Learning, Innovation, and Instagram (#IITB, Pt. 1 of 4): The Questions That Inspire Us

February 5, 2020

I’m learning to use Instagram as a tool to foster training-teaching-learning. Not because friends and colleagues told me I should be on Instagram. (They did.) Not because I feel a compelling need to become active on yet another social media platform. (I don’t.) And certainly not for course credits or a grade: there are no grades given in the course I am pursuing—just an opportunity to explore an unfamiliar resource with the support of a tremendously innovative community of learning, under the guidance of a writer-presenter-educator (George Couros) I very much admire.

It started with a question, as have so many of my favorite and most transformative learning opportunities: how can Instagram be used to innovatively foster learning? And it’s the sort of learning opportunity I very much admire. It’s engaging—the moment I posted my first offering on Instagram, I became drawn into brief exchanges with George and my other co-conspirators in learning. It’s multifaceted—an online (mostly asynchronous) book discussion group, functioning as a connectivist MOOC (massive open online course), that includes the opportunity to explore a social media tool (Instagram) as part of the larger goal of engaging in transformative conversations on a topic (innovation in learning) that is of interest to me and those I serve. It’s rhizomatic—expanding and exploding across multiple platforms including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and even blog postings like this one. And it is creative in every sense of the word, including the idea that we as learners engage in the creation of numerous examples of how Instagram can be used in learning (while learning about Instagram itself) so that, at the conclusion of this three-week book discussion/course/community-of-learning-in-action, we will have produced a fluid, amendable “textbook” that can be used by others interested in learning about Instagram in learning.

The online book discussion group/Instagram-in-learning course fostered through this “Innovate Inside the Box [#IITB] Book Study” group begins with a chapter-by-chapter set of readings from and responses to Innovate Inside the Box: Empowering Learners Through UDL [Universal Design for Learning]and the Innovator’s Mindset, written by George and his co-author Katie Novak. We seamlessly jump from the pages of this trainer-teacher-learner must-read book into Instagram (using the hashtag #InnovateInsideTheBox and more specific chapter-by-chapter hashtags, e.g., #IITBCh1 for postings connected to our exploration of Chapter 1) to learn from posts and comments by George and Katie.

We cannot, if we want to understand how this all works, overlook the magnificent organizational skills George brings to the course. He seeds the Instagram conversations with concise, visually-consistent suggested discussion points; incorporates short videos produced with other social media tools, including TikTok, to draw us in as co-conspirators in the learning process; and obviously gave plenty of thought to creating those chapter-by-chapter hashtags so that any of us, at any time, could easily locate, contribute, and respond to content on the topic of our choice. We also benefit from the unspoken assumption that, with content exploding across Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, blogs, and other social media platforms, there is no expectation that “keeping up” requires attention to all those possibilities and conversations; we choose what we can do within the time we have for the discussion/course, and happily work in what is a guilt-free learning zone.

Although I was late to joining the conversations—completing my first post on Instagram near the end of the second week of #IITB—I had been slowly reading and reflecting upon the book from the moment I received my copy. I was also using online resources to learn more about how Instagram works; how to create visually appealing posts appropriate to our goal of using Instagram for learning; and to survey some of the tools available for use in creating posts combining images and text. Attempting to complete and post a couple of contributions each day, it hasn’t taken me long to realize that the combination of text and imagery in those posts, along with reflections in the comments field of each post, are giving me a record of my learning; a quickly-growing resource library of images I can use in other projects I am currently completing; and examples I can use for the remainder of this blog post to show how the entire process is working for me—and might also work for you.

Comments accompanying the first post: Experimenting…always experimenting: the heart of training-teaching-learning. So, belatedly, I’m diving into what is meant to be a three-week innovative opportunity to explore Instagram as a tool for learning through an online Instagram-based book discussion centered on Innovate Inside the Box, by George Couros, with Katie Novak. George, upfront (on p. xxxv), reminds us that great learning opportunities, are fostered through our ability to draw upon our own creativity, our willingness to innovate to the benefit of our learners, and “the artistry of teaching”—which inspired me to go back to this photo I took of a playful work of art and think about how the successful incorporation of art into teaching-training-learning can help us hit the bull’s-eye when we are successful.

Comments accompanying the second post: In a chapter on learner-driven, evidence-informed learning, George suggests that a focus on grades (or, by extension, certificates of completion) rather than achievement reduces learning to “letters and numbers” and leaves our learners “lost in the process.” Fostering learning where “people are invested in their own goals” and where success is judged by evidence of positive transformation, on the other hand, carries learners “above and beyond goals that we set for them”—a lesson I’m re-learning as I participate in the book study group. If I were doing this for a grade or a certificate or if I were participating in a workshop on how to use Instagram, I would probably race through the learning challenges and be done with it; bringing my own commitment to lifelong learning to this innovative opportunity  to study innovation (and Instagram) and taking the time to explore what Instagram might offer me and those I serve through training-teaching-learning-doing, however, is inspiring me to spend much more time than expected preparing each of these posts—with the result that I’ll leave the study group, when the formal interactions conclude, with an understanding far deeper and more useful than anything a grade provides.

Comments accompanying the third post: In his chapter “Master Learner, Master Educator,” George addresses a theme that comes up often with my colleagues: our roles as teacher-trainer-learners are inextricably interconnected; one part of that term without the others leaves us—and those we serve—at a terrible disadvantage in terms of facilitating and taking advantage of effective, positive, learning opportunities. “If you want to be a master educator, you need to be a master learner,” he reminds us, adding, later in the chapter, the wonderful punchline: “…learning has no endpoint; it is a continuous journey with many opportunities to explore.” And the more we encourage our learners—and ourselves—to solve challenges for themselves/ourselves rather than being spoon fed information they/we will not be able to remember, the more we help them—and ourselves—grow into successful lifelong learners—a lesson I continue to see reinforced as I explore the intersection of Instagram and teaching-training-learning by struggling with the tool; experimenting to produce thoughtful, visually appealing posts; and celebrating small victories while continuing to overcome the challenges that each new post provides.

Comments accompanying the fourth post: In his chapter on creating empowered learning experiences, George contrasts engagement (“listening, reading, observing, consuming”) with empowerment (speaking, writing, interacting, creating”) and suggests that “asking better questions” leads us—and our learners—down fruitful paths in developing valuable lifelong skills. There is an acknowledgement that we cannot ignore the basics when we are working with our learners, but the basics are the starting point, not the finish line: “When students are empowered to choose how they can best demonstrate their knowledge and skills, they are able to see the relevance in learning the basics…and are less likely to check out mentally.”
It’s a reminder I appreciate as I explore basic as well as innovative possibilities Instagram provides for training-teaching-learning-doing—not because George or Katie dictate every step I must take as a learner and co-creator in their online book-study experience, but because they are the learning catalysts and I am a willing, curious, engaged, empowered co-conspirator in my own learning process.

So…I’m learning to use Instagram as a tool to foster training-teaching-learning. And I’m learning so much more. If this and subsequent posts about #InnovateInsideTheBox serve as learning opportunities for you and other readers of this blog, then the learning will continue far beyond the three-week online offering, and we will have come full circle in creating when-you-need-them learning opportunities from those in which we have participated, and to which we have contributed.

–N.B.: This is the first in a set of reflections inspired by #IITB, the Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study group.


Facing Online Harassment While Changing the World

January 29, 2020

When you think about the stories you have heard or read regarding online harassment—including trolling—through social media, you can easily make the mistake of thinking it won’t affect you. You might even unconsciously—as I have occasionally and unexpectedly found myself doing—mistakenly assume that those who are on the receiving end of trolling and other forms of online harassment are only the highly-visible world-changers taking controversial stands (as if that somehow fully explains why they are being harassed).

If you follow social media at all, you know that many people—those affiliated with Black Lives Matter, March for Our Lives, and Me Too, for example—have been subjected to trolling and other forms of harassment that are vicious, tenacious, threatening, and, at times, emotionally overwhelming. It interferes with their ability to continue or complete their work. It leaves them emotionally drained and feeling isolated. And it takes a toll on those around them, including family, friends, co-workers, and employers.

What you might have missed is the fact that plenty of others who are attempting to foster positive change in their communities through what they see as routine, uncontroversial actions have been equally traumatized by those who oppose them or simply take pleasure in provoking strong emotional responses among those they perceive to be weak, appropriate targets to torment. A study released by ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) in October 2019 suggests that more than a third of all Americans have “experienced severe online harassment”—which means that you don’t have to look very far to find someone who has had this experience (if it hasn’t already happened to you). And if you are at all confused by what a troll is and what behavior helps you identify a troll, you’ll find Todd Clarke’s list of “5 Signs You’re Dealing With a Troll” helpful in making that identification: “1) They’ll try to make you angry. 2) They act entitled. 3) They exaggerate. 4) They make it persona. 5) They often can’t spell.”

One of the most surprising set of targets I have encountered included several librarians who were simply doing what librarians do: fostering positive change within their communities by responding to the needs of library users and library colleagues through the creation and posting of resources to help them find information they need. (I first heard their stories while attending the panel discussion “Bullying, Trolling, and Doxxing, Oh My! Protecting Our Advocacy and Public Discourse Around Diversity and Social Justice” at the 2018 American Library Association annual conference, in New Orleans.) Two of the librarians had received an American Library Association 2017 Diversity Research Grant for a project to be called “Minority Student Experiences with Racial Microaggressions in the Academic Library”; the study was designed to use “surveys and focus groups to garner further insight into the specific experiences surrounding racial microaggressions directed at racial and ethnic minority students in the context of accessing library spaces and services on campus,” but was abandoned “[b]ecause of the level of harassment” directed at one of the librarians. Another of the librarians had tried to explain to colleagues, through a relatively brief (nine-paragraph) blog posting, what she called “race fatigue”—the “physical, mental, and emotional condition that people of color experience after spending a considerable amount of time dealing with the micro-and macro-aggressions that inevitably occur when in the presence of white people”—in an effort to make her colleagues aware of the situation and in the hope that something positive would come from recognition and discussion of that situation. A fourth librarian—working in a college library—had published an online document designed to “provide general information about anti-oppression, diversity, and inclusion as well as information and resources for the social justice issues key to current dialogues” within the college community.

When the reaction of those who wanted to torment each of the librarians began to hit, several of the recipients of trolling and other forms of online harassment were stunned and transformed by what they experienced, they said. They were “doxxed”—their contact and other personal information (e.g., email addresses, home addresses, and home phone numbers) were widely disseminated online—as part of a campaign to not only discredit them but also to interfere with the work they were doing. And, in some ways, it worked. At least one of them asked her employers to remove her contact information from her university’s website—a process that took far longer than expected because no one seemed to be prepared for the trauma that the librarian was experiencing as a result of a weeks-long barrage of threats and hate mail, nor seemed quite sure of how to respond expeditiously to the request. A few of the librarians sought help from a variety of sources, including members of police departments, but found that support was lacking because no actual crimes had been committed by those threatening (rather than actually committing) acts of violence against the librarians and their families.

A fifth librarian (who was originally scheduled to be part of a panel discussion I attended, but ended up telling her story online after she was unable to attend the conference) offered a bit of positive news: her employer was behind her all the way from the time the harassment began.

“Thankfully, and much to my honest surprise, my employer had my back,” she wrote in a piece posted on Medium.

What all of this suggests is that in preparing for that awful moment when—not if—you are on the receiving end of trolling or other forms of online harassment, you need not be or feel as if you are alone; there are steps you can take to lessen the trauma and frustration harassment is designed to provoke; and you can draw upon your community of support to help you through the experience in ways that allow you to continue engaging in positive actions to help change your world.   

N.B. — Paul has completed his manuscript for Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the 21st in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World With Patrick Sweeney (Part 2 of 2)

January 17, 2020

This is the second  of a two-part interview conducted with Patrick Sweeney, Political Director for EveryLibrary, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; to be published in 2020). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

On the theme we were pursuing earlier: it seems pretty clear that EveryLibrary sees part of its work as the work of training/educating prospective supporters. How do you train your own trainers (e.g., board members, volunteers, other supporters involved in reaching out to prospective supporters) to serve effectively as supporter trainers?

That’s largely a personality issue. People who want to be trainers will be—and if they want to be, then we’ll take the time to teach them how. It’s really hard to teach people to be trainers if their heart isn’t in being a trainer. It’s much easier and more efficient, in my experience, to hire for personality and then teach skills. I can teach anyone to do the work, but if they don’t want to do it, or if they have a personality that doesn’t engage like that, then I can’t teach someone to change their personality.

Are you doing those trainings face to face, online, both, or in some way that I’m just not putting out there through this question?

Training to do the work of the organization or the work of advocating for libraries in general?

Was thinking specifically about the advocacy side of the process…

Sure, so we do a ton of speaking, workshops, webinars, etc. every year. We don’t do enough “onboarding” of people who want to get involved, and we’ve had complaints about that from the community. But, we are doing so much so quickly that it’s hard to onboard someone. We have about a dozen really active volunteers that do a lot of work for us and for libraries, and it’s admittedly one of our weak points that we don’t have hundreds. We’re trying to change more into the networked change model of organizational development, but that’s a big curve and we just don’t have the capacity to make that switch this second. But we’re really close to being able to do a lot of advocacy training and onboarding of board members, volunteers, etc.

We are using Facebook to identify volunteers and find the kinds of people who want to be engaged at a much deeper level. So, we have volunteer sign-up forms and everything. We also organize volunteer days and other events for volunteers to get involved, but we’ve gotten mixed results with that. Still, the only people showed up were people who had more personal relationships to us beyond just Facebook ads or posts or whatever.

Anything else you want to offer in terms of tips about Facebook?

A million things…but one of the biggest things that we use are all the deep data tools that Facebook allows to help us create really significantly data-driven ads. So, we can run ads about donating to just people who are known donors to causes that are similar to libraries, and we can target them by a bunch of consumer index models. So, people who are donors, who have kids, who like libraries, who make 50,000-100,000 a year, and are in their thirties, can get an ad that is specific to them and their beliefs and Facebook gives us a ton of data about those people. For example, I can see that these people are mostly made up of “Tenured Proprietor” and those kinds of people are made up of “households are large, upper-middle income families located in cities and surrounding areas. Activities, media and spending all reflect priorities of home and children.” This helps us craft ads about libraries and donating to libraries around those interests. Of course, we can also see what their top “likes” are on Facebook and other issues that they care about, and [then] tailor ads just for them. Connecting the value of librarianship to their already held beliefs is how we radicalize them about libraries. We aren’t changing their mind about libraries; our goal instead is to connect libraries to their already held beliefs and then, by doing that, we are raising the value of libraries to them.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the twenty-first in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World With Patrick Sweeney (Part 1 of 2)

January 15, 2020

This is the first of a two-part interview conducted with Patrick Sweeney, Political Director for EveryLibrary, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; to be published in 2020). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

What’s one positive example of how Facebook provided good results for those EveryLibrary serves?

We used Facebook to drive our petition to fight against the closure of libraries in Mary Esther, Florida. The town board was going to close the library so they could hire another sheriff, and the Sheriff’s Department was pushing really hard for them to do it. It meant more money for police, and the complete loss of the library.

So, we worked with the folks on the ground in Mary Esther to put a petition together. We used our large network on Facebook and our email to make this a national issue. Small-time local politicians often hate it when their decisions become negative national news. So, we ran a ton of dark ads in Mary Esther and the surrounding area as well as national organic ads, and they got their email blown up by the response. Having that large network on Facebook who are already familiarized with our work and the threats to libraries that already existed meant that people were prepped and ready to take action like sending emails to the town council.

There’s a very sweet passage in that EveryLibrary posting:

This note of thanks doesn’t just belong to us, but it also belongs to each of you who have stood up for libraries in the United States through your donations (it costs less than coffee to support libraries), signatures on petitions, and pledges to support libraries.

It implies partnership/collaboration/cooperation/humility (i.e., it’s not all about us). Do you routinely draw people in with that sort of invitation to engage in your social media outreach efforts?

We do. But it’s because we spent a lot of time cultivating our audiences and educating them about the issues. We spend between $50-$100 in Facebook network ads to our highly specified audiences to educate them and rally them to become ready to take action for libraries. Basically, we’re radicalizing Americans about libraries because only radical or ardent supporters of anything will take action. In fact, something like five to seven percent of an educated audience will take action on any given issue, so we spend a lot of time and money educating larger audiences and networks about the issues around librarianship.

Looking at the mechanical side of that first: roughly how much do you spend each year on Facebook network ads, and what percentage of your overall budget (approximately) is that?

We have a budget of $36,000 for media ad buys through Facebook. Then we try to add some to that. It’s about one-third of our budget. But because of the way we structure our campaigns, we also use them to fundraise—which means we make a significant portion of that money back each year and typically we make about 5-10 percent on our social media and advocacy strategy overall. So, we spend $36,000, but we make around $40,000-50,000 through them and with our email list.

On the theme of cultivating/radicalizing your audience to spur audience members to action: what steps would you recommend others take to achieve the positive results you’ve achieved?

The thing to remember is that it’s a really long process. Social media ads that ask for donations just don’t work. You can’t run an ad that says, “give us $10” and expect to get back more than you spend. It either doesn’t work, or I don’t know how to write those ads in a way that draws in donations. So, about one-half to three-fourths of our spend is just about communicating with our audience about who we are and what we do and why libraries are important. We also use it to open dialogues with audiences of people so it’s not a one-sided conversation. The other one-half to one-fourth is on direct action, such as signing petitions, joining coalitions, etc. And it’s those actions that yield our donations.
“It’s not a one-side conversation”: Care to offer some brief thoughts on the importance of avoiding social media as a broadcast medium while ignoring the “social” side of it?

Well, it is a broadcast medium, really. But, there are still ways to build conversation into those broadcasts. So, we run petitions, people can message us on Facebook, we reply to comments on our posts, we respond to emails, and have places where people can directly talk to use—we address a lot of issues that come up there. But our most powerful dialogs are not in Facebook. We use Facebook as part of a holistic communication strategy. So, we organize events and fundraisers where people can have direct access to us or have dialogs with us IRL. Because those are really the conversations with the highest ROI.

[Thanks for adding that comment about the most powerful dialogs not being on Facebook; can’t emphasize that enough in a book that focuses on social media as part of an overall activists’ tool kit.]

Our biggest donors and library supporters are really the people who have learned about us on Facebook—our broadcasts—and then contacted us or had a dialog with us in some way.

Facebook as a “gateway drug” to social engagement!

LOL, yes. This is your brain on Facebook. Any questions?

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the twentieth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World Through Online Fundraising

January 10, 2020

When you think about exploring how online fundraising can contribute positively to your efforts, you might want to start by spending time online reviewing the work of GoFundMe Chief Executive Officer Rob Solomon who, Smart Company suggests in a headline to a story about Solomon, “wants to change the world.”

  Solomon, writer Denham Sadler reports in that article for Smart Company, “says GoFundMe, a crowdfunding platform for personal causes, is creating real change in the world and using the power of the startup capital of the world for good.” It is a website and an organization that centers around the efforts of individuals willing to go online to seek financial help from others to meet personal needs (funds for school, funds to cover medical expenses, and myriad others) as well as larger needs, such as obtaining millions of dollars to support the March for Our Lives project and providing funds to families affected by the Parkland/Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings; collecting $22 million for the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund “to provide legal support to people who have experienced sexual assault and harassment in the workplace” [the most successful GoFundMe campaign in 2018], and helping numerous others all over the world.

As is the case with so many other social media tools we can explore, it is a service and an endeavor very much grounded in the art of inspiring action through storytelling; people are moved to contribute through the heartfelt descriptions provided by those organizing and managing the various campaigns showing how donors make positive differences through their generosity and willingness to collaborate with people they didn’t previously know.

“The biggest surprise is how much positivity there is in the world,” Solomon said in an interview, with Shubert Koong, that was published on the WePay blog. “News cycles and the social web often present a barrage of negativity. Yet I’ve been surprised by just how much people are compassionate, sympathetic, and empathetic—they genuinely want to help. And the power of the people collectively—which we’re happy to support—can have an impact that is massively outsized even compared to some of the largest foundations and individuals in the world.”

It clearly does not operate in a vacuum; the most effective campaigns, regardless of the fundraising goals set, reach potential donors through the use of a variety of other social media tools (including Twitter and Facebook), other mainstream media resources (e.g., newspaper articles; news coverage on television locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally; and radio programs), and numerous, creative outreach efforts from individual to individual and organization to organization. It is one of those social media tools that can be integrated easily into other social media tools to extend the reach of the messages posted and requests made. And as is the case with any good fundraising effort, it requires honest, well-planned, and well-executed campaigns that leave no doubt as to the veracity of the stories told and the positive impacts donors can have by giving at any level that is comfortable to them.

GoFundMe also provides a magnificent infrastructure for those using its services. It offers easy-to-assimilate guidance on how to set up and manage campaigns; provides plenty of ideas on how to reach the largest possible audience for any campaign posted on the site; and maintains a dynamic set of pages listing current campaigns as well as documenting campaigns that have reached successful conclusions. It reminds you, once again, that one of the best ways to understand social media is to explore it to see how others use it successfully to further their causes and reach their goals.

An example cited by Solomon during a 2016 Startup Grind Global session involves James Robertson, a 56-year-old factory worker in Detroit who could not afford to buy a car, so was walking twenty-one miles every day to go to work and return home—leaving him with just a couple of hours every night to sleep before beginning another excruciatingly long walk and work day. Evan Leedy, a 19-year-old who became familiar with Robertson’s story, was moved by Robertson’s plight and his commitment to not losing the job he had struggled to obtain, so he started a GoFundMe campaign with a $25,000 goal to help Robertson buy a car and obtain payments for automobile insurance for at least a few months. Donations began pouring in almost immediately, and by the time the campaign was terminated 51 months later, more than 13,000 people had donated a total of $350,044 to change Robertson’s world in a positive way—and brought Leedy and Roberton together at a personal level that would never have occurred if GoFundMe hadn’t been—and provided—a vehicle to connect them.

 An obvious lesson learned from GoFundMe success stories is that small dreams and plenty of hard work can and often do produce huge results. Online platforms like GoFundMe can help you obtain the funding that supports the changes you are attempting to foster.   

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the nineteenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Collaboration in Learning: Co-conspirators in Exploring Technology, Lifelong Learning, Libraries, and Hubris

December 6, 2019

There is no front of the room in the four-week online Tech Trends course David Lee King and I are currently facilitating for ALA eLearning (November 4 – December 8, 2019); our asynchronous virtual meeting space is designed to make everyone an equally-empowered co-conspirator in the learning process. You won’t find instructors lecturing to learners who are surreptitiously checking their email and social media accounts; all of us are there, by choice, to learn (experientially) from each other rather than focusing solely on what the “instructors” bring to the online learning space and its bulletin boards for course discussions. And although the “Roadmap for Staff Success With New Technology” course (focused on that rich, intriguing intersection of technology, lifelong learning, and libraries) obviously has technology as a focal point, technology always takes a back seat to the people who are learning together and—more importantly—to the people who will benefit from the learning opportunities all of us create as a result of having explored technology, lifelong learning, and libraries together during the four-week run of the course.

Pulling the class together has, in itself, been a wonderfully productive, engaging, and rewarding learning process for David and for me—a process we shared quite opening with our co-conspirators, aka the learners who registered for the course. When we focused on a week-long exploration of how collaboration tools are becoming increasingly sophisticated and opening new collaborative opportunities for the learners we all serve, for example, David and I were quite open with the learners in discussing the problems we encountered with one of the collaboration tools we were using as a way of working on the course together even though I am in San Francisco and David is in Topeka. The challenges themselves became part of the learning experience for us as well as for others in the course, and the results were that we all walked away with additional resources (and ideas for resolving problems in online collaborative workspaces) in our learning toolkits as we continue designing and facilitating learning opportunities for those we all serve through libraries and other learning organizations.

When we turned to a weeklong exploration of how Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools and developments are increasingly offering us resources that might be incorporated into engaging, transformative learning opportunities, we started with a focus on how AI is affecting our target audience: people at work. We dove into examples of what our colleagues were—and are—saying about how AI is “transforming the nature of work, learning, and learning to work.” We looked at specific examples of how AI is working its way into libraries and learning. And one of our course co-conspirators, inspired by what she was learning, mentioned (on the course bulletin board) how “excited” she was by the possibility of incorporating Google Translate into the library’s efforts to better serve members of its bilingual community.  

And when we moved into an exploration of XR (Extended Reality, which includes Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality) for the final week of the course—in progress as David and I write two interconnected sets of reflections regarding the impact of learning with learners interested in technology, libraries, and lifelong learning (you’ll find David’s part of the conversation on his blog—we again very much focused on the human side of the topic, with an eye toward encouraging our co-conspirators to outline steps they will take to incorporate their learning experiences into the learning opportunities they design and facilitate for their colleagues and other learners.

One lesson (re-)learned from our experiences with the course and the learners: it takes a combination of hubris and courage to invite colleagues to a cutting-edge exploration of rapidly-evolving technology. But that’s a challenge we were quite willing to take and discuss with our co-conspirators because the changes—and our ability to address them—were and are an integral part of any exploration of new tech. There were at least a few times when the design and development of the course was almost derailed by new developments—as was the case when we were preparing a Week 4 section on Google Daydream, only to discover that Google was formally withdrawing the product from the market just as we were writing about Daydream as a tech tool worth exploring. We did the only thing we knew how to do: we turned the situation into a case study of how quickly tech changes and how preparing for the unexpected—the Black Swans in our lives—is part of the process of learning how to explore, work with, and, when necessary, walk away from technology that seems capable of helping us meet unmet needs in our lifelong learning landscapes.

Another lesson well worth remembering is that creating and facilitating highly-interactive online learning experiences benefits tremendously from the inclusion of multiple voices made possible through links to a variety of resources (e.g., blog posts from colleagues, short videos from others more fully immersed in some of the technology under discussion than we are, and even links to PowerPoint decks that provide perspectives different than what any of us might bring to the discussions and explorations). A first-rate piece of video journalism gave all of us the backstory to Google’s withdrawal of Daydream. Free online access (via Amazon) to a chapter of Kenneth Varnum’s Beyond Reality: Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Reality in the Library, which includes essays from several librarians who are already effectively incorporating XR into their workplaces, brought another useful perspective to what we are doing together. And we even included California State Librarian Greg Lucas virtually in the course via a brief, engaging video featuring his comments on XR in California libraries.

The bottom line for us and those we serve is that designing and facilitating an online course about cutting-edge technology offers opportunities to foster learning while engaged in learning. And the ultimate winners are those of us engaged in the course, as well as those we will better serve through the opportunities we provide as a result of the time we spend together in our virtual and face-to-faced learning spaces.

N.B.: This is one of two sets of reflections on “Roadmap for Staff Success With New Technology”; David’s set is available on his blog. Paul and David are available to work with anyone interested in onsite and/or online highly-interactive explorations of how to research and incorporate tech trends into training-teaching-learning. For more information, contact Paul at paul@paulsignorelli.com or David at davidleeking@gmail.com.


ATD ICE 2019: The Learning Room

May 21, 2019

When you attend a conference as well-organized and inspiring as ATD ICE 2019 (the Association for Talent Development’s International Conference and Exposition, here in Washington, DC), you quickly realize that every conference space is a learning space. To meet the highly varied interests of the more than 10,000 trainer-teacher-learner-doers present from all over the world, conference organizers offer more than 300 sessions over a four-day period—sometimes nearly three dozen simultaneously. To create our own learning opportunities, many of us also take advantage of the chance encounters we have in the conference exhibition hall, in the onsite ATD bookstore, in the membership and other special lounges, and other spaces to learn, in the moment, from cherished colleagues.

And then there is the Speaker Ready Room—the space reserved for those of us who have been lucky enough to have been chosen as session facilitators. It’s a relatively small, comfortable, well-lit, nicely set-up semi-private sacred space where we drop in as time allows to sit; review, rehearse, and fine-tune our presentations; and simply chat with our colleagues.

The first time I walked through the doors of an ICE Speaker Ready Room (a few years ago), I actually stopped, photographed the entryway, and tweeted out an honest admission before proceeding to an open seat at one of the round tables: It doesn’t matter how many times you serve as a presenter in learning and other venues; when you walk through that particular door at an ATD conference, it’s a special moment.

It’s an invitation to share space and time and ideas with my peers—colleagues whose work I read, watch, and admire. It’s wonderful to engage in conversation with them on the topics that drive our passions. Something on artificial intelligence and its potential effects on the job market here, something on creative ways to effectively evaluate how much our learners are retaining from the courses and workshops we provide over there, and something on personalized learning a bit further over on that side of the room. And it’s absolutely inspiring to recognize that all of us are here because our own commitment to learnng is never going to be completely satiated—and that if we’re not grabbing every possible opportunity to learn from each other, we’re ignoring one of our most valuable resources.

The combination of collegiality and professionalism that permeates that space fosters all-too-rare opportunities for us to learn from each other—if we’re smart enough to listen as much as we speak. Hearing colleagues talk about their latest work in our dynamic training-teaching-learning environment leaves me inspired and full of ideas that I can share with others as soon as I leave the conference. I hear the latest about the books they are writing or have recently completed through ATD Press, such as Paul Smith’s Learning While Working: Structuring Your On-the-job Training; Sardék Love and Anne Bruce’s Speak for a Living: An Insider’s Guide to a Building a Professional Speaking Career; and Jamie Millard and Frank Satterthwaite’s Becoming a Can-Do Leader: A Guide for the Busy Manager. her publishing houses. I hear about the work they are doing through podcasts such as Halelly Azulay’s The TalentGrow Show.

And, at the end of the day, every one of us walks away better than we were before we gathered in that sacred space. More aware of resources we can share. More informed about topics we should understand if we want to better serve our learners. And bolstered by the reminder that, through ATD and other professional associations that support the work we do by bringing us together, we are part of a wonderful community of learning that contributes to the creation of a world that, as ATD has said for years, works better.

N.B. —1) Thanks, Jim Smith, Jr., for suggesting that I write this piece after our conversation in the Speaker Ready Room. 2) Paul co-facilitated the session “Implementing Machine Learning and AI in Learning—Global Cases and Best Practices” at ATD ICE Sunday, May 19, 2019, with Koko Nakahara and Evert Pruis. He is also currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2019.

–21 May 2019


Changing the World Using Telepresence

February 20, 2019

When members of the Elders Action Network want to meet, they don’t immediately begin booking flights, hotel rooms, and meeting sites. They often turn to Zoom, one of several videoconferencing tools that are increasingly becoming low-cost (or no-cost) go-to places for meetings that can combine onsite and online interactions.

The Network, primarily comprised of older activists living throughout the United States and actively engaged with each other locally, regionally, nationally, and through international travel and online interactions, includes educators, nonprofit administrators, environmentalists, writers, and others actively working together to change the world. Among the nearly three dozen representatives listed on the organization’s website and promoting positive solutions to societal and environmental challenges are Michael Abkin, National Peace Academy board chairman and treasurer; Lynne Iser, founding executive director for the Spiritual Eldering Institute, founder of Elder-Activists-org, a symposium facilitator for the Pachamama Alliance, and a participant in the making of the film Praying with Lior, which explores the story of how a member of her family (her stepson) with Downs Syndrome interacts in his community of faith as he prepares for his bar mitzvah; and Paul Severance, administrative director for Sage-ing® International, is a member of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

Cross-pollination between members of the Elders Action Network and other complementary groups through teleconferencing and other tools is obvious from the most cursory exploration of the Network’s website. Severance and others are involved in Sag-ing International—another elder organization, dedicated to “teaching/learning, service, and community” in ways that involve mentoring and creating a legacy for its individual members. At least one member is also active in the Seniors Action Network. Another serves as executive director of Gray Is Green, “an online gathering of older adult Americans aspiring to create a green legacy for the future.”

Their live and archived Zoom sessions provide a dynamic example of how you can easily use what you already have—a desktop or laptop computer, or a mobile phone or tablet—to incorporate videoconferencing into your work to consistently develop communities committed to fostering positive actions regardless of where you live. Zoom—with free and low-cost versions—offers them a dynamic social media tool that creates an onsite space for workshops, book discussion groups, webinars, and monthly community conversations among members of the organization’s “Elder Activists for Social Justice” and “Elders Climate Action” groups. In the live sessions, participants can see any colleague using a webcam and can hear any colleague enabling the audio capabilities of his or her computer or mobile device. Zoom, like many other video-conferencing tools, offers visual options including a screen filled by the image of the person speaking; a screen that has thumbnail images of all participants using their video feed; sharing of material (including slide decks) from a speaker’s desktop; and a live chat function that allows for backchannel conversations augmenting what is taking place in the main audio feed.

Some of the community conversation recordings are archived so the life of those meetings/conversations extends far beyond the live events themselves to engage others who are interested in but unavailable to participate live during the recordings.  They become part of the seamlessly interwoven conversations you, too, can be having with members of your own community.

As members of the Elders Action Network have discovered, you don’t need to be physically present with your colleagues to have “face-to-face” conversations. Using Zoom or other videoconferencing tools can, under the right conditions, make participants feel as if they are in the same space, having productive, community-building interactions regardless of where each participant is physically located. Recordings that are well produced can even leave asynchronous participants feeling as if they are/were in the live sessions. (I have repeatedly found myself reaching, without thinking, toward my keyboard to respond to comments in a chat feed before remembering that I am trying to respond to a live conversation that ended days, weeks, or even months earlier.)

In many ways, Zoom offers a great contemporary example of how your onsite and online interactions are increasingly merging if you take time to explore how Zoom, Skype, and other videoconferencing tools can create a sense of presence—telepresence or virtual presence—that creates engaging, global spaces where activists work together to foster social change. When you begin exploring the possibilities of collaborating online through the use of telepresence tools—those ever-evolving platforms including Skype, Zoom, and Shindig that, when used effectively, can make you feel as if you are in the same room with people who can be sitting on the other side of your state, your country, or the world—you discover what so many others before you have realized: our options for communicating with each other regardless of our physical locations are continuing to evolve rapidly in ways that can make our work easier than would otherwise be possible.

Exploring the technical side of telepresence tools provides a somewhat cold, efficient understanding of what they can offer you and those you serve. Actually seeing them used or using them yourself to achieve concrete results carries you right where you need to be: understanding that they can create a sense of presence and engagement that further expands the breadth and depth of your community, your levels of engagement, and the size of the community in which you work, live, and play. And remember: play, as always, is a key element of using these tools to their fullest potential; bringing a sense of playfulness to the ways in which you incorporate them into your change-the-world efforts is a surefire way to use them to produce results rather than making them the focus of your work and, as a result, detracting from rather than supporting what you and your colleagues are attempting to accomplish.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the eighteenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World With Maurice Coleman (Part 2 of 2)  

December 13, 2018

This is the second part of a two-part interview conducted with Maurice Coleman, Creator/Executive Producer/Host for the long-running T is for Training biweekly podcast, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; to be published in 2019). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

 

Maurice Coleman, ALA 2018 Annual Conference

You clearly have strong, positive thoughts about the state of training-teaching-learning-doing in libraries. How does your continual fostering of the community of learning at the heart of T is for Training pay off for you and those you serve in your own library, community, and larger community of learning that extends through the American Library Association, Library Information & Technology Association division, and other parts of your learning environment?

Because of the show and conversations related to it, I am better at my job than I would be without it. The show is my training, continuing education, and master class. I know more about various aspects of my profession than sometimes I want to remember that I know. Also, I can bounce new ideas or steal great ones from the folks who appear on the show. In fact, just today, someone was looking at my office door where I have the “future literacies” graphic [from Jonathan Nalder’s FutureWe project] affixed and thought it an interesting concept. I would have been able to sort of explain the concept about various skills needed in the future, but just the graphic and conversation with our friend in Australia [Nalder] was insightful and incredible and that would not have happened without the T is for Training network in general and Paul Signorelli in particular.

What a wonderful expression of the global nature of the community you’ve fostered through T is for Training—and how the collaborative nature of that community connects a project like Jonathan’s with what you are doing here in the United States.

Let’s shift gears and go under the hood a bit for the benefit of those who don’t know how to start. What led to your decision to use TalkShoe as the platform for the podcast?

Because the show that inspired T is for Training, Uncontrolled Vocabulary, used it and it allowed folks to participate without using a computer—with just a phone call. Now is it way easier to participate on the show in front of a computer? Yes—but I have had folks just call from their car and still be able to actively participate in the show, which is a bonus. Also, it does all of the recording generating work and all of the work sending it to iTunes in the background, so I don’t have to worry about it. At this point, I am too lazy to move, unless there was—knock wood—some catastrophe at TalkShoe—then I would be hosed. I should probably download all the episodes……Hmm….[editor’s note: the hypothetical catastrophe actually occurred shortly after this interview was completed in spring 2018; T is for Training episodes recorded before 2015 disappeared from the TalkShoe server.]

Yes, please; was just going to ask about your current back-up for the archives, but already see the answer.

On a related topic (in terms of setting up): what would you recommend in terms of equipment and setting for the recordings of a podcast?

I record live episodes via a phone connection, so if you can, use a headset. It is way more comfortable than holding a phone up to your head for an hour. That goes even for a non-cell call.  Try to find someplace with few disturbances to set up to start the show. If you use TalkShoe or some other similar service, you may or may not have an open chat to monitor, and will need to have a computer set up to do so.

If you are recording the podcast, then editing the podcast, then putting it somewhere for folks to find, you can do it for not-too-much money. Even basic smart phones can record and create a sound file you can upload somewhere for someone to find it.

When I do that method of recording for future use, I use a computer with Audacity to capture and edit the sound recording, and use a microphone, by the Blue corporation, called a Snowball. You can also use the Blue Yeti. They are both good microphones for around 100 or so dollars and plug directly into your computer to create your recording. I know other podcasters use Apple-based products to record and edit their podcasts. I encourage you out there to ask your favorite podcaster, “Hey, what do you use to record your show?” and they can tell you their set-up.

Any other advice for anyone considering the use of podcasting to help foster positive social change?

Be honest, real. Start small and start with what you have—most importantly, your good friends and colleagues. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and hang on for the ride.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the seventeenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World With Maurice Coleman (Part 1 of 2)

December 13, 2018

This is the first part of a two-part interview conducted with Maurice Coleman, Creator/Executive Producer/Host for the long-running T is for Training biweekly podcast, for my book Change the World Using Social Media (Rowman & Littlefield; to be published in 2019). The interview was conducted online using a shared Google Doc, and has been lightly edited.

 

Maurice Coleman

What would you suggest to anyone who is just beginning to look at podcasting as a way of helping foster positive social change?

The usual.  Be yourself.  Be honest.  And though it may sound trite, be real. You may have to do some self-promotion in order to reach a larger audience. Also, don’t be surprised if your work reaches further than you can imagine.

What initially motivated you to move into podcasting?

I wanted to replicate the vibe and comradery I felt at conferences where I was surrounded with brilliant members of my “tribe” of trainers, computer folks and other gear/nerd/cool folk heads. I wanted that all of the time—not just a couple of times of the year if I was lucky, so, I took from a friend’s podcast and said, “Why not me?” That was 2008, and we have been going strong ever since.

When I went back to listen to the earliest episodes, I left with the feeling that everyone was just sort of wondering how to proceed and whether it would actually work. How long did it take for things to click for you and those you reach through T is for Training?  

I think it was the Christmas/year-end episode when Guest Host Emeritus Stephanie Zimmerman sang the T is for Training song. That is the “well, damn” moment. Also, people kept coming back to the show. Then someone nominated me for a Library Journal “Mover and Shaker” award in 2010, and that was additional validation that I knew what the heck I was doing—though I didn’t really need the validation, because I did the show for my personal benefit and anything else was gravy. Awesome gravy, but gravy still. I was also lucky to have the support of my library—and, specifically, my boss and director at the time—to do this during work hours. We believe in professional development, and my podcast continues to be a great source of my professional development.

When we were together recently, you said “People don’t start out wanting to change the world. They usually start out wanting to change this…this one situation.” Is there an identifiable moment when you went from doing the show for your personal benefit to doing it because you realized it was having a positive change on the face of training-teaching-learning-doing in the industry you serve?

Maybe personal benefit is the wrong phrasing, but it is close enough. I always feel a responsibility for keeping this ship going, and it was always both personal benefit and for the benefit of others. When I did the first show, I asked them by email if this was worth their time.  They all said yes and also came back, so, from the beginning, I knew that others wanted someplace where they could be amongst colleagues on a regular basis who shared their struggles and triumphs and knowledge around training and learning. Back then, trainers in libraries were this either weirdly-placed position in either HR [Human Resources] or IT [Information Technology], or it was someone’s second job in the system. And you were usually the only one. So, if you wanted to bounce ideas off of someone, you had to reach out outside of your system to find someone who knew your specific job stuff.  T is for Training provided and still provides that forum—I hope. Honestly, every week, I am surprised folks come back.

As one of your “usual suspects,” I see T is for Training in many ways: a podcast, a forum, a community of learners/community of learning, a virtual water cooler, a lab where ideas take shape and spread. Can you think of an example of a situation where something that happened on the podcast transformed, in a positive way, those involved in the recording to someone who listened to an archived recording?

Good lord. Maybe I think of the discussion we had yeaaaaars ago about libraries as more than book archives. We talked about the various places and the library as fourth place [libraries as social learning centers]. Did the Computers in Libraries conference presentation about it. And, about the same time, that became the prevalent library design and management thought—to provide those services thinking of the library as a community center providing rich life experience outside of traditional book-/author- based stuff.

While I am sure others can think of other things, that is what sticks out in my mind. I am somewhat oblivious to that larger ripple effect, and always hope the podcast did, can, and will help folks make their situation—no matter how they define situation—better for them, their family, their library, and their community.

As you know, I’ve been exploring and been fascinated for years by the idea that our way of carrying on conversations has changed out from under us as a result of how conversations extend across great periods of time and across multiple platforms. An example: we talk about something on T is for Training (e.g., libraries as a newly-defined fourth place), then continue that on Twitter or Facebook, months later face to face, and months or years later in a typed-chat conversation like this. How does that affect the work activists attempt to do by incorporating social media tools into their overall social-media toolkit?

Use anything and everything you have the energy and time to use. Always remember that the conversation is ongoing even if you are not directly participating in what it is now. Also, do that interview, share that story, wherever and whenever you can. Always stick to your talking points if you are doing an interview. Always pull the question back to why you are there or reject the premise of the question itself and bring it back to your needs. Use [social] media as your tool to get your message out to folks, not be used as a fad or a media sock-puppet.

Also, you don’t have to do it all yourself. You have friends and colleagues and acquaintances. Ask them to help. A message said many times, from many sources, is usually heard.

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the sixteenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


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