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.


Rethinking Digital Literacy: Defining Moments

July 17, 2015

With the roll-out of a new four-week ALA Editions online “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course a few days ago, I’m once again happily immersed in an ever-expanding, extremely intriguing moment of training-teaching-learning-exploring with a fantastic group of colleagues.

Rethinking_Digital_Literacy--Course_GraphicAt the heart of the course is a newly-forming community of learning (comprised of 45 library staff members and administrators from the United States and several other countries) creatively tackling the challenge of attempting to define digital literacy in ways that help community members more effectively design, develop, and deliver learning opportunities to foster greater digital literacy among those they serve. And there’s the rub: it turns out that even defining the term, as we’re seeing from Doug Belshaw’s Ed.D thesis (What is ‘digital literacy’?), is one of those enticingly wicked problems—something that is “difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements”—that can keep us up late into the night…for many nights.

I have gladly and very rewardingly spent quite a bit of time exploring digital literacy as a result of participating in discussions that began among those of us enrolled in the Educational Technology & Media MOOC—#etmooc—in early 2013. Some of those explorations led me to what I believe to be an essential digital literacy skill: an ability to work within much different time frames than we normally envision—time frames in which a “moment” (particularly in online learning, as described by Pekka Ihanainen and John Moravec in 2011) extends forward over periods of weeks, months, and even years while also extending backward as we come across, and respond to, threads of conversations we hadn’t previously seen. Think of all these exchanges as one magnificent synchronously asynchronous moment, and you begin to see what some of us are already viscerally experiencing.

Let’s be explicit here before we drown in jargon and fanciful proposals. Exploring digital literacy within the flexible structure of #etmooc started as a shared two-week journey with colleagues worldwide. By interacting with each other synchronously as well as asynchronously, supported by first-rate learning facilitators—including Alec Couros and Belshaw himself—we learned plenty. At the end of those two weeks, we walked away with more questions than answers, as is often the case when we are drawn into the exhilarating challenge of attempting to address a wicked problem. The result is that some of us continued to explore the theme; found and responded to tweets, blog posts, and online articles; and became part of an ongoing conversation with no easy-to-define beginning or ending point.

Even more rewarding for those of us who continue to explore ways to better serve our learners was the realization that the #etmooc connectivist approach provided plenty of inspiration as to how we can interact with and engage learners—an invaluable tool in a world where adult learning—particularly workplace learning—is often mistakenly viewed as something that detracts from “real work” rather than being seen as an integral element of successful work.

Building upon what I had already been doing to engage online learners (e.g., facilitating online office hours through Facebook, tweet chats, Google Hangouts, and other social media platforms), my colleagues and I continually look for ways to foster the creation and growth of communities of learning that support results-driven learning—we’re looking for positive, results-driven, meaningful change among learners here, not just blasting through a one-time session that produces nothing more than a learning badge or certificate of completion that fades almost as quickly as memories of the learning session do.

etmoocPerhaps one of the key lessons learned in that connectivist massive open online course (MOOC) was that rewarding, connected, significant learning is going to expand beyond the time constraints we initially expect to face when diving into a course with specific start and end dates—the #etmooc community, for example, continues to thrive long after the course formally ended. We need to keep that in mind; plan for it; and, when appropriate, support it so that our—and our learners’—learning goals are met.

This more or less brings us full circle to the current Rethinking Digital Literacy course. Inspired by those #etmooc discussions and creatively flexible pedagogical approaches, I developed a course that begins within a formal learning management system (Moodle); offers opportunities for the learners to carry the discussions and the learning beyond the boundaries of that course (e.g., into blog postings, tweets, shared videos); and encourages the learners to explore and use any digital tools they want to use in their exploration of digital literacy. Much to my delight, the discussions among the learners are already well underway just days after the course formally opened to them.

The spirit of exploring digital literacy via their digital literacy tools is stunningly and encouragingly on display within the course discussion boards. One learner, quickly understanding that the challenge of defining digital literacy is going to be an iterative process, posted an initial definition that was followed by two refinements within the first few days all of us began working together. A few others are already reaching out to each other to establish a formal hashtag that they can use to extend their conversations into Twitter—one way of retaining access to their discussions long after their access to the learning management system ends. Another, with a strong background in IT, is already extending our definitions by suggesting that one aspect of digital literacy involves “an ability to translate the functionality of one [digital] application or format to another”—in essence suggesting that digital literacy implies an ability to help others learn how to use digital tools and resources.

What is striking about all of this is the breadth of experience, the depth of thought, and the levels of engagement these adult learners are already bringing to the course in its earliest stages—and how many apparently disparate learning moments are combining into a shared/collaborative moment that is continuing to grow as I write these words.

Ultimately, I suspect that our collaborations will lead us to acknowledge this defining moment as one in which, by attempting to define digital literacy/literacies and expand our view of the synchronous and asynchronous moments we share in our online training-teaching-learning endeavors, we gain a deeper understanding of what digital literacy might be, how it works, and what it means to us and to those we serve in a rapidly evolving learning and work environment.

N.B.: This is the first in a series of reflections inspired by our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course.


Information Services Today: Mobile and Available at the Moment of Need

April 15, 2015

The topic of embedded librarians receives no more than a few pages of direct attention in Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction, but it’s one that librarians and other trainer-teacher-learners would do well to explore, for it suggests an interesting twist on the concept of mobile learning—one in which the learning facilitator is physically or virtually mobile.

Information_Services_Today--CoverTodd Gilman, in his Information Services Today chapter on “The Learning and Research Institution: Academic Libraries,” suggests that “[e]mbedded librarians seek to reach students where they are rather than wait for students to come to them”—something that I see our best training-teaching-learning colleagues also striving to achieve with learners of all ages. “They might serve as a co-teacher by means of a virtual presence in an online course offered to their institution’s students or to students enrolled in a faculty member’s MOOC (Massive Open Online Course); hold office hours in an academic department, student union, cafeteria, or writing center; or offer brief introductory visits to face-to-face classrooms at the invitation of teaching faculty” (p. 65).

Michelle Holschuh Simmons, in her chapter “Finding Information: Information Intermediation and Reference Services,” carries the theme much further, beginning with a brief summary of how the term developed: “Coined in 2004 by Barbara Dewey, the term ‘embedded librarian’ has come to mean an information professional who is focused ‘on the needs of one or more specific groups, building relationships with these groups, developing a deep understanding of their work, and providing information services that are highly customized and targeted to their greatest needs.’” And this is the point at which any trainer-teacher-learner begins to see parallels between that embedding concept and what we strive to achieve: building relationships with our learners so we can determine, understand, and facilitate the process of meeting their learning needs.

Shumaker--Embedded_Librarian--CoverSimmons leads us to David Shumaker’s book The Embedded Librarian: Innovative Strategies for Taking Knowledge Where It’s Needed as a resource for anyone wanting to see how embedded librarianship works in action, and we can also find Shumaker’s latest embedded-librarian reflections on the blog he started in 2007. Simmons further brings the topic to life by providing examples: an embedded librarian conducting weekly office hours in a campus computer lab, and an embedded librarian who “took his role…to an unprecedented level by participating in the Faculty-in-Residence program and living with students in a residence hall.” She also gives us a glimpse of public-library embedded-librarian practices by quoting from an American Libraries article by Colbe Galston, Elizabeth Kelsen Huber, Katherine Johnson, and Amy Long: “The DCL [Douglas County Libraries] staff are embedded ‘throughout the county in local schools, city councils, metro districts, economic development councils, and even a local women’s crisis center.’”

It’s not at all difficult to make the leap from the embedded-librarian model to a broader embedded-trainer-teacher-learner model. Working with a group of colleagues delivering a series of tech trainings for hospice workers a few years ago, for example, provided me with a wonderful post-classroom/workshop opportunity: we took turns staffing an onsite help desk next to the hospice workers’ offices for up to two weeks per series so those learners could stop by for additional one-on-one support during the final phase of their transition from familiar to unfamiliar technology. I’ve also been involved in online variations on the theme by offering virtual office hours via Facebook and Google Hangouts for learners who otherwise were limited to asynchronous interactions in an online course; an encouraging aspect of those ongoing experiments is how easy it is to travel virtually to the learners’ moments and points of need—and how quickly the learners (particularly in a hangout) come to realize that our expanding set of tech tools go a long way in eradicating the distances and other barriers that previously limited our ability to become embedded in a variety of ways.

Kvenild--Embedded_Librarians--CoverNone of this is big news to the librarians who have been exploring opportunities to become embedded virtually with an eye toward engaging learners and meeting their learning needs. Ann Schroeder, in her “Replacing Face-to-Face Literacy Instruction: Offering the Embedded Librarian Program to All Courses” chapter (pp 63-75) from the anthology Embedded Librarians: Moving Beyond One-Shot Instruction [edited by Cassandra Kvenild and Kaijsa Calkins] provides plenty of documentation for how any trainer-teacher-learner approaches the challenge. Laura Skinner’s “Librarians in Your Midst: The Embedded Librarian Program at PVCC [Piedmont Virginia Community College]” provides a first-rate case study of how to effectively design, promote, and deliver embedded services in online-learning environments.  And Steven Bell’s “Being Present with Learners in the Library” takes us beyond the embedded-learning-facilitator discussion to remind us that our best efforts are grounded in a commitment to “develop a presence that leads to connections and relationships.” With these and many more resources available to us, we’re well on the way to creatively and effectively finding ways to go where our learners most need us.

N.B.: This is the third in a series of reflections inspired by Information Services Today: An Introduction, which includes Paul’s chapter on “Infinite [Lifelong] Learning.”


ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting: Learning How to Make a Meeting

February 1, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The State of America’s Libraries 2014: Libraries, Social Networking, and Learning

April 16, 2014

“‘Social’ has come to mean more than sending a tweet or posting to Facebook,” trainer-teacher-learners and others perusing the 2014 edition of the American Library Association (ALA) State of America’s Libraries are reminded near the end of the “Social Networking” section.

State_of_Americas_Libraries_2014It’s an idea we understand viscerally when we serve ourselves and others by actively engaging in virtual office hours via Facebook or Google+ Hangouts; learning from and serving as active members of online communities of learning via live, facilitated tweetchats like #lrnchat or extended asynchronous explorations along the lines of the New Media Consortium’s recent Wiki-Thon; or creating content while using social media tools that make connectivist MOOCs (massive open online courses) like #etmooc (the Educational Technology & Media MOOC) or #xplrpln (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC) sustainable communities learning.

This is a huge leap from social-media-as-bulletin-board-for-ephemera to social-media-as-workplace-tool, and it’s one that more and more colleagues and their learners are embracing. While we still have plenty of learners who need help in making the transition from seeing the use of online social networking tools as irrelevant to their workplace and personal activities to integrating those tools into their various activities, we increasingly are seeing beginners quickly make the leap from skepticism to creative endeavors including the use of Twitter as a way of conducting virtual new-staff orientations, as school librarian Betty Turpin is doing with a group of library school students who will be completing a project at the International School of Stuttgart next month.

The writers of the State of America’s Libraries 2014 offer us a helpful view of social networking within the library context: “‘The social librarian is enmeshed in the fabric of the Internet of Things as curator, educator, filter, and beacon,’ says a post on Stephen’s Lighthouse. ‘In this complex, dynamic, and demanding environment, librarians are extending themselves and empowering library users’”—just as their colleagues working in other training-teaching-learning environments are doing.

Graphic from "Social Networking" section of the report

Graphic from “Social Networking” section of the report

They then lead us through a series of examples demonstrating how libraries are using social networking to foster innovations in social networking. There is the Pinal County (Arizona) Library District “compilation of articles and links on how libraries are using Facebook, Twitter, and blogs as tools to reach out to users”—a set of resources curated on a Pinterest board. There’s the LibraryScienceList rankings of the “100 Most Social Media Friendly College and University Libraries for 2013”; even the most cursory skim of the rankings reveals creative use of social media tools in many settings, including the University of California San Francisco Library, where efforts extend to connecting leaners to sessions on building online courses with Moodle 2, becoming a better presenter, and learning about digital video editing.

And at the end of the section, we come to an extension of the “Libraries and Community Engagement” theme explored elsewhere in the report: a mention of how academic libraries are using social media to foster community-building—which, for me, is one of the most natural, brilliant, yet frequently-overlooked use of social media tools available to library staff members and others engaged in training-teaching-learning.

I continually find myself returning to the experiences I’ve had in the development of sustainable online communities of learning through MOOCs and groups including #lrnchat, and feel that there is still plenty that many of us involved in libraries could be doing to better serve and engage members of our onsite and online communities. I see what colleagues in the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and, to a lesser extent, the American Library Association do to extend the learning that occurs in conferences, and remain a strong advocate of doing all we can to promote the blending of onsite and online communities in every way possible when it makes sense to do so. The confirmation that “public libraries’ use of social media is up sharply, especially among large libraries” is, therefore, encouraging news—and a reminder that we’re moving in the right direction to serve our blended 21st-century onsite-online constituency.

N.B.: Reflections on the Academic Libraries and Ebooks and Copyright Issues sections of the report have been posted by Jill Hurst-Wahl, director of the library and information science and LIS with school media specialization programs at Syracuse University, on her Digitization 101 blog.


Tactical Urbanism: Community, Collaboration, Innovation, and Learning

April 10, 2014

Sometime, in an effort to accomplish something in our communities, we move so quickly that we don’t even take the time to slap a label onto what we’re doing—until we come across a lovely term like “tactical urbanism” and wonder why we didn’t coin it first.

Tactical_Urbanism--CoverNate Berg, writing for the Atlantic Cities website, describes the term concisely: “Guerrilla gardening. Pavement-to-parks. Open streets. These are all urban interventions of a sort—quick, often temporary, cheap projects that aim to make a small part of a city more lively or enjoyable.” And when we begin to dive into all the loveliness behind tactical urbanism, we find something that serves us well in a variety of settings: the reminder that great accomplishments don’t have to address problems and challenges at a macro level; sometimes we help change our world through small, incremental steps rooted in community, collaboration, innovation, and learning.

The learning element, for me, was obvious from the initial moment I learned about tactical urbanism (yesterday morning, while skimming a Twitter feed): a couple of training-teaching-learning colleagues—Heather Braum and Jill Hurst-Wahl—were attending a conference presentation on the topic, and both saw connections between what keynote speaker Mike Lydon was describing and what they had heard from me about the Hidden Garden Steps project here in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset District. After skimming notes prepared and posted by Jill and Heather, I immediately downloaded the wonderful Tactical Urban2 online manual produced by Lydon and his fellow tactical urbanists; devoured the descriptions of tactical urbanism projects documented within that manual; relished the idea that several of these projects are in place here in San Francisco or under consideration; thought about how they might inspire positive actions within libraries; and even began thinking about how the spirit of tactical urbanism flows through the best of learning projects I have encountered.

And yes, I immediately understood why Heather and Jill would think about a $467,000 project like the Hidden Garden Steps within the context of a philosophy rooted in “quick, often temporary, cheap projects that aim to make a small part of a city more lively or enjoyable”: the Steps, like so many of our training-teaching-learning efforts, appear to be large, complex, and daunting when seen out of context; within context, however, they are organically interwoven segments of a much larger tapestry that builds upon what is already in place and provides additional foundations for further development.

When we look at the broad brushstrokes of urban development within Lydon’s work, we immediately—if we have already encountered these volumes—think of Jane Jacob’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961); Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language: Towns – Buildings – Construction (1977), The Timeless Way of Building (1979), and just about everything he has written since then; William Whyte’s City: Rediscovering the Center (1988); and Peter Harnik’s Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities (2010). When we think beyond the explicit references to urban development, we think of how libraries increasingly engage in flexible use of their spaces for everything from community meetings addressing needs of libraries and the communities they serve to remodeling of spaces to create everything from an information commons to makerspaces. And when we stretch this even further into learning organizations, we find the sort of on-the-fly quick, often temporary, cheap experimentation some of us pursue in our communities of learning when we attempt something as simple as using Facebook or Google+ Hangouts to conduct online office hours with our learners in the hope that they will establish learning communities that last far beyond the formal end of a course we have facilitated.

Tactical urbanism in action: neighbors maintaining the Hidden Garden Steps

Tactical urbanism in action: neighbors maintaining the Hidden Garden Steps

Let’s draw explicit parallels here. Lydon and his colleagues document guerilla street tactics including painting a crosswalk where one doesn’t exist, but is needed, and shows how that simple action leads city officials to acknowledge and act upon the need. Libraries can create book discussion groups that go far beyond the traditional recreational approach to that action: by organizing discussions around a book that addresses a community need, the library can be part of a collaborative effort to substantially and positively address and act upon a community need. Those of us involved in training-teaching learning—which, I believe, includes tactical urbanists who teach by example; library staff, which facilitates learning through much of what staff members offer; and those involved in workplace learning and performance—engage in the spirit of tactical urbanism by exploring easy-to-implement low-cost/no-cost innovations that, when successful, quickly spread throughout our extended learning landscapes. And those of us engaged in projects like the Hidden Garden Steps—that 148-step ceramic-tiled mosaic surrounded by gardens tended formally and informally by neighborhood volunteers—are immersed in the spirit of tactical urbanism by building upon the example of those who came before us and inspiring others to create their own versions of these magnificent community meeting places that serve a worldwide community of visitors.

The punchline remains one I frequently recite: all we have to do is dream.


Learning Time and Heads That Spin

March 14, 2013

We may be identifying yet another digital literacy skill: an ability to function simultaneously within a variety of timeframes we don’t normally consider while we’re learning.

Before we take the leap into a bit of virtual time travel to pursue this idea, let’s ground ourselves within a familiar idea: much of the formal learning with which we’re familiar takes place within clearly-defined segments of time, e.g., an hour-long workshop or webinar, or a course that extends over a day, week, month, or semester. We work synchronously during face-to-face or online interactions, and we work asynchronously through postings that extend a conversation as long as the formal learning opportunity is underway and participants are willingly engaged.

etmoocWhat we are seeing as we more engagingly explore online learning in general and, more specifically, through a well-designed massive open online course (MOOC) like #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media MOOC that Alec Couros and others are currently offering through March 2013, is that this connectivist learning process is far from linear—rhizomatic is one of the terms we’ve been using extensively throughout the course. We are also seeing that our learning process does not have to be limited to exchanges with learners and others who are participating within the formal linear timeframe suggested by a course such as #etmooc that officially begins in January 2013 and formally concludes at the end of March 2013. And that’s where we find ourselves on relatively new time turf.

What now is happening is that conversations can be comprised of those wonderfully synchronous, in-the-moment exchanges that are most familiar to us; those asynchronous exchanges that extend the “moment” to an hour, day, week, or semester-long period that formally defines a course; and those unexpected moments of participation by people not currently enrolled in a course, but drawn into a current extended moment of conversation by having their previously-posted work become part of a current conversation.

The seeds for viewing learning time in this unorthodox way were planted before I joined #etmooc at the beginning of February 2013. While facilitating two offerings of the online Social Media Basics course I have developed with colleagues at ALA Editions, I saw that learners from the first four-week offering (completed in June 2012) were beginning to interact with learners from the second offering (completed in early February 2013) via the private Facebook group I had established for any interested participant.

Social_Media_BasicsSome of these interactions took place during live office hours held within the Facebook space in January and February 2013. Some of the interactions took place via asynchronous postings between members of the first and second groups of learners. But most intriguingly, some of the interactions involved learners in group two going back to read postings completed when the first offering was in session—then incorporating aspects of those earlier (past-tense) comments into present-tense conversations that clearly have the potential to extend into future conversations when the next group of learners join the group (and the extended conversation) as the course reaches a third group of learners in July 2013 (or “reached” a third group if you’re reading this after July 2013).

The same backward-forward extension of conversation has crept into #etmooc. Ideas initiated in one setting, e.g., through a blog posting, extend into other platforms, e.g., within the course Google+ community. Cross-pollination and cross-time postings then occur via additional conversation within the context of a blog posting that may have been completed a day, week, or month earlier—but that remains very much in the moment through new postings within the context established within that initial post.

Where this becomes most fascinating and most worth noting is when the asynchronous postings attached to a specific blog posting then lead us to postings completed long before the current course was even in the planning stages—and those earlier postings are drawn into the current moment, as happened recently in an exchange a MOOCmate and I were having.

This becomes a bit tricky, so let’s take it step by step to bring a little order to the learning chaos this so obviously creates. I posted “Synchronous Sessions, Asynchronously: Blending Meetings, Learning, and Digital Literacy” on February 20, 2013. A couple of #etmooc colleagues transformed the piece into an extended conversation by adding comments that are continuing to be attached to that February 2013 posting as I write this piece a few weeks later. The conversation also is growing rhizomatically through extensions via Twitter, Google+, and the follow-up blog posting you are currently reading—which makes me realize that we not only have an organically-growing example of what we are discussing, but a conversation that will benefit from a rudimentary level of curation. (I’m providing that curation in the form of “see-also” references added at the bottom of the various postings within my own blog so anyone joining one part of the conversation can easily find and follow those rhizomatic roots and shoots in the form of the other postings).

The latest shoot came in the form of the online reference, posted by #etmooc colleague Christina Hendricks, to an article that Pekka Ihanainen (HAAGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences, Finland) and John Moravec (University of Minnesota, USA) posted in November 2011: “Pointillist, Cyclical, and Overlapping: Multidimensional Facets of Time in Online Learning.” It’s all there in the first two lines of the abstract to that wonderfully twisty-turny densely-packed exposition: “A linear, sequential time conception based on in-person meetings and pedagogical activities is not enough for those who practice and hope to enhance contemporary education, particularly where online interactions are concerned. In this article, we propose a new model for understanding time in pedagogical contexts.”

Perhaps, by this time, your head is spinning beyond the boundaries of time and space; mine certainly is. But there’s no denying that what Ihanainen and Moravec explore in their thought-provoking article—and what many of us are experiencing in online venues ranging from live Twitter chats (that extend beyond the synchronous sessions via retweets appended with follow-up comments) to those Social Media Basics interactions that now include conversations that have extended over a half-year period and will undoubtedly take on extended life through an even longer “moment” when the course is offered again later this year—extends the challenges. And the possibilities. Which provides us with another wicked problem: how our traditional concepts of formal learning are adapting to learning in timeframes that increasingly include extremely extended moments without firmly established beginning and ending points. Our communities of learning are clearly one part of this evolving learning landscape, and we may need to acknowledge that we haven’t yet defined or developed some of the other key pieces of this particular learning jigsaw puzzle.

N.B.: This is the twenty-first in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


NMC Horizon Report 2013 (Pt. 1 of 4): Tech and Learning Trends in Higher Education

February 5, 2013

The release this week of the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project 2013 Higher Education report on “new and emerging technologies, and their potential impact on teaching, learning, and research,” reminds us once again what a great resource the reports are for trainer-teacher-learners around the world.

Horizon_Report--2013With its summaries of key trends and significant challenges along with the usual explorations of six technologies reviewed in each report, it serves as a thought- (and action-) provoking resource, an up-to-date reference source, and a potential course of study for anyone willing to follow the numerous links to online resources compiled by everyone involved in its preparation and production.

It also, as if becoming an example of one of the technologies it explores, could easily serve as an unfacilitated massive open online course (MOOC) on the topic of technology in learning for any of us with the drive and self-discipline to treat each section as a module of an online course; it is, furthermore, easy to imagine someone setting up a discussion group within LinkedIn, Facebook, or some other social media tool for learners interested in exploring the themes and technologies; it is, in fact, not much of a stretch to also imagine the possibility of live Horizon Report learning sessions via a tweet chat or virtual office hours within Facebook or a Google+ Hangout. Even the process of preparing the reports could be a topic for study and discussion among learners interested in understanding how a well-facilitated wiki can inspire learning and produce learning objects.

But let’s not go too far afield here, since the content of the report is already spurring plenty of online discussion. The technologies themselves are fascinating. Within the one year time-to-adoption horizon we find tablet computing and MOOCs. Within the two-to-three-year adoption horizon, we see gaming and gamification and learning analytics. And in the furthest horizon (four to five years away), we find 3D printing and wearable technology (think about Google’s Project Glass foray into augmented reality here). And for those who want a broader picture of what is on the horizon, there is the short list (four technologies per horizon) that NMC staff and report advisory board members developed as a step toward determining the final set of horizon technologies, along with the overall list of topics that served as the starting point for the entire process of  identifying key trends, challenges, and technologies.

nmc.logo.cmykThere are obvious themes that run through the report, and they’re not just of interest to those working in academia. The trend toward opennessopen content, open data, open resources—is at the top of the list of key trends documented in the report; it serves as a foundational element for at least a few of the others. It’s a natural step from that broad brushstroke of openness to the next important trend—the explosion of massive open online courses—and its close cousins, informal, self-directed, and collaborative learning that, in turn, lead us toward the learner-centric concept of personal learning environments. If all of this inspires you to suspect or acknowledge that huge disruptive changes are underway in the world of learning, then you’re well on the way to appreciating the level of thought the report inspires: “Education paradigms are shifting to include online learning, hybrid learning, and collaborative models,” the report writers note.

Equally important are the significant challenges documented in the report. Faculty, the report suggests, aren’t acknowledging “the fact that digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession”—a challenge that I believe could also be documented in workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs. We’re also facing—and not dealing particularly well with—new scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching; our own resistance to change; learners’ demand for personalized (and learner-centric) learning; new models of education and learning that challenge long-standing models; and the need to adopt new technologies for learning and teaching.

The beauty of this and other Horizon reports released throughout the year—others focus on K-12 education, museums, and specific regions—is that they are free, accessible, well-researched and well-written, and transparent. Anyone wanting to review and use the advisory board members’ discussions for their own learning purposes has access to them on the project wiki. And those interested in playing a more active role in the Horizon Report process are encouraged to complete the online application form.

Next: On the One-Year Horizon (Tablets and MOOCs)


Learning(Hu)Man Virtual Summer Camp: Flipping Scary Stories

July 21, 2020

Going to summer camp was something I thought was long behind me—particularly at a time when I am joining so many others in following shelter-in-place social distancing guidelines implemented in response to the current coronavirus pandemic. But I had that wrong. I’m back at camp. A newly-organized virtual summer camp. As a participant, facilitator, and occasional volunteer monitoring and fostering online conversations via Slack during the week-long Arizona State University ShapingEDU Learning(Hu)Man campy virtual summer camp.

It’s only one day old, and already it is an extraordinary experience produced by leadership and volunteers within a community of dreamer-doer-drivers who consistently demonstrate an unbelievable ability to plan and bring to fruition the most complex of endeavors within incredibly brief periods of time.

Some of the more than 2,000 of us who have registered joined the opening ceremony around the virtual campfire last night, and more of us continued to participate today through a series of dynamic, highly-interactive sessions featuring colleagues and a variety of visionary guests working together to shape the future of learning in the digital era. The theme for our first full day together has been “flipping scary stories,” and there certainly are plenty of scary stories to tell and flip. Virtual campers began the day with some early-morning online Mess Hall interactions, then gathered around the flag pole for an inspiring keynote presentation by Arizona State University President Michael Crow, who spoke eloquently and movingly of this moment in time when we have a chance for the first-ever full release of human potential through egalitarian access to education. A panel discussion on “the next normal” in learning—“the one we’re creating together” in response to the tremendously scary stories that are continuing to unfold around us—kept all of us standing virtually at attention for the remainder of that early-morning gathering.

[Image by Karina Branson/ConverSketch]

We then went to our own smaller online camp sites to choose from more than a dozen 50-minute sessions slotted into two consecutive time periods for the next couple of hours; among the choices were “Learning Futures: Avoiding the Zombie Apocalypse to Create the Brave New World”; “Using Data Science, Data, and the Power of Community to Address the Student Loan Crisis”; and the “Using Design Thinking to Close the Digital Divide” session I co-facilitated with ShapingEDU Innovator in Residence Lisa Gustinelli, FutureWe Founder Jonathan Nalder, and educational technologist Gordon Shupe (centered on the ShapingEDU “Connected for Work and Learning: Universal Broadband Access in the United States” initiative that is beginning to attract attention and support from a variety of collaborators). Other subsequent Learning(Hu)Man activities throughout the morning and early afternoon gave everyone plenty of options for playing, learning, interacting, dreaming, and plotting before we had an afternoon break to step away from the structured events and to reflect while taking virtual walks through the woods or much-needed naps.

[Image by Karina Branson/ConverSketch]

Refreshed from our walks and naps, many of us came back together for two overwhelmingly and richly dynamic sessions—the first featuring a live interview with Zoom Founder/CEO Eric Yuan, the second featuring three over-the-top brilliantly passionately engaging presenters (Nicol Turner-Lee, Director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation; Larry Irving, President and CEO of the Irving Information Group; and Joshua Edmonds, University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions initiative and City of Detroit Digital Inclusion Fellow). Yuan, responding to deeply thoughtful questions from Zoom Chief Diversity Officer Damien Hooper-Campbell, addressed a variety of topics including Zoom’s commitment to quality, communities served, and willingness to collaborate with others seeking positive responses to some of our most challenging social issues; he assured Learning(Hu)Man campers that a priority for Zoom, post-pandemic, will be how to unleash the power of the Zoom platform in continuing to serve a variety of educational, artistic, and socially-diverse communities.

[Image by Karina Branson/ConverSketch]

Just when it appeared there was no way to top the momentum and excitement of what Learning(Hu)Man and its partners had produced, it did exactly that. The final session with Turner-Lee, Irving, and Edmonds showed virtual conferencing at its finest. The formal question-and-answer segments between those inspiring presenters was accompanied, seamlessly, by session audience members interacting with each other and the presenters, via a live-chat window, in a positively overwhelming flow of give-and-take. One of the many comments that stood out to me came from a fellow participant and, in a heartbeat, changed the way I have been viewing the challenge of the digital divide and overcoming less-than-ideal broadband access throughout our country: “Frankly, getting so tired of hearing ‘Digital Divide’…it’s a social, economic, social justice, bandwidth divide and it’s been going on for decades. So, despite funding from the FCC, state governments, private foundations, etc. We are Still Discussing…so what’s the solution? It’s not just technology, it’s a reflection of the inequities in our society.”

Both exhausted and exhilarated, I decided to skip the set of live conversations and playful activities that were scheduled to continue via Zoom before camp shut down for the evening and we began recharging our creative batteries in anticipation of reconvening early tomorrow morning in the camp Mess Hall for another day of thoughtfully engaging interactions designed to spur us toward positive action.

What remains for me this evening is to acknowledge the absolutely stunning accomplishment represented by the first full day of summer camp—an achievement in virtual conferencing described eloquently online by “Camp Groundskeeper” Samantha Becker on behalf of the entire Camp Team:

“Learning(Hu)Man 2020 is an experimental fusion of hands-on learning, storytelling, tech hacks and the good kind of shenanigans. In short, it’s total camp. Summer camp! This weeklong series of events will convene a global community of education changemakers to push the creative envelope for how we serve students and advance learner success.

“Interactive experiences led by a cohort of camp counselors (read: education and industry leaders) will uncover best practices in learning design, edtech tools and development, and emergent thinking around the art of the possible—all with the shared mission for enabling student success in all of its dimensions.

Thank you to [Camp Chef] Lev Gonick, who started passing me ‘back of the napkin’ ideas over Slack on this—and then never stopped.”

There are still several more days of camping ahead of all of us. And when everything formally wraps up next Monday morning with a two-hour session to summarize what we have experienced and what we hope to accomplish as a result of having gone to camp together, it still will not be over. There will be weeks, if not months, of reflections and follow-up interactions synchronously and asynchronously. There will be opportunities to view archived recordings as they are posted on the ShapingEDU YouTube channel. There will be continuing discussions on the ShapingEDU Slack site. There will be unforeseeable positive concrete actions. And, most of all, there will be that dynamic, unique ShapingEDU community “dreaming, driving, and doing” together in one long, uninterrupted moment that began long before we arrived at Learning(Hu)Man summer camp and will extend long after we “leave.”

–N.B.: 1) This is the fifteenth in a series of reflections inspired by colleagues’ reactions to the coronavirus and shelter-in-place experiences, and to our continuing interactions online. 2) Paul is one of two ShapingEDU Storytellers in Residence, serving from July 2020 – June 2021.


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