thank you so much for your brilliant participation and rallying today to advance some awesome and actionable outputs to better education. You made it insightful and you made it fun. You have truly embraced the spirit of the unconference!
“We have made a decision to pivot to online-only activities tomorrow, beginning again in our Zoom room [the link was shared here to make it easy for attendees to continue participating] at 9am AZ time / 12pm Eastern US Time. This was a very difficult decision to make, and one that has been made to take every precaution for our community, given the updates unfolding around us in real-time. Those here in person that wish to take earlier flights can.
“That said, we except a robust online program tomorrow, kicking off at 9am with a special talk from Adobe’s Todd Taylor on digital and creative fluency. Our graphic facilitator Karina Branson will be online and making her graphics all digital! Watch us flex.
“The goal tomorrow online is take all the actionable ideas and products we came up with in our neighborhood working sessions, narrow them down and start firming up concrete plans for the ShapingEDU community to weigh in on. Even if you couldn’t make today or only part of today, you can jump in tomorrow and contribute in a major way.
“Zoom Room: [again, the link was provided] (9am – 1pm AZ / 12pm – 4pm Eastern US)
“If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. The Slack workspace has been lively and we’ll pick our conversations back up there in the #unconference2020 channel.”
Reading that note can’t help but leave us with an appreciation for how quickly, effectively, and positively Samantha and other Unconference organizers (with input from available attendees) made and publicized the transformation. We can’t help but notice how effectively they used every resource available to them. And, above all, we have to acknowledge how well-prepared (through its consistent exploration and use of online communication tools) community members were for this massive shift in plans—the same sort of massive shift that is occurring in training-teaching-learning worldwide.
The result was that when we reconvened (online) the following morning, most of us were present. Ready to work. And deeply appreciative for the creative, playful way with which the change was managed. One of the first spur-of-the-moment adaptations came from Laura Geringer, the community engagement, writing, and project leadership consultant who does much of the day-to-day work of reaching out to ShapingEDU community members to keep us informed and involved. Acknowledging that this was a group that thrived on collegiality and effective use of videoconferencing platforms like Zoom, she encouraged all of us to activate the webcams on our laptops so we could produce a global wave. And even for those of us who found our webcams choosing that moment to malfunction, the gesture was a success. We waved. We laughed. And then we got down to business, putting the technology in the background and bringing the interactions into the foreground to produce a set of proposals for projects the community will consider pursuing as a result of the time we spent together at ShapingEDU 2020.
So, let’s hear it for flexible/adaptable communities of learning and all that their members do to make them successful through an approach of considering everyone a co-conspirator in the training-teaching-learning-doing process. A willingness to work with technology that sometimes produces spectacular results and sometimes leaves us frustrated by short-term failures. And living agendas that are created with an understanding that “all activity times are fluid/subject to change”…because that’s one of many approaches we can take to produce first-rate learning opportunities and the results they can produce.
While trainer-teacher-learners globally are struggling to adapt to a rapidly-changing learning environment created as a result of the current coronavirus pandemic, examples of communities of learning adapting quickly through positive actions are abundant. It’s fascinating to watch—and participate in the growth of—global networks including the Facebook Pandemic Pedagogy group which, as of today, has more than 26,000 members online creating/sharing/absorbing information, resources, questions, and ideas regarding the large-scale, blink-of-an-eye movement from onsite instruction to online learning opportunities. It’s exciting to be part of smaller communities of learning, including Maurice Coleman’sT is for Training group centered around his biweekly podcast exploring training-teaching-learning-doing in libraries across the United States, as they create and facilitate informal online community discussions via Zoom and numerous other videoconferencing tools as a way of keeping up, staying socially connected in a time of social distancing, and doing what it they do best: promoting the best possible approaches to fostering positive learning experiences for those who rely on them for support.
In the midst of all this, the 2020 Arizona State University ShapingEDU Unconference (for “dreamers, doers, and drivers shaping the future of learning in the digital age”) earlier this month stands out as a stunningly successful example of how those of us comfortable with and experienced in working in blended (onsite/online) environments are well-positioned to pivot on a very small (digital) dime when necessary. More importantly, it may be useful example/case study for trainer-teacher-learner-doers globally not only during the current coronavirus pandemic but during any period during which our approach to the work we do has to change as fast as the world around us is changing.
The third annual Unconference was planned, over a months-long period of time, as an onsite gathering (in Tempe, Arizona) with the potential for some online interactions for those community members unable to attend onsite. It was scheduled to begin onsite with an opening reception on the evening of March 11 and conclude around noon on March 13. Registration—by invitation only—peaked at nearly 220 participants in the days before the event was scheduled to begin. But when coronavirus concerns increased in late February and early March, cancellations accelerated; by the time participants began arriving in Tempe, there had been more than 50 cancellations, and the opening night reception had fewer than 50 people in attendance.
What could have been a deal- (or Unconference-) breaker simply became a challenge in adaptability for those onsite as well as for those online. Onsite participants doubled down on our efforts to draw our online colleagues into the conversations via Twitter, via the Unconference live feed (via Zoom) that was already in place, and through quick adaptations in the way onsite sessions were managed.
It’s important to acknowledge that quite a bit goes into creating a community and an event as flexible/adaptable, focused, innovative, and productive as the ShapingEDU community and Unconference have proved to be during their first couple of years of operations. This is not something that we master and implement overnight. It starts with a shared vision: in this case, a commitment “to assemble a diverse collection of dreamers, doers, and drivers who believe that we can collectively shape a rich and impactful future for the application of emerging technologies to the design of learning and learners over the next chapter of the digital age” [the quote is from the invitation to attend the first Unconference, held in April 2018]. It grows through the work of first-rate planners and facilitators with a talent for including, at every possible opportunity, all interested community members in the actual planning process through numerous tools including a “living” online agenda. It is supported year-round through formal and informal online interactions, including webinars focused on specific elements of the overall ShapingEDU initiative and online publications that serve as resources for trainer-teacher-learner-doers worldwide. And, most importantly of all, it is grounded in a commitment to maintain a positive approach—particularly in times of adversity.
Acknowledging everyone involved in the development of the community and the unconferences would invariably result in an unbearably long post here on Building Creative Bridges and inadvertently leaving someone out, but a few key players are well worth mentioning as resources to anyone interested in knowing more about how to replicate its early successes. There is Lev Gonick, Arizona State University chief information officer and a founding force behind ShapingEDU. There is Samantha Becker, a cherished long-time colleague and collaborator who, as community manager for ShapingEDU, serves as a driving force and supportive colleague in virtually everything related to the community and the Unconference. And there is Laura Geringer, the community engagement, writing, and project leadership consultant who does much of the day-to-day work of reaching out to ShapingEDU community members to keep us informed and involved. Working alongside them physically and virtually are the volunteers who take bite-sized pieces of the overall initiative and work toward transforming dreams into positive, meaningful, measurable results.
What Lev and Sam and Laura nurture was clearly visible onsite. Because we are used to blended onsite-online interactions, it wasn’t much of a stretch for us to integrate our online colleagues into our activities on the first full day the 2020 Unconference. And when it became clear that the much lower-than-expected number of online participants was going to radically curtail the effectiveness of the breakout sessions we had planned for each group pursuing a part of the overall ShapingEDU framework, we quickly merged some of the groups with overlapping areas of interest and expertise to create more dynamic conversations, then further improvised by fully integrating what had initially been envisioned as conversations divided between onsite and online groups—which meant, for example, that my colleague Kim Flintoff (working from Australia) and I quickly snagged a room with projection and audio/loudspeaker capabilities—so we could hook my laptop up to those systems; the result was that we co-facilitated a session that extended from our room in Tempe all the way to Kim’s home on the other side of the world—and also drew in a couple of other onsite facilitators and a few online participants into the same highly productive completely blended session. One of the most rewarding signs of success came when we stopped paying attention to the technology that was making the session possible and focused on the results we were hoping to produce.
Just when all of us at the Unconference thought we had pushed our ability to adapt to its limit, another unexpected twist occurred—at the end of our first full day together: the increasing fear of cancelled flights home because of the then not-yet-implemented shelter-in-place orders that started going into effect less than a week later in parts of the United States drove the unexpected decision to move everything online overnight. Which meant that almost everyone had to scramble to rebook flights. Cancel their overnight reservations at the conference hotel. Scramble to pack everything that had been brought to the conference. And take actions that would have us all back together the following morning for Day 2 of what was about to become a completely virtual conference—with just a handful of us continuing to work together (in the Unconference online environment) from the dining room of the Unconference hotel.
Next: Going Online to Continue Dreaming, Driving, and Doing
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 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.
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.
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.
It’s not a surprise at all to me that the community is thriving under their guidance: Couros’s Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (massive open online course) a couple of years ago was a playfully innovative and inspiring opportunity to work with a dynamic group of co-conspirators in learning. And the idea of using Instagram as a platform for learning has obviously been successful in attracting enough people to make this a unique and transformative learning opportunity well worth pursuing. As I mentioned in the first post in this series of reflections inspired by the #IITB book study group, it has been engaging from the moment during which I posted my first offering after opening an Instagram account last week and began interacting with George and the other co-conspirators—an experience that has quickly deepened after just seven days of online, asynchronous interactions. I’m finding kindred spirits—other teacher-trainer-learners with seemingly inexhaustible depths of curiosity. A willingness to experiment with new concepts and tools. And a commitment to creating time and space to interact around an overlapping set of topics that include innovation in learning, incorporating Instagram into learning, and exploring ways to expand our own learning in ways that will benefit those we serve. The experience is multifaceted—an online (mostly asynchronous) book discussion group, functioning in a way that is reminiscent of the best connectivistMOOCs (massive open online courses) I have joined. It has us interacting within the platform (Instagram) through the images, videos, and text we have been posting, and allows for interactions through the comments that we post about our own and others’ offerings and through expanded interactions via posting blog pieces like this one and reading (and responding to) those posted by others.
Most interestingly—and again, not surprisingly—the interactions themselves reflect many of the eight characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset that all of us have been exploring and attempting to (further) develop. Going beyond the suggested basic level of participation—a suggested three postings for each of the three weeks the book discussion is scheduled to continue—because I have wanted to as fully as possible immerse myself in Instagram as a tool for training-teaching-learning, I’ve been creating separate posts that serve to summarize and respond to at least one element of each of the characteristics. The remainder of this blog post pulls lightly-edited text from each of the first four posts I completed while contributing to the discussions on four of the eight Innovator’s Mindset characteristics.
Comments accompanying the first post, on the Innovator’s Mindset characteristic of empathy: This, Couros proposes, “is about helping students seek out problems that are meaningful to them and then finding ways to solve or respond to those issues,” and it hearkens back to earlier passages in the book regarding the importance of asking the right questions to produce concrete, positive learning results. The goal, Novak adds, is “to empower students to become purposeful, motivated, resourceful, strategic learners”—a practice Couros and Novak put into play in the way they are encouraging those of us in the “Innovate inside the Box Instagram Book Study” group to absorb the content of their book, then apply it by producing Instagram posts that carry our learning forward through a process of deciding what each of us wants to know about Instagram and overcoming problems we face in locating and adapting solutions to design problems related to the creation of these posts.
Comments about the second characteristic (problem finders-solvers): This, Couros proposes, “is about helping students seek out problems that are meaningful to them and then finding ways to solve or respond to those issues,” and it hearkens back to earlier passages in the book regarding the importance of asking the right questions to produce concrete, positive learning results. The goal, Novak adds, is “to empower students to become purposeful, motivated, resourceful, strategic learners”—a practice Couros and Novak put into play in the way they are encouraging those of us in the “Innovate inside the Box Instagram Book Study” group to absorb the content of their book, then apply it by producing Instagram posts that carry our learning forward through a process of deciding what each of us wants to know about Instagram and overcoming problems we face in locating and adapting solutions to design problems related to the creation of these posts.
Comments about the third characteristic (risk-taking): Turning to “risk-taking” as one of eight characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (in “Innovate Inside the Box: Empowering Learners Through UDL [Universal Design for Learning] and the Innovator’s Mindset”), Couros and Novak are explicit in noting that they are not advocating “doing things that would harm our learners”; they are advocating the act of “moving from a comfortable average in pursuit of an unknown better”—something at the heart of the positive transformations that effective learning fosters. It’s a theme that speaks to me powerfully because I have, at points in my lifelong learning endeavors, caught myself (stupidly) thinking about not taking a course because it might lower my GPA—took me years to realize I no longer cared about grades; I cared about the positive results any great learning experience produces. I also occasionally catch myself—and stop myself from—holding back with questions about or experimental approaches to learning challenges offered in onsite and online courses and workshops; the self-imposed barrier, of course, comes from the fear that my peers/colleagues might somehow think less of me if I ask I a “stupid” question or produce results that are less dazzling than I hoped to produce when completing a learning task. What it comes down to, of course, is modeling for my co-conspirators in learning the very behavior I hope to foster in them: a willingness to try new things, overcome the fears that often accompany the act of taking risks, and live with—and actually embrace—the temporary failures that accompany us as we take the path toward learning what we want and need to learn. We “have to eliminate the barriers that prevent students from taking risks,” Novak counsels, and I would suggest we need to do the same for ourselves if we want to develop and benefit from adopting and nurturing the characteristics of the Innovative Mindset—for our learners and ourselves.
Comments accompanying my Instagram post on the fourth characteristic (networked); Being “networked”—the fourth of the eight characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (in “Innovate Inside the Box: Empowering Learners Through UDL [Universal Design for Learning] and the Innovator’s Mindset”)—is “crucial both to innovative teaching and learning as well as to helping students develop an Innovator’s Mindset,” George Couros writes. It’s a characteristic well-fostered in the “Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study” group for which this and my other #InnovateInsideTheBox posts on Instagram [with copies posted to Tumblr] have been prepared: by engaging in an asynchronous book discussion via Instagram, those of us participating with George and his “Inside the Box” co-author, Katie Novak, are meeting and engaging with others in a rapidly-developing network of educators (aka, trainer-teacher-learners] that has the potential to become another long-term community of learning. We work through Instagram; we learn with and from each other; and, if we’re successful, we and the learners we serve will benefit from having nurtured the “networked” and other Innovator’s Mindset characteristics we are developing with each new interaction we help create. As Novak observes, “When we provide students [ourselves included] with authentic opportunities to network and dive their own learning, it’s a hell of a ride.”
–N.B.: This is the second in a set of reflections inspired by #IITB, the Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study group. Next: The four remaining characteristics (observant, creators, resilient, and reflective).
I’m learning to use Instagram as a tool to foster training-teaching-learning. Not because friends and colleagues told me I should be on Instagram. (They did.) Not because I feel a compelling need to become active on yet another social media platform. (I don’t.) And certainly not for course credits or a grade: there are no grades given in the course I am pursuing—just an opportunity to explore an unfamiliar resource with the support of a tremendously innovative community of learning, under the guidance of a writer-presenter-educator (George Couros) I very much admire.
It started with a question, as have so many of my favorite and most transformative learning opportunities: how can Instagram be used to innovatively foster learning? And it’s the sort of learning opportunity I very much admire. It’s engaging—the moment I posted my first offering on Instagram, I became drawn into brief exchanges with George and my other co-conspirators in learning. It’s multifaceted—an online (mostly asynchronous) book discussion group, functioning as a connectivistMOOC (massive open online course), that includes the opportunity to explore a social media tool (Instagram) as part of the larger goal of engaging in transformative conversations on a topic (innovation in learning) that is of interest to me and those I serve. It’s rhizomatic—expanding and exploding across multiple platforms including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and even blog postings like this one. And it is creative in every sense of the word, including the idea that we as learners engage in the creation of numerous examples of how Instagram can be used in learning (while learning about Instagram itself) so that, at the conclusion of this three-week book discussion/course/community-of-learning-in-action, we will have produced a fluid, amendable “textbook” that can be used by others interested in learning about Instagram in learning.
We cannot, if we want to understand how this all works, overlook the magnificent organizational skills George brings to the course. He seeds the Instagram conversations with concise, visually-consistent suggested discussion points; incorporates short videos produced with other social media tools, including TikTok, to draw us in as co-conspirators in the learning process; and obviously gave plenty of thought to creating those chapter-by-chapter hashtags so that any of us, at any time, could easily locate, contribute, and respond to content on the topic of our choice. We also benefit from the unspoken assumption that, with content exploding across Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, blogs, and other social media platforms, there is no expectation that “keeping up” requires attention to all those possibilities and conversations; we choose what we can do within the time we have for the discussion/course, and happily work in what is a guilt-free learning zone.
Although I was late to joining the conversations—completing my first post on Instagram near the end of the second week of #IITB—I had been slowly reading and reflecting upon the book from the moment I received my copy. I was also using online resources to learn more about how Instagram works; how to create visually appealing posts appropriate to our goal of using Instagram for learning; and to survey some of the tools available for use in creating posts combining images and text. Attempting to complete and post a couple of contributions each day, it hasn’t taken me long to realize that the combination of text and imagery in those posts, along with reflections in the comments field of each post, are giving me a record of my learning; a quickly-growing resource library of images I can use in other projects I am currently completing; and examples I can use for the remainder of this blog post to show how the entire process is working for me—and might also work for you.
Comments accompanying the first post: Experimenting…always experimenting: the heart of training-teaching-learning. So, belatedly, I’m diving into what is meant to be a three-week innovative opportunity to explore Instagram as a tool for learning through an online Instagram-based book discussion centered on Innovate Inside the Box, by George Couros, with Katie Novak. George, upfront (on p. xxxv), reminds us that great learning opportunities, are fostered through our ability to draw upon our own creativity, our willingness to innovate to the benefit of our learners, and “the artistry of teaching”—which inspired me to go back to this photo I took of a playful work of art and think about how the successful incorporation of art into teaching-training-learning can help us hit the bull’s-eye when we are successful.
Comments accompanying the second post: In a chapter on learner-driven, evidence-informed learning, George suggests that a focus on grades (or, by extension, certificates of completion) rather than achievement reduces learning to “letters and numbers” and leaves our learners “lost in the process.” Fostering learning where “people are invested in their own goals” and where success is judged by evidence of positive transformation, on the other hand, carries learners “above and beyond goals that we set for them”—a lesson I’m re-learning as I participate in the book study group. If I were doing this for a grade or a certificate or if I were participating in a workshop on how to use Instagram, I would probably race through the learning challenges and be done with it; bringing my own commitment to lifelong learning to this innovative opportunity to study innovation (and Instagram) and taking the time to explore what Instagram might offer me and those I serve through training-teaching-learning-doing, however, is inspiring me to spend much more time than expected preparing each of these posts—with the result that I’ll leave the study group, when the formal interactions conclude, with an understanding far deeper and more useful than anything a grade provides.
Comments accompanying the third post: In his chapter “Master Learner, Master Educator,” George addresses a theme that comes up often with my colleagues: our roles as teacher-trainer-learners are inextricably interconnected; one part of that term without the others leaves us—and those we serve—at a terrible disadvantage in terms of facilitating and taking advantage of effective, positive, learning opportunities. “If you want to be a master educator, you need to be a master learner,” he reminds us, adding, later in the chapter, the wonderful punchline: “…learning has no endpoint; it is a continuous journey with many opportunities to explore.” And the more we encourage our learners—and ourselves—to solve challenges for themselves/ourselves rather than being spoon fed information they/we will not be able to remember, the more we help them—and ourselves—grow into successful lifelong learners—a lesson I continue to see reinforced as I explore the intersection of Instagram and teaching-training-learning by struggling with the tool; experimenting to produce thoughtful, visually appealing posts; and celebrating small victories while continuing to overcome the challenges that each new post provides.
Comments accompanying the fourth post: In his chapter on creating empowered learning experiences, George contrasts engagement (“listening, reading, observing, consuming”) with empowerment (speaking, writing, interacting, creating”) and suggests that “asking better questions” leads us—and our learners—down fruitful paths in developing valuable lifelong skills. There is an acknowledgement that we cannot ignore the basics when we are working with our learners, but the basics are the starting point, not the finish line: “When students are empowered to choose how they can best demonstrate their knowledge and skills, they are able to see the relevance in learning the basics…and are less likely to check out mentally.” It’s a reminder I appreciate as I explore basic as well as innovative possibilities Instagram provides for training-teaching-learning-doing—not because George or Katie dictate every step I must take as a learner and co-creator in their online book-study experience, but because they are the learning catalysts and I am a willing, curious, engaged, empowered co-conspirator in my own learning process.
So…I’m learning to use Instagram as a tool to foster training-teaching-learning. And I’m learning so much more. If this and subsequent posts about #InnovateInsideTheBox serve as learning opportunities for you and other readers of this blog, then the learning will continue far beyond the three-week online offering, and we will have come full circle in creating when-you-need-them learning opportunities from those in which we have participated, and to which we have contributed.
–N.B.: This is the first in a set of reflections inspired by #IITB, the Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study group.
Celebrating Life. Making positive connections and collaborating with people from around the world. Living everyday with positive energy, possibility, passion and peace of mind. Learning from a School Counsellor lens. I'm not a Counsellor because I want to make a living. I am a Counsellor because I want to make a difference. Gratitude for ETMOOC roots.