Location, Location, and Location: Hanging Out and Learning With Samantha Adams Becker and ATD

May 17, 2014

Being in the same room with my friend, colleague, and co-presenter Samantha Adams Becker earlier this week along with colleagues from the Golden Gate Chapter of the Association for Talent Development (ATD)—formerly the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD)—required a combination of technological sleight of hand; some knowledge of the neuroscience of the brain, learning, and magic; and plenty of practice.

Horizon_Report--2014-CoverWhat helped make the evening intriguing was that Samantha, in a very real sense, was not more than a few feet away from me in San Francisco for our “Ed-Tech, Learning, and NMC (New Media Consortium) Horizon Reports: What’s In It for Us..and Our Learners” discussions with local ATD colleagues while simultaneously being more than 1,850 miles away, in Baton Rouge.

I’ve been learning how to be in at least two places at once ever since colleagues and I, in fall 2007, used Skype to connect a colleague from Ohio with an onsite audience in San Francisco to show how the use of free online tools could effectively and viscerally bring people together in ways that simulate face-to-face conversations—think of it as telepresence without costly investments. I continued the experiment  with Skype in a different context for a virtual face-to-face just-in-time lesson in using Excel and PowerPoint two years later to help a friend prepare for a job interview she was about to do. Racheted it up a bit more via Skype by bringing two offsite colleagues into an onsite presentation for ASTD Sacramento Chapter members in May 2011. And returned to the experiment with Samantha in June 2012, shortly after Google Hangouts became available as a way to viscerally connect individuals regardless of geography: she was co-presenter, from New Orleans, for an onsite session I was facilitating in San Francisco’s East Bay Area for ASTD Mount Diablo Chapter colleagues.

We knew we had exceeded participants’ expectations—and our own—when I managed to step out of the room unnoticed while the Mount Diablo Chapter members were interacting with Samantha; rejoin the conversation from outside the room by logging into the Google Hangout via a tablet I was using, and briefly talk to her about how that interaction by tablet was an example of how smartphones and tablets were allowing us to engage in a variety of m-learning (mobile learning) opportunities regardless of whether those opportunities were asynchronous or synchronous—which is what the ATD Mount Diablo Chapter event had become at that moment.

ASTD_to_ATDOur latest collaboration with members of what is now the ATD Golden Gate Chapter included some interesting twists, and those interested in how to duplicate the experience have plenty to consider. Basic equipment includes a desktop or laptop computer; webcams (mine is built into my relatively lightweight Toshiba Portégé laptop); ability for us to hear each other (both of our laptops have small built-in speakers that produce high-quality audio output when hooked up to an onsite speaker system), and she usually doesn’t wear a headset or have any other visual cues that would remind people she is not physically in the room; a small, portable back-up speaker system that can be hooked up to my laptop in case the onsite speaker system isn’t working properly on the day or night of a presentation; and a projector and screen (or blank white surface) to project Samantha’s video feed from the Google Hangout in a way that made it easily and clearly visible for everyone onsite.

Onsite rehearsal time is critically important. When using a site for the first time, rehearsals can extend from an unusually short 45 minutes if all works well—it rarely does—to as much as two two-hour sessions if intensive trouble-shooting becomes necessary. (We once had to solve an unexpected Internet connectivity problem by ending one very frustrating two-hour session so I could obtain a 4G hotspot device and make arrangements to purchase enough online time with that device to carry us through an additional rehearsal and the live event itself.) Rehearsal includes checking sound levels from various points throughout the room, locating the best position for the webcam so it captures enough of the room for Samantha to be able to see as many participants as possible, and trying to create the least-intrusive tech set-up possible: the point is to create a set-up which has participants looking at the projected image of Samantha, me, and each other as much as possible so that the technology quickly fades into the background—which, thankfully, it generally does!

Sleights_of_MindUnderstanding how our minds process visual and audio information also helped us more effectively take advantage of creating the illusion of presence even though she was physically in Baton Rouge, so reading the section on ventriloquism in Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde’s book Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals About Our Everyday Deceptions. The key element here is understanding that our brains process sound the same way they do when we watch movies in a theater, matching sounds with images to make us believe the sound is coming from the screen rather than the speakers, so we always attempt to have speakers unobtrusively placed as close to the screen as possible and match the sound level as much as possible to the level of my own voice onsite.

We have also come to understand that worries about lack of synchronization between what participants hear and see (as when lip movement is ahead of or behind what they hear) is not as important as many of us might assume. Macknik and Martinez-Conde convincingly demonstrate, in their book, that we focus on an extremely small part of what is in our overall field of vision. Extrapolating from what they show, we realize that the only time participants notice discrepancies between sound and lip motion is when they focus their visual attention on the motions of the speaker’s lips onscreen. If they are looking at Samantha’s eyes, or at me, or at anything else in the room, the illusion of presence is not at all interrupted.

Our onsite-online blended presentation this time also carried the experiment one step further. To control and limit potential bandwidth problems, Samantha and I were the only two participants in the Hangout; other offsite participants received the program feed via a separate remote-viewing option that Chapter members routinely provide. If offsite participants had wanted to ask questions, the person monitoring that external feed would simply have repeated questions to Samantha and me, and we would have responded orally so the outgoing feed carried the response from the room to the offsite participants.

But all of this is just a prelude to the real magic that occurs through this type of learning experiment/experience: it’s a perfect match of content and delivery method for everyone involved. We were introducing participants to current trends, challenges, and developments in educational technology that affect them and their own learners, and we were facilitating discussions on the topic through the use of relatively low-cost technology that they themselves could immediately use if they chose to do so. We had cobbled together a smart classroom to show how relatively easy a task that could be. We learned from the questions they asked as much as they learned from the presentation we offer.

Emergency responders needed for e-learning trauma?

Emergency responders needed for e-learning trauma?

Most importantly, it became another example of the power of learning opportunities that are engaging. One of our most rewarding discussions came from participants’ observations that e-learning/online learning experiences generally are far less engaging than they should be and almost leave learners requiring the assistance of trauma-unit personnel—which made us laughingly agree that one service ATD and other learning organizations could provide would be an e-learning trauma/paramedic service to minister to those who had suffered through traumatically bad learning experiences online. We also used our ersatz smart-classroom set-up to exchange ideas about how to address digital literacy challenges among ourselves as trainer-teacher-learners as well as among the larger group of learners we all serve.

The conversation came to an end with the all-important confirmation that everyone in the room felt as if Samantha had been there with us in our blended onsite-online learning experiment—and in every significant way, she had been! The technology we have and the technology that others are continuing to develop creates magnificent opportunities to meet and interact with first-rate colleagues and provide effective learning opportunities—as long as we focus on each other and see the technology as the background tool that facilitates learning, communication, interactions, and meaningful collaboration.

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#oclmooc, Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses), and ATD Chapter Leaders: How Big Is the Room?  

October 17, 2014

A recent week-long trip to spend time with Association for Talent Development (ATD) colleagues and other friends in the Washington, D.C. area provided yet another reminder of how seamlessly interwoven our blended (onsite-online) communities have become. Walls are permeable. Distances become negligible. And connections—and connected learning—are abundant in many parts of the world.

ATD_LogoThe “Perfect Blend: Seamlessly Serving [Chapter] Members Onsite and Online” session I designed and co-presented with New Media Consortium colleague Samantha Adams Becker and Larry Straining (serving as our tweet-stream manager) at the 2014 ATD Chapter Leaders Conference was designed to demonstrate how well-blended we all are becoming through training-teaching-learning. What it really did for me, at a personal level, was serve as a central example of a weeklong intensive immersion in pushing the envelope of what the combination of people and easy-to-use tech tools can produce.

What made “Perfect Blend” work for so many of us was the onsite interactions my colleagues and I had with Samantha, who participated in the session, from her home in the Chicago area, via a Google Hangout. Samantha and I had successfully engaged in this level of interaction with other ATD colleagues several times, so the gist of what she, Larry, and I were attempting to convey was that tools such as Hangouts and Twitter, when used effectively, make it possible for us to feel as if we’re physically in the same space with people who are actually hundreds or thousands of miles away. It’s telepresence without the associated high price tag. And, once again, it worked very well as we quickly jettisoned the formal presentation we had prepared and simply engaged with our colleagues face-to-face, via the Hangout, and via the Twitter stream that Larry so masterfully managed during the hour-long session. As the session came to an end, we knew that we had effectively answered a question I asked at the beginning of the hour (“how big is this room?”) with the obvious answer: our room—our learning space—is as big as our use of technology makes it—700 miles wide if we consider the distance between Chicago (where Samantha was sitting) and the Washington, D.C. area, where most of us were participating. Or a couple of thousand miles wide if we consider some of the interactions we had via Twitter with others during and after the formal session.

oclmooc_logoIt was clear to everyone that, as we said during the session, we (trainer-teacher-learners) are social people who are frequently drawn together in social situations, so we’re becoming increasingly comfortable with our ability to socialize while we learn onsite and online. It’s equally clear that the technology we’re exploring allows us to create social learning spaces that are variations on the Third Place that Ray Oldenburg first described in 1989 in his book The Great Good Place. It’s very much a part of what we see through our interactions within connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs) such as the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc), the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses), the Educational Technology & Media MOOC (#etmooc), and the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC (#xplrpln). It’s also very much a part of a world where connections overlap with connections that, in turn, overlap with other connections.

ccourses_logoAnd that’s what I saw throughout the week. The conversations during the “Perfect Blend” session were interwoven with face-to-face and online exchanges in the days preceding and following that learning opportunity. Some were with ATD colleagues; others were with my #oclmooc and #ccourses colleagues. They even carried over, via the conference backchannel, into exchanges with training-teaching-learning colleagues who were completely unfamiliar with the ATD Chapter Leaders Conference, but entered the conversations a bit and interacted directly with each other without any previous face-to-face or online contact by retweeting comments from the conference and offering their own observations about the various topics we were discussing. They extended further as I had brief exchanges with learners in the “Rethinking Library Instruction: Libraries as Social Learning Centers” I’m currently facilitating for the American Library Association, and carried some of those learners’ thoughts back to my ATD Chapter Leaders Conference colleagues.

But it didn’t stop there. After the conference ended and after I had a couple of days to relax in our nation’s capital while continuing to interact with various members of my overlapping communities of learning, I saw one additional enlargement of the room: I was able to interact, from 37,000 feet above our planet, with #oclmooc colleagues in a live session that connected my cross-country flight with trainer-teacher-learners in Alberta (Canada) and several places throughout the United States.

So I return to the expansive question—how big is our room?—and see, as I shared with many of those colleagues, that the room is as big as we and our technology can make it. Cross-country. International. And even above the planet. Which makes our social learning space a wonderfully large and magnificent place to be.

N.B.: This is the eleventh in a series of posts documenting connected learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.


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

October 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ALA 2015 Annual Conference: Digital Literacy, Onsite-Online Learning, & No Colleague Left Behind

August 6, 2015

Helping colleagues learn how to create blended onsite-online learning spaces by actually creating blended onsite-online learning spaces is an exercise we are far from exhausting, as I saw once again while facilitating a session at the American Library Association (ALA) 2015 Annual Conference here in San Francisco a month ago.

Rethinking_Digital_Literacy--Course_GraphicBeing able to foster this sort of blended interaction seems to me to be another critically-important digital-literacy skill along the lines of what colleagues are exploring in our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course; is not at all difficult or costly to do if we creatively use tech tools readily available to many of us; and actually becomes a fun and engaging way for many of us to extend the size of the learning spaces we typically inhabit, we again saw during that “Blend It” session sponsored by ALA’s Library and Information Technology Association (LITA).

The concept, which I’ve explored with colleagues in a variety of settings, is straightforward: using little more than a laptop with a webcam, a projector and screen, and some form of audio system (either a small, portable set of speakers or a connection to an existing sound system within the onsite space that serves as the anchor for our efforts), we create real-time multiple levels of communication between learners/colleagues in a physical setting and colleagues who join us via their own online access points anywhere in the world. This quickly transforms those offsite learners/colleagues from being part of a “left behind” group to being active participants in a learning space that can be thousands of miles wide if those colleagues come from a variety of countries.

ALA_San_Francisco--2015_LogoWhat makes this personally rewarding for all involved is that we continue to learn through experimentation. The earliest effort I was lucky enough to help design and facilitate used Skype as the tool uniting an offsite presenter with approximately 200 colleagues here in San Francisco for a dynamic and tremendously rewarding exchange. The experiments continued a few years later when two colleagues and I used Skype and Twitter to connect onsite and online participants in a wide-ranging conversation about how we could incorporate these tools and these blended spaces into effective learning spaces. New Media Consortium colleague Samantha Adams Becker and I continue to push this particular learning envelop via Google Hangouts in a variety of settings, so I was ready, at the ALA Annual Conference this year, to carry it a step further by adding a “bring your own device” element to the conversation.

After introducing onsite participants to the concepts we were exploring, Harford County Public Library tech trainer Maurice Coleman and I demonstrated the concept by having Maurice step outside the room, use his own smartphone to join a Google Hangout I had started with my own laptop and was projecting onto a large screen that everyone in the room could see, and carry on a brief conversation that those in the room could join by addressing questions to him via the microphone that was embedded in the laptop.

LITA_LogoThe magic moment came when he physically returned to the room—it’s worth noting that by remaining visible and audible via that smartphone, he had never really left the room or the conversation—and we offered onsite participants a challenge: quickly identify someone you know could not be here at the conference, try to reach them using your own mobile device, and bring them into the room now via a Google Hangout. It was learning at its best: those unfamiliar with Hangouts helped others try to set up individual sessions; those familiar with Hangouts tried to initiate their own. And those who were successful let the rest of us know that had eliminated another member of the “left behind” corps through that virtual contact.

ala_leftbehindAt its peak, we had nearly a dozen individual hangouts happening simultaneously, and those in the room completely made the learning space their own: some explained to their friends what they were doing and what others were accomplishing; a few kept those sessions live for the remainder of the time we had together. And one particularly creative learner left her seat and gave her offsite colleague a virtual tour of the room by walking around and introducing our offsite colleague to others who were onsite.

It may have been gimmicky. It may have been far from pretty. But it was an exploration of digital literacy and educational technology at work in a way that provided a visceral example of how far we literally have come together. How easy it is for us to foster those levels of training, teaching, learning, and collaboration when we’re not afraid to risk failure in seeking small and large successes. And how easy it is to have fun while creating memorable, meaningful learning experiences that will continue spreading long after that formal session ended.

N.B. – This is the fourth (and final) in a series of reflections inspired by the American Library Association 2015 Annual Conference in San Francisco and the fifth in a series of reflections inspired by our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course.


NEKLS Innovation Day 2015: Training-Teaching-Learning While Hanging Out in Kansas

April 30, 2015

I’ve hung out before, and I’m sure I’ll hang out again, but I can’t imagine a more intensely innovative and emotionally-rewarding approach to incorporating Google Hangouts into training-teaching-learning than the one collaboratively created as part of the 2015 Northeast Kansas Library System (NEKLS) Innovation Day program yesterday.

nekls_logosm_400x400What we’re continuing to explore with Hangouts is highly-engaging, low-/no-cost web-conferencing, a rudimentary and surprisingly effective form of telepresence, and  notably strong levels of interaction in training-teaching-learning made possible through the use of an easy-to-learn social media tool—something that fell into place nicely in two consecutive sessions during Innovation Day.

It has taken a fair amount of experimentation and practice to reach the point we reached yesterday: an onsite event that seamlessly expanded to include two offsite presenters (Harford County Public Library Technical Trainer Maurice Coleman and me) so we not only could interact directly with onsite participates but with each other as if we were all in the same room—and the room expanded further via connections simultaneously made with Twitter.

My own experience in training-teaching-learning through web conferencing and rudimentary telepresence dates back to a successful experiment to bring an offsite presenter (from Ohio) into an onsite event attended by more than 200 people here in San Francisco in 2007 in a way that encouraged some limited, direct interactions between the online presenter and members of the onsite audience. I expanded the exercise a bit a few years later by incorporating Skype, Twitter, and onsite colleagues into one of these blended learning events at a Sacramento ASTD (American Society for Training & Development meeting, then carried it a bit further with my New Media Consortium colleague Samantha Adams Becker when we switched over to Google Hangouts for onsite-online blended sessions with ASTD Mount Diablo and Golden Gate chapter colleagues.

What many of us were realizing at that point was that with proper preparation (which included abundant amounts of rehearsal time) and the right equipment (most of which was already available to us in each of the venues we used), we could erase geographic barriers in ways that caused onsite participants to forget that the online participants weren’t physically in the room.

An expansion of the experimentation included adding an onsite Twitter facilitator (colleague Larry Straining, who ad-libbed from a basic script to tweet out what Samantha and I were doing via Google Hangouts for ASTD—now ATD, the Association for Talent Development) at a conference in the Washington, D.C. area in late 2014. Adding Twitter to the mix in this focused, pre-planned way helped make the point that the “rooms” in which each of these events was physically taking place was actually expanding to include a global audience comprised of participants working synchronously and others who could participate later in an asynchronous fashion by seeing and responding to the tweets in an ongoing conversation. Carrying this another step further by drawing “left-behind” colleagues (including Maurice) into the 2015 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting (held in Chicago) provided yet another example of how Hangouts could produce live as well as archived learning opportunities —and further laid the groundwork for what we accomplished yesterday during the annual NEKLS Innovation Day conference: live interactions between the two of us who were offsite, interactions between the two of us and those who were physically present at the conference; and interactions with non-conference attendees who saw the tweets and shared content through retweeting. All that was missing yesterday was synchronous two-way interactions between those non-conference attendees and those of us who were participating onsite or via the Hangout)—but we had a hint of it as my own Innovation Day tweets were picked up and retweeted by several unfamiliar tweeters here in the United States and elsewhere.

NEKLS Continuing Education Consultant Patti Poe initiated the process as part of her overall Innovation Day planning by inviting me to use Google Hangouts as the vehicle for a presentation/discussion on using online collaboration tools. When she mentioned that Maurice would be doing a separate (closing keynote address) session via Hangouts, I asked if it would be possible to also include Maurice in the session I was facilitating and schedule that session in the time slot immediately preceding his keynote address. The experiences Maurice and I had with the ALA Midwinter Meeting experiment primed us to attempt something that was both structured—with specific learning goals and objectives—and improvisational so that onsite conference attendees would very much be involved in learning while also shaping the nature of the session.

Rehearsal for Innovation Day Hangout (Photo by Robin Hastings)

Rehearsal for Innovation Day Hangout (Photo by Robin Hastings)

As Patti noted shortly after the day ended, it exceeded everyone’s expectations and once again demonstrated that it’s possible to have this technology as the vehicle for—not the central feature of—learning opportunities and to have all of us interacting almost exactly as we would have if we hadn’t been spread over a 2,800-mile distance—in essence, creating a 2,800-mile-wide room. Maurice and I had a PowerPoint slide deck (with extensive speaker notes) and a supplemental resource sheet that I prepared and that served as our roadmap even though we actually didn’t display either during the live session (we wanted onsite attendees seeing us rather than slides as part of our effort to create the sense that we were  in the room in a very real sense); the slide deck and resource sheet were posted online later as additional learning objects and as a way to give the synchronous session an extended asynchronous life. We also allowed for plenty of interactions via question-and-answer periods throughout the entire hour-long “Using Online Collaboration Tools” session just as we do when we’re physically present in training-teaching-learning sessions. And when that initial hour came to an end, we took the same sort of between-session break we would have taken if we had physically been onsite, then returned with Maurice assuming the lead and with me maintaining an onsite-onscreen presence through a small window at the bottom of the screen as I watched his onsite-online presentation.

All of us had set out to create the sense of presence (i.e., close physical proximity) that we believe—and continually prove—is possible in well-planned, well-executed onsite-online learning environments capable of transforming learners. All of us confirmed with those onsite that we had achieved that goal. But several hours passed before I realized that in my playful role of the trickster who creates the illusion of physical proximity, I had unintentionally even tricked myself, for as I sat in the comfort of my own home here in San Francisco last night—never physically having left that home—I unexpectedly felt the same sense of melancholy I sometimes experience after intensively engaging in learning with colleagues at onsite conferences and then being physically separated from them as we return to our own homes and workplaces across the country. And I have the same sense of longing to be back with them again sooner than later to continue the connected-learning process that brings all of us such deeply rewarding experiences and relationships.


Information Services Today: Global Personal Learning Networks

April 24, 2015

Preparing a personal learning networks (PLNs) webinar and reading Jan Holmquist’s “Global Learning Networks” chapter in Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction makes me realize how wonderfully expansive and rewarding our PLNs have become.

Information_Services_Today--CoverThe idea driving the creation of a personal learning network—the ever-changing informal group of people each of us personally and uniquely defines, forms, and turns to in our lifelong learning endeavors—appears to be timeless; I can’t imagine a period of our recorded or unrecorded history during which people didn’t learn from each other informally, beyond the confines of classrooms or other formal learning spaces. And yet, as Holmquist notes at the beginning of his chapter, changes in the technology we use are expanding the pool of potential PLN members from which we can draw tremendously: “The world keeps getting smaller. Technology has challenged the need for physical presence regarding how, when, and where learning, collaboration, and sharing information takes place” (p. 374).

PLNs, he continues, provide a tremendous set of benefits by offering us connections to colleagues with whom we can “interact and exchange information and resources; share knowledge, experiences, and ideas; and collect and create an informed guide to professional development opportunities and lifelong learning” (p. 377).

We don’t want or need to become too technical or academic in exploring what personal learning networks mean to us to fully appreciate how they operate and what they provide. They are flexible (because we continually modify them to meet our learning needs). They are responsive (because we define them, nurture them, and turn to them in our moments of need, not someone else’s). They can be collaborative (although there are times when we learn from members of our PLNs without directly contacting them, e.g., when we learn by reading a PLN colleague’s writing on a topic we’re exploring or drawing upon a list of resources curated by members of our PLNs). They thrive on our willingness to contribute to them rather than seeing them solely as one-way resources—something where we take but never give. They are as local or as global as we choose to make them, drawing upon colleagues we see face-to-face as well as colleagues with whom we might have only the most cursory of online interactions via social media tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ Communities, Scoop.it, and Storify. And as the name implies, personal learning networks are deeply and inevitably personal (both in the sense of being something that is centered on each of us, individually, and in the sense of being centered on persons)—and they change as our learning changes need, but also have a sense of continuity that reflects the continuities in our own learning interests and endeavors.

xplrpln_logoThere seems to be no definitive answer as to how small or large a PLN should be. The work of British anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggests that there is a point (Dunbar’s number) beyond which members of any social group lose their ability to function effectively in social relationships, and I suspect that an overly large PLN eventually becomes ineffective in that valuable resources become overlooked because they are lost in the PLN crowd. The diversity of members and the variety of interests represented by those members, on the other hand, suggests that a PLN benefits from not being overly small or exclusive. And the resources from which we draw members seems to be limited only by our own imaginations: A cursory glance at my own PLN shows that it includes people with whom I’ve learned in formal academic settings, onsite workshops, and professional associations (e.g., the New Media Consortium, the American Library Association, and the Association for Talent Development); from people I’ve met in tweet chats (e.g., through #lrnchat); and from learning facilitators and learners in connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs)—including one (#xplrpln—”Exploring Personal Learning Networks”) focused on the creation and nurturing of PLNs. My PLN has also grown significantly by adding people whose published work—including work they publish on their blogs—provides learning opportunities for me. I’ve even realized that drawing upon an anthology such as Information Services Today can contribute to the development of a PLN; reading chapters written by and interacting with other contributors to the book has made me consciously include Michael Stephens and Kristin Fontichiaro, along with Jan Holmquist, in my own PLN.

If this inspires you to expand your personal learning network by adding Stephens, Fontichiaro, Holmquist, or other writers, and to expand your own ideas about where you can find additional members to strengthen your own PLN, then you’ve taken another step in recognizing how global and open our personal learning networks have become.

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


Information Services Today: The Consistency of Change in Our Information/Learning Landscape

April 10, 2015

Given all we read and hear every day, we could easily (and mistakenly) assume that being overwhelmed by information and a rapid technology-driven rate of change is a new phenomenon—but it’s also relatively easy to discover what a consistently-important challenge the flow of information and the pace of change has been, if we delve into Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction.

Information_Services_Today--CoverWhile the entire book is—among other things—a richly rewarding exploration of the changing nature of librarianship/the work of information professionals, one important moment of change- and information-management revelation comes in Christine Pawley’s contribution (Chapter 2, “Libraries and Information Organizations: Two Centuries of Experience”) as she writes about how “new technologies lead to information overload”: “…William S. Learned noted a ‘phenomenal improvement in speed and accuracy of communication’ and complained that even the trained student finds the time required thoroughly to examine a topic in an unfamiliar field almost prohibitive”—not today, but in 1924 (Information Services Today, pp. 13-14). If we pursue this theme by revisiting Sarah Houghton’s “Being Wired or Being Tired: Ten Ways to Cope With Information Overload” (originally published online July 30, 2008 in Ariadne), we find the reminder that “As far back as the sixteenth century people were complaining about the wide range of information they had to consume in order to contribute to society.”

Flip_Your_Classroom--CoverAny of us involved in training-teaching-learning within libraries and other learning organizations viscerally know and understand the feeling of being overwhelmed by information and change. We recognize that an important component of our learning-facilitation efforts is to help learners come to terms with the changes they face within any learning opportunity. We also are struggling to find words evocative enough to describe what we do so we recognize the ever-expanding breadth and scope of our work and offer terminology that helps others understand how much what we offer has changed. And we do understand that the goal of “keeping up” with educational technology and even with the basics of how to learn in a world where the way we learn is continuing to evolve (e.g., through the flipped classroom model, through massive open online courses—MOOCs—and through innovative blended-learning opportunities) is about as easy to reach as the pot of gold at the base of a rainbow.

At a certain level, it’s somewhat comforting to read those words that Learned wrote in 1924 and that Houghton wrote in 2008: we realize that others have faced and survived the challenges we continue to face. It’s also comforting and inspiring to read those words within the context of Information Services Today’s book-length exploration of our changing learning and information landscape: we see that the nature of library collections is changing—but that has always been true. We see that the nature of libraries is changing—but that, too, has been true for many decades. We see that library users’ expectations are changing—another consistent element within the library and information services world. We see that the tech tools that information professionals use continue to evolve and that the need to continually upgrade our skills is essential—but the best of our current and former colleagues have always recognized that their work required and continues to require a commitment to lifelong learning. And I suspect many of my best training-teaching-learning colleagues in a variety of learning environments would have little argument that continual learning and a responsiveness to change are among the requirements and the pleasures of the work we do.

The theme of change is particularly apparent in Lisa Gregory and Amy Rudersdorf Information Services Today chapter on “Digital Resources.” As they discuss a digital librarian’s roles (cataloger, collector, educator, legal expert, manager, negotiator, researcher, and technologist), we see some terms that would be familiar to most librarians/information professionals as well as to many trainer-teacher-learners, and we see some terms that reflect how quickly our professions are evolving. Nowhere is the need for adaptability among all of us more apparent than in the section about technologists: “The technology skill sets needed by digital librarians are as varied as the technologies that surround us. However, most digital librarians should—at the minimum—have a basic understanding of content management systems, databases, some metadata standards, and web technologies (p. 102)”—advice that can easily guide our training-teaching-learning colleagues to greater opportunities for success.

All of this would seem to be the fodder for nightmares among those who despair of ever keeping up with the flow of information and the rate of change within our lives. But some of what we gain through contemporary learning experiences themselves is an understanding that keeping up has long required an ability to sift through what comes our way. Filtering out what is less important. Applying what we can apply. Relying on our colleagues and other members of our personal learning networks to help us fill the gaps we face. And developing what might be coined as yet another form of literacy: “information-overload literacy”—the skill and the ability to know when it’s time to step away from the flood of information and rapid pace of change long enough to relish what we have absorbed.

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


NMC Horizon Report 2015 (Pt. 2 of 6): Learning Spaces, Blended  Learning, & Other Key Trends  

February 19, 2015

If you’re noticing increasing amounts of attention given to collaboration, blended learning, and efforts to redesign learning spaces in training-teaching-learning, you’re not alone. And if you are new to or remain curious about these topics, you’ll find plenty to stimulate your interest in the “Key Trends” section of the newly-released New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report > 2015 Higher Education Edition.

Horizon_Report--2015_CoverHorizon Project reports, for more than a decade, have been guiding us through what is changing and what remains consistent in our learning landscape; the flagship Higher Education Edition, which currently is accompanied by K-12, Library and Museum editions, consistently helps us identify and become familiar with key trends that are “accelerating technology adoption in higher education”—and, I continue to maintain, in many other parts of our overall lifelong-learning landscape.

Reading through the latest Key Trends section confirms, among other ideas, that collaboration is a common thread weaving the trends into a cohesive tapestry of ed-tech developments. We see, through the report, that key trends (in addition to an increasing use of blended learning and significant amounts of attention given to redesigning learning spaces) include advancing cultures of change and innovation; increasing cross-institution collaboration; a growing focus on measuring learning; and the proliferation of open educational resources—OERs. And the 2015 Higher Education Edition includes plenty of examples to help us see how we can adapt, in our own learning environments, what our more adventurous colleagues are already doing.

Looking first at the long-term trends—those “driving ed tech adoption in higher education for five or more years”—we encounter examples of how learning organizations are advancing cultures of change and innovation and increasingly fostering cross-institution collaboration. We are, according to the Horizon Project team (New Media Consortium staff, along with the volunteers who serve on the report’s panel of experts), seeing an increasing awareness among “higher education thought leaders” that agile startup models and the lean startup movement  are stimulating positive change and “promoting a culture of innovation” in learning (p. 8). “It has become the responsibility of universities to foster environments that accelerate learning and creativity,” report co-authors Samantha Adams Becker, Alex Freeman, and Victoria Estrada bluntly tell us—an assertion that I consistently apply to workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs as well. Among the examples provided are the University of Florida’s Innovation Academy, where students work innovatively in a variety of dynamic learning spaces to “learn more about creativity, entrepreneurship, ethics, and leadership,” and the University of Colorado, Denver’s ten-week Online Skills Mastery training program “designed to prepare you for teaching with digital tools, with a focus on great digital pedagogy” and culminating with a project in which participants actually produce a learning module—experiential learning at its best. (Modules are available online for those of us interested in further exploring what the program offers.) And for one of the many examples of how learning organizations are engaging in productive collaborations, we can follow the report link to “7 Ways Higher Ed Institutions Are Increasingly Joining Forces” from EducationDive.com—yet another resource well worth pursuing.

As we move into the mid-term trends—those “driving ed tech adoption in higher education for three to five years”—we turn our attention to the growing focus on measuring learning (think learning analytics) and the proliferation of open educational resources. With the growing focus on measuring learning, we are reminded, “The goal is to build better pedagogies, empower students to take an active part in their learning, target at-risk student populations, and assess factors affecting completion and student success” (p. 12); among the numerous first-rate resources cited in the 2015 Higher Education Edition are the “Code of Practice for Learning Analytics” prepared by Niall Sclater for Jisc, and records from the Asilomar Conference (here in California) that was designed to “inform the ethical use of data and technology in learning research” through development of six principals (“respect for the rights of learners, beneficence, justice, openness, the humanity of learning, and continuous consideration”). Turning to the trend toward increasing use of open educational resources, we see how they represent “a broad variety of digital content, including full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, videos, tests, software, and any other means of conveying knowledge” (p. 14). Among the open textbook projects receiving attention here are Rice University’s OpenStax College and College Open Textbooks; massive open online courses (MOOCs) and the North-West OER Network also receive much-justified attention for their ongoing collaborative and open approaches to learning.

Haymes--Idea_SpacesThe Key Trends section of the report concludes with the two intriguing and fruitful short-term trends—those “driving ed tech adoption in higher education [and elsewhere] for the next one to two years”: increasing use of blended learning and redesigning learning spaces. “[B]lended learning—the combination of online and face-to-face instruction—is a model currently being explored by many higher educational institutions” (p. 17) and some of us who work in other learning environments, as we’re reminded through a link to a blended-learning case study (written by Carrie Schulz, Jessica Vargas, and Anna Lohaus) from Rollins University. And changes in pedagogical approaches themselves are driving the need to re-examine and redesign our learning spaces: “A student-centered approach to education has taken root, prompting many higher education professionals to rethink how learning spaces should be configured,” the report co-authors confirm (p. 18). If, for example, we are interested in having the learner at the center of the learning process, we’re going to have to rework the numerous lecture halls that continue to place the focus on learning facilitators. The FLEXspace interactive OER database and the Learning Spaces Collaboratory are among the wonderful resources cited for those of us interested in diving much more deeply into the world of learning-space redesign, and Tom Haymes’ Idea Spaces presentation provides additional food for thought while also serving as an example of how we can create online content in a way that creates its own type of learning space—the website itself.

NB: This is part of a series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report. Next: Key Challenges


ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting: Bringing Offsite Colleagues Into the Room

February 1, 2015

With informal help and encouragement from our staff colleagues in the American Library Association (ALA), several of us successfully managed, this afternoon, to reduce the number of people “left behind” during the current ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting being held here in Chicago. And, in the process, we produced a learning object designed to help members of ALA and other associations achieve similarly rewarding results.

ala_leftbehind“ALALeftBehind” has been a bittersweet movement for quite a while now: those unable to be onsite for the Midwinter Meeting held early each year and the Annual Conference held early each summer contact onsite Association members via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms for news about what is happening onsite. They also, via the #ALALeftBehind hashtag, comment on how much they wish they could be part of the onsite action.

This was the year we reduced the onsite-online gap a bit more. Largely thanks to the efforts of ALA staff, those who could not attend the conference received tips about resources that could help connect them to onsite activities and colleagues. That commitment to offsite members as well as to the onsite members who could afford the time and cost of traveling to Chicago inspired at least a few of us onsite to seek ways to support that effort and find ways to further draw our offsite colleagues into the onsite rooms.

ALAMW15--LogoAs we were meeting (during the first day of the conference) in the Midwinter Meeting Networking Uncommons—a wonderful space meant to facilitate unplanned encounters and conversations at a significant level—a few of us were expressing the same sort of comments expressed by those left behind: sadness that familiar faces weren’t present for Midwinter 2015 conversations. One person who is particularly important to us is our training-teaching-learning colleague Maurice Coleman, who brings us together online through his biweekly T is for Training conversations/podcasts and has been making audio-recordings of live face-to-face T is for Training sessions at ALA Midwinter Meetings and Annual Conferences for the past few years. Without Maurice onsite, we realized we would miss our semi-annual face-to-face session—until we decided that if we couldn’t bring Maurice and “T” into the Uncommons and the rest of the conference, we would bring the Uncommons and the conference to Maurice.

We were lucky enough to be sitting with Jenny Levine, the ALA staff member who remains the driving force behind the Uncommons (and much more), as our plan began to develop; she quickly confirmed a reservation for the final 30-minute slot remaining for formal use of the Uncommons during the 2015 Midwinter Meeting. We then contacted Maurice and a few other T is for Training colleagues who were offsite to see whether they wanted to participate in a unique T is for Training session via a Google Hangout rather than the usual audio-only format we use through TalkShoe.

There was a conscious decision that we weren’t going to make the Hangout appear too well-rehearsed, and we also agreed that we would rely on our improvisational skills to address any unexpected problems that came up during the session. Having experimented with blended onsite-online conference attendance via Twitter and blended learning opportunities via Google Hangouts, I saw this as an opportunity to pull a session together with minimal planning, preparation, and rehearsal so that #alaleftbehind colleagues would see how easily similar gatherings could be arranged while also seeing what can go wrong with this sort of impromptu erasing of the Left Behind brand.

Virtual Maurice Coleman before he joined the live Hangout

Virtual Maurice Coleman before he joined the live Hangout

That’s exactly how it played out during the live session earlier this afternoon. The opening segment with guest host Kate Kosturski, T is for Training colleague Jules Shore, and me in the Networking Uncommons began right on time and featured a decent quality of audio and video. Our first (not-unexpected) glitch occurred when Maurice was unable to join the Hangout in its recorded version, so came in through a virtual back door: my tablet. Figuring that low-quality Maurice was better than no Maurice, I took the only action I could imagine taking: I held the tablet up to the webcam and hoped for the best. Watching the archived recording shows that it was a gamble that paid off: the audio and video feed captured from the tablet was even better in the recording than it was for those of us in the Uncommons—which doesn’t mean it was great (far from it), but as a spur-of-the-moment solution, it worked. Better yet, it added the sort of levity to the session that is such a valuable and valued part of all T is for Training sessions.

The experiment gained momentum about12 minutes into the session with Jill Hurst-Wahl, another key part of the T is for Training community, was able to join the Hangout from her home. After a moment or two of trouble-shooting, she was completely integrated into the exchange and the conversation resumed where it had stopped when Maurice first came in via the tablet.

Our moment of success came just after the halfway point, when Maurice was able to switch from the tablet feed to the version visible in the archived recording. And, for the remainder of the program, we once again showed how a conference room can quickly expand from being a small onsite space to a space that extend across entire states.

It could have been better; we should have been able to include other participants via the chat function in Google Hangouts. But as an example of how low-cost, high-impact technology can help us redefine our meeting and our learning spaces and how it can further reduce the size of our Left Behind groups, it offers an effective case study. And it will continue reducing that Left Behind group person by person as more people view the recording and use it to create their own no-longer-left-behind experiences.


NMC and ALA: Black Swans, Conversations, and Collaboration

January 29, 2015

We’ve known, for a long time, that having key players in the room is an essential part of fostering achievements in training-teaching-learning and many other endeavors. What wasn’t as obvious until recently is that drawing those essential colleagues into the room is becoming increasingly simple by redefining what the room actually is.

ALAMW15--LogoAttending the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project retreat—“The Black Swan Ball”—in Austin, Texas a couple of weeks ago provided a fabulous reminder of how our concepts of meeting spaces are changing. Arriving in Chicago yesterday for the American Library Association (ALA) 2015 Midwinter Meeting is supplying another dynamic example of this development. And other ongoing personal experiments in creating a virtual presence within onsite meetings convince me that we’re seeing a major shift in how our changing concepts of meeting spaces, learning spaces, participation, and collaboration are working to our advantage.

While drawing an offsite colleague into onsite meetings as a co-presenter via Google Hangouts over the past couple of years, I have asked onsite meeting participants to describe how big our meeting spaces are. It quickly becomes obvious to everyone that our videoconferencing capabilities have improved to the point where those offsite participants feel as if they are physically present with us—and we with them—so the room is no longer defined by the immediate four walls that surround us—it extends over the hundreds (or thousands) of miles that would separate us if our technology didn’t create a visceral, virtual presence for all involved.

Our NMC colleagues at the Black Swan Ball—an event inspired by Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable and designed to help us develop the skills needed to adapt when what seemed improbably quickly becomes commonplace—were exemplary in creating a meeting space that transcended physical walls. Even though we were all in the same conference center room for much of the discussion, we were also using virtual spaces created online by NMC staff so we could create, in the moment, learning objects that would carry the discussion out of the room so the explorations would not end when the conference did. And, by the simple act of tweeting observations while those discussions were underway, we found the discussions spreading far beyond the conference center premises even while invited participants were still onsite.

Our ALA colleagues are taking this expansion-of-the-room concept further than what I have seen most organizations attempt. Acknowledging that there is frequently a conference backchannel conversation nurtured by those who consider themselves “left behind” by their inability to be onsite (united via the hashtag #ALALeftBehind), conference representatives have already encouraged the “left behind” crowd to expand the size of the room and join the conversation via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and pages on the Association’s website:

“You can get a flavor of the event and insights by following American Libraries coverage at http://www.americanlibrariesmagazine.org/alamw15 and the show daily, Cognotes, at http://alamw15.ala.org/cognotes.

“You can also

“And looking ahead–for information about the 2015 ALA Annual Conference & Exhibition June 25-30, and to find resources to help you make your case for attending, visit http://alaannual.org.”

NMC_Black_Swan_LogoThis is a magnificent example of how a commitment to inclusivity and a bit of advance planning can create opportunities for extended conversations; greater levels of engagement among members of an association, a community of learning, a community of practice, or any other collaborative body; and an awareness of how existing tools and resources can create possibilities where barriers once existed. If each of us at the Midwinter Meeting (or any other onsite convocation) contributes to the effort to draw our offsite colleagues into the onsite conversations, and our offsite colleagues reciprocate by contributing via the channels available to them, we will have taken another positive, productive step toward expanding the size of our room and fostering the levels of collaboration that produce results beyond anything we previously imagined.


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