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.


NMC and ALA: Black Swans, Conversations, and Collaboration

January 29, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You can also

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

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


ASTD International Conference 2014: Connectivity, Learning, Augmented (Emotional) Reality, and Phoning It In

May 7, 2014

As the Association for Talent Development (ATD)/American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) 2014 International Conference & Exposition) reached its conclusion this afternoon, I couldn’t help but think about how much I forced myself to learn from it—by not being physically there.

ASTD_to_ATDI thought I had pretty much drained the learning pool over the past few days by experimenting with virtual participation via social media tools and the conference backchannel. My own increasingly-immersive participation over the past few days had included interactions with onsite and offsite colleagues extending across Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blog posts. I had even watched and tweeted a live online broadcast that made me feel present yesterday afternoon at the formal announcement that ASTD was officially transformed, at that moment, into ATD after 70 years of successful operation as a first-rate training-teaching-learning organization; the experience became more visceral this morning when onsite attendees used Twitter to share numerous photographs documenting that all conference signage had been changed overnight to reflect the change of name.

But it didn’t occur to me, until this morning, that I had overlooked the use of one more piece of technology—one so familiar that I had completely overlooked it. The moment of revelation and experimentation came when I was again reading and reacting to tweets from the conference. Among the flood of messages was one from Walt Hansmann, a long-time ASTD friend and colleague with whom I’ve presented, brainstormed, learned, dined, laughed, and groused countless times. (In fact, it was through Walt that I met Larry Straining, whose Facebook posting a week ago sent me down the path of more creatively and intensely experimenting with learning through virtual-conference attendance; ATD/ASTD really has been and continues to be pivotal in helping me understand what a small world we all inhabit and serve.) So there was Walt, tweeting about the fact that he was already wearing a new ATD pin while I was on the other side of the country thinking, “If I was there, I’d be wearing one of those, too.” And then it dawned on me: all I needed to do was try to reach him on his cell phone. Which I did. And the ensuing conversation led to his assurance that one of those pins would work its way across the United States and into my hands sooner than later.

ASTD_ICE_2014That combination of tweeting and calling may have produced the virtual-conference-attendance equivalent of the joys and rewards of meeting and learning from each other in conference hallways. More importantly in terms of the virtual-conference experiment, the call carried us back into cross-platform conference participation as he immediately posted a tweet (“@paulsignorelli @trainersleaders may not be @ #astd2014 physically, but he is sharing via SoMe [social media] and just called to touch base!”) while I was tweeting my own response to the phone conversation: “Oh, technology, with all your lovely variations: just briefly joined @WaltHansmann at #ASTD2014—via a phone call. #NoLongerLeftBehind.” I was also, at the same time, responding to another tweet suggesting that Dan Steer’s tweets had made the tweeter sorry to have missed the conference—to which I responded, “made me feel closer to it.” We closed the circle on that conversation when Dan himself—whom I’ve never met face to face—used the “favorite” option on Twitter to acknowledge my appreciation for all he had done to carry the conference far beyond the physical site of the conference.

This exploration of how we might more creatively incorporate the use of social media tools into learning opportunities benefitted from a wonderful combination of resources. The fact that many ATD members are adept at synthesizing content via backchannel interactions on Twitter is an essential starting point; they were the portal to the conference for me and for others who were attending from a (physical) distance. ATD’s first-rate conference app made it possible to monitor the conference schedule and access some presenters’ conference materials; that helped me see and understand what others were reacting to onsite. Having a tablet meant I could turn this into a mobile-learning/mobile-conferencing experience at times by following the backchannel feed even while I was using public transportation here in San Francisco to move from appointment to appointment when I wasn’t at home using a desktop/laptop combination. And the encouragement of training-teaching-learning colleagues provided what a successful learner needs: a great community of learning and engaged personal learning network that supports the learner’s process and explorations.

There was a time, for me, when having that stimulatingly immersive experience face-to-face with conference colleagues—call it “conference high” for lack of a better term—concluded with a sense of melancholy that came from knowing I was about to leave them and wouldn’t see them again for anywhere from six to twelve months—until we were reunited for the next intensely inspiring set of learning interactions that we found through our shared conference experiences. The bouts of melancholy diminished noticeably over the past few years when it became obvious that we would be “seeing” each other far more often through our shared use of social media tools, conference calls, and interactions via Skype and Google Hangouts. But I found a different, yet parallel, sense of melancholy setting in this afternoon for the first time as we said our virtual good-byes. And I realized that it wasn’t just the coming and going of friends who interact, then are apart for considerable periods of time, that used to cause that melancholy. It’s the fact that a well-run conference or any other sort of convocation is, in and of itself, the catalyst—a special meeting of friends and colleagues to creatively explore, at a very human level, what is important to all of us; it’s a form of augmented reality that might best be described as “augmented intellectual and emotional reality.” It deepens the emotional connections that draw us together. It ignites all that is most worth cultivating within each of us. And it reminds us that without those shared community-building moments of engagement regardless of whether they are onsite or online, we would be far less than what we are.

N.B. — This is the third of three interrelated articles inspired by the ASTD/ATD 2014 International Conference & Exposition in Washington, D.C. For two additional views of the virtual conference attendance experience, please see Kent Brooks’ Twitter Activity at #ASTD2014 Through Monday May 5 [2014] and Michelle Ockers’ My #ASTD2014 Backchannel Experience.


ASTD International Conference 2014, ATD, and Far From Left Behind

May 6, 2014

With a bit of help from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and the use of social media tools, I was far from left behind this afternoon not only in my attempts to actively participate in a first-rate conference I can’t physically attend this year (the 2014 International Conference & Exposition—ICE) but to keep up with much that ASTD is doing. Which, I learned while watching a live online broadcast from the conference itself and live-tweeting it just as if I would have done if I had physically been there, includes the transition from ASTD to ATD—the Association for Talent Development—to reflect the evolving nature of what all of us do as trainer-teacher-learners.

ASTD_ICE_2014The past couple of days, as I noted in an earlier article, have provided tremendous learning opportunities about how outdated our beliefs are in terms of the concept of being left behind when we can’t join friends and colleagues at professional-development opportunities beyond our geographic reach. By engaging with onsite attendees through the conference Twitter feed and actually commenting on what was happening onsite, I was able to do quite a bit of what I would have done onsite: learn from what presenters were discussing; pick up (from tweets) bits and pieces of (other) sessions I wasn’t able to attend; share my own tweets and those created by others with my own extended community of learning/personal learning network; and even make new acquaintances from whom I will continue to learn in the months and years to come. The levels of engagement fostered through these online exchanges even caused one colleague to send a tweet asking if I were actually onsite.

Seeing onsite participants retweeting my offsite tweets was just one of many signs that we have tremendous potential for interacting with colleagues and other learners in very creative ways if we nurture our skills in this direction. Actually working to connect one onsite participant with another onsite participant—they didn’t know each other, but a tweet from one made me realize that contact with the other would be rewarding for both of them—took the idea of facilitating connections to an entirely different level for me: I have often helped colleagues who are geographically separated make connections online—just as others have done the same for me—but never before had the experience of being an offsite facilitator of onsite connections.

Setting up laptop to view live announcement and desktop for live tweeting

Setting up laptop to view live announcement and desktop for live tweeting

The breadth and scope of the conference exchanges also continued to evolve—which is a good sign that we have not at all reached the limit of what we can accomplish by combining the use of our social media tools to meet our learning and communication needs. As I mentioned in that earlier article, the experiment started with a Facebook posting from another ASTD colleague (Larry Straining); reached fruition via backchannel interactions on Twitter; and then returned to Facebook at one point as Larry connected me to another offsite ASTD colleague (Kent Brooks) I had not met before that moment. Larry, Kent, and I continued out offsite conference-attendance interactions in a way that drew a few others into the Facebook conversation, then expanded it into cross-postings from our own blogs. Having carried this into a posting on LinkedIn last night, I was delighted this morning to discover a response, on LinkedIn, from an ASTD colleague I hadn’t seen in more than two years—which means our “attendance” now extends from the conference site across Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Which brings us back to that moment when I realized, earlier today, that if I logged into the live online broadcast of ASTD/ATD President and CEO Tony Bingham’s much publicized surprise announcement about the future of the organization, I would be able to virtually join colleagues as the announcement was released and, at the same time, tweet it as if I were there. And as I engaged in that exercise and saw onsite attendees retweeting a few of my own tweets, I felt all thoughts of being left behind vanishing. I was there. In a very real sense, present. To hear and join in the celebration of a major step forward for an organization to which I’m very happy and lucky to belong. Onsite. As well as online.

N.B. — Here’s Kent’s latest contribution to the conversation: Twitter Activity at #ASTD2014 Through Monday May 5 [2014]. Also found backchannel participation from Michelle Ockers on her blog.


ASTD International Conference 2014, Twitter, and Staying Connected: No Longer Left Behind—Again!

May 5, 2014

The news that I made a new friend by participating in the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) 2014 International Conference & Exposition (ICE) today isn’t particularly noteworthy. The fact that I unexpectedly accomplished this with the help of two other people who weren’t physically attending a conference that I, too, am not physically attending does, however, suggest that there is a worthwhile story to tell any trainer-teacher-learner who is interested.

ASTD_ICE_2014We’ve heard quite a bit suggesting that social media tools make us lonely; that it’s time to deliver “A Eulogy for Twitter” as “the beloved social platform enters its twilight”; and that a social network can’t replace a “real” one (as if everyone who uses social media makes this an either-or decision).

What isn’t as often heard or read is the idea that being left behind when we are not able to physically join our friends and colleagues at wonderful professional development gatherings like ASTD ICE, American Library Association (ALA) conferences, and the numerous others that beckon is increasingly less of a problem than it was before social media tools came our way.

As I have continued experimenting with the use of social media tools in workplace and personal settings over the past several years, I’ve become intrigued by the possibilities they offer in terms of not being left behind. With that in mind, I tried a spur-of-the-moment experiment with ASTD colleagues last fall by trying to participate in an ASTD conference I was unable to physically attend. And while the last-minute nature of that experiment limited the number of exchanges I had with those onsite colleagues, I did unexpectedly encounter one sign of success: interacting with onsite participants by responding to tweets rather than just retweeting content for others caused a couple of people to ask if I were actually there. When we see the lines blur so much that offsite participation creates the sense of onsite interaction, I believe we have, in the best of situations, moved beyond the idea that we can’t be there unless we’re there.

The inspiration to retry the experiment with more deliberate planning came after another ASTD colleague, Larry Straining, posted a note on his Facebook account to let others know he was sorry he wouldn’t be physically present this week, but that he was looking forward to seeing tweets from conference attendees.

“If we follow the backchannel a bit and interact as time allows, we might extend the reach of the conference in significant ways and, at the same time, learn even more about how to effectively incorporate social media into our training-teaching-learning process,” I wrote in response—and that’s exactly how it played out today as I followed, responded to, and interacted with onsite colleagues from the comfort of my own home.

TwitterIt didn’t take long for my initial retweets—including brief comments building upon that content—to begin being retweeted under the conference hashtag. And it took less than three hours for a wonderful colleague to pop that magic question: Are you here? Which, of course, inspired the response “yes and no,” depending on how we define “here.”

Those who remain skeptical of the power of online exchanges will immediately raise a number of objections, including the (mistaken) belief that we can only make new conference acquaintances and interact with conference colleagues when we are face-to-face—an idea we disproved when Larry and I, via Facebook exchanges extending his initial thoughts, drew one of his colleagues into the exchange. The colleague—Kent Brooks—asked Larry for permission to quote from Larry’s postings about the value of using a Twitter feed to stay in touch with colleagues at a conference. I dove back into the exchange to ask Kent whether he wanted to try to coordinate blog postings on the topic—at which point Larry formally introduced us to each other, and Kent and I quickly completed the “friend” process on Facebook to move things along. My own tweet (to the conference feed) documenting that we had met through the conference without physically being at the conference was retweeted—as was a follow-up tweet I forwarded to draw attention to Kent’s earlier piece on “10 Reasons to Tweet at a Conference.”

It probably goes without saying that I laughed out loud when I discovered that my retweet of Kent’s piece was itself, retweeted by others—including Melissa Daimler, who serves as head of organizational effectiveness and learning at Twitter and also serves on the ASTD Board of Directors.

Atkinson--BackchannelIt’s worth noting that one very important element making this level of onsite-offsite interaction possible is the existence of a very strong backchannel among the first-rate trainer-teacher-learners who are at the heart of ASTD. The quality of the tweets from ASTD conference attendees is among the strongest I encounter: multiple voices tweeting individual sessions (not just notes about where to meet for drinks or swag) so that it’s possible to gain a sense of what is being discussed onsite; combined with the use of a conference app that is easily accessible and includes schedules, speaker bios, session materials when presenters have made them available so we can view them from a distance, and much more; and observations which in themselves provide magnificent learning moments.

As we began to wind down toward the end of this ever-evolving cross-platform series of exchanges, Kent and I returned to Facebook and Larry’s original post.

“When you state in your [original “No Longer Left Behind”] post, ‘The real pay-off for the experiment came when the exchanges put me in touch with one of the presenters who had seen the retweets and comments. The result, in many ways, was exactly what it would have been if I had been onsite and meeting members of those expanding communities of learning and personal learning networks rather than feeling as if I were part of the left-behind gang,’ I would suggest it was better than a come and go exchange which includes the standard ‘business card trading ritual’ as it allowed you to follow them (on Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. and continue to learn from them beyond the 60 minutes of the session + the 5 minute rush to talk to the presenter immediately following the session,” Kent proposed.

To which I openly admitted: “It would have been true if I hadn’t treated the virtual exchange exactly as one of those business-card exchanges you describe. Just as I do keep and return to business card contacts occasionally as time allows (loud sound of rueful laughter here for missed opportunities), I do occasionally return to that sort of virtually-established contact—but not nearly enough. It would appear that bad habits onsite translate to bad habits online–but I’m continuing to learn, thanks to people like you who inspire me to look for ways to become a better trainer-teacher-learner.”

So, no, Facebook is not making me lonelier. And I’m far from ready to join others in delivering a eulogy for Twitter. And yes, it would be lovely to be there onsite at the conference with others. But if I were there, I wouldn’t have had this latest magnificent experiential learning opportunity to help me further understand, at a visceral level, what amazing tools we currently have at our trainer-teacher-learner fingertips. Each experience brings its own benefits, its own rewards. And having the opportunity to learn with my colleagues remains at the heart of what continues to draw me to these conferences and exchanges.

N.B. — Here’s Kent’s latest contribution to the conversation: Twitter Activity at #ASTD2014 Through Monday May 5 [2014]. Also found backchannel participation from Michelle Ockers on her blog.


Conferences, Twitter, and Staying Connected: No Longer Left Behind

October 28, 2013

An oft-repeated and rather poignant joke among some of my colleagues is becoming a thing of the past: those who wish they could but are unable to attend conferences—specifically those sponsored by the American Library Association—have long tried to keep up with onsite participants’ reports via Twitter, using the conference hashtag as well as #ALALeftBehind as points of connect. But more than a few of us are realizing that we can do more than sit by the virtual sidelines and watch everyone else have fun onsite, as I confirmed through a spur-of-the-moment experiment people attending the annual ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) Chapter Leaders Conference in Crystal City, Virginia a few days ago while I stayed home.

ASTD_ALC_2013--Logo

I’ve been on the other side of this left-behind fence many times, as I’ve noted through articles about participating onsite in backchannel conversations; ASTD colleague David Kelly has also written eloquently about Twitter, backchannels, and conferences. Several of us attending the annual ASTD International Conference & Exposition over the past couple of years have, as part of our Chapter Leader Day activities, reached out from the conference via short, live sessions to connect onsite colleagues with left-behind colleagues; we were attempting not only to reach out to and connect with those who stayed home, but to demonstrate how easy it could be for ASTD chapter leaders (or anyone else) to bring their local meetings to a larger audience through active Twitter feeds as well as via free tools including Google Hangouts and Skype. But I hadn’t been part of the #leftbehind gang until changing circumstances this year unexpectedly caused me, for the first time since 2008, to miss a couple of those onsite annual events that mean so much to me in terms of keeping up with my communities of learning and the ASTD colleagues who make up one very important part of my personal learning network (PLN).

The idea of trying to actively participate in the 2013 ASTD Chapter Leaders Conference via Twitter began taking shape when I saw a tweet from an onsite colleague expressing regret that I couldn’t be there for our annual joint presentation on nonprofit basics for chapter leaders. I jokingly responded, via Twitter, that I actually was there and that he had probably simply missed me up to that moment.

xplrpln_logoTransforming an offhand joke into the experiment quickly took shape as I thought about how I’ve been inspired to find new ways to reach out to members of my communities of learning and personal learning networks through the Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln) course that Jeff Merrell and Kimberly Scott are currently facilitating under the auspices of the Northwestern University Master’s in Learning & Organizational Change Program. Less than 48 hours earlier, in fact, another ASTD colleague who is not in that massive open online course (MOOC) had stumbled into an #xplrpln session via Twitter, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to toy with the idea of doing the same thing via Twitter, but with a bit more planning and more deliberate actions designed to foster two-way participation.

It didn’t take long for the experiment to produce wonderful—although somewhat limited—results. Using a Twitter management tool (I defaulted to HootSuite.com, but Twubs.com and Tweetchat.com are among the tools that could have worked just as easily) at the end of the first day of the conference, I skimmed the feed late that evening, retweeted a few of the more interesting items just as I would have done if I had actually been onsite, and added comments, knowing that this had the potential not only to inspire interactions with onsite attendees but also draw in a few of my own followers on Twitter if they either retweeted or responded to those late-night posts.

Connected_Educator_Month_LogoBy the next morning, a couple of onsite colleagues had responded. And a little later, during the second day of that two-day conference, a couple of onsite conference attendees actually retweeted the notes I had retweeted. I continued to participate throughout the day as time allowed. The real pay-off for the experiment came when the exchanges put me in touch with one of the presenters who had seen the retweets and comments. The result, in many ways, was exactly what it would have been if I had been onsite and meeting members of those expanding communities of learning and personal learning networks rather than feeling as if I were part of the left-behind gang. The positive aspects of this are obvious: with a bit more planning and organization, onsite and offsite participants could be interacting at far more significant levels than the limited amount of interaction this experiment nurtured. And the obvious weakness of this plan is that the small number of onsite participants tweeting summaries of sessions made it difficult to participate in more than a few of those sessions at this level. But it was an interesting start—one that offers a lot of promise for any of us who want to nurture our communities of learning and personal learning networks in every way possible. And I certainly felt far less left behind and far more connected as a trainer-teacher-learner than would otherwise have been the case.

N.B.: This is the seventh in a series of posts inspired by Connected Educator Month and participation in #xplrlrn (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks massive open online course).


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