Rethinking Digital Literacy: Moving Out

July 24, 2015

Out of chaos sometimes comes more chaos—and that can be a very exhilarating and productive learning environment under the right conditions, as we’re seeing in our ALA Editions four-week online course “Rethinking Digital Literacy.”

Rethinking_Digital_Literacy--Course_GraphicThe course is literally and somewhat chaotically all over the virtual map. It has an obvious, easily-accessible  home base, which is our learning-management-system (Moodle). During Week 2, Rethinking has fostered increasing levels of digital literacy by moving out, beyond our virtual classroom walls, and expanding into Twitter; Facebook; blogs; and, as of this morning, a learner-produced video posted within and shared from Google Drive. And there’s no end in sight as to how far it can and will extend, which is fine: this connected learning, rhizomatically-growing learning experience is at least partially helping well-supported learners within a vibrant community of learning to viscerally understand that a key digital-literacy skill is an ability to navigate a variety of online resources and venues without allowing ourselves to become overwhelmed.

Our methodology, so far, appears to perfectly match and support the content, learning goals, and user experience within Rethinking. In designing and facilitating the course, I’m attempting to create an engaging, stimulating, learner-centric, results-based experience where learners (or to borrow one of my favorite terms that continues to evolve from the Educational Technology & Media MOOC—#etmooc: “co-conspirators”) are partners in the digital-literacy learning process. Where the original conspirators (those designing and facilitating the course)  in #etmooc inspired a group of co-conspirators in the form of #etmooc learners who collaborated on designing and facilitating a follow-up massive open online course (MOOC), the co-conspirators in Relearning include every learner who is joining me in shaping and learning from the course.

etmoocAnother match between methodology and content/learning goals/experience within Rethinking is the focus on co-conspirators learning how to define and foster digital literacy by identifying and further developing the digital literacy skills they bring to the course. They are offered—and some are taking advantage of—opportunities to learn about digital literacy by exploring digital tools and resources of interest to them and to those they serve. The process is still very much in its early stages, but is already producing results similar to what I saw—and was inspired by—in #etmooc. A few Rethinking learners are using blogs to document and build upon what they are learning. Others, as a result of asynchronous online group discussions within Moodle, have agreed upon a Twitter hashtag (#ReDigLit) they can use to carry their discussions and learning into the Twittersphere.

The latest expansion of our semi-controlled chaotic approach came this morning through the creative approach course participant/co-conspirator Joan Jordan took in playfully completing a warm-up exercise I offered for Week 2: she combined the assignment with an ongoing optional avenue I’ve encouraged learners to explore (try a new digital literacy tool of their own choosing each week to expand their digital-literacy toolkit). Joan decided to learn how to use the video capabilities of her smartphone, learn how to upload the video she created, and learn how to share a link to that video from an online venue (in this case, Google Drive). With that as the foundation for her approach, she responded to the actual warm-up assignment: watch a brief, charming video showing young learners displaying a variety of digital literacy skills, identify as many digital literacy skills in use as possible, and post the resulting list of skills within our Week 2 online discussion board. The result was extremely engaging: she filmed her cat, produced a video that had the cat telling us which digital literacy skills were observable in the video Joan and other course participants are viewing, and shared that video with us in place of providing a text-based inventory of the skills on display. In the best of digital-literacy approaches, she not only managed to learn what she wanted and needed to learn, but also inspired a lively conversation that is continuing to develop back at home base (Moodle).

An additional intriguing element of our collaboratively-developing methodology—very much what I would call “the #etmooc method” because that’s where I first experienced it—is the opportunity to see whether what grew out of #etmooc could develop from an online course that is not a MOOC: a sustainable community of learning that continues long after formal coursework concludes—what I have only half-jokingly referred to as a MOOChort elsewhere. As my Rethinking co-conspirators continue to define and explore digital literacy by carrying their conversations into a variety of digital settings, I suspect the seeds of a post-Rethinking community are already beginning to germinate.

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


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.


NMC 2015 Summer Conference: Full Participation & Circling Back to Conversations

June 9, 2015

When a few hundred of your favorite educational-technology colleagues from all over the world gather to explore trends and developments in teaching-training-learning, you certainly don’t want to miss a single minute of it. So you arrive a day or two before formal activities start. Spend inordinate amounts of time engaged in face-to-face conversations in the various hotel lounges and lobbies. Skim the conference Twitter feed (#nmc15 for this one). Pore over the conference program book and website trying to decide how to be in five places at the same time. Reach out via social media to colleagues who couldn’t be onsite so they won’t be left out of the conversations. Grab every available opportunity to join colleagues for breakfast, coffee, lunch, coffee, dessert, coffee, dinner, coffee, dessert and coffee. And just when you believe you’ve covered all your physical and virtual bases, you unexpectedly find delightful additional ways to be so plugged into and help plug others into the overall conference conversation that it feels as if it will never end.

NMC_2015_Summer_Conference--LogoWhat we’re talking about here is a magnificent part of the connected learninglifelong learning process at conferences that becomes exponentially more rewarding with every new effort we make to be part of the conversations that contribute to the growth and innovation fueling first-rate teaching-training-learning efforts, as we’re seeing again this week during the New Media Consortium (NMC) 2015 Summer Conference here in the Washington, D.C. area. Formal conference keynote presentations, breakout sessions within a variety of pathways, and other activities start tomorrow; half-day preconference workshops took place today. Onsite conversations were already underway two days ago as a few of us arrived Sunday evening. And pre-preconference online conversations have been taking place for at least a few weeks. All of which raises an interesting question: given all the resources we have to interact face-to-face as well as virtually and synchronously as well as asynchronously, when can we actually say an intensive onsite-online learning experience begins and ends, and what (if any) geographic boundaries define a conference site?

TwitterTwitter has been an essential part of my conference experience for the past few years. By skimming the feed from a conference hashtag a few times a day (and understanding that it’s far from necessary to read every tweet if I want to gain a sense of what is occurring), I’m able to asynchronously join conversations and “attend” sessions I otherwise would not have time to sample. By live-tweeting sessions and monitoring the feed from those sessions, I’m able to share content with offsite colleagues, occasionally draw them into what is happening onsite, and interact with others in particularly large meeting rooms. And, by commenting on colleagues’ tweets during and after sessions, I’ve found Twitter serving as yet another portal to meeting colleagues I might otherwise not have met—even though we were (or are) in the same room during a conference session.

And that’s where conversations can both meander and circle back upon themselves in the most unexpected ways and at the most unexpected times. I’ve met colleagues face-to-face for the first time by responding to their tweets during a session, and then seeking them out before any of us have a chance to leave a room at the end of a session—which, of course, leads to extensions of the conversations fostered by those facilitating the conference sessions we were attending. I’ve also had the wonderful opportunity to serendipitously pick up the threads of a conversation hours later when small groups of colleagues gather in those aforementioned hotel lounges and lobbies. Conversations occasionally extend over Twitter for several days after a conference formally ends, and can also continue as those of us who blog read and comment upon each other’s posted reflections on those blogs.

Coffee in a local shop

Coffee in a local shop

But today brought a wonderfully new and unexpected variation on the theme. Needing some time away from all those preconference conversations and preconference workshops, I decided to go offsite for the first half of the day to have brunch and visit one of Washington’s magnificent museums. As I was finishing brunch, I couldn’t resist the temptation to engage in what was going to be first of three check-ins to the conference Twitter feed throughout the day. And there it was: a colleague’s wonderful summary of high points from a three-hour workshop—which I was able to skim in less than 10 minutes, with a few additional minutes set aside to retweet a few comments I thought off-site colleagues might appreciate reading. After a couple of hours in the museum and a little more reading time in a local coffee shop, I made the quick cross-town trip back toward the conference hotel via Washington’s subway system, and planned to catch the shuttle that completes a circle between the hotel, the closest subway station, and the airport (which is only a very short distance from the hotel where we are staying) every 30 minutes.

The shuttle arrived as expected. What I hadn’t in any way anticipated was the discovery that the presenter from that morning preconference workshop was sitting across the aisle from me on the shuttle. So as he was heading back to the airport and I was planning on staying on the shuttle to return to the hotel, we had a few minutes to ride that circular route together while discussing his presentation, laugh over the idea that we didn’t have to send follow-up tweets (at least for the moment) to continue our conversation, and that his part of the circle that was taking him to the airport so wonderfully overlapped with part of my own circle back to the onsite conference conversation.

It may be months before we see each other face-to-face again. But already, as I capture this set of reflections late at night, I see the conversation extending further—along with the reach of the “conference site” via a follow-up email message he sent. And if he and I (and others here at the NMC 2015 Summer Conference) carry these extended-learning lessons back to our own learners, who can say when the conference will really end?


Learning With Heather Plett, Holding Space, T is for Training, and Extended Conversations  

May 29, 2015

Conversations aren’t what they used to be. They are so much more—at least among the members of the various extended and extensive communities of learning to which I belong.

T_is_for_Training_LogoHaving documented a conversation-by-blog that started earlier this afternoon, I find myself continuing to reflect on a second, entirely different, but no less dynamic conversation that began unfolding at roughly the same time within the T is for Training community that Harford County (MD) Public Library Technical Trainer Maurice Coleman so lovingly and effectively nurtures through his biweekly podcasts.

The platform for T is for Training conversations is Talkshoe.com, a free service that allows talented facilitators to recreate the feel of a dynamic radio talk show via the Internet. A host such as Maurice creates a community of interest—in this case, colleagues connected by their interest and involvement in library training-teaching-learning opportunities; facilitates the conversations; and, most importantly, creates the sense of an open community that draws in new members and temporary participants in a variety of creative ways. There are sessions where only one or two people are involved; the session today, at one point, had nine obvious on-the-call participants. But what strikes me in retrospect is that there was a tenth person—Heather Plett—who actively contributed to the conversation without even knowing it was underway. Because her recently-published blog article “What It Means to ‘Hold Space’ for People, Plus Eight Tips on How to Do It Well” and its companion piece “How to Hold Space for Yourself First” inspired our conversation, there really never was a moment when Heather’s presence in the conversation wasn’t palpable.

Holding_Space--PlettThe first article begins with her recollections of how a “gifted palliative care nurse” helped Plett and other members of Plett’s family cope with her mother’s impending death by “holding space” for them. Holding space, she explains, “means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgment and control.” As a teacher, facilitator, and coach, Plett saw and documented the parallels between holding space in the situation she was facing and holding space in learning situations.

Her lessons learned are worth repeating:

  • “Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.”
  • “Give people only as much information as they can handle.”
  • “Don’t take their power away.”
  • “Keep your own ego out of it.”
  • “Make them feel safe enough to fail.”
  • “Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness.”
  • “Create a container for complex emotions, fear, trauma, etc.”
  • “Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would.”

And because Plett shared those lessons learned with all of us who read that piece, we were drawn into a conversation that started with her voice (as captured in the article), extended into our own hour-long extension, continues with further asynchronous but clearly interconnected interactions including the writing and posting of the article you are reading now, and will continue at least for a while in a rhizomatically-expanding way through any comments posted in response to this posting, any blog posts colleagues write and link back to this one, any tweets or Facebook comments we create to share and further extend the conversation, and other face-to-face or online interactions that build upon and circle back to what Plett started and the T is for Training discussion continued.

What is most fascinating about all of this is the way in which Plett’s initial conversation-inspiring offering has spread so quickly and uncontrollably. In “How to Hold Space for Yourself First,” she tells us that the initial article “has been spreading like wildfire. Suddenly, tens of thousands of people were visiting my website, thousands were signing on to my newsletter and sharing it on social media, and hundreds were commenting and sending emails. In the end, the post received so much attention that my website was taken down by the hosting company and wasn’t revived for 24 hours (when I finally switched to another host).”

The fact that, as I write this, there are already 252 responses posted on the page that holds her original article demonstrates the nature of this conversation: it’s on her blog; it spread today to the T is for Training community; it clearly is inspiring contributions via other bloggers’ postings; and is, no doubt, inspiring plenty of other face-to-face and online extensions—thereby creating a conversation so large and expansive that no single contributor can possibly be aware of every other contributor’s additions. It’s as if Plett lured several thousand people into a huge room, gave all of us enough to get us started, and then stepped back to watch and let her baby grow.

It is clear that many of us, through those responses posted on her blog, are directly engaged in the conversation with her. It’s also obvious that some of us are engaged even though she isn’t yet aware that we are diving into this deeply rich and rewarding learning pool with her. Most importantly, it’s obvious that our approach to “conversations”—regardless of geographic barriers and because of our willingness to engage in conversational “moments” that will extend over a very long period of time—is changing the nature of those conversations in wonderfully dynamic ways—a lesson well worth sharing with those whose learning efforts we facilitate in our roles  as trainer-teacher-learners willing to engage in holding space.

N.B.: Join the T is for Training community every other Friday at 2 pm ET/11 am PT via Talkshoe at http://www.talkshoe.com/talkshoe/web/talkCast.jsp?masterId=24719&cmd=tc

 


Lightning Rounds in #lrnchat: Macho Tweet Chatting

May 1, 2015

Trainer-teacher-learners, as I noted while facetiously promoting a game called Speed PowerPointing a few years ago, have a magnificent ability to transform challenges into learning innovations. That ability was on display again yesterday when new and returning members of the #lrnchat community engaged in our weekly (Thursdays, 8:30 pm ET/5:30 pm PT) tweet chat and, in the process, seemed to create a new format we might call “Macho Tweet Chatting.”

#lrnchat_logo#lrnchat participants, as the community blog explains, “are people interested in the topic of learning from one another and who want to discuss how to help other people learn in formal, informal, social and mobile ways.” The weekly chats (originally 90 minutes, now 60 minutes) have a well-established format: begin with brief introductions; warm up by responding to a question about what we learned that day (or that week if we somehow went all day without learning something); respond to six inter-related questions on a pre-announced theme; and conclude by posting wrap-up tweets during which we re-introduce ourselves and are encouraged to engage in shameless acts of self-promotion (which usually help us learn what our colleagues are currently doing/promoting/producing). When the virtual smoke clears from those hour-long sessions, we find that we’ve taken approximately eight or nine minutes to respond to and build upon colleagues’ comments about each of those six questions.

But that wasn’t what we encountered when we joined a session on the topic of Persistence in Learning yesterday. The community organizers, with little explanation until we were well into the session, had decided to create lightning rounds by tossing 10 rather than six questions (in addition to the usual introductions, wrap-up, and what-did-you-learn questions) into the mix. It was only when someone asked why the chat seemed to be moving much more quickly than usual  that we learned what was behind the innovation: those preparing the questions about persistence had difficulty in winnowing down the number of proposed questions, so they changed the format rather than eliminate thought-provoking content that would foster our learning process yesterday.

The usual format fosters numerous initial responses, some retweeting of those responses so that others not engaged in the live session have a glimpse of what our discussions produce, and a variety of playful offshoots as individual community members engage one-on-one before another question from the community moderators more or less draws us all back together into a somewhat cohesive online conversation. The increased number of questions within an unexpanded period of time simply upped the ante: we had to respond much more quickly than usual; we struggled to engage in the retweeting that is such a fundamental element of expanding the community into the larger communities in which each of us individually interacts; and the playful one-on-one side-conversations were even more frenetic than usual.

Storify_LogoIt was clear that this was the sort of learning opportunity that would require some after-class effort to fully appreciate what we experienced—and learned—via the lightning-round format. Immediately creating an initial stand-alone transcript via Storify rather than waiting for community moderators to post it on the blog later this week made it obvious to me that many of the tweets were shorter than usual. (I suspect that the 140-character ceiling on tweets was higher than many of us could reach given the time limits we faced in composing each tweet.) Skimming that transcript so soon after the session ended also made me realize how much more content I had missed than I normally do—and made me appreciate how helpful it was to have created a useful learning object in the form of a Storify document—rereading content provided plenty of valuable opportunities to continue benefiting from the wisdom of this particular crowd by luxuriating over some of the observations; laughing at some of the funnier exchanges; and relishing the sense of support upon which a community like #lrnchat is built and sustained.

ccourses_logoA post-session reading also produced some insights that may not have been intended by those posting comments. When we see someone post “eyes glazing over” in response to a question about when it is better to surrender rather than persevere, for example, we can also retroactively read the comment as a reflection of the idea that some of us may have felt our eyes glazing over because of the fire-hose flood of information coming our way. When we see even one of our most agile, literate, and pithy colleagues acknowledge that “it’s hard to catch up on this fast-moving #lrnchat,” we’re reminded that in connected learning environments and connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs), the best lesson learned is that it’s not actually necessary to “keep up”—learning is often about what we can and choose to absorb rather than being about what someone else wants us to absorb. And if we’re empathetic enough to carry our own frustration over not keeping up into an appreciation for the frustration overwhelmed learners feel, we’ve absorbed an important lesson through the experiential learning #lrnchat so frequently fosters. And when we re-read my own tongue-in-cheek suggestion that #lrnchat may need to adopt The Flash and Quicksilver as our mascots, we might also take the suggestion as a reminder that training-teaching-learning at times seems to require superpower-level skills.

What remains most encouraging and most important is that, at the end of the day (and the Macho Tweet Chat), those who stayed with it acknowledged how invigorating and—in the most positive of senses—challenging the session was. We came. We chatted. We laughed. We learned. And, in the best of all worlds, we experienced an exercise (and form of exercise) we may be able to share with some of our most advanced learners so all of us continue learning together.


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.”


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 39 other followers

%d bloggers like this: