The fabulous learners in the six-part completely-online two-hours-per-session train-the-trainer series I’m currently facilitating are increasingly adapting to their roles as co-conspirators in learning. Seeing themselves as equal partners in their learning process. Interacting with each other—and with me—as partners in the training-teaching-learning process by bringing to and sharing within our virtual train-the-trainer sandbox the experiences upon which they are continuing to hone their skills as trainers and leaders within the libraries they serve here in California.
And, this week, they took another big leap (at the beginning of the fourth session) by accepting my invitation to choose key elements determining how that session would be run—including setting the agenda for that session, which the last before we move into two sessions build around opportunities for them to present sample training sessions in a master-class format which includes chances for them to critique—and learn from—each other’s work.
With that as the background, we began the fourth session with a few questions: 1) Do you want a more-or-less formal session (more presentations interspersed with activities and discussions) or something informal (a session driven by their own questions and concerns about preparing for and facilitating the training sessions they will lead during our final two workshops together)? 2) Do you want a session that fully incorporates a slide deck into learning, a session (similar to the third) that has us “face to face online” with each other throughout the entire session, or a combination of the two? 3) Do you want to formally set the agenda for a session that prepares you for the training sessions you are designing and planning to deliver within this series?
Each answer shaped the session and led us down a series of options I had partially mapped in anticipation of the options available to them. The “formal vs. informal” choice came clearly down in favor of informal, which made me remind them that any decision like that makes us think about how best to take advantage of the decision to support the approach we are taking. So the first thing I did was step off camera briefly, while continuing to talk with them, so I could remove my tie and the dress shirt I was wearing, and come back onscreen in a much less formal outfit. I then removed the more formal background I had designed as a way of visually tying all sessions into a unified series; what replaced that background was a clear view of the room in which I was actually sitting: my own office/study, which more closely matched the backgrounds of the informal spaces in which my co-conspirators were learning.
The second set of options provided an interesting split because so few of us were together for the live session. (Others, because of scheduling conflicts, participate asynchronously be viewing the recordings we produce and contacting me outside the sessions if they need additional support.) With three co-conspirators voting, there was one vote for slides, one for discussion, and a third for a combination “based on what is most appropriate for what we’re covering”—which, of course, produced a wonderful learning moment for all of us because it reminded us that learning involves a solid pedagogical underpinnings as much as it involves our preferences. Laughing over the idea that we had arrived, through discussion, at the obvious reminder that learning goals could drive our decision, we agreed to follow whatever seemed most natural—drawing upon the deck I had prepared, if/when necessary; engaging in discussion and activities when those were likely to produce the best results; and turning toward screen-sharing for demonstrations when that best suited our learning goals.
Our final choice—the one in which we set the agenda—provided most rewarding. Two big items clearly needed to be on that agenda from the learners’ point of view: time to practice skills that would be used during the upcoming learner presentations, and time for working through the process of deciding what to include and what to exclude from a training session.
How it all played out—quite well, actually—will eventually be visible through a recording of the session (to be posted on the California Library Association’s “Developing Leaders in California Libraries” website). A short summary would include the ideas that participants shared, with each other, their own approaches to training-teaching-learning that best served them and their learners (reminding themselves that they already have developed some magnificent tools in their individual trainer’s toolkits); that they quickly thought back on all they have learned during their months of participation in leadership development work (of which the train-the-trainer series is a component); that they identified elements of that training that they would like to share with colleagues in the libraries in which they currently work; and, with only a moment or two of preparation, that they were able to give brief, focused presentations that allowed them to become more comfortable with online presentations.
All of us walked away from that final, spontaneous exercise very happy with what we discovered and accomplished. Making an in-the-moment decision to have each of the two participating learners redo their initial in-the-moment presentations after a brief co-conspirators’ debriefing produced magnificently obvious positive results: the improvement between the first and second practice presentations was noticeable and positive; it left learners with a much more positive memory of the experience than they would have had if left only with the memories of the initial stumbles and hesitations; and it produced, in each participant, a sense of confidence grounded in the realization that a series of quick practice sessions can tremendously improve any presentation we are developing for use with our own learners.
With that confidence in hand, we are poised for our next step: more fully-developed online presentations that can be adapted in our own learning landscapes.
N.B. – This is the second in a set of reflections inspired by a collaboratively run online train-the-trainer series.
But it also, as our conversation suggests, is a wonderfully subversive and productive word to describe the relationship between learning facilitators and learners when they toss out assumptions that learning involves one person providing information and another person (passively) absorbing that information. Co-conspirators in learning, as I learned from my time with Alec Couros and others in #etmooc (the Educational Technology & Media massive open online course) several years ago, are those who see the learning space as a place where everyone learns—teachers and students alike. It’s a space where we toss out quite a few assumptions about what learning involves and place a focus on the collaborative nature of learning.
It requires tremendous levels of trust. Learning facilitators (aka “teachers” and “trainers”) must trust their learners to be willing participants in the shaping of their own learning. Learners must trust the learning facilitator’s assertion that everyone has something to bring to the table during a formal or informal learning opportunity and makes the experience stronger, more productive, more results-driven, and more transformative than learning situations where learners are an audience drawn to words of wisdom provided by the person at the front of the room. In fact, as I suggested to Stephen, there really is no “front of the room” in a learning space (onsite or online) where everyone is seen as a co-conspirator in the learning process. Every part of that learning space is a dynamic space in which trainer-teacher-learners interact with other trainer-teacher-learners to achieve the learning goals they are pursuing. Together.
But all of that is far too theoretical. Far too academic. It misses the dynamic nature of “learners as co-conspirators” that becomes obvious when we see how it plays out. As I did last week during the first of six two-hour online sessions with a group of wonderful adult learners in a train-the-trainer series I have designed and am currently facilitating.
I made it clear, during the opening session, that we would be doing far more than learning the basics of training in a way that supported course participants in their efforts to hone their own training skills. I am encouraging them, through different approaches I am taking in each of those highly-interactive learning sessions conducted within Zoom, to interact within the basic structure of each of those formats. I try to get them to help shape each of those sessions by participating in discussions and activities that give them practice at using the skills we are exploring. And I make efforts to inspire them to question and understand the approaches and techniques and skills under discussion so they can decide for themselves which were worth using with their own learners and which might not work within the specific contexts in which they foster learning.
Which means I need to be ready for those hoped-for moments in which they take control of the learning space and ask questions I might not have anticipated so I, too, am a learner in those sessions. Like the stunningly-unexpected question that came during the second half of the first session: why are there so few people of color included in the images used in the slide deck for this session?
Understand, please, that the question was sent privately through Zoom’s chat feature so I was the only person initially aware that the question was being raised and the only person seeing the brief, very polite, almost apologetic comments surrounding the question. It was in no way confrontational, and the learner explicitly expressed the hope that I wouldn’t be offended by the question. It was clearly a difficult question posed by a wonderful learner who felt comfortable enough to raise that question in a way that had none of the public-shaming aspects that we so often see these days through social media posts and other online interactions.
It deserved an immediate and honest answer. So I took a deep breath, stopped the lesson-oriented conversation that was underway, and told all participants that I wanted to share and address a comment that had been directed at me privately—because I felt it was an issue well worth acknowledging and addressing in a virtual room with co-conspirators in learning. Without identifying the person who had raised the question, I started by saying I was appreciative that our co-conspirator had brought the thought to my attention. And, glancing quickly at the images I had been using in the PowerPoint slide deck supporting the discussions we were having, I acknowledged that I had not been as diligent as I always try to be in creating something that was visually representative of the diversity of our community of learning. I assured everyone that I would be applying a different, more critical eye to the decks for the remaining five sessions. Then, after again thanking the person for the comment, I returned us to what we had been doing. And, afterward, took the small amount of time it takes to review decks already prepared for subsequent sessions and making adjustments that were easily made.
This might seem like something that, once addressed, would be done. But the real work is to see what sort of positive impact our actions with our co-conspirators in any learning situation have. So, without doing anything to overtly continue that particular thread of conversation and learning, I worked with that same group of learners during the next session and, as always, let the learners know that I would stay for a few minutes after the formal end of that virtual session in case anyone had further questions or items to explore—the online equivalent of staying in a physical classroom for post-session conversations with interested learners. You can, of course, anticipate what happened next: The only learner to stay was the one who had raised the question about the lack of images of people of color in the first session. And the reason the person stayed was to continue a conversation springing out of the second session. Because that learner was engaged. Comfortable. Interested in gaining all that could be gained during the time we had together.
As the post-session conversation around Session Two content wound down, I couldn’t resist asking whether there had been any noticeable difference in approach to the images used for that session. “Yes,” the learner replied simply and directly. “It felt more on point.”
And those few simple words, for me, spoke volumes in terms of how much we all gain when we are co-conspirators in learning. We all learn. We all improve. We all gain. We are all transformed, long-term, by the positive nature of those all-too-brief short-term interactions. And those we serve long after our shared learning moments have ended are the real beneficiaries of what we accomplish together.
N.B. – This is the first in a set of reflections inspired by a collaboratively run online train-the-trainer series.
With just two of us—Maurice and me—initially participating in the recording, we worked our way through some technical problems we were having with the podcast software during the first few minutes of the recording (resilient!…and grumpy, although that’s not one of the eight characteristics we were exploring). And, after those first few less-than-perfect moments, we began with a quick summary of the content of the book before exploring how the online book study group functioned and produced some interesting learning experiences and results…and the beginning of a potentially dynamic new community of learning.
he risk-taker element of the endeavor is that T is for Training is live and open to anyone who wants to call in—which means we often have some lively discussions, and occasionally find ourselves visited by that awful beast known as a troll. That, as you correctly assumed by reading the title of this post, is what happened about a third of the way through the recording last night. Maurice, always willing to engage in a bit of empathy, gave the troll a couple of (mercifully brief) opportunities to actually rise to the challenge of contributing positively to the conversation. Displayed resilience by bouncing back quickly from each interruption this somewhat persistent troll attempted to create. And ultimately engaged in another session of our favorite podcast pastime—whack a troll. The conversation ultimately continued, successfully, as if nothing had ever happened (problem found, problem solved).
Moving into a discussion of the Instagram book study group, we found ourselves doing far more than simply reviewing what it produced in terms of learning; innovation; products (e.g., the Instagram posts, tweets, and blog pieces) made by the creators who were participating in the group; and reflections. We were (occasionally) reflective, and networking came into it through mentions of T is for Training community members who were not present for the recording but will ultimately be part of that episode when they listen and respond to the content we managed to create. The role of creator, furthermore, is on display because the recording and dissemination of that episode of the podcast is becoming another contribution to the community initiated through the Instagram book study group and continuing on Instagram (and elsewhere) under the general #InnovateInsideTheBox hashtag.
For me, the real punchline here is that T is for Training has just been drawn into yet another rhizomatically-expanding community of learning—one that includes the Instagram Book Study group, the #InnovateInsideTheBox Instagram/Twitter/Facebook collaborations, the blog postings several of us have created in response to what we have encountered in the book as well as in the online conversations, and others yet to be determined. It’s one of the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (networked); the best trainer-teacher-learners I have met and with whom I regularly interact; and the T is for Training community itself. And the best news of all is that you’re welcome to join any part of it, at any time, if you want to explore and nurture your own Innovator’s Mindset.
–N.B.: T is for Training generally records every other Thursday evening at 9 pm ET/6 pm PT. More information is available on the podcast website.
The book itself is a paeon to the idea that innovation can be fostered as much by and within the limitations we face as trainer-teacher-learners as by thinking outside the box: “…the system, with its rules and limitations, is never a reason not to innovate. To the contrary, the system or ‘box’ you work within may be the very reason you need to innovate,” Couros writes in the opening pages of the introduction to the book. And, as has happened both times I have read books he has produced, I find myself taking an innovative approach to the act of reading itself: slowing down rather than racing through the text; stopping to follow links to sources (e.g., blog posts, short articles, or videos) he has cited in his text so that they become part of my personal version of the book; reflecting, through blog posts, on the content he (and, in this case, in collaboration with Novak) provides as a way of more deeply and rewardingly absorbing what he offers; and engaging in online interactions with others who are also reading—or have read—the book.
The second section fully carries us into chapter-by-chapter explorations of the “characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset”: empathetic, problem finders-solvers, risk-takers, networked, observant, creators, resilient, and reflective. And again, our starting point is through the reading of the textual conversation in which Couros and Novak bounce back and forth with observations about and guidance on how to incorporate those attributes into our own efforts to develop the Innovator’s Mindset for ourselves in ways to benefit those we serve. But, we realize as we reflect upon what we are reading, that is only the beginning. The real innovation comes through application of the work, and that’s where the formation of the community of teacher-trainer-learners within the online, (mostly) asynchronous book study group produces results worth noting. In creating posts about empathy in learning, we reflect upon—and begin to further hone—our own empathy toward our learners. In creating posts about risk-taking, we are inspired to take—and learn from the process of taking—risks by exploring resources and tools that allow us to produce better, more engaging and meaningful posts, on Instagram than we otherwise might have produced. The process of participating in the book study group becomes integral to the process of reading, absorbing, and applying what Couros and Novak offer us. And those of us willing to put the extra time into this level of “reading” the book (encountering the text, reflecting upon it, creating something from it that we can use in other venues, interacting with others as part of that reading-as-creative-process experience, and providing positive, inspirational learning experiences for others as a result) walk away with a reading experience that is every bit as innovative as anything the words upon the pages of the book can offer.
A short, very sweet concluding section suggesting “You Are the Change You Seek” serves as a reminder that “finishing” the book does not mean we are about to place it on a shelf where it becomes covered under an ever-growing shroud of dust, for this is not the kind of book you finish—or that is ever finished with you. As long as we remember what we have gained and apply it to the work we do, we will continue innovating within the box—and far beyond it, too.–N.B.: This is the fourth in a set of reflections inspired by #IITB, the Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study group.
Exploring themes that flow through the entire book, and exploring how Instagram might be incorporated into engaging training-teaching-learning opportunities, has certainly provided me with inspiration to be observant, to be creative (in the sense of creating Instagram posts that can serve as learning moments), to be resilient (each post has required multiple attempts and the use of at least a couple of different tools to produce the images/learning moments I was attempting to produce), and reflective. The results, as you can see from what I posted previously and from the following lightly-edited sets of reflections from each of the most recent Instagram/Tumblr posts I completed while contributing to the discussions on four of the eight Innovator’s Mindset characteristics, display the never-quite-perfect record-of-my-learning-process in ways that will serve as reminders to me—and, possibly, to you—of the value of regularly engaging in learning rather than remaining solely in the instructor/learning facilitator role so many of us pursue.
Comments accompanying the fifth of eight Innovator’s Mindset-post characteristics—this one on the Innovator’s Mindset characteristic observant: Something that has been all around—completely unnoticed, completely unobserved—is called to your attention. You take note of it. You might study it a bit. You absorb it into your verbal, visual, and “attentiveness” (things-I-need-to-notice) vocabulary. And suddenly, it seems as if it is everywhere you look. Which is the point that George Couros and Katie Novak make in Chapter 9 of Innovate Inside the Box: Empowering Learners Through UDL [Universal Design for Learning] and the Innovator’s Mindset). Being observant is a characteristic that, “in a world full of noise, is more valuable than ever,” Couros writes. Being observant, he continues, involves “the skill of finding nuggets of wisdom and powerful links to information [and] is one that you develop over time.” It’s a skill I’m further cultivating while experimenting with Instagram as a training-teaching-learning skill within the context of the book study group: I observe how my co-conspirators in learning—Couros, Novak, and those who are participating and interacting through their Instagram posts—approach the tool (creatively/innovatively); how some of us react to what Couros and Novak have written in their book and are providing via Instagram; and how we describe what we are doing to adopt the Innovator’s Mindset to create more productive, engaging, meaningful learning opportunities for our leaners and ourselves. “We have to design learning opportunities that leave room for students to observe the world around them, find their passions, and ask their own questions so their learning experiences aren’t cluttered with ‘one-size-fits-all’ resources that pave a path for them,” Novak writes. And, in learning and beginning to apply the lesson she and Couros are providing by not giving “one-size-fits-all” assignments in this book discussion/course, she makes us more observant, more likely to acquire and obtain glimpses of beauty in a world that we otherwise might not so carefully have noticed.
Comments about the sixth characteristic (creators): You see him in an urban park, creating an image from his surroundings. Creating something that matters to him. And, with any luck, something that will be seen by others, and that, to them, will matter, too. Consuming impressions from his surroundings—from his world—he engages in that stimulating moment of personifying the consumer-creator —an essential part of every learner’s experience, Couros and Novak remind us in Chapter 10 of Innovate Inside the Box. “Innovators need to be creators, not just consumers. With that in mind, teachers need to provide numerous opportunities for students to create by providing options and choices for students to collaborate, examine exemplars of creativity, find solutions to problems, use non-traditional forms to consume new information and content, and have the flexibility to put the ideas together to create and express new and better ideas”—which, as always, remains at the heart of what we, as participants in the Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study group, are doing. We read, consuming the content from the book. We reflect, gleaning tips and gaining inspiration from what others post in Instagram. We create our own responses in the form of these images and the accompanying text we attempt to weave into our posts. And, as creator-consumers, we learn.
Comments about the seventh characteristic (resilient): We try to accomplish something, not sure how or whether we will succeed. And when we don’t, we try…and try again…until we get it right—which speaks to the power of resiliency, the seventh of eight characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset explored by Couros and Novak in Innovate Inside the Box. “Innovators need to build resilience as setbacks and failing are expected. ‘Failure’ and ‘failing’ are different. Whereas failure is final, failing happens as part of an ongoing practice of trying and learning,” Novak tells us—a great reminder for me as I prepared this particular post and found myself having to try and try again until the cropping of the photo and the placement of the words were as effective as I could make them with the tools with which I’m working. It’s a lesson my colleagues and I share repeatedly with our co-conspirators in learning by suggesting that “fail to learn” is an often-overlooked foundation of resiliency—and success—in learning.
Comments accompanying my Instagram post on the eighth character trait: “The ability to reflect is crucial for understanding and processing,” Couros reminds us as he and Novak take us through the final characteristic of the Innovator’s Mindset: reflection. “It is also essential to our ability to move forward and create something from what we have learned. … Reflection time is something that should be seen as vital to learning…” The entire experience of participating in the Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study group here on Instagram has been exactly that: a combination of moving forward in my learning about Instagram as a tool for training-teaching-learning; reading (and rereading) and reflecting on each chapter within Innovate Inside the Box; creating something that builds upon what I have already learned; and learning more by sharing it on Instagram, seeing how my co-conspirators in learning respond to it, and responding to the results of their own moving/creating/innovating/learning process. And because we are part of a community of learning, we have the chance to celebrate each step we take in moving toward improving what we do in service to the learners who rely on us for support, inspiration, and collaboration.–N.B.: This is the third in a set of reflections inspired by #IITB, the Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study group. Next: When books are more than books.
It’s not a surprise at all to me that the community is thriving under their guidance: Couros’s Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (massive open online course) a couple of years ago was a playfully innovative and inspiring opportunity to work with a dynamic group of co-conspirators in learning. And the idea of using Instagram as a platform for learning has obviously been successful in attracting enough people to make this a unique and transformative learning opportunity well worth pursuing. As I mentioned in the first post in this series of reflections inspired by the #IITB book study group, it has been engaging from the moment during which I posted my first offering after opening an Instagram account last week and began interacting with George and the other co-conspirators—an experience that has quickly deepened after just seven days of online, asynchronous interactions. I’m finding kindred spirits—other teacher-trainer-learners with seemingly inexhaustible depths of curiosity. A willingness to experiment with new concepts and tools. And a commitment to creating time and space to interact around an overlapping set of topics that include innovation in learning, incorporating Instagram into learning, and exploring ways to expand our own learning in ways that will benefit those we serve. The experience is multifaceted—an online (mostly asynchronous) book discussion group, functioning in a way that is reminiscent of the best connectivistMOOCs (massive open online courses) I have joined. It has us interacting within the platform (Instagram) through the images, videos, and text we have been posting, and allows for interactions through the comments that we post about our own and others’ offerings and through expanded interactions via posting blog pieces like this one and reading (and responding to) those posted by others.
Most interestingly—and again, not surprisingly—the interactions themselves reflect many of the eight characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset that all of us have been exploring and attempting to (further) develop. Going beyond the suggested basic level of participation—a suggested three postings for each of the three weeks the book discussion is scheduled to continue—because I have wanted to as fully as possible immerse myself in Instagram as a tool for training-teaching-learning, I’ve been creating separate posts that serve to summarize and respond to at least one element of each of the characteristics. The remainder of this blog post pulls lightly-edited text from each of the first four posts I completed while contributing to the discussions on four of the eight Innovator’s Mindset characteristics.
Comments accompanying the first post, on the Innovator’s Mindset characteristic of empathy: This, Couros proposes, “is about helping students seek out problems that are meaningful to them and then finding ways to solve or respond to those issues,” and it hearkens back to earlier passages in the book regarding the importance of asking the right questions to produce concrete, positive learning results. The goal, Novak adds, is “to empower students to become purposeful, motivated, resourceful, strategic learners”—a practice Couros and Novak put into play in the way they are encouraging those of us in the “Innovate inside the Box Instagram Book Study” group to absorb the content of their book, then apply it by producing Instagram posts that carry our learning forward through a process of deciding what each of us wants to know about Instagram and overcoming problems we face in locating and adapting solutions to design problems related to the creation of these posts.
Comments about the second characteristic (problem finders-solvers): This, Couros proposes, “is about helping students seek out problems that are meaningful to them and then finding ways to solve or respond to those issues,” and it hearkens back to earlier passages in the book regarding the importance of asking the right questions to produce concrete, positive learning results. The goal, Novak adds, is “to empower students to become purposeful, motivated, resourceful, strategic learners”—a practice Couros and Novak put into play in the way they are encouraging those of us in the “Innovate inside the Box Instagram Book Study” group to absorb the content of their book, then apply it by producing Instagram posts that carry our learning forward through a process of deciding what each of us wants to know about Instagram and overcoming problems we face in locating and adapting solutions to design problems related to the creation of these posts.
Comments about the third characteristic (risk-taking): Turning to “risk-taking” as one of eight characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (in “Innovate Inside the Box: Empowering Learners Through UDL [Universal Design for Learning] and the Innovator’s Mindset”), Couros and Novak are explicit in noting that they are not advocating “doing things that would harm our learners”; they are advocating the act of “moving from a comfortable average in pursuit of an unknown better”—something at the heart of the positive transformations that effective learning fosters. It’s a theme that speaks to me powerfully because I have, at points in my lifelong learning endeavors, caught myself (stupidly) thinking about not taking a course because it might lower my GPA—took me years to realize I no longer cared about grades; I cared about the positive results any great learning experience produces. I also occasionally catch myself—and stop myself from—holding back with questions about or experimental approaches to learning challenges offered in onsite and online courses and workshops; the self-imposed barrier, of course, comes from the fear that my peers/colleagues might somehow think less of me if I ask I a “stupid” question or produce results that are less dazzling than I hoped to produce when completing a learning task. What it comes down to, of course, is modeling for my co-conspirators in learning the very behavior I hope to foster in them: a willingness to try new things, overcome the fears that often accompany the act of taking risks, and live with—and actually embrace—the temporary failures that accompany us as we take the path toward learning what we want and need to learn. We “have to eliminate the barriers that prevent students from taking risks,” Novak counsels, and I would suggest we need to do the same for ourselves if we want to develop and benefit from adopting and nurturing the characteristics of the Innovative Mindset—for our learners and ourselves.
Comments accompanying my Instagram post on the fourth characteristic (networked); Being “networked”—the fourth of the eight characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (in “Innovate Inside the Box: Empowering Learners Through UDL [Universal Design for Learning] and the Innovator’s Mindset”)—is “crucial both to innovative teaching and learning as well as to helping students develop an Innovator’s Mindset,” George Couros writes. It’s a characteristic well-fostered in the “Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study” group for which this and my other #InnovateInsideTheBox posts on Instagram [with copies posted to Tumblr] have been prepared: by engaging in an asynchronous book discussion via Instagram, those of us participating with George and his “Inside the Box” co-author, Katie Novak, are meeting and engaging with others in a rapidly-developing network of educators (aka, trainer-teacher-learners] that has the potential to become another long-term community of learning. We work through Instagram; we learn with and from each other; and, if we’re successful, we and the learners we serve will benefit from having nurtured the “networked” and other Innovator’s Mindset characteristics we are developing with each new interaction we help create. As Novak observes, “When we provide students [ourselves included] with authentic opportunities to network and dive their own learning, it’s a hell of a ride.”
–N.B.: This is the second in a set of reflections inspired by #IITB, the Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study group. Next: The four remaining characteristics (observant, creators, resilient, and reflective).
You certainly didn’t have to be here in Boston to have been an active participant in opening day at the NMC (New Media Consortium)2017 Summer Conference yesterday. Because so many of us have become used to, adept at, and passionate about being part of the blended (online-onsite) learning environments we help create and nurture, those of us onsite actively reached out to offsite colleagues to draw them into the presentations, conversations, explorations, and numerous moments of revelation in terms of trends, challenges, and developments in educational technology. And those to whom we reached out responded magnificently via synchronous and asynchronous contributions on Facebook, Twitter, Shindig, and other online collaborative tools. Sometimes with us, sometimes among themselves—a process that further emphasizes the diminishing assumption that onsite interactions are always central and online interactions are ancillary.
It’s far from unusual at conferences serving trainer-teacher-learner-doers to find dynamic levels of discourse flowing seamlessly between onsite and online participants. When the reason we are gathering is to learn more about technology by using it, the discourse that is fostered by creative use of resources such as Shindig only speeds up the process of disseminating that innovation and its adoption among ever-increasing numbers of people globally.
You could literally see the process taking place during International Society for Technology in Training (ISTE) CEO Richard Culatta’s keynote address during the formal opening session. Colleagues onsite were visibly engaged, and their engagement expanded via Twitter and Facebook to draw our offsite colleagues into exchanges that sometimes included backchannel conversations between those offsite colleagues—as if Culatta were with them as well as with us and inspiring some major rethinking about the world we inhabit.
The latest of those moments for me began earlier this week when Apple Distinguished Educator/Henderson Prize Winner/Future-U Founder/entrepreneur/innovator/NMC Ambassador/colleague/friend Jonathan Nalder and sat down to dinner here an hour after I arrived. Some of what we discussed during that dinner extended into another dinner two nights later with Shindig representatives, our colleague Bryan Alexander, and several others who, over the course of the evening, were sharing stories about the ed-tech developments we are exploring, fostering, and disseminating—including the use of Shindig to take advantage of collaborative learning opportunities. The moment again expanded unexpectedly yesterday morning when another colleague (Palm Beach State College Director of Innovation and Instructional Technology/NMC Ambassador Lisa Gustinelli) and I decided to track Bryan down to see if we could watch him conduct a live Virtual Connecting session via Shindig with offsite colleagues right after Richard Culatta’s keynote address concluded. He and our Shindig colleagues didn’t just invite us in to observe the session involving Culatta and others; they introduced us to Culatta a few minutes later when he arrived to discuss his keynote address a bit with our offsite colleagues; allowed us to photograph the process in action; and even interviewed us, at the end of the session, to extend our own conversations into the online part of our global learning space.
NMC staff, administrators, board members, general members, and supporters have done a great job, over the past few years, in creating and fostering a vision of a cutting-edge community of learning centered on “lifelong learning with lifelong friends,” and I’ve never felt that vision in action more strongly than during this extended “moment” that is obviously far from finished as I write these words well after midnight between days one and two of the conference. We came. We interacted. We learned. And we will continue to do so as long as we remain committed to maintaining a strong sense of curiosity, a commitment to innovation, and a focus on serving those who rely on us to support them in their own lifelong learning efforts.
There 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.
(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.
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.
N.B.: Paul’s onsite participation at ATD ICE in May 2016 includes the following activities:
Our 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…
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.
N.B.: Paul’s participation at ATD ICE in May 2016 includes the following activities:
The question about ownership of learning—engagingly examined by Alan November in a book and a TEDx talk we’re exploring in Rethinking —is important and double-edged for any trainer-teacher-learner working within a digital environment. It makes us think about who retains (or should retain) access to all our discussions, learning objects, and other tangible aspects of the online-learning process that are usually lost to us once a course formally concludes and the course learning management system is closed to learners. The question also makes us think about who has responsibility for nurturing and sustaining the (lifelong) learning process that is an essential component to fostering digital literacy.
More importantly, we shape those discussions and artifacts collaboratively and through our own initiative—this is learner-centric, learner-driven learning at a very high and productive level. We have learned to take the responsibility for asking what we can do rather than relying solely on others to facilitate our learning process. For the tweet chat last night, a couple of us prepared the script with questions to be used during the tweet chat. We facilitated the session. I then edited and posted the Storify transcript of the event so other members of the community could be part of the effort to use and disseminate that resource. The result is that while learning, we also made—and are continuing to make—it possible for others who want to learn more about hyperlinked learning to do so while also seeing how a self-directed community of learning operates.
What made the session particularly interesting was how often the discussion about hyperlinked learning actually became an example of hyperlinked learning. There was the moment, for example, when we had a unexpected appearance from Alec Couros, who with his own original group of co-conspirators designed and facilitated that MOOC that inspired us to assume shared ownership (without in any way excluding Alec) of the #etmooc learning community. And there were plenty of other moments when learning by hyperlink drew in new colleagues as well as a few we hadn’t seen in quite a while. Nothing could speak more viscerally and meaningfully to the topic of hyperlinked learning than a community so completely hyperlinked that interactions continue to grow rhizomatically—a theme we explored during the formal course and continue to explore and nurture with every new action we take.
Rereading the Storify transcript a few times led to additional reflection—and learning—for me throughout the day today as I continued to produce this article. I repeatedly was struck by how the act of collaboratively shaping our learning experiences means that we hone other digital-literacy skills at the same time: being able to work within ever-changing online environments; being willing to contribute to our own learning and to the growth of our learning communities; and being able to capture discussions, learning objects, and other aspects of the learning process so they remain accessible rather than locked away in something akin to the storage crate housing the Lost Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
As I return to my Rethinking Digital Literacy co-conspirators—those learners who are so creatively and effectively crafting their own learning experiences—I look with admiration at the ways they are, in Week 3 of our four-week course, continuing to expand the ways they interact across as many digital platforms as possible. They—we—will leave distinct traces, if not much larger artifacts, of our time and collaborative learning efforts. It’s what was done in #etmooc; it’s what some of us have done in the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc) and the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses); and it’s what is creating the possibility that what we create during our four formal weeks of shared learning will remain accessible to current learning community members as well as to others who might want to learn from what we are accomplishing together.
In these dynamic, digitally-literate learning communities driven by hyperlinked learning, connected learning, connectivist-learning precepts, we are all co-conspirators. And we all own the learning, in every possible sense.
Celebrating Life. Making positive connections and collaborating with people from around the world. Living everyday with positive energy, possibility, passion and peace of mind. Learning from a School Counsellor lens. I'm not a Counsellor because I want to make a living. I am a Counsellor because I want to make a difference. Gratitude for ETMOOC roots.