ALA Midwinter Meeting 2017: The Transformative, Action-Oriented Conversations Continue Here

January 19, 2017

“The conversation starts here…” is a long-standing tagline for American Library Association conferences such as the one beginning this week here in Atlanta. But I would suggest the reality is much deeper: The conversations continue playfully, creatively, thoughtfully, and productively from conference to conference and are valuable as much for their inspiration as for the positive transformations they produce.

alamw17_logoSome begin (or resume) when we unexpectedly meet up in shuttles on the way to airports across the country. Others happen as we run into cherished colleagues in check-in lines at our hotels. Many take place in the wonderful Networking Uncommons meeting area that ALA staff so diligently and generously maintains from conference to conference, while others seem to leap to life on their own from conference hallway to conference hallway, restaurant to restaurant, coffee shop to coffee shop, and online through a variety of platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn—this really is a first-rate example of early 21st-century blended conference (seamless interactions between colleagues onsite and online) practices and explorations. (ALA staff members Mary Mackay and many others reach out consistently to all Association members to remind those who are “left behind” that they can participate through online platforms, and many of us onsite maintain an online presence to draw our offsite colleagues into the action. It’s just the way trainer-teacher-learner-doers are made—and library staff members are among the best learning facilitators I know.

My ALA 2017 Midwinter Meeting onsite conversations began less than an hour after I reached Atlanta—three hours later than expected because of a much-delayed cross-country flight—last night. Two cherished colleagues were kind enough to wait until nearly 10 pm so we could have dinner together, catch up a bit, and dive into a topic that I’m sure will be pursued assiduously over the next several days: what each of us individually and collectively can do over the next four years to be sure that libraries and library staff members across the country remain positive players in the communities we serve by facilitating conversations; providing safe meeting places for all members of our communities regardless of their political views, backgrounds, and myriad other elements that could potentially divide them/us rather than provide common ground to explore solutions to the challenges we face; and respond to anyone who needs what libraries and library staff members provide.

everylibrary_logoThe library directors, staff members, and consultants I know did not wait long after the 2016 presidential election concluded to initiate this very conversation; our colleagues in the EveryLibrary political action committee had, within 24 hours, created a private forum on Facebook that attracted over 200 library directors, staff members, and consultants to pursue the topic. One-on-one and group conversations developed face to face and online across the country to explore what the transfer of power would mean to those served by libraries across the United States.

Some of the initial rudimentary ideas explored in that forum (e.g., collecting and disseminating library-users’ stories about the emotionally rich and deeply moving ways in which libraries and library staff members positively impact their lives; promoting the availability of multi-faceted resources, from a variety of points of view, that are available to anyone who wants to draw upon them; promoting libraries onsite and online as relatively safe places for people willing to share ideas and listen to those that might be the most comfortable of ideas for them to explore; and providing adaptable examples for trainer-teacher-learner-doers in industries outside of our own) were literally on the table last night.

ATD_LogoThat deeply-rewarding and inspirational exchange of ideas continued for me throughout the day today as I met with colleagues I had planned to meet. They extended into chance encounters that I could not have possibly anticipated—but that are a staple of the meet-ups and explorations familiar to those of us who have been shaping ALA conferences (and so many others, including those organized by ATD and NMC) for many years simply through the combined actions of showing up, listening, and asking “so what are we gonna do about that?”

And they will, no doubt, gain momentum and produce positive results far beyond the physical and virtual walls of #alamw17. Because that’s the sort of life libraries, librarians, and others involved in lifelong learning foster. With your collaboration.

 


ATD ICE 2016: Tapestries, Transformations, and Pedicabs

May 23, 2016

Memorable learning experiences (e.g., workshops, webinars, and well-designed conferences) often are tapestries of personal experiences and shared wisdom-of-the-crowd moments—and there is no doubt in my mind that the ATD  (the Association for Talent Development) 2016 International Conference and Exposition (ICE) that is currently unfolding in Denver can be described in those terms.

ATD_ICE_2016_LogoThere are several thousand of us here. Each of us is having our own personal conference, with its own spectacularly transformative learning moments. And there is a communal (collaboratively shaped and shared) experience that, as I wrote in an earlier piece, transcends time and physical space. Each of us—whether we’re actually physically onsite, participating from an offsite location via the Twitter hashtag (#atd2016) and other social media resources, or, in the best of all worlds we can imagine and actually help construct, creating a completely blended experience—brings our own unique experiences and expectations to our world-sized conference “room.” Each of us also benefits from the shared moments ranging from hallway conversations and discussions over dinner to the we’re-all-in-this-together communal experience of inspiration that comes from being with thousands of others in a huge auditorium while enjoying a keynote speaker’s presentation. (This, in its own way, extends as well to our offsite co-conspirators, aka fellow learners, who are creating a conference-as-learning-experience by reading and responding to what we are also creating in the Twitter backchannel, on Facebook, on Periscope, and elsewhere. )

Each time I participate in a conference onsite, online, or both—the blended approach is one I increasingly pursue with increasingly-lovely pleasures and rewards—I end up walking away transformed. I consciously attempt, through my writing and the use of tech tools including Storify, to capture and extend those moments of transformation so they won’t be lost to me or to colleagues interested in pursuing their own equally delightful individually and communally-constructed pleasures and rewards. And just when I mistakenly believe I have explored and shared all there is to explore and share in this admittedly odd approach to blended-learning, I find myself experiencing another five-year-old-child’s moment of wonder.

Denver--Blue_Bear1--2016-05-21

(almost) no one left outside the conversations at #atd2016

The almost naïve sense of wonder this week has come from further incorporating simple (low-tech) phone calls into the more high-tech, innovative blended-learning mix that is becoming increasingly familiar to many of us. It started a couple of days ago when, even before getting out of bed here in the hotel where I am staying, I saw that one of my cherished training-teaching-learning-doing friend-colleague-mentors (Maurice Coleman) was already up on the other side of the country and posting items on Facebook (for shame, Maurice: posting on Facebook before noon on a Saturday!). Missing the sound of his voice and the unique insights he would bring to the table if he were physically here, I called with the intention of talking with him for no more than a few minutes; more than half an hour later, we had completed an exploration by phone that helped me connect what I had experienced in an entirely different blended environment a week earlier with what was unfolding here—part of the process of constructing my personal conference-as-learning-moment here at ATD ICE 2016.

Because it was such an unexpectedly stimulating and rewarding moment and because it was becoming an important thread in the tapestry-in-progress I am creating, I repeated the call to him yesterday morning after seeing him, once again, posting before noon on a weekend. And that’s when the ATD ICE 2016 magic leapt to a higher level: the result of our conversation was that Maurice—who is not (yet) an ATD member—actively joined the #atd2016 conversation. And colleagues here onsite started interacting with him via #atd2016. And then another of my non-ATD training-teaching-learning-doing colleagues jumped in by retweeting one of Maurice’s conference tweets. And I started interacting with that colleague via the conference Twitter backchannel, too.

Denver-Pedicab1--2016-05-21

a combination of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and “Fellini’s Roma”

As Maurice and I were finishing our second ATD-ICE-2016-by-smartphone conversation, he asked me to give him a blow-by-blow description of a walk I had taken with friends here the previous evening because he was intrigued by how that walk had begun at the end of a three-hour-long conversation with one group of colleagues in a local tavern and somehow extended for the duration of a combined walk/pedicab ride to a restaurant where we continued that conversation with a slightly reformed group we acquired on our way to dinner. He grew more and more incredulous as I told him how we would unexpectedly meet someone who then joined the group while others peeled off as needed to participate in other conversations/learning moments. And I suspect his jaw dropped a bit when I told him about the brief stopover in a hotel lobby where, while I was attempting to send a direct message to a colleague via Twitter, I turned around to discover that the intended recipient of the tweet was walking across the lobby to say hello to what then constituted the core of that particular iteration of the group. She eagerly accepted our invitation to join us as we made the spur-of-the-moment decision to take pedicabs the rest of the way to the restaurant. (You probably already know that breaking a group of six trainer-teacher-learner-doers into groups of two and creating a mini-caravan of pedicabs up a major thoroughfare in a city like Denver is going to result in a wonderfully bizarre scenario that looks like a combination of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Fellini’s Roma. We were happy. The fabulous pedicab drivers were happy. And no residents of Denver appear to have been injured in the course of our move from hotel lobby to restaurant dining room.)

There’s so much to unpack in all that I’ve attempted to describe here. And there’s so much more ahead of us as our conference-as-personal-and-communal learning moment continues to unfold. But what is clear to me at this stage in the game is what I said to a close friend over dinner the night I arrived here: what I most look forward to at these conference-as-learning-moments is the experience I don’t yet know I am going to have.

That’s the magic of learning.

ATD_ICE_Speaker_Graphic_2016

N.B.: Paul’s onsite participation at ATD ICE in May 2016 includes the following activities:

The “10 Tips for Incorporating Ed-Tech Into Your Own Development” article he wrote for his session has been published and is available on the ATD Learning Technologies blog, and he has three brief reviews attached to books available in the ICE bookstore onsite here in Denver.

 


ATD ICE 2016: The Size of the Room, Revisited

May 22, 2016

As several thousand members of ATD  (the Association for Talent Development) from all over the world gather in Denver for our annual International Conference and Exposition (ICE), it would be easy, at times, to forget how large the rooms in which we are meeting are.  The myriad ways in which countless members of this spectacular community of learning are helping to expand our concepts of what it means to “attend” a conference or participate in other learning opportunities. And how inclusive we can be with just the slightest bit of creativity, innovation, and effort.

ATD_ICE_2016_LogoOur ability to draw people in, as I frequently note in conversations with colleagues and in learning opportunities I design and facilitate, has increased exponentially through increasingly far-reaching and widely available tech tools. There is the obvious use of a Twitter backchannel to somewhat blur the lines between onsite and offsite participation in conferences and other learning opportunities like ICE. There are the moments shared on Facebook in ways that strengthen our already strong sense of community. There are Google Hangouts and numerous other tools to turn huge geographical distances into virtual spaces that make us feel, at a visceral level, as if we are all in the same room even if that room extends over hundreds or thousands of miles. And there are even the much older, more familiar, and often overlooked vehicles (including telephones) that we can turn to when we don’t want to be left behind or don’t want to leave cherished colleagues behind. The result, of course, is a richer, deeper, more nuanced level of participation in our associations and with our colleagues than has ever before been possible.

I think about how much reaching out occurred today (Saturday)—the day before ICE formally opens—and I marvel at what all of us have accomplished together and how many people we’ve already drawn into our global conference room. Seeing that Maurice Coleman (a colleague in Maryland) was already active on Facebook early this morning, I called him from Denver for a brief conversation, mentioned that we will have a very active Twitter backchannel (#atd2016) here, and invited him to expand the room by skimming the feed over the next several days, retweeting what appealed to him, and, most importantly, reacting to the tweets he saw so he would, as I have already done numerous times, become part of the conversation and the overall conference experience in which so many transformative conversations take place in our blended onsite-online environment.

...using every possible means to draw others into the conversations...

…using every possible means to draw others into the conversations…

Lucky enough to be part of inspiring, thought- and action-provoking conversations throughout the day with some of the most creative, innovative, and passionate trainer-teacher-learner-doers I know (including a couple who live in Denver but are not affiliated with ATD), I looked for every possible opportunity I could pursue to draw others into those increasingly dynamic and inspiring conversations while also sharing thoughts from those non-ATD members with my fellow conference attendees.

It was obvious that everyone physically present at every table I joined was doing the same thing. At times it involved little more than calling out to someone who happened to be passing by a coffee shop, tavern, or restaurant where we were sitting. At other times, we would reach out or respond by Twitter to invite others to join us where we were or simply include them in on the conversations by tweeting out what seemed worth sharing. And at one point, when we were thinking about a colleague who had recently experienced a personal tragedy that left kept him from traveling to Denver to be with us, we simply called him from the place where we were all sitting and passed the phone around to be sure he knew the physical distance did not at all represent a separation from his ATD family at a time when contact with other members of that family would be particularly meaningful to him.

I heard people colleagues excited about—and getting the rest of us excited about the ways in which they are working to produce results-driven learning in their workplaces. I heard colleagues talking about the innovative approaches they are taking to leadership training. I sat with Sardek Love, a cherished colleague who has done more than anyone else I know personally to mentor colleagues younger and older than he is so he strengthens us and our profession (and helps all of us better serve those who look to us for assistance) rather than giving even the slightest thought to the possibility that he might be creating completion for himself. We just don’t think that way; we revel in our own growth and in the growth of those around us, knowing that every step forward makes all of us better, builds a stronger community of training-teaching-learning-doing for all of us, and, as ATD so wonderfully suggests, creates “a world that works better.”

And as my day draws to an end and I already look forward to even more stimulatingly transformative moments over the next several days, I think back to that initial conversation with Maurice this morning. Savor the pleasure of being part of an amazingly dedicated group of learning facilitators who make a difference every day—every day—by doing all they can to be sure the doors through which we pass remain as open as they possibly can be. And hope that everyone reading this finds way to place a hand on the doorknob that just needs to be turned the slightest bit to make the door open to him or her, also.

 ATD_ICE_Speaker_Graphic_2016

N.B.: Paul’s participation at ATD ICE in May 2016 includes the following activities:

The “10 Tips for Incorporating Ed-Tech Into Your Own Development” article he wrote for his session has been published and is available on the ATD Learning Technologies blog, and he has three brief reviews attached to books available in the ICE bookstore onsite here in Denver.


ALA 2016 Midwinter Meeting: Associations and the Size of the Room

January 8, 2016

The power of association—and associations—is never more clear to me than when I’m participating in an association conference, so I’m in Association/Associations Heaven right now as the 2016 American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting is blossoming here in Boston.

alamw16--logoWhile I often hear colleagues—generally those who opt out of participating in the professional associations that represent and bring together colleagues within their professions—cite all the reasons why they don’t see value in joining and being active in their industry’s association, I can’t imagine not being part of ALA, ATD, and others that facilitate the critically important connections and opportunities that the act of associating and associations themselves so effectively foster.

And even though I’m currently benefitting from being among thousands of colleagues arriving here in Boston, I also recognize that association is no longer something that is at all completely dependent on physical proximity. Anyone with Internet access quickly realizes that the size of our conference “room” is expansive, that the room is permeable, and that it is fairly inclusive; it includes the physical meeting spaces, as well as the extensive set of corridors in which so much important and rewarding associating occurs, and can extend to being a regional, national, and international association space if we’re a bit creative in the way we approach the act of associating.

The latest associating—via the very active #alamw16 hashtag that is bringing offsite and onsite colleagues together in a variety of ways—began for me several days before I arrived. It has also been facilitated through the use of a well-designed and highly-used conference app that allows us not only to browse schedules and access a treasure-trove of conference information and learning resources, but to locate and contact conference attendees through a list of those who registered.

T is for Training Logo

T is for Training Logo

Those who care about associating and about this Association conference also are welcome participants in the conversations via their/our exchanges on what is increasingly an incorrectly-named hashtag (#alaleftbehind), for the very act of interacting via #alaleftbehind means they are not as far out of the loop as they may initially feel they are. I have, in fact, written extensively about being on both sides of the “left behind” equation—about participating virtually and about helping draw in participants who are not onsite. I remain excited by the many opportunities we can be exploring together in an effort to make sure no interested colleague is completely left behind. And, in the spirit of bringing onsite and offsite colleagues together, a couple of us, as I’m writing this piece, just finished our latest experiment in virtual conference engagement by having a conversation that started here in the conference Networking Uncommons and linked us to our T is for Training colleague Maurice Coleman via a phone call that brought the conference into the taping of Episode 176  of his long-running podcast series.

To give credit where credit is due, let’s not overlook the critically important role association management and staff play in fostering strong association through an association. ALA Marketing Director Mary Mackay, for instance, has done her usual first-rate job of reaching out to offsite Association members via LinkedIn and other social media platforms with a series of tips on how to keep up with the onsite activities via a variety of social media and Association resources (posted January 6, 2016). But much of it comes back to our own desire and longing for connection and the connections that come from being part of an association and contributing to the strength of that association through active participation.

If you haven’t yet engaged in this level of association, and want to try it, there are several easy steps to take. Identify the conference hashtag (in this case, #alamw16) and interact at a meaningful level; retweet interesting tweets you see from onsite colleagues and, more importantly, comment in a way that adds to the conversation, e.g., by adding a link to a resource that extends the conversation. (Don’t be surprised when onsite colleagues, seeing your comments, ask the inevitable question: “Are you here?” And revel in the idea that in a very significant way, you are here/there.)  Watch for links to blog posts from conference attendees, then post responses and share links to those posts so the conversations—and the learning—grow rhizomatically. If you read those posts days, week, or months after they are initially posted, remember that it’s never too late to join the very-extended synchronously asynchronous conversation by posting responses and/or sharing links. And if you have onsite colleagues who are willing to be among your conduits to the onsite action, don’t hesitate to “go onsite” with them via a Google Hangout, Skype, or even a phone call.

There’s a role for everyone in this process of associating and expanding the size of the room. If you’re reading this while you at the ALA Midwinter Conference (or any other conference), you can contribute by reaching out to those you know are interested. And, with any luck, you (and the rest of us) will expand the connections that already are at the heart of successful associations—and association.


Naming Opportunities: Reflections on Library and Non-library Learning Spaces

November 17, 2015

We used to have wonderful, clearly-defined words like “library,” “librarian,” “classroom,” and “teacher.” And some of you may still have crystal-clear visions of what those words mean. But reading two very thoughtful pieces today makes me wonder, once again, whether our nomenclature is failing to reflect the evolving world of educational technology and learning resources in which we work, play, and live—the world so well-explored and documented by New Media Consortium Horizon Project reports.

YOUmedia Center, Chicago Public Library

YOUmedia Center, Chicago Public Library

Reading—and equally importantly, looking at the great set of photographs included in—Buffy Hamilton’s “A Visit to Discovery High School: Rethinking Learning Spaces and Learner Experiences” on her “Unquiet Librarian” blog this evening initially made me think about many of the fabulously creative learning spaces I’ve been lucky enough to visit, photograph, and describe in presentations this year. I see them in libraries. I see them in academic settings. I see them in corporate buildings and “training centers” where management, staff, and learners are committed to (as the Association for Talent Development so aptly puts it) creating “a world that works better.” And seeing them so explicitly displayed in Buffy’s article makes me see how similar those spaces are becoming—and have become. Which raises a question I posted in response to Buffy’s thoughts:

When does a library become interchangeable with other learning spaces rather than being unique?

The knee-jerk reaction to that question, for many of us, is “when it no longer has books.” But that ignores the changing—and very-much changed—nature of libraries and, in particular, library collections, as Rick Anderson writes in “The Death of the Collection and the Necessity of Library-Publisher Collaboration: Young Librarians on the Future of Libraries,” which he posted earlier today on the “Scholarly Kitchen” blog. Among the many very thoughtful points he makes is that a review of a group of young librarians’ work strongly suggests that “…the library collection, as traditionally understood, is dead.

“It’s worth noting,” he continues, “that these writers weren’t saying the print collection is dead, but rather that the very concept of a librarian-built, prediction-based collection, in whatever format, is moribund. Furthermore, none of them seemed to be particularly upset about this; on the contrary, they generally mentioned it more or less in passing and as if it were a self-evident reality and nothing to get worked up about.”

Library Media Lab, University of Texas at Austin

Library Media Lab, University of Texas at Austin

Let’s be clear about one thing at this point: neither writer is suggesting that libraries are dead or in danger of extinction. Their writing is very much grounded in documenting the positive, exciting evolution of libraries, librarianship, and learning. Buffy implicitly sees what so many of us are seeing: physical changes within libraries that reflect the increasingly strong roles libraries are playing in lifelong learning (including providing onsite and online formal and informal learning opportunities for the increasingly extended communities they serve). Rick’s article focuses more on how the mindset of the young librarians he is discussing affects the organizations in which they work—a mindset that means the change has already occurred in some libraries and will continue to expand as these young librarians replace more and more of their predecessors who had different visions of what the words “library” and “librarianship” implied.

And to carry this more explicitly to my question about when a library becomes interchangeable with other learning spaces, let’s acknowledge something I’ve maintained for several years now: librarians increasingly are trainer-teacher-learners (or, to use more common terminology, “learning facilitators”). But not all trainer-teacher-learners are librarians—a distinction that, up to now, has provided us with a way to clearly differentiate between the two groups. But as more libraries evolve to include those wide-open spaces that Buffy so wonderfully documents through the photographs in her article, and as more libraries take an entirely different approach to what a collection is, and as more first-rate trainer-teacher-learners become better at information management and the sort of educational technology that is increasingly common to libraries and other learning spaces, will we see library spaces (onsite as well as online) remain easily differentiated from other learning spaces, or are we beginning to see a merging of learning and librarianship that will bring us all closer together and provide exciting new opportunities for everyone willing to collaborate in this potential endeavor?

Altas_New_Librarianship--CoverVery much an admirer of R. David Lankes’ work (including Expect More and The Atlas of New Librarianship), I have always been intrigued by his suggestion that “a room full of books is simply a closet but that an empty room with a librarian in it is a library” (Atlas, p. 16); he also has some wonderfully nuanced thoughts on the nature of collections within libraries. His ideas help us, at least in part, to define libraries by the presence of librarians; by extension, they also help us recognize how much we define classrooms by the presence of teachers/instructors/trainers. But the equation frays a little at the edges when we see increasing numbers of great librarians doing what other great trainer-teacher-learners do, in ways that don’t clearly differentiate them from those other trainer-teacher-learners. It frays much further when we see the library spaces in which they weave their magic becoming increasingly similar to non-library learning spaces (and vice versa) , as some of those spaces documented via Buffy’s photographs confirm.

These are learning spaces with lots of open space as opposed to spaces dominated by print collections. These are learning spaces that are learner-centric—spaces featuring moveable furniture and moveable (including bring-your-own-device) technology that can quickly be reset to meet varying learning needs that can come up even within a single learning session. These are spaces where short-term as well as lifelong learning is supported. And, increasingly, these are spaces that look the same in a variety of settings—Buffy includes photographs of a corporate learning center—something we clearly have not yet addressed with the language we use to describe our libraries and other learning spaces, and something that, as we address it, may lead us to even more exciting learning possibilities and collaborations than we’ve have ever seen or imagined.


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.”


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