ALA 2015 Annual Conference: Community, Pride, and Hugs

July 2, 2015

Anyone who still sees libraries primarily as places to borrow books certainly wasn’t onsite for the opening general session of the American Library Association (ALA) 2015 Annual Conference here in San Francisco last Friday afternoon. It was an event that set the tone for the entire conference for many of us. It reminded us how interwoven libraries and library staff members are with the communities they serve. And it was a perfect way to celebrate the larger events unfolding around us.

ALA_San_Francisco--2015_LogoThose of us arriving onsite early in the day for a variety of preconference activities and informal conversations with friends and colleagues were primed for certain levels of excitement. We were about to see more than 22,000 members of our community from all over the United States and other parts of the world. We knew there would be plenty of festivities centered on SF Pride activities (including the Pride Parade) all weekend. And we knew that ALA staff was doing its usual first-rate job of creating a conference guaranteed to inspire onsite as well as offsite Association members by offering more than 2,400 learning opportunities over a five-day period.

We could not, however, have anticipated that we would be together here in San Francisco on the morning that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality would be announced and the afternoon that Roberta Kaplan, a key player in the efforts to achieve marriage equality, would be serving as a keynote speaker onsite. News about the ruling quickly spread around the conference site—Moscone Center—that morning, priming us for a major celebration at the opening session—and Kaplan didn’t let us down with her from-the-heart description of her personal and professional investments in promoting marriage equality.

Kaplan--Then_Comes_MarriageDrawing heavily from the opening pages of her upcoming (October 2015) book (with Lisa Dickey), Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act], she recalled the far-from-encouraging moment when she abruptly and unexpectedly came out to her parents. Visiting her in New York City (in 1991) during the weekend of the annual Gay Pride Parade, they were in her apartment as her mother became increasingly, openly critical of the parade and those who supported it. After Kaplan repeatedly, unsuccessfully told her mother to stop offering those unwelcome comments, Kaplan ended up coming out to her parents by responding to her mother’s question, “What’s the matter? Are you gay or something?” with a blunt “Yes,” and then walked out of her own apartment as her mother continued literally beating her own head against one of the walls.

The overall story she briefly told us (and which remains available, in part, on the American Libraries website), of how she went from being a closeted lesbian to being the litigator who successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor, unfolds nicely and in much more detail in Then Comes Marriage, as many of us who received advance uncorrected proofs of the book at the ALA Annual Conference are learning now that we have time to read it. And the ample causes for celebration that afternoon—and now—included Kaplan’s comment that the entire struggle for marriage equality has left us with something significant to celebrate: our ability to grow and change just as—she noted—her mother has grown and changed in coming to accept Kaplan as a lesbian and, again, a cherished daughter.

It would have been difficult to predict that there could have been anything to rival the power and inspiration of Kaplan’s presentation on that particular day, in this particular city. Our ALA staff colleagues, however, managed to find it by concluding the opening general session with the first-ever People First Award, sponsored by Tech Logic and given to the Pennsylvania Avenue Branch of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and ALA 2014-2015 President Courtney Young were onsite to deliver the award to Melanie Townsend-Diggs (whose extraordinary commitment to the library and her community earned the award) and to Carla Hayden, Chief Executive Officer of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Receiving the People First Award (photo from @PrattLibrary Twitter feed)

Receiving the People First Award (photo from @PrattLibrary Twitter feed)

Tech Logic’s press release captures the thought behind the award: Staff demonstrated “exemplary leadership during several days of riots, which were concentrated at the intersection of North and Pennsylvania Avenues. On April 27, violence ensued after the funeral of Freddie Gray, an African American man who died in police custody earlier that month. As tensions increased and buildings surrounding the library burned, Enoch Pratt Library remained open, providing a safe haven for patrons inside.

“‘I did not feel threatened, but wanted people to know this was serious,’ recalls Branch Manager Melanie Townsend-Diggs, who ultimately made the decision to stay open. ‘It’s in my instinctive nature to keep people safe and calm,’ she says. ‘It’s my responsibility to make sure that everybody stayed safe. I try not to be too proud, but I am definitely grateful.’”

There’s plenty more to say about the conference and the people who contributed to its success, and I was still thinking about that opening general session a few days later after repeatedly running into and talking with a wonderful colleague with whom I usually have all too little time to sit and chat. As our third extended conversation in one day was drawing to a close, I told him how much I had enjoyed the exchanges we had had, and he immediately responded by suggesting “a 20-second hug”—a concept new to me and that quite literally is nothing more than an embrace that, in lasting for at least 20 seconds, seems to magically slow us down, deliver a sense of comfort and trust, and reminds us that some things—like enjoying the company of those we love—just cannot be rushed.

ala_leftbehindAs we reluctantly disengaged from the initial 20-second hug—and then, for good measure, immediately fell into another—I couldn’t help but think about how the interweaving of community, pride, and hugs combined to create a sort of tapestry of what ALA 2015 meant to me and to so many colleagues with whom I have spoken during the past several days. It was also yet another reminder that libraries always have been and always will be about far more than books and other elements of the collections. ALA members and guests came together, worked to be sure we included those who would otherwise have been left behind, and left that conference with an even stronger sense of community and pride than any of us could have imagined having—which is, of course, one of the greatest gifts an association can give its members as those members contribute to the making of the gift itself.

N.B. – This is the second in a series of reflections inspired by the American Library Association 2015 Annual Conference in San Francisco.


ALA 2015 Annual Conference: When Being Left Behind Is Not an Option

June 25, 2015

Kudos, once again, to our colleagues in the American Library Association (ALA). Where many professional associations that offer onsite conferences focus their attention almost exclusively on the paying members who are physically attending, ALA’s commitment to use social media tools to include those who would otherwise be left behind is again on display this week.

ALA_San_Francisco--2015_LogoThe efforts Association staff makes are well worth citing and quoting as an example to other associations or organizations—particularly any that are seeing membership numbers plummet for lack of engagement. ALA Marketing Director Mary Mackay reached out to all Association members a few days ago via email and a LinkedIn posting (which you can read here if you’re on LinkedIn and have joined the ALA LinkedIn group) to explicitly offer a variety of free opportunities to engage virtually with the 19,000 onsite attendees expected to be at the ALA 2015 Annual Conference, which formally opens here in San Francisco tomorrow. Here is part of what Mary offered:

“You can get insights into library transformation, future thinking, the hot book and author news, and more from hundreds of programs, conversations, events, and the 900+ exhibitors by following American Libraries coverage at http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/tag/alaac15/ and the show daily, Cognotes, at http://alaac15.ala.org/cognotes/.”

Mary notes other ways to keep up:

This is clearly an association that is interested in long-term relationships with all its members even if not all of them can support the Association through payment of conference registration fees; expenditures for food, travel, and lodgings; time spent preparing for and participating in conference activities including countless hours of work on committees; and other volunteer efforts that contribute to the strength of the Association and its work.

It’s tremendously encouraging to see the various levels at which conference attendees and Association staff members work to support their offsite as well as their onsite colleagues. Dozens of onsite participants set aside at least two or three hours to volunteer as Ambassadors in the Annual Conference program I manage for ALA Membership Development. Available side-by-side with ALA staff members in the ALA Lounge onsite as well as in a variety of conference areas as “Roaming Ambassadors,” they work enthusiastically to answer logistical questions (e.g., where events are taking place, where conference shuttle buses arrive and depart, where coat check and first aid stations are) as well as deeper questions about the Association’s numerous divisions, round tables, sections, and other opportunities for involvement in sustaining the Association and preparing it for its future. A few also contribute resources available to first-time as well as experienced conference attendees.

Live #alaac15 Twitter feed on display

Live #alaac15 Twitter feed on display

But it’s not just the organized efforts that make this work. Hundreds of onsite participants will reach each other and their offsite colleagues through tweets ranging from whimsical observations to solid 140-character reports summarizing content from many of the more than 2,400 sessions that will be offered while the conference is underway—in essence drawing offsite colleagues into the room and encouraging offsite colleagues to participate through responses as well as questions that occasionally are passed on to presenters so the size of the room extends well beyond what we see here in Moscone Center. And there are always signs of new innovations: large electronic boards displaying the latest tweets from the conference Twitter feed were, for the first time, spread throughout the conference halls today as if to remind us that part of the conference is happening in rooms housing individual sessions, part of the conference is happening though interactions via Twitter among onsite participants, and part of the conference is happening via the interactions between onsite and offsite colleagues.

There seems to be something for everyone, and those of us lucky enough to live here in the city that is hosting the conference are the luckiest of all in that we have already been reaping the benefits of having much-cherished additional time with friends and colleagues who arrived a few days early. Our conversations are magnificent opportunities to share information and to catch up with friends and colleagues we see all too rarely. Our conversations are also the individual moments that, like the bricks in an enormous and attractive structure, serve as the raw materials shaping the vitality of the entire Association itself.

I’m looking forward to contributing—via tweets, blog postings, and other online offerings—to the continuing strength and growth of this professional family, and hope onsite and offsite colleagues will do the same so no one will be left behind.

N.B. – This is the first in a series of reflections inspired by the American Library Association 2015 Annual Conference in San Francisco.


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

May 29, 2015

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

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

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

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

Her lessons learned are worth repeating:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Alan Levine, #etmooc, and the cMOOC That Would Not Die

May 29, 2015

We can cut off its head, fill its mouth with garlic, and drive a stake through its body, but we apparently can’t kill a well-designed, engaging, dynamic learning experience and the community of learning it spawns. Nor would we want to.

Graphic by Alan Levine

Graphic by Alan Levine

At least that’s what a cherished colleague, Alan Levine, suggests in “The cMOOC That Would Not Die,” a newly-posted article (with accompanying graphics that puckishly draw upon horror-film imagery) that captures the spirit and reach of #etmooc—the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course he helped shape and facilitate as a course “conspirator” in early 2013.

Inspired by the #etmooc community’s latest learning endeavor—a tweet chat that drew community members together for a lively hour-long discussion about integrating Twitter into learning earlier this week—Levine combines his usual wicked sense of humor and insightful perspective into a set of reflections that should inspire any trainer-teacher-learner.

I’ve been among those writing extensively about the unexpected longevity of #etmooc as a learning experience/community; a model for lifelong learning communities; and an example of how connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs) are beginning to serve as a new form of (collaboratively-produced) textbook; in fact, I’ve probably produced enough to kill a small forest of virtual trees, and am far from finished with the topic. But none of that stops me from eagerly reading and learning from Levine’s “cMOOC That Would Not Die” and recognizing it as a manifestation of the very thing it is exploring.

The playfulness with which he tackles his topic reflects the playfulness that was at the heart of the learning process in #etmooc (and, for that matter, almost every significant learning experience I can remember having). That same playfulness is certainly one of the elements that binds members of the #etmooc community together, as anyone reading the slightly-edited transcript of the integrating-Twitter-into-learning session can’t help but notice. The sense of camaraderie is palpable, and when I talk with friends and colleagues about the value of engagement in training-teaching-learning, I often wonder aloud why so many people seem to be reticent about fostering a sense of community in the learning process.

etmooc_blog_hubLevine’s obvious passion for #etmoocers’ continuing levels of engagement—the community had produced tens of thousands of tweets and 4,746 posts from 513 blogs before he wrote his article; his latest contribution pushed it to 4,747 posts—reflects the same passion that continues to draw #etmooc community members together through tweet chats, Google Hangouts, and other online platforms. And, he notes, it’s not about massive numbers of participants; it’s about the quality and openness of the engagement: “I will cherish and take this kind of experience any day over some massive MOOC of tens of thousands of enrollees, 2% or so who stick around, and [whose] corpus remains stockpiled behind a login.”

His reflections further serve as a manifestation how he and other #etmooc community members learn via extended cross-platform asynchronous exchanges that inspire additional collaborations: he blogs; we read; we respond via the sort of linked response I’m producing here; and we extend the conversation via comments on his own blog site as well as via tweets that call attention to his blogged reflections—a process that is continuing to unfold even as I write these words.

As I often note in learning sessions I facilitate, this is a wonderfully messy and engaging approach to learning—one that offers numerous rewards while also inspiring us to learn how to learn through entirely different approaches to learning than we ever expected to encounter. It’s what many of us learned, from Dave Cormier, to refer to and think of as rhizomatic learning—learning that expands as rapidly and expansively as rhizomes do.

etmoocBut when all is said and done, it all comes down to something Levine facetiously asserts at the beginning of his article: “Someone never told the folks who participated in the 2013 Educational Technology and Media MOOC that it was over. They are still at it.” And the perfect riposte comes in a form of a tweet posted by Thomas Okon (@thomasjokon) in March 2013 as the last of the formal #etmooc modules had been completed and people were talking about how sorry they were that the course was “over”: “Over?  Was it over when the Germans… Its not over till we say it is. Im keeping my column in Tweet deck!”

Okon was—and remains—right. We continue to learn together in a variety of settings. To work together (several of us went on to design and facilitate another connectivist MOOC). To write about it individually and as co-writers. And to engage in teaching-training-learning-doing so that the community continues to grow by acquiring new members and inspiring others to produce their own versions of our successes.


Lightning Rounds in #lrnchat: Macho Tweet Chatting

May 1, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

April 30, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rehearsal for Innovation Day Hangout (Photo by Robin Hastings)

Rehearsal for Innovation Day Hangout (Photo by Robin Hastings)

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

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


Information Services Today: Global Personal Learning Networks

April 24, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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